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ANALYTICAL PAPER: MARTYRDOM OF PERPETUA

The early Christians were strongly linked to martyrdom activities. These Christians strongly believed that the martyr crown was the best was of finding their God[1]. On the same note, the leaders of the Roman Empire were determined to discourage their people from Christianity. Most of these Romans practiced polytheism and the authorities feared that Christianity would weaken their faith. Therefore, they were willing to persecute those that were against their will and were influencing others to join Christianity. Such executions were often done in public with huge crowds as witnesses. Since most of the members of the crowd were polytheists, they enjoyed such encounters and supported the authorities. This paper is a critical analysis of the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas.

The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity can be traced back to the first century AD[2]. During this time, Christianity was mostly considered a religion of the poor and the oppressed Romans. However, their faith seemed so strong and this did not go well with the authorities. This led to the rejection of the old Roman gods due to the increased acceptance of Christianity. Eventually, emperor Septimus saw it necessary to pass the laws that would work against the new converts and those who were determined to spread Christianity across the Roman Empire. These laws were eventually passed in 202 AD under the leadership of Emperor Septimius Severus. However, this law was not meant to illegalize Christianity by imposing strong penalties on persons who wished to convert to convert people from polytheism to Christianity. Essentially, the law was to ensure that new people are not converted to Christianity. The emperor believed that Christianity would eventually die with no new converts. However, he was wrong since he undermined the faith of the believers.

The manner in which the emperor attempted to stop Christianity demonstrates how little he understood it. The emperor was determined to stop the Christians by frustrating their efforts. However, the Christianity believed that there was no better way to serve their Lord by dying through faith. They were ready to have their efforts frustrated and if possible face persecution. The great commission given by Jesus to the Christians was that they should go to all parts of the world and spread the redemption message. In the bible, Jesus had spelled clearly that whoever shall die because of him will definitely inherit the kingdom of God[3].  In this regard, these harsh laws prompted the Christians vigorously proclaim their faith to welcome the prospect of martyrdom. The early Christians longed for martyrdom as a way of connecting with their God. When Ignatius was arrested and taken to Rome for trial, he assures the Roman church that he wished to be executed as this will facilitate his martyrdom[4]. Ignatius pleads with his friends to allow him to be consumed by the beasts as this is the perfect way he can attain his God.

Perpetua was a young mother in her early twenties. She was well borne, educated, and married[5]. On the other hand, Felicity was her servant and was several months pregnant. Perpetua and her companions were involved in several activities that attracted the attention of the authorities. Unlike Perpetua, her father was not a Christian. Her father knew that his daughter faces the risk of a humiliating public death being torn apart by the wildebeest in the public arena. However, such a reminder did not scare Perpetua. She was burning with faith and welcomed the prospect of humiliating death and receiving the crown of martyrdom. The attempts by her father to stop her were not successful due to her strong faith.

On the eve of her imprisonment, Perpetua had a dream that seemed to have sealed her fate. In her dream, Perpetua saw a tall ladder connecting the earth and the heavens. The ladder was also associated with sharp knives, lances, and other sharp instruments that would tear and cut anyone climbing it towards heaven. In her dream, she saw her Christian teacher calling her to follow him from the top of the ladder. When she woke up from her dream, she immediately made up her mind that she had to die for Christ. Such dreams are sacred to the Christians as they have a powerful impact on their faith[6]. She believed in her dream since it correlated closely with her faith, life, and her wish of martyrdom. Early Christians believed that these sacred dreams are one of the common languages by which Jesus communicates with his people. Therefore, she took the dream seriously as a message from the divine. The messages contained in the sacred dreams are to strengthen the Christian faith and hope and to give them the power and the capability to withstand whatever situation they may face.

Felicity was anxious that she may not be allowed to die due to her pregnant nature. Their day of martyrdom was first approaching yet she had not delivered her child. It was illegal for the romans to chastise pregnant women and Felicity could be spared. Felicity and her companions prayed that she could deliver early so that she does not miss the golden opportunity of becoming a martyr[7]. Whenever Christians are face with difficulty, they often resort to prayers as they did with the case of Felicity. Miraculously, Felicity went into to labor when they finished their prayer and gave birth to a baby girl. The child borne of Felicity was raised by another Christian.

Perpetua and her companions entered the arena bravely since they were willing to die. As they entered, they were whipped by the animal handlers. However, they did not mind since Jesus was also canned before his death. Therefore, they just saw it as a necessary step towards their martyrdom. They counted themselves lucky for having received a similar treatment Jesus received during his death[8]. When the turn for Perpetua and Felistas came, they were stripped naked so that their soft bodies would be exposed to the bodies of the hungry animals. However, the bodies of naked women were too much for the crowd and it was decided that they were to die properly clothed. During this experience, Perpetua was rejoicing how she was going to meet her master with the crown of martyrdom. The cow failed to kill the women and it was decided that the gladiators was to kill them with swords. Felistas was the first to receive the blow and she died with dignity. Her agony was all over and she died with the crown of martyr. 

In conclusion, the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity shows how might and fearless the two women stoop for their faith. Despite the frustrations and persecutions from the authorities, these Christians stood up for their faith. Surprisingly, they were even more interested in dying for their God just to attain the crown of Martyrdom. They were eventually persecuted and they willingly participated in such event since they believed that such persecution only brings them closer to their God. To these women, nothing was more important than fulfilling the duties of God.

 

Bibliography

Kraemer, Ross S. and Lander, Shira L. “Perpetua and Felicitas,” in The Early Christian World, Vol. I, ed. Philip F. Esler, 1048-1068. London: Routledge, 2000.

Loyola Marymount University. Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University

Middleton, Paul. Early Christian Voluntary Martyrdom: A statement for the defence. The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 64, Pt 2, October 2013

Tilley, Maureen. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity. Fordham University

[1] Loyola Marymount University. Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University

[2] Ibid

[3] Ross, Kraemer and  Shira Lander. “Perpetua and Felicitas,” in The Early Christian World, Vol. I, ed. Philip F. Esler, 1048-1068. London: Routledge, 2000.

[4] Paul, Middleton. Early Christian Voluntary Martyrdom: A statement for the defense. The Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 64, Pt 2, October 2013, p. 58

[5] Maurine Tilley. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity.

[6] Ross, Kraemer and  Shira Lander. “Perpetua and Felicitas,” in The Early Christian World, Vol. I, ed. Philip F. Esler, 1048-1068. London: Routledge, 2000.

[7] Loyola Marymount University. Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity. Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University

[8] Ross, Kraemer and  Shira Lander. “Perpetua and Felicitas,” in The Early Christian World, Vol. I, ed. Philip F. Esler, 1048-1068. London: Routledge, 2000.

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