“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Matthew 10:34–35)
The first few centuries saw waves of persecution against the church and in around 200AD the Emperor Septimus Severus began another which swept across the empire. In Carthage, which sits on the North African coast, a young mother in her early twenties was arrested. Remarkably her own testimony survived, and gives us an insight into her thoughts. Here are some extracts:
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.…
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 into 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.
There then follows an account of a vision which strengthened her resolve, and we move to an account of her hearing.
Hilarianus the Governor … 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. Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits.…
At this stage she can no longer write, so another picks up the account.
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 in mourning in her hour of triumph.
Perpetua then 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.”
… 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 could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.
Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly you are called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord!