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SAINTS PERPETUA AND FELICITAS,
THE real Feast of these two illustrious heroines of the Faith is to-morrow, which is the anniversary of their martyrdom and triumph; but the memory of the Angel of the Schools, St. Thomas of Aquin, shines so brightly on the seventh of March, that it almost eclipses the two glorious stars of Africa. In consequence of this, the Holy See allows certain Churches to anticipate their Feast, and keep it today. We take advantage of this permission, and at once offer to the Christian reader the glorious spectacle, of which Carthage was the scene, in the year 203. Nothing could give us a clearer idea of that spirit of the Gospel, according to which we are now studying to conform our whole life. Here are two women, two mothers; God asks great sacrifices from them; he asks them to give him their lives, nay, more than their lives; and they obey with that simplicity and devotedness which made Abraham merit to be the Father of Believers.
Their two names, as St. Augustine observes, are a presage of what awaits them in heaven: a perpetual felicity. The example they set of Christian fortitude, is, of itself, a victory, which secures to the true Faith, a triumph in the land of Africa. St. Cyprian will soon follow them, with his bold and eloquent appeal to the African Christians, inspiring
them to die for their Faith: but his words, grand as they are, are less touching than the few pages written by the hand of the brave Perpetua, who, though only twenty-two years of age, relates, with all the self-possession of an angel, the trials she had to go through for God; and when she had to hurry off, to the amphitheatre, she puts her pen into another's hand, bidding him go on where she leaves off, and write the rest of the battle. As we read these charming pages, we seem to be in the company of the Martyrs; the power of divine grace, which could produce such heroism amidst a people demoralised by paganism, appears so great that even we grow courageous; and the very fact that the instruments employed by God for the destruction of the pagan world, were frequently women, we cannot help saying with St. John Chrysostom: "I feel an "indescribable pleasure in reading the Acts of the "Martyrs; but when the Martyr is a woman, my "enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instru
ment, the greater is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not "because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once con"quered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon, is now his destroyer, brave and 'invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our "heroine disdained to live, when her living was to "depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was "her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for
men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope "for pardon, when women fought the holy battle "with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts?"
1 Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis.
The Lessons appointed to be read on the Feast of our two Saints, give us the principal incidents of their Martyrdom. The passage from the account written by Perpetua herself, which is quoted in these Lessons, will make some of our readers long to read the whole of what she has left us. They will find it in our first volume of the Acts of the Martyrs.
During the reign of the Emperor Severus, several Catechumens were apprehended at Carthage, in Africa. Among these were Revocatus and his fellow servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and Vivia Perpetua, a lady by birth and education, who was married to a man of wealth. Perpetua was about twentytwo years of age, and was suckling an infant. She has left us the following particulars of her martyrdom. "As soon as our persecutors had apprehended us, my father came to me, and, out of his great love for me, he tried to make me change my resolution. I said to him: 'Father, 'I cannot consent to call 'myself other than what I 'am,-a Christian.' At these words he rushed at me, threatening to tear out my eyes. But he only struck me, and then he left me, when he found that the arguments suggested to him by the devil, were of no avail. A few days after this, we were baptised; and the Holy Ghost inspired me to look on this baptism as a preparation for bodily suffering. A few more days elapsed, and we were sent to
Severo imperatore, apprehensi sunt in Africa adolescentes catechumeni, Revocatus et Felicitas conserva ejus, Saturninus et Secundulus: inter quos et Vivia Perpetua, honeste nata, liberaliter instituta, matronaliter nupta, habens filium ad ubera. Erat autem ipsa annorum circiter viginti duorum. Hæc ordinem martyrii sui conscriptum manu sua reliquit. Quum adhuc, inquit, cum persequutoribus essemus, et me pater avertere, pro sua affectione, perseverarat: Pater, inquio, aliud me dicere non possum, nisi quod sum Christiana. Tunc pater, motus in hoc verbo, misit se in me, ut oculos mihi erueret. Sed vexa, vit tantum ; et profectus est victus cum argumentis diaboli. In spatio paucorum dierum baptizati sumus: mihi autem Spiritus dictavit, nihil aliud petendum in aqua, nisi sufferentiam carnis. Post paucos dies, recipimur in carcerem: et expavi, quia numquam experta eram tales tenebras. Mox rumor cucurrit ut audiremur. Supervenit autem et de civitate pater meus, consump
tus tædio; et ascendit ad me, ut me dejiceret, dicens : Miserere, filia, canis meis; miserere patri, si dignus sum a te pater vocari. Aspice ad fratres tuos, aspice ad matrem tuam: aspice ad filium tuum, qui post te vivere non poterit. Depone animos, ne universos nos extermines. Hæc dicebat pater pro sua pietate: se ad pedes meos jactans, et lacrymis non filiam, sed dominam me vocabat. Et ego dolebam canos patris mei : quod solus de passione mea gavisurus non esset de toto genere meo. Et confortavi eum, dicens: Hoc fiet quod Deus voluerit. Scito enim nos non in nostra potestate esse constitutos, sed in Dei. Et recessit a me contristatus.
Alio die, quum pranderemus, subito rapti sumus ut audiremur: et pervenimus ad forum. Ascendimus in catasta. Interrogati cæteri confessi sunt. Ventum est et ad me. Et apparuit pater illico cum filio meo: et extraxit me de gradu, et dixit supplicans: Miserere
prison. I was terrified, for I was not accustomed to such darkness. The report soon spread that we were to be brought to trial. My father left the city, for he was heartbroken, and he came to me, hoping to shake my purpose. These were his words to me: 'My child, have pity on my 'old age. Have pity on thy father, if I deserve to be call'ed Father. Think of thy brothers, think of thy mother, think of thy son, who cannot live when thou art gone. Give up this mad purpose, or thou wilt bring misery upon thy family.' Whilst saying this, which he did out of love for me, he threw himself at my feet, and wept bitterly, and said he besought this of me, not as his child, but as his lady. I was moved to tears to see my aged parent in this grief, for I knew that he was the only one of my family that would not rejoice at my being a martyr. I tried to console him, and said: 'I will do 'whatsoever God shall ordain.
Thou knowest that we be'long to God, and not to ourselves.' He then left me, and was very sad.
"On the following day, as we were taking our repast, they came upon us suddenly, and summoned us to trial. We reached the forum. We were made to mount a platform. My companions were questioned, and they confessed the faith. My turn came next, and I immediately saw
my father approaching towards me, holding my infant son. He drew me from the platform, and besought me, saying: 'Have pity on 'thy babe!' Hilarian, too, the governor, said to me: 'Have pity on thy aged father, have pity on thy babe! 'Offer up sacrifice for the 'Emperors.' I answered him: 'I cannot; I am a Christian.' Whereupon, he sentences all of us to be devoured by the wild beasts; and we, full of joy, return to our prison. But as I had hitherto always had my child with me in prison, and fed him at my breast, I immediately send word to my father, beseeching him to let him come to me. He refused; and from that moment, neither the babe asked for the breast, nor did I suffer inconvenience; for God thus willed it." All this is taken from the written account left by the blessed Perpetua, and it brings us to the day before she was put to death. As regards Felicitas, she was in the eighth month of her pregnancy, when she was apprehended. The day of the public shows was near at hand, and the fear that her martyrdom would be deferred on account of her being with child, made her very sad. Her fellow-martyrs, too, felt much for her, for they could not bear the thought of seeing so worthy a companion disappointed in the hope, she had in common with themselves, of so soon reaching heaven.
infanti. Et Hilarianus procurator: Parce, inquit, canis patris tui, parce infantiæ pueri : fac sacrum pro salute imperatorum. Et ego respondi: Non facio: christiana sum.
Tunc nos uni
versos pronuntiat et damnat ad bestias: et hilares descendimus ad carcerem. Sed quia consueverat a me infans mammas accipere, et mecum in carcere manere, statim mitto ad patrem, postulans infantem. Sed pater dare noluit: et, quomodo Deus voluit, neque ille amplius mammas desideravit, neque mihi fervorem fecerunt.
Atque hoc scripsit beata Perpetua usque in pridie certaminis. Felicitas vero, quæ prægnans octo jam mensium fuerat apprehensa, instante spectaculi die, in magno erat luctu, ne propter ventrem differretur. Sed et commartyres ejus graviter contristabantur, ne tam bonam sociam in via ejusdem spei relinquerent. Conjuncto itaque gemitu, ad Dominum orationem fuderunt ante tertium diem muneris. Statim post orationem dolores eam invaserunt. Et quum in partu laborans doleret, ait illi quidam ex ministris: Quæ sic modo doles, quid facies objecta bestiis, quas contempsisti quum sacrificare noluisti? Et illa respondit : Modo ego patior quod patior: illic autem alius erit in me qui patietur pro me; quia et ego pro illo passura sum.