The following document is Perpetua’s public declaration of her faith, on which our DVD is based. Vibia Perpetua was thrown to wild beasts in the arena of Carthage around the year 200. A few days before her execution, she completed an account of her trial and sufferings to that point. Another hand then added an introduction and a description of her triumphant death in the arena, and details about other Christians who suffered with her. Perpetua’s account is one of the earliest writings we have by a Christian woman. This version has been adapted for modern readers.
WHEN THE SAINTS WERE APPREHENDED, PERPETUA SUCCESSFULLY RESISTED HER FATHER’S PLEADING, WAS BAPTIZED WITH THE OTHERS, WAS THRUST INTO A FILTHY DUNGEON WHERE SHE WAS ANXIOUS ABOUT HER CHILD. BY A VISION GRANTED TO HER, SHE UNDERSTOOD THAT HER MARTYRDOM WOULD TAKE PLACE SOON.
- The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow-servants Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, were apprehended. And among those taken was also Vibia Perpetua, respectably born, well-educated, a married matron, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen; and a son so young he was still breast-feeding. She was about twenty-two years of age. From this point on, she shall tell the course of her martyrdom, as she described it by her own hand and with her own mind.
Perpetua’s Own Account Begins Here.
- While we were still with the persecutors, and my father, for the sake of his affection for me, was persisting in seeking to turn me away and to cast me down from the faith, “Father,” said I, “do you see, let us say, this pottery lying here to be a little pitcher, or something else?”
And he said, “I see it to be so.”
And I replied to him, “Can it be called by any other name than what it is?”
And he said, “No.”
“Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am—a Christian.”
Then my father, provoked at this saying, threw himself upon me, as if he would tear my eyes out. But he only distressed me, and went away overcome by the devil’s arguments. Then, in a few days after I had been without my father, I gave thanks to the Lord; and his absence became a source of consolation to me. In that same interval of a few days we were baptized, and to me the Spirit prescribed that in the water baptism nothing else was to be sought for bodily endurance. After a few days, we are taken into the dungeon, and I was very much afraid, because I had never felt such darkness. O terrible day! O the fierce heat of the shock of the soldiery, because of the crowds! I was unusually distressed by my anxiety for my infant. There were present there Tertius and Pomponius, the blessed deacons who ministered to us, who had arranged by means of a bribe that we might be refreshed by being sent out for a few hours into a pleasanter part of the prison. Then going out of the dungeon, all attended to their own wants. I suckled my child, who was now weak with hunger. In my anxiety for him, I addressed my mother and comforted my brother, and commended my son to their care. I was languishing because I had seen them languishing on my account. Such solicitude I suffered for many days, and I obtained permission for my infant to remain in the dungeon with me; and from that moment I grew strong and was relieved from distress and anxiety about my infant; and the dungeon became to me as it were a palace, so that I preferred being there to being anywhere else.
- Then my brother said to me, “My dear sister, you are already in a position of great dignity, and are such that you may ask for a vision, and that it may be made known to you whether this is to result in your martyrdom or an escape.”
And I, who knew that I was privileged to converse with the Lord, whose kindnesses I had found to be so great, boldly promised him, and said, “Tomorrow I will tell you.”
And I asked, and this was what was shown me. I saw a golden ladder of marvelous height, reaching up all the way to heaven, and very narrow, so that persons could only ascend it one by one; and on the sides of the ladder were fixed every kind of iron weapon. There were there swords, lances, hooks, daggers; so that if any one went up carelessly, or not looking upwards, he would be torn to pieces and his flesh would cling to the iron weapons. And under the ladder itself was crouching a dragon of wonderful size, who lay in wait for those who ascended, and frightened them from the ascent. And Saturus went up first, who had subsequently delivered himself up freely on our account, not having been present at the time that we were taken prisoners. And he attained the top of the ladder, and turned towards me, and said to me, “Perpetua, I am waiting for you; but be careful that the dragon does not bite you.”
And I said, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.” And from under the ladder itself, as if in fear of me, he slowly lifted up his head; and as I trod upon the first step, I trod upon his head. And I went up, and I saw an immense extent of garden, and in the midst of the garden a white-haired man sitting in the dress of a shepherd, of a large stature, milking sheep; and standing around were many thousand white-robed ones.
And he raised his head, and looked upon me, and said to me, “You are welcome, daughter.”
And he called me, and from the cheese as he was milking he gave me as it were a little cake, and I received it with folded hands; and I ate it, and all who stood around said “Amen.” And at the sound of their voices I awoke, still tasting a sweetness which I cannot describe. And I immediately related this to my brother, and we understood that it was to be death, and we ceased from then on to have any hope in this world.
PERPETUA, WHEN ASSAILED BY HER FATHER, COMFORTS HIM. WHEN LED WITH OTHERS TO THE TRIBUNAL, SHE DECLARED HERSELF A CHRISTIAN, AND WAS CONDEMNED TO THE WILD BEASTS WITH THE REST. SHE PRAYED FOR HER BROTHER DINOCRATES, WHO WAS DEAD.
- After a few days there prevailed a report that we should have our hearing. And then my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety. He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying, “Have pity, my daughter, on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called a father by you. If with these hands I have brought you up to this flower of your age, if I have favored you above all your brothers, do not deliver me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who won’t survive if you die.
“Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction; for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything.” These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands, and throwing himself at my feet; and with tears he did not call me daughter, but lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone of all my family would not rejoice over my martyrdom.
And I comforted him, saying, “On that scaffold whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are not placed in our own power, but in that of God.” And he left me sorrowfully.
- Another day, while we were at dinner, we were suddenly taken away to our hearing, and we arrived at the town-hall. At once the word spread through the neighborhood of the public place, and an immense number of people gathered together. We mounted the platform. The others were interrogated, and confessed [Christ]. Then they came to me, and my father immediately appeared with my boy, and withdrew me from the step, and said in a supplicating tone, “Have pity on your babe.” And Hilarianus the procurator, who had just received the power over life and death in the stead of the proconsul Minucius Timinianus, who had died, said, “spare the gray hairs of your father, spare the infancy of your boy, offer sacrifice for the well-being of the emperors”
And I replied, “I will not do so.”
Hilarianus asked, “Are you a Christian?”
And I replied, “I am a Christian.”
And as my father stood there to cast me down from the faith, he was ordered by Hilarianus to be thrown down, and was beaten with rods. And my father’s misfortune grieved me as if I myself had been beaten, I so grieved for his wretched old age. The procurator then delivered judgment on all of us, and condemned us to the wild beasts, and we went down cheerfully to the dungeon. Then, because my child had been used to receive suck from me, and to stay with me in the prison, I send Pomponius the deacon to my father to ask for the infant, but my father would not give him to him. And even as God willed it, the child no long desired the breast, nor did my breast cause me uneasiness, lest I should be tormented by care for my babe and by the pain of my breasts at the same time.
- After a few days, whilst we were all praying, on a sudden, in the middle of our prayer, there came a word to me, and I named Dinocrates; and I was amazed that that name had never come into my mind until then, and I was grieved as I remembered his misfortune. And I felt myself immediately to be worthy, and to be called on to ask on his behalf. And for him I began earnestly to make supplication, and to cry with groaning to the Lord. Without delay, on that very night, this was shown to me in a vision. I saw Dinocrates going out from a gloomy place, where also there were several others, and he was parched and very thirsty, with a filthy countenance and pallid color, and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother after the flesh, seven years of age, who died miserably with disease: his face being so eaten with cancer, that his death caused loathing in all men. For him I had made my prayer, and between him and me there was a large interval, so that neither of us could approach to the other. And moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, there was a pool full of water, having its brink higher than was the stature of the boy; and Dinocrates raised himself up as if to drink. And I was grieved that, although that pool held water, still, on account of the height to its brink, he could not drink. And I was aroused, and knew that my brother was in suffering. But I trusted that my prayer would bring help to his suffering; and I prayed for him every day until we passed over into the prison camp, for we were to fight in the camp-show. Then was the birthday of Geta Caesar, and I made my prayer for my brother day and night, groaning and weeping that he might be granted to me.
- Then, on the day in which we remained in fetters, this was revealed to me: I saw that that place which I had formerly observed to be in gloom was now bright; and Dinocrates, with a clean body well clad, was finding refreshment. And where there had been a wound, I saw a scar; and that pool which I had seen before, I saw now with its margin lowered even to the boy’s navel. And one drew water from the pool incessantly, and upon its brink was a goblet filled with water; and Dinocrates drew near and began to drink from it, and the goblet did not run out. And when he was satisfied, he went away from the water to play joyously, after the manner of children, and I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from the place of punishment.
PERPETUA WAS AGAIN TEMPTED BY HER FATHER. SHE RECEIVED HER THIRD VISION, WHEREIN SHE WAS LED AWAY TO STRUGGLE AGAINST AN EGYPTIAN. SHE FOUGHT, CONQUERED, AND RECEIVED A REWARD.
- Again, after a few days, Pudens, a soldier, an assistant overseer of the prison, who began to regard us in great esteem, perceiving that the great power of God was in us, admitted many brethren to see us, that we might encourage each other. And when the day of the games drew near, my father, worn with suffering, came to me, and began to tear out his beard, and to throw himself on the earth, and to cast himself down on his face, and to reproach his years, and to utter such words as might move all creation. I grieved for his unhappy old age.
- The day before that on which we were to fight, I saw in a vision that Pomponius the deacon came here to the gate of the prison, and pounded hard on it. I went out to him, and opened the gate for him; and he was clothed in a richly ornamented white robe, and he had on curiously formed shoes. And he said to me, “Perpetua, we are waiting for you; come!” And he held his hand to me, and we began to go through rough and winding places. Scarcely at length had we arrived breathless at the amphitheater, when he led me into the middle of the arena, and said to me, “Do not fear, I am here with you, and I am laboring with you;” and he departed. And I gazed upon an immense assembly in astonishment. And because I knew that I was given to the wild beasts, I marveled that the wild beasts were not let loose upon me.
Then there came forth against me a certain Egyptian, horrible in appearance, with his backers, to fight with me. And there came to me, as my helpers and encouragers, handsome youths; and I was stripped, and became a man. Then my helpers began to rub me with oil, as is the custom before a contest; and I beheld that Egyptian on the other hand wallowing in the dust. And a certain man of amazing height came out, so tall that he even towered over the top of the amphitheater; and he wore a loose tunic and a purple robe with two bands over the middle of his breast; and he had on curiously-formed shoes of gold and silver; and he carried a rod, as if he were a trainer of gladiators, and a green branch upon which were apples of gold. And he called for silence, and said, “This Egyptian, if he should overcome this woman, shall kill her with the sword; and if she shall conquer him, she shall receive this branch.” Then he departed.
And we drew near to one another, and began to deal out blows. He sought to lay hold of my feet, while I struck at his face with my heels; and I was lifted up in the air, and began thus to thrust at him as if I did not walk on the earth. But when I saw that there was some delay I joined my hands so as to twine my fingers with one another; and I took hold upon his head, and he fell on his face, and I stamped on his head. And the people began to shout, and my backers to exult. And I drew near to the trainer and took the branch; and he kissed me, and said to me, “Daughter, peace be with you:” and I began to go gloriously to the Gate of Life. Then I woke, and realized that I was not to fight with beasts, but against the devil. Still I knew that the victory was awaiting me.
I have written to this point, several days before the games; but what happens at the games, whoever wants to can write it down.”
This ends Perpetua’s account.
SATURUS, IN A VISION, AND PERPETUA BEING CARRIED BY ANGELS INTO THE GREAT LIGHT, BEHELD THE MARTYRS. BEING BROUGHT TO THE THRONE OF GOD, THEY WERE RECEIVED WITH A KISS. THEY RECONCILED OPTATUS THE BISHOP AND ASPASIUS THE PRESBYTER.
- Moreover, also, the blessed Saturus related this his vision, which he himself committed to writing:
We had suffered and had left our bodies, and we were beginning to be carried by four angels into the east; and their hands did not touch us. And we floated not on our backs, looking upwards, but as if ascending a gentle slope. And being set free, we at length saw the first boundless light; and I said, “Perpetua” (for she was at my side), “this is what the Lord promised to us; we have received the promise.” And while we were borne by those same four angels, there appeared to us a vast space which was like a pleasure-garden, having rose-trees and every kind of flower. And the height of the trees was like cypresses, and their leaves were falling constantly.
Moreover, there in the pleasure-garden four other angels appeared, brighter than the previous ones, who, when they saw us, gave us honor, and said to the rest of the angels, “Here they are! Here they are!” with admiration. And those four angels who bore us, being greatly afraid, put us down; and we passed over on foot the space of a furlong in a broad path. There we found Jocundus and Saturninus and Artaxius, who having suffered the same persecution were burned alive; and Quintus, who also himself a martyr had died in the prison. And we asked of them where the rest were. And the angels said to us, “Come first, enter and greet your Lord.”
- And we came near to place, the walls of which were such as if they were built of light; and before the gate of that place stood four angels, who clothed those who entered with white robes. And being clothed, we entered and saw the boundless light, and heard the united voice of some who said without ceasing, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” And in the middle of that place we saw what seemed to be a hoary man sitting, having snow-white hair, and with a youthful countenance; but his feet we did not see. And on his right hand and on his left were twenty-four elders, and behind them a great many others were standing. We entered with great wonder, and stood before the throne; and the four angels raised us up, and we kissed Him, and He passed His hand over our face. And the rest of the elders said to us, “Let us stand;” and we stood and made peace. And the elders said to us, “Enjoy.”
And I said, “Perpetua, you have what you wish.”
And she said to me, “Thanks be to God, that joyful as I was in the flesh, I am still more joyful here.”
- And we went forth, and saw before the entrance Optatus the bishop at the right hand, and Aspasius the presbyter, a teacher, at the left hand, separate and sad; and they cast themselves at our feet, and said to us, “Restore peace between us, because you have gone away and have left us thus.”
And we said to them, “Are you not our father, and you our presbyter, that you should cast yourselves at our feet?” And we prostrated ourselves, and we embraced them; and Perpetua began to speak with them, and we drew them apart in the pleasure-garden under a rose-tree.
And while we were speaking with them, the angels said unto them, “Let them alone, that they may refresh themselves; and if you have any dissensions between you, forgive one another.” And they drove them away. And they said to Optatus, “Rebuke your people, because they assemble to you as if returning from the circus, and contending about quarrelsome matters.” And then it seemed to us as if they would shut the doors. And in that place we began to recognize many brethren, and moreover martyrs. We were all nourished with an indescribable odor, which satisfied us. Then, I joyously awoke.
SECUNDULUS DIED IN THE PRISON. FELICITAS WAS PREGNANT, BUT WITH MANY PRAYERS SHE DELIVERED THE BABY IN ITS EIGHTH MONTH. THE COURAGE OF PERPETUA AND OF SATURUS WAS UNBROKEN.
- The above were the more eminent visions of the blessed martyrs Saturus and Perpetua themselves, which they themselves committed to writing. But God called Secundulus, while he has yet in the prison, by an earlier exit from the world, not without favor, so as to give a respite to the beasts. Nevertheless, even if his soul did not acknowledge cause for thankfulness, assuredly his flesh did.
- But respecting Felicitas (for to her also the Lord’s favor approached in the same way), when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the games was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed—because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished—and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among criminals after the saints had died. Moreover, also, her fellow-martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend and companion alone in the path of the same hope. Therefore, joining together their united cry, they poured forth their prayer to the Lord three days before the games. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her, and when, with the difficulty natural to an eight months’ delivery, in the labor of bringing forth she was sorrowing, some one of the servants of the Cataractarii said to her, “You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?”
And she replied, “Now it is myself who suffers what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him.”
Thus she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her own daughter.
- Since then the Holy Spirit permitted, and by permitting willed, that the proceedings of those games should be committed to writing, although we are unworthy to complete the description of so great a glory, yet we obey as it were the command of the most blessed Perpetua, yes, her sacred trust, and add one more testimony concerning her constancy and her loftiness of mind. While the Christians were treated with more severity than the other prisoners by the tribune, because, from the hints of certain false men, he feared lest thay should be spirited out of the prison by magic incantations, Perpetua answered to his face, and said, “Why do you not at least permit us to be refreshed, being as we are objectionable to the most noble Caesar, and having to fight on his birthday? Or is it not your glory if we are brought forward fatter on that occasion?” The tribune shuddered and blushed, and commanded that they should be kept with more humanity, so that permission was given to their brethren and others to go in and be refreshed with them; even the keeper of the prison trusting them now himself.
- Moreover, on the day before the games, when at that last meal, which they call the free meal, they were partaking as far as they could, not of a free supper, but of a love feast, with unshaken firmness they spoke to the crowds, warning them of the judgment of the Lord, bearing witness to the happiness of their martyrdom, laughing at the curiosity of the crowds who came together; while Saturus said, “Tomorrow is not enough for you, for you to behold with pleasure that which you hate. Friends today, enemies tomorrow. Yet note our faces diligently, that you may recognise them on the day of judgment.” Consequently, all departed from there astonished; and because of these things many believed.
FROM THE PRISON THEY WERE LED FORTH WITH JOY INTO THE AMPHITHEATRE, ESPECIALLY PERPETUA AND FELICITAS. THE WOMEN REFUSED TO PUT ON PROFANE GARMENTS. THEY WERE SCOURGED AND THROWN TO THE WILD BEASTS. SATURUS WAS UNHURT TWICE. PERPETUA AND FELICITAS WERE THROWN DOWN; THEY WERE CALLED BACK TO THE LIFE GATE. SATURUS WOUNDED BY A LEOPARD, EXHORTED A SOLDIER. THE MARTYRS KISSED ONE ANOTHER, AND WERE SLAIN WITH THE SWORD.
- The day of their victory shone forth, and they proceeded from the prison into the amphitheater, as if to an assembly, joyous and of brilliant countenances; if perhaps, with a little shrinking, it was with joy, and not with fear. Perpetua followed with a placid look, and with the step and gait of a matron of Christ, beloved of God; casting down the luster of her eyes from the gaze of all. Moreover, Felicitas, rejoicing that she had safely brought forth her child, so that she might fight with the wild beasts; going from the blood and from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after childbirth with a second baptism. And when they were brought to the gate, and were ordered to put on the clothing (the men, to dress as priests of Saturn, and the women, to dress as if consecrated to Ceres) the noble-minded Perpetua resisted even to the end with constancy. For she said, “We have come this far of our own accord, for this reason, that our liberty might not be restrained. For this reason we have yielded our minds, that we might not do any such thing as this: we have agreed on this with you.”
Injustice acknowledged the justice; the tribune agreed to allow them to brought out attired simply as they were. Perpetua sang psalms, already treading underfoot the head of the Egyptian; Revocatus, and Saturninus, and Saturus uttered threatenings against the gazing people about this martyrdom. When they came within sight of Hilarianus, by gesture and nod, they began to say to Hilarianus, “You judge us, but God will judge you.” At this the people, exasperated, demanded that they should be tormented with scourges as they passed along the rank of the gladiators. But they rejoiced that they were allowed to share one of their Lord’s sufferings.
- But He who had said, “Ask, and ye shall receive,” gave to them when they asked, that death which each one had wished for. For when at any time they had been discoursing among themselves about their wish in respect of their martyrdom, Saturninus indeed had professed that he wished that he might be thrown to all the beasts; doubtless that he might wear a more glorious crown. Therefore in the beginning of the exhibition he and Revocatus made trial of the leopard, and moreover upon the scaffold they were harassed by the bear. Saturus, however, held nothing in greater abomination than a bear; but he imagined that he would be put an end to with one bite of a leopard. Therefore, when a wild boar was supplied, it was the huntsman rather who had supplied that boar who was gored by that same beast, and died the day after the show. Saturus only was drawn out; and when he had been bound on the floor near to a bear, the bear would not come out from its den. And so Saturus for the second time was recalled unhurt.
- Moreover, for the young women the devil prepared a very fierce cow, provided especially for that purpose contrary to custom, rivalling their sex also in that of the beast. And so, stripped and clothed with nets, they were led forth. The people shuddered as they saw one young woman of delicate frame, and another with breasts still dropping from her recent childbirth. So, being recalled, they were unbound. Perpetua was led in first. She was tossed, and fell on her loins; and when she saw that her tunic was torn from her side, she drew it over her as a veil for her middle, more mindful of her modesty than her suffering. Then she was called for again, and she bound up her disheveled hair; for it was not appropriate for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair, lest she should appear to be mourning during her glory. So she got up; and when she saw Felicitas crushed, she approached and gave her a hand, and lifted her up. And both of them stood together; and the brutality of the populace being appeased, they were recalled to the Life Gate. Then Perpetua was received by one who was still a catechumen, named Rusticus, who kept close to her; and she, as if aroused from sleep, so deeply had she been in the Spirit and in an ecstasy, began to look round her, and to say to the amazement of all, “I cannot tell when we are to be led out to that cow.” And when she heard what had already happened, she did not believe it until she saw the evidences of injury in her body and in her dress, and had recognized the catechumen. Afterwards causing that catechumen and the brother to approach, she addressed them, saying, “Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and don’t falter because of my sufferings.”
- The same Saturus at the other entrance exhorted the soldier Pudens, saying, “Assuredly here I am, as I have promised and foretold, for up to this moment I have felt no beast. And now believe with your whole heart. See, I am going out to that beast, and I shall be destroyed with one bite of the leopard.” And immediately at the conclusion of the games he was thrown to the leopard; and with one bite of his he was bathed with such a quantity of blood, that the people shouted out to him as he was returning, the testimony of his second baptism, “Saved and washed, saved and washed.” It was clear he was saved—having been glorified in such a spectacle. Then to the soldier Pudens he said, “Farewell, and take note of my faith; and don’t let these things disturb you, but confirm you.” And at the same time he asked for a little ring from his finger, and returned it to him bathed in his wound, leaving to him an inherited token and the memory of his blood. And then almost lifeless he was thrown down with the rest, to be slaughtered in the usual place.
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