PERPETUA

Last week one of our daughters, who lives with her husband and daughter in Oregon, mentioned that they had made a weekend visit to the beautiful and often rugged Oregon coast. Among the most spectacular of the sights to her, she said, was Cape Perpetua, situated near the middle of the coast between Florence to the south and Yachats to the north. We’ve been there before, and it is indeed worth seeing.

I’ve often wondered where the unusual and strikingly noble name of Perpetua originated. The only other time I’ve seen it is in John Foxe’s Christian Martyrs of the World. I’d very much like to think that it was this Perpetua, born around 181 A.D. and who lived in Carthage in the Roman province of Africa, who inspired the name of the beautiful Oregon cape.

Perpetua suffered under the persecution which began in A.D. 200. According to Foxe, this was the fifth of ten persecutions foretold by Jesus in His message to the Church at Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11:

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and is alive. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich); and I know the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”

The Church at Smyrna was the second of the seven Churches addressed by Jesus in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. Of these Churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia were the only two for which Jesus had nothing negative to say. It has been broadly recognized as the persecuted Church. According to Foxe and other theologians the ten ‘days’ spoken of by Jesus were ten periods of overt, usually intense persecution. Foxe listed them all in his book, which is considered to be one of the three greatest Christian works outside the Bible ever written. The following is his entry regarding Perpetua:

“During the reign of Severus, the Christians had several years of rest and could worship God without fear of punishment. But after a time, the hatred of the ignorant mob again prevailed, and the old laws were remembered and put in force against them. Fire, sword, wild beasts, and imprisonment were resorted to again, and even the dead bodies of Christians were stolen from their graves and mutilated. Yet the faithful continued to multiply. Tertullian, who lived at this time, said that if the Christians had all gone away from the Roman territories, the empire would have been greatly weakened.

“By now, the persecutions had extended to northern Africa, which was a Roman province, and many were murdered in that area. One of these was Perpetua, a married lady twenty-six years old with a baby at her breast. On being taken before the proconsul Minutius, Perpetua was commanded to sacrifice to the idols. Refusing to do so, she was put in a dark dungeon and deprived of her child, but two of her keepers, Tertius and Pomponius, allowed her out in the fresh air several hours a day, during which time she was allowed to nurse her child.

“Finally the Christians were summoned to appear before the judge and urged to deny their Lord, but all remained firm. When Perpetua’s turn came, her father suddenly appeared,, carrying her infant in his arms, and begged her to save her own life for the sake of her child. Even the judge seemed to be moved. ‘Spare the gray hairs of your father,’ he said. ‘Spare your child. Offer sacrifice for the welfare of the emporer.’

“Perpetua answered, ‘I will not sacrifice.’

“’Are you a Christian?’ demanded Hilarianus, the judge.

“’I am a Christian,’ was her answer.

“Perpetua and all the other Christians tried with her that day were ordered killed by wild beasts as a show for the crowd on the next holiday. They entered the place of execution clad in the simplest of robes, Perpetua singing a hymn of triumph. The men were to be torn to pieces by leopards and bears. Perpetua and a young woman named Felicitas were hung up in nets, at first naked, but the crowd demanded that they should be allowed their clothing.

“When they were again returned to the arena, a bull was let loose on them. Felicitas fell, seriously wounded. Perpetua was tossed, her loose robe torn and her hair falling loose, but she hastened to the side of the dying Felicitas and gently raised her from the ground. When the bull refused to attack them again, they were dragged out of the arena, to the disappointment of the crowd, which wanted to see their deaths. Finally brought back in to be killed by gladiators, Perpetua was assigned to a trembling young man who stabbed her weakly several times, not being used to such scenes of violence. When she saw how upset the young man was, Perpetua guided his sword to a vital area and died.”

Additional material on Perpetua can be found on the Internet by Googling “Perpetua”. The Wikipedia entry differs in some minor details from Foxe’s, but also adds some useful information. Perpetua, for example, is identified there as of noble heritage. Felicitas (Felicity), was supposedly her slave. The Catholic Church has canonized her, along with Felicity, as a saint. Her feast day is March 7, the date of her execution.

The perceived nobility of her name has a factual basis in the circumstance of her birth. But her high birth is of little consequence compared to the nobility of her faith and the beautiful manner in which she chose to exercise it.

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