St. Felicity, martyr of Carthage, Africa (Tunisia)

Perpetua and Felicity

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1895:


From their most valuable genuine acts, quoted by Tertullian, l. de
anima, c. 55, and by St. Austin, serm. {}, 283, 294. The first part of
these acts, which reaches to the eve of her martyrdom, was written by
St. Perpetua. The vision of St. Saturus was added by him. The rest was
subjoined by an eye-witness of their death. See Tillemont, t. 3, p. 139.
Ceillier, t. 2, p. 213. These acts have been often republished; but are
extant, most ample and correct, in Ruinart. They were publicly read in
the churches of Africa, as appears from St. Austin, Serm. 180. See them
vindicated from the suspicion of Montanism, by O{}, Vindicae Act. SS.
Perpetuae et Felicitatis.

A. D 203.

A VIOLENT persecution being set on foot by the emperor Severus, in 202,
reached Africa the following year; when, by order of Minutius
Timinianus, {534} (or Firminianus,) five catechumens were apprehended at
Carthage for the faith: namely, Rovocatus, and his fellow-slave
Felicitas, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and Vibia Perpetua. Felicitas was
seven months gone with child; and Perpetua had an infant at her breast,
was of a good family, twenty-two years of age, and married to a person
of quality in the city. She had a father, a mother, and two brothers;
the third, Dinocrates, died about seven years old. These five martyrs
were joined by Saturus, probably brother to Saturninus, and who seems to
have been their instructor: he underwent a voluntary imprisonment,
because he would not abandon them. The father of St. Perpetua, who was a
pagan, and advanced in years, loved her more than all his other
children. Her mother was probably a Christian, as was one of her
brothers, the other a catechumen. The martyrs were for some days before
their commitment kept under a strong guard in a private house: and the
account Perpetua gives of their sufferings to the eve of their death, is
as follows: "We were in the hands of our persecutors, when my father,
out of the affection he bore me, made new efforts to shake my
resolution. I said to him: 'Can that vessel, which you see, change its
name?' He said: 'No.' I replied: 'Nor can I call myself any other than I
am, that is to say, a Christian.' At that word my father in a rage fell
upon me, as if he would have pulled my eyes out, and beat me: but went
away in confusion, seeing me invincible: after this we enjoyed a little
repose, and in that interval received baptism. The Holy Ghost, on our
coming out of the water, inspired me to pray for nothing but patience
under corporal pains. A few days after this we were put into prison: I
was shocked at the horror and darkness of the place;[1] for till then I
knew not what such sort of places were. We suffered much that day,
chiefly on account of the great heat caused by the crowd, and the
ill-treatment we met with from the soldiers. I was moreover tortured
with concern, for that I had not my infant. But the deacons, Tertius and
Pomponius, who assisted us, obtained, by money, that we might pass some
hours in a more commodious part of the prison to refresh ourselves. My
infant being brought to me almost famished, I gave it the breast. I
recommended him afterwards carefully to my mother, and encouraged my
brother; but was much afflicted to see their concern for me. After a few
days my sorrow was changed into comfort, and my prison itself seemed
agreeable. One day my brother said to me: 'Sister, I am persuaded that
you are a peculiar favorite of Heaven: pray to God to reveal to you
whether this imprisonment will end in martyrdom or not, and acquaint me
of it.' I, knowing God gave me daily tokens of his goodness, answered,
full of confidence, 'I will inform you to-morrow.' I therefore asked
that favor of God, and had this vision. I saw a golden ladder which
reached from earth to the heavens; but so narrow, that only one could
mount it at a time. To the two sides were fastened all sorts of iron
instruments, as swords, lances, hooks, and knives; so that if any one
went up carelessly he was in great danger of having his flesh torn by
those weapons. At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of an enormous
size, who kept guard to turn back and terrify those that endeavored to
mount it. The first that went up was Saturus, who was not apprehended
with us, but voluntarily surrendered himself afterwards on our account:
when he was got to the top of the ladder, he turned towards me and said:
'Perpetua, I wait for you; but take care lest the dragon bite you.' I
answered: 'In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.'
Then the dragon, as if afraid of me, gently lifted his head from under
the ladder, and I, having got upon the first step, set my foot upon his
head. Thus I mounted to the top, and there {535} I saw a garden of an
immense space, and in the middle of it a tall man sitting down dressed
like a shepherd, having white hair. He was milking his sheep, surrounded
with many thousands of persons clad in white. He called me by my name,
bid me welcome, and gave me some curds made of the milk which he had
drawn: I put my hands together and took and ate them; and all that were
present said aloud, Amen. The noise awaked me, chewing something very
sweet. As soon as I had related to my brother this vision, we both
concluded that we should suffer death.

"After some days, a rumor being spread that we were to be examined, my
father came from the city to the prison overwhelmed with grief:
'Daughter,' said he, 'have pity on my gray hairs, have compassion on
your father, if I yet deserve to be called your father; if I myself have
brought you up to this age: if you consider that my extreme love of you,
made me always prefer you to all your brothers, make me not a reproach
to mankind. Have respect for your mother and your aunt; have compassion
on your child that cannot survive you; lay aside this resolution, this
obstinacy, lest you ruin us all: for not one of us will dare open his
lips any more if any misfortune befall you.' He took me by the hands at
the same time and kissed them; he threw himself at my feet in tears, and
called me no longer daughter, but, my lady. I confess, I was pierced
with sharp sorrow when I considered that my father was the only person
of our family that would not rejoice at my martyrdom. I endeavored to
comfort him, saying: 'Father, grieve not; nothing will happen but what
pleases God; for we are not at our own disposal.' He then departed very
much concerned. The next day, while we were at dinner, a person came all
on a sudden to summon us to examination. The report of this was soon
spread, and brought together a vast crowd of people into the
audience-chamber. We were placed on a sort of scaffold before the judge,
who was Hilarian, procurator of the province, the proconsul being lately
dead. All who were interrogated before me confessed boldly Jesus Christ.
When it came to my turn, my father instantly appeared with my infant. He
drew me a little aside, conjuring me in the most tender manner not to be
insensible to the misery I should bring on that innocent creature to
which I had given life. The president Hilarian joined with my father and
said: 'What! will neither the gray hairs of a father you are going to
make miserable, nor the tender innocence of a child, which your death
will leave an orphan, move you? Sacrifice for the prosperity of the
emperor.' I replied, 'I will not do it.' 'Are you then a Christian?'
said Hilarian. I answered: 'Yes, I am.' As my father attempted to draw
me from the scaffold, Hilarian commanded him to be beaten off, and he
had a blow given him with a stick, which I felt as much as if I had been
struck myself, so much was I grieved to see my father thus treated in
his old age. Then the judge pronounced our sentence, by which we were
all condemned to be exposed to wild beasts. We then joyfully returned to
our prison; and as my infant had been used to the breast, I immediately
sent Pomponius, the deacon, to demand him of my father, who refused to
send him. And God so ordered it that the child no longer required to
suck, nor did my milk incommode me." Secundulus, being no more
mentioned, seems to have died in prison before this interrogatory.
Before Hilarian pronounced sentence, he had caused Saturus, Saturninus,
and Revocatus, to be scourged; and Perpetua and Felicitas to be beaten
on the face. They were reserved for the shows which were to be exhibited
for the soldiers in the camp, on the festival of Geta, who had been made
Caesar tour years before by his father Severus, when his brother
Caracalla was created Augustus.

St. Perpetua relates another vision with which she was favored, as
follows: "A few days after receiving sentence, when we were all together
in {536} prayer, I happened to name Dinocrates, at which I was
astonished, because I had not before had him in my thoughts; and I that
moment knew that I ought to pray for him. This I began to do with great
fervor and sighing before God; and the same night I had the following
vision: I saw Dinocrates coming out of a dark place, where there were
many others, exceeding hot and thirsty; his face was dirty, his
complexion pale, with the ulcer in his face of which he died at seven
years of age, and it was for him that I had prayed. There seemed a great
distance between him and me, so that it was impossible for us to come to
each other. Near him stood a vessel full of water, whose brim was higher
than the statue of an infant: he at tempted to drink, but though he had
water he could not reach it. This mightily grieved me, and I awoke. By
this I knew my brother was in pain, but I trusted I could by prayer
relieve him: so I began to pray fer him, beseeching God with tears, day
and night, that he would grant me my request; as I continued to do till
we were removed to the damp prison: being destined for a public show on
the festival of Caesar Geta. The day we were in the stocks[2] I had this
vision: I saw the place, which I had beheld dark before, now luminous;
and Dinocrates, with his body very clean and well clad, refreshing
himself, and instead of his wound a scar only. I awoke, and I knew he
was relieved from his pain.[3]

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