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The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas
Introduction: This is the prison diary of a young woman martyred in Carthage in 202 or 203 A.D. The beginning and ending are related by an editor/narrator; the central text contains the words of Perpetua herself.
A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.)
While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’
‘Yes, I do’, said he.
And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’
And he said: ‘No.’
‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’
At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.
For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.
Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.
Then my brother said to me: ‘Dear sister, you are greatly privileged; surely you might ask for a vision to discover whether you are to be condemned or freed.’
Faithfully I promised that I would, for I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience. And so I said: ‘I shall tell you tomorrow.’ Then I made my request and this was the vision I had.
I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. To the sides of the ladder were attached all sorts of metal weapons: there were swords, spears, hooks, daggers, and spikes; so that if anyone tried to climb up carelessly or without paying attention, he would be mangled and his flesh would adhere to the weapons.
At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size, and it would attack those who tried to climb up and try to terrify them from doing so. And Saturus was the first to go up, he who was later to give himself up of his own accord. He had been the builder of our strength, although he was not present when we were arrested. And he arrived at the top of the staircase and he looked back and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you. But take care; do not let the dragon bite you.’
‘He will not harm me,’ I said, ‘in the name of Christ Jesus.’
Slowly, as though he were afraid of me, the dragon stuck his head out from underneath the ladder. Then, using it as my first step, I trod on his head and went up.
Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a gray-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep. And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments. He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’
He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful Of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it. And all those who stood around said: ‘Amen!’ At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.
A few days later there was a rumour that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me.
‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head–have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favoured you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.’
This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.
I tried to comfort him saying: ‘It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills; for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.’
And he left me in great sorrow.
One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: ‘Perform the sacrifice–have pity on your baby!’
Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’
‘I will not’, I retorted.
‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.
And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’
When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age.
Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts….
Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort.
Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age.
The day before we were to fight with the beasts I saw the following vision. Pomponius the deacon came to the prison gates and began to knock violently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was dressed in an unbelted white tunic, wearing elaborate sandals. And he said to me: ‘Perpetua, come; we are waiting for you.’
Then he took my hand and we began to walk through rough and broken country. At last we came to the amphitheatre out of breath, and he led me into the centre of the arena.
Then he told me: ‘Do not be afraid. I am here, struggling with you.’ Then he left.
I looked at the enormous crowd who watched in astonishment. I was surprised that no beasts were let loose on me; for I knew that I was condemned to die by the beasts. Then out came an Egyptian against me, of vicious appearance, together with his seconds, to fight with me. There also came up to me some handsome young men to be my seconds and assistants.
My clothes were stripped off, and suddenly I was a man. My seconds began to rub me down with oil (as they are wont to do before a contest). Then I saw the Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Next there came forth a man of marvelous stature, such that he rose above the top of the amphitheatre. He was clad in a beltless purple tunic with two stripes (one on either side) running down the middle of his chest. He wore sandals that were wondrously made of gold and silver, and he carried a wand like an athletic trainer and a green branch on which there were golden apples.
And he asked for silence and said: ‘If this Egyptian defeats her he will slay her with the sword. But if she defeats him, she will receive this branch.’ Then he withdrew.
We drew close to one another and began to let our fists fly. My opponent tried to get hold of my feet, but I kept striking him in the face with the heels of my feet. Then I was raised up into the air and I began to pummel him without as it were touching the ground. Then when I noticed there was a lull, I put my two hands together linking the fingers of one hand with those of the other and thus I got hold of his head. He fell flat on his face and I stepped on his head.
The crowd began to shout and my assistants started to sing psalms. Then I walked up to the trainer and took the branch. He kissed me and said to me: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter!’ I began to walk in triumph towards the Gate of Life. Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory. So much for what I did up until the eve of the contest. About what happened at the contest itself, let him write of it who will.
[Here Saturus tells the story of a vision he had of Perpetua and himself, after they were killed, being carried by four angels into heaven where they were reunited with other martyrs killed in the same persecution.]
[Here the editor/narrator begins to relate the story]:
Such were the remarkable visions of these martyrs, Saturus and Perpetua, written by themselves. As for Secundulus, God called him from this world earlier than the others while he was still in prison, by a special grace that he might not have to face the animals. Yet his flesh, if not his spirit, knew the sword.
As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord’s favour in this wise. 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. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months’ delivery.
Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: ‘You suffer so much now–what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.’
‘What I am suffering now’, she replied, ‘I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.’
And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter.
Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul.
The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells.
Perpetua spoke to him directly. ‘Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?’
The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.
On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God’s judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: ‘Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.’ Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe.
The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism.
They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end.
‘We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.’
Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: ‘You have condemned us, but God will condemn you’ was what they were saying.
At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.
But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. 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. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt.
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 the 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.
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.
Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.
There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: ‘When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?’
When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: ‘You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.’
At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. ‘It is exactly’, he said, ‘as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: ‘Well washed! Well washed!’ For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner.
Then he said to the soldier Pudens: ‘Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.’
And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed.
Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.
Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.
From The Acts of the Christian Marytrs
texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo
(c) Oxford University Press, 1972
Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicity
As revealed by JESUS to Maria Valtorta
The Notebooks for 1944
Translator Note: Among these are the subjects of this present paper: the African catechumens Perpetua and Felicity. They were martyred with their companions for their Christian Faith on March 6, 203 A.D., in the amphitheater at Carthage. http://www.valtorta-maria.com/
March 1, 1944
Valtorta: [“Toward 5:00 p.m., Jesus says to me”]:
“It was not My intention to give you this vision this evening. I had intended to show you another episode of the ‘gospels of faith.’ But someone who deserves to be satisfied expressed a desire, and [so] I satisfy him. Despite your pains: see, observe and describe. As for your pains, give them to Me; and the description, to your brothers.”
“So I write despite my pains, so severe, in which I seem to have my head in a vise that starts from the nape [of the neck] and joins my forehead, and then goes down toward my spine in back: a terrible pain in which I thought I would explode with meningitis; and then I fainted. Even now it is so severe. But Jesus allows me to write successfully in order to obey. Later…, later…, what will be, will be.
Meanwhile, I assure you that I pass from one surprise to another. Because, first, I find myself before some Africans, or at least Arabs, while I have always believed that these Saints were Europeans. For I had not the least notion of their social and physical condition and their martyrdom. As for Agnes, I knew her life and death. But these! It is as if I were reading an unknown account.
For the first illustration, before I fainted, I saw an amphitheater somewhat like the Coliseum (but not in ruins), then empty of people. Only one young and very beautiful dark-skinned woman stands erect there in the middle of it. Raised above the ground, she radiates a beatific light that bursts out from her brown body and from the dark garment that covers her. She seems an angel of the place. She looks at me and smiles. It is then that I faint and see nothing more.
Now the Vision is completed. I am in a building that, from its gloomy appearance and lack of any conveniences whatever, reveals itself as a fortress used as a prison. It is not the underground place of the Tullianum I saw yesterday. Here there are little rooms and elevated corridors. But they are of such scant space and light, and furnished with such bars, iron gates and locks, that their severity nullifies their ‘somewhat better’ [aspect] given by their placement [compared to the Tullianum]. This cancels that still smaller idea of their freedom.
In one of these ‘holes,’ the young dark-skinned woman I saw in the amphitheater sits on an ugly little table that also serves as bed, seat and table. Now, she does not radiate any light, but only such peace. She has in her lap a little boy a few months old to whom she gives her milk. She sings him a lullaby, cuddling him with a gesture of love. The baby plays with the young mother and she caresses his little face, which is more olive-complected against her brown maternal breast. He attaches and detaches himself from it greedily, and with sudden little laughs full of milk.
The young woman is very beautiful: with a regular, roundish face, and very beautiful large eyes of a velvety black, a thick but small mouth full of very white and regular teeth; black and somewhat kinky hair, but held in place by tight tresses wrapped round her head. She has a brown color, swarthy but not excessively so. Even among us Italians, and especially in the south of Italy, we see that color, but just a little lighter than this. When she rises to put the little boy to sleep by walking up and down the cell, I see that she is tall and gracefully shaped. Not excessively so, but her figure is already well formed. She seems a queen in her stately bearing. She wears a simple dark garment, almost like her skin. It falls down on her in soft folds along her beautiful body.
An old man enters. He, too, is dark. The jailer lets him enter by opening the heavy gate. He then withdraws. The young woman turns and smiles. The old man looks at her and weeps. For some minutes they remain thus.
Then the pain of the old man erupts. With anxiety he pleads with his daughter to have pity on his suffering:
‘It’s not for this that I begot you!’ he says to her. ‘Among all my children I have loved you: joy and light of my house. And now you want to ruin yourself and ruin your poor father, who feels his heart dying with the pain that you give him. Daughter! for months now I am pleading with you. You wished to resist [me] and [now] you have known prison: you who were born amid comforts. Bowing my back before the powerful, I have obtained [permission] for you, though a prisoner, to remain in your house. I assured the judge that I had made you yield to my paternal authority. Now he mocks me, because he sees that you care nothing about my authority. This is not what that doctrine you call “perfect,” should teach you. What kind of God is He Whom you follow, then, that He inspires you not to respect the one who begot you? not to love him? For if you loved me you would not give me so much sorrow. Your stubbornness — that not even pity for that innocent child has conquered — has succeeded in having you snatched from your house and shut up in this prison.
But now they no longer talk of prison, but of death! And an atrocious death! Why? For whom? For whom do you want to die? Does this God of yours need your, need our sacrifice — mine and that of your offspring who will have no more mother — does He!? Does His triumph need your blood and my weeping to be complete? But how so? The wild animal loves its offspring, and loves them all the more as it has held them at its bosom. Even in this I was hoping, and it was for this that I obtained for you to be able to feed your baby. But you do not change. And after you have fed him, warmed him, and made yourself a pillow for his sleep, now you reject him, abandon him without regret. I do not plead with you for myself. But in his name. You have no right to make him an orphan. Your God has no right to do this. How can I believe Him to be more good than our gods if He wants these cruel sacrifices? You cause me not to love Him, but to curse Him always more. But No! No! What am I saying? Oh! Perpetua, forgive me! Forgive your old father whom sorrow drives mad!
You want me to love Him, your God? I will love Him more than myself. But stay among us. Tell the judge that you relent. Then you may love whomever you wish of the gods of the earth. Then you may do with your father whatever you wish. I do not call you “daughter” anymore. I am not your father any longer, but your servant, your slave; and you are my mistress. Lady: order, and I will obey you. But have pity, have pity. Save yourself while you still can. There is no more time to wait. You know your companion has brought her offspring to light, and nothing stops the sentence now anymore. Your son will be torn from you; you will not see him anymore. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps this very day. Have pity, daughter! Have pity on me and on him who does not even know how to speak. But you see how he looks at you and smiles! How he calls for your love! Oh! Mistress! My Mistress! Light and queen of my heart! Light and joy of your newborn son: have pity, have pity!’
The old man is on his knees and kisses the hem of his daughter’s garment. He embraces her knees and seeks to take her hand, which she places on her heart to suppress her human torment. But nothing makes her yield.
‘It is for the love that I have for you and for him,’ she answers, ‘that I remain faithful to my Lord. No glory of earth will give to your white head and to this innocent child such adornment as my dying will give you. You will join the Faith. And then what would you say of me if, out of momentary cowardice, I had renounced the Faith? My God does not need my blood nor your weeping to triumph. But you need it, in order to be joined to Life. And this innocent child does, in order to remain there. Through the life that you gave me and the joy that he has given me, I obtain the Life that is true, eternal, blissful. No. My God does not teach us to have no love for our fathers, our children. But to have true love. Sorrow makes you delirious now, Father. But afterward, the light will be in you and you will bless me. I will bring it to you from Heaven. And this innocent child: it is not that I love him less, now that I have caused the pouring out of my blood to nourish him. If pagan ferocity were not against us Christians, I would have been a most loving mother to him, and he would have been the goal of my life. But God is greater than [this] flesh born from me, and infinitely greater the love that should be given to Him. I cannot — even in the name of my maternity — put His love after that of a creature.
No. You are not the slave of your daughter. I am always a daughter to you and in all things obedient — apart from this: in renouncing the true God for you. Let the will of men be accomplished. And if you love me, follow me in the Faith. There you will find your daughter, and for always, because the true Faith gives Paradise, and my holy Shepherd has already given me a welcome in His Kingdom.’
Here the vision changes, because I see other personages enter the cell: three men and a very young woman. They kiss and embrace each other in turn. The jailers also enter to take away Perpetua’s son. She staggers as if struck by a blow, but she recovers.
Her feminine companion comforts her:
‘I, too, have lost my offspring. But she is not lost. God was good to me. He granted me to beget her for Him and her baptism is bejewelled with my blood. She was a baby…, and beautiful as a flower. Your child also is beautiful, Perpetua. But to make them live in Christ, these flowers need our blood. Thus, we will give them a double life.’
Perpetua takes the little boy, whom she had placed on the cot where he sleeps, full and content. She gives him to her father, after having kissed him lightly so as not to wake him. She blesses him also and traces a cross on his forehead, on his small hands, his little feet, and his breast, dipping her finger in the tears flowing from her eyes. Perpetua does it all so gently that the baby smiles in his sleep as if it is a caress.
Then the condemned go out, and in the middle of some soldiers, they are brought to a dark dugout of the amphitheater to await their martyrdom. They pass the hours praying and singing sacred hymns, exhorting each other to heroism.
Now I, too, seem to be in the amphitheater that I have already seen. It is filled with a crowd of people with, for the most part, bronze skin. However, there are also many Romans. The crowd is noisy and agitated on the tiers of seats. The light is intense, despite the curtain stretched out on the side with the sun.
They make the six martyrs enter the arena in single file. It seems to me that they have already carried out some cruel games there, because it is already stained with blood. The crowd whistles and curses. The martyrs, with Perpetua in the lead, enter singing. They stop in the middle of the arena and one of the six turns to [address] the crowd:
‘You would do better to show your courage by following us in the Faith and not by insulting unarmed people, who repay you for your hate by praying for you and loving you. The rods with which you beat us, the prison, the tortures, snatching from two mothers their children — none of this changes your heart, neither out of love for God nor love of neighbor. You liars who call yourselves civil, but wait for a woman to give birth so that afterward you may kill her in both body and heart, separating her from her offspring. You cruel people, who lie in order to kill, because you know that none of us does you harm; and so much less do these mothers who have no other thought but their offspring. Three times, six times, a hundred times over we will give our life for our God and for you, that you may come to love Him. And we pray for you while already Heaven opens above us: “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…”‘. The six martyrs pray on their knees.
A large low gate opens, and out charge some wild beasts running so swiftly they seem to be racing. They seem to be wild bulls or buffalos. Driven out together and equipped with pointed horns, they attack the unarmed group. They lift then into the air on their horns like so many rags. They throw them back down on the ground, they trample them. They turn back, fleeing as though maddened by light and by noise; and then return to the attack.
Perpetua, caught like a twig on the horns of a bull, is hurled many yards away. Yet for all her wounds she raises herself again, and her first concern is to rearrange her garments torn off her bosom. Holding them on her with her right hand, she drags herself toward Felicity who landed on her back, disemboweled in her midriff. Perpetua covers her and raises her, making herself a support for the wounded woman. The beasts return to wound them while the five others, only half-alive, are stretched out on the ground. Then the keepers drive the beasts back in [their dens] and the gladiators finish the job.
But Perpetua’s gladiator, whether from pity or inexperience, does not know how to kill her. He wounds her, but doesn’t get the right spot. ‘Brother, here, let me help you,’ she says in a thin voice and with a very sweet smile. Then, leaning the point of the sword against her right carotid [artery], she says: ‘Jesus, I commend myself to You!’ ‘Push, brother. I bless you,’ and she moves her head toward the sword to help the inexperienced and troubled gladiator.
Valtorta: [“Jesus says to me”]:
“This is the martyrdom of My martyr, Perpetua, of her companion, Felicity, and that of their companions. She was guilty of being a Christian: a catechumen, yet. But how fearless in her love for Me! To the martyrdom of her flesh, Perpetua had joined that of her heart, and Felicity with her. If they knew [thus] how to love their executioners, how [well] would they have known how to love their children?
They were young and happy in their love of their husbands and their parents, in their love for their offspring. But God should be loved above all things. And thus do they love Him. They tear out their very bowels in separating themselves from their little babies, but their Faith does not die. They believe in the other Life. Firmly. They know that It belongs to whomever was faithful and lived according to the Law of God.
The law within the Law is love: for the Lord God, for one’s neighbor. What greater love [than] to give one’s life for those whom one loves, just as the Savior gave it for humanity that He loved? They gave their life to love Me and to bring others to love Me, and therefore to possess eternal Life. They want their children and parents, their husbands, their brothers and all those whom they love: with love of the blood and with love of the spirit — their executioners among these, since I said: ‘Love those who persecute you — they want them all to have the Life of My Kingdom. And, to guide them to this My Kingdom, with their own blood they trace a sign that goes from Earth to Heaven, and it shines, it calls.
To suffer? To die? What is that? It is a fleeting moment, while Life eternal endures. It is nothing — that moment of sorrow, of pain — compared to the future of joy that awaits them. The wild beasts? The swords? What are they? Let them be blessed, for they give Life.
The martyrs’ sole preoccupation: to preserve their modesty — because whoever is holy, is holy in all. At that moment they were concerned, not with their wounds, but with their disordered garments: because [even] if not virgins, they are always modest. True Christianity always bestows virginity of spirit. It preserves it, this beautiful purity, even where matrimony and offspring have taken away that seal that makes virgins angels.
The human body, washed by Baptism, is the temple of God’s Spirit. It should therefore not be violated with immodest behavior or immodest dress. From a woman especially who does not respect herself, there can come only depraved offspring and a corrupt society — from which God withdraws Himself, and in which Satan plows and sows his briars, his troubles, that make you despair.”
March 3, 1944
Valtorta: [“Jesus says to me”]:
“My martyrs had possessed Wisdom. And with them, My confessors. And all possess It who truly love Me and make of this love the aim of their life.
To the eyes of the world, that is not apparent. Rather, to be just seems [to the world] a weakness. It seems like something to take advantage of. As though with the passing of the ages, changes had taken place in the relationship between God and His faithful.
No. If I reduced the severity of the Mosaic Law, and gave all of you re-sources of incalculable power to help you practice the Law and reach Perfection: there has been no change, however, in the duty of respect and obedience that you should have for the Lord your God. If He has made Himself good to the point of giving Himself to make you good, you should be still more good, and not say: ‘Let Him think about saving us. Let’s enjoy ourselves.’ That is not wisdom: it is lunacy and blasphemy. That is the wisdom of the world, and blameworthy, not Divine Wisdom.
My martyrs were Divinely wise. They did not, like the ungodly, say to themselves: ‘Let’s enjoy today, for it never returns, and with death every joy ends. And, in order to enjoy [ourselves], let’s make arrogance our right. And by extorting from the weak and the good what it’s not permitted to extort, let’s draw from these our extortions wherewith to fill our wallets and purses, so as later to fill our belly and glut the lusts of our flesh and mind.’ The martyrs did not, like the ungodly, say to themselves: ‘To be just is a sacrifice, and it’s tiresome to be so. What a rebuke it is to see the just man. So let’s take him out of our midst, for his justice reminds us of God and rebukes us for living like beasts.’
Instead, My martyrs overturned the theory of the world and wanted to follow only that of God. So the world put them to the test, it outraged them, tormented, killed them, hoping to disturb their virtue. But in its stupidity, the world did not know that every blow given to shatter their soul, was like a hammer that made them penetrate more into Me, and I into them, with a love of perfect fusion. So much so, that in the prisons and circuses they were already in Heaven, and they saw Me just as, after that moment of pain and death, they had seen Me for their blessed eternity.
They were neither dead, nor destroyed, nor tortured, nor in despair: as the travail of giving birth is neither death, nor destruction, nor torture, nor despair. Rather, it is life that begets life. It is a redoubling of a flesh that was only one and [now] becomes two. It is the satisfaction, the hope of being a mother and in having from that maternity unutterable joy for the whole of life. So also for them: that pain was hope, security, the Life that made them blissful.
The world could not understand them — these holy lunatics whose lunacy was loving God with all the perfection possible to a creature; making themselves voluntarily barren, since their only nuptials were those with Me, the Divine. They made themselves eunuchs: for a spiritual love, they amputated human sensuality in themselves and lived as chastely as angels. The world could not understand these sublimely mad [souls]. Though aware of the sweetness of the bridal bed and of offspring, they knew how to renounce both and to fly to their torments, after they willingly tore their heart out in leaving their children and husbands for love of Me, their Love.
But they saved the world. If you, after such an example and washed so much with purifying blood, have become the wild beasts that you are: what would you have become, and how much so, without the holy and blessed generation of My martyrs? It is they who have kept you from plunging down to Satan far sooner than the moment that your lusts provoked. They still invite you to stop and put yourselves back on the way that ascends, forsaking the path that plunges down. They speak words of salvation to you. They say them to you with their wounds, with their words to the tyrants, with their charity, with their concern for their modesty, with their patience, their purity, faith, constancy. They say to you that there is only one science necessary: That which streams from Eternal Wisdom.
Wiser still than Solomon, they prefer this Wisdom to all the thrones and the riches of the earth. And to obtain It and preserve It they brave persecutions and torments, they embrace even death so as not to lose It. They love this Wisdom more than health and beauty, and want to have It for their light. Because Its splendor comes directly from God, and to possess It means for the soul to anticipate the beatific Light of the Eternal Day. With uprightness of heart they learn It and with charity they share It even with their enemies. They have no fear of remaining deprived of It themselves because they share It with the crowds deprived of It. For This Wisdom, living in them, instructs them that ‘to give is to receive.’ And that the more they spread the celestial waters that the Divine Font poured back into them, so much the more did those waters increase, even to brimming them over like chalices of a holy Mass, consumed for the good of the world by the Eternal Priest.
The wise king [Solomon] enumerated the gifts of Wisdom whose spirit is intelligent, holy, one, manifold, subtle…, but all these qualities they, My martyrs, possessed. There was in them what Solomon calls ‘a vapor of God’s power, and an emanation of the glory of the Almighty.’ They therefore mirrored God in themselves again as no one [else] in the world. They mirrored God again in His qualities, and they mirrored Me, the Christ-Savior, in My holocaust.
Oh! How on the lips of every martyr could be put those words of Solomon proclaiming that he loved and sought Wisdom from his youth, and that he wanted Her for his Spouse! That he wanted Her for his Teacher and his riches! And how [well] you can think without fear of error, that the prayer to obtain Wisdom that blossomed on the lips of Solomon, blossomed also on the lips of the martyrs.
And how above all you should strive — O you whom the greed of the flesh has dragged back again into a pagan darkness much deeper than the darkness of those to whom My martyrs brought the Light — how you should strive to make yourselves love and desire Wisdom. To pray that It come to you as a Guide in your individual and collective undertakings, that thus you may no longer be what you are: cruel maniacs who torture each other, ruining your life and substance — the two things to which you cling; and ruining the salvation of your spirit — to which I cling Who died to give your spirits salvation.
‘It is through Wisdom,’ says Solomon, ‘that the ways of men are corrected and that they know what is pleasing to God.’ Remember it. And be aware that nothing else is pleasing to God but your good. Therefore, if you know and follow this way pleasing to Him, you will do good to yourselves both on Earth and in Heaven.”
Please click below to read more stories of the lives of the Saints:
Returning to the Fervor of the Early Church and Releasing the Power of the Holy Spirit