28 February 2008

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

"For these too will one day become ancient and needful for the ages to come, even though in our own day they may enjoy less prestige because of the prior claim of antiquity."
This was written around AD 203, roughly.
"Thus no one of weak or superficial faith may think that supernatural grace was present only among men of ancient times, either in the grace of martyrdom or of visions, for God always achieves what he promises, as a witness to the non-believer and a blessing to the faithful."
Trads beware.
"She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. ... And so, two days before the contest, they [the Christians in prison with her] poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. ... And she gave birth to a girl."
Is that the right attitude to have towards martyrdom? Or motherhood? Or anything?
"For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious."
Can a Catholic please explain this to me? This seems fundamentally wrong, or at least, like... impious.
"For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and teh other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics."
What were they thinking, sending them to face the beast without their tunics! Gosh, how uncultured.
"First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph."
This is starting to sound like something out of a Mel Brooks movie.


Adam Solomon said...

You have a blog? Awesome.

You have a blog about Russians? Shocking.

David Wagner said...

Martyrdom should not be chased after, and the temptation to do so should be resisted. Mme. Lidoine articulates this memorably in her first speech as Prioress in D of the C. To the same effect are words attributed to St. Thomas More in Man for All Seasons.

But once you're in the lions' arena, or on the scaffold, you've passed a barrier. At that point, to adopt Mme. Lidoine's metaphor, the handmaid is free to rejoice. That's what I see Saturninus doing in the Perpetua and Felicity narrative (with which I am not familiar apart from what you've blogged here, tho' of course I've heard of P and F).