Around 175 AD, a girl of noble descent named Perpetua was born at Carthage, which happened to be the epicenter of Christianity’s growth in northern Africa. Believing Christianity undermined Roman patriotism, Emperor Septimius Severus began a focused persecution of the Christians in that province.
Perpetua and a few friends were immediately arrested…but that was only the beginning of their troubles.
Her father – a well-intentioned pagan – visited her in prison and passionately pleaded with her to deny her faith and renounce Christ. “Father, do you see this vase here?” she asked. “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”
“No,” he replied.
“Well, neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”
Making matters far more difficult for her, Perpetua had recently become a new mother. As a result, she was moved to a different part of the prison, and allowed to breast feed her child. Her father visited her once again and said, “Have pity on my gray head. Have pity on me, your father…. 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!” Again, Perpetua affirmed her faith in her Heavenly Father, thus disappointing her earthly father.
On the day of Perpetua’s hearing, she and her friends were marched before Governor Hilarianus. He questioned them, and each of them admitted to being a Christian, a capital offense at that time. Hilarianus gave them an opportunity to make a sacrifice to the Roman emperor, but they quietly denied his offer of pardon.
At that moment, Perpetua’s father burst into the courtroom, carrying her young child in his arms. He grabbed her and cried out, “Perform the sacrifice. Have pity on your baby!”
This put Hilarianus in a tough spot; nobody wants to be the one who has to execute a mother who’s still breastfeeding her child. Hilarianus pled with her, too. “Have pity on your father’s gray head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperor.”
Again Perpetua refused, and again her father interrupted the proceedings. With his patience worn thin by the disruptions, Hilarianus ordered his guards to beat Perpetua’s father into silence. He then condemned the young mother and her friends to death in the arena.
They were marched into the amphitheater wearing belted tunics where wild beasts and sword-wielding gladiators roamed the arena floor. Perpetua was injured by several of the beasts, including a leopard, but remained alive. The crowd quickly grew impatient, and they cried out for blood. Moments later, Perpetua and her friends where lined up, and slain with the sword.
131 Christians Everyone Should Know by Mark Galli. Broadman and Holman, 2000, Page 362-363.
Topics Illustrated Include:
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)