PBS Frontline: From Jesus to Christ
Part Two: The Prison Diary of Perpetua, a Martyr
Original Article Here
PBS has some incredibly detailed and informative pieces that they air, and periodically, they show one production that just sticks with you. For me the segment on the martyrdom of Perpetua, in the Frontline series From Jesus to Christ, was that piece.
In the early 3rd century, around the year 203 in ancient Carthage, North Africa, Christianity was quickly becoming a crime and recanting Christ was the only path to freedom. Perpetua, a pregnant North African woman chose to give up wealth, freedom, and eventually her life, instead of renouncing her faith in Jesus. Perpetua was charged and imprisoned for her faith. She had caught the attention of the Governor, who begged her to cooperate and pay her dues. At one point, her own father pleads with her, practically beating her into renouncing Christ in order to be freed, but Perpetua chooses death. As she documents her entire experience in a personal diary, she gives birth and has to give up her only child before she is sent to the arena. Her diary is completed by another Christian, possibly someone who admired her faith, came to visit her in prison, and went with her to the arena for her death. The diary concludes with Perpetua being mauled and tormented by several animals and then a trembling young gladiator is sent to execute her. Even in the face of her own executioner Perpetua is confident, tranquil, and resolved to the point that she guides the gladiator's sword to her own throat and he slays her.
Some may term that stubborn, but others would call it heroic. I belong to the latter group, and not only do I deem it heroic, but also obedient. Perpetua was a woman worthy of the calling*, a woman after God's own heart, for she did not need to hold violent protests to stand up for what she believed in, her heroism exuded great serenity and much submission to God's will. In one of Peter's letters to persecuted Christians, he writes that a woman of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth in God's sight.* And I believe that a woman of circumstance such as Perpetua could only be confident because of the fact that her death would mean freedom to be dispatched towards heaven. Historians have not found the diaries of many martyrs, in fact, its more likely that in the face of persecution, people often recanted their faith in Christ and then eventually repented and returned to the faith. Perpetua, however, was in a class of her own.
In one of the synoptic gospels, Jesus shares a parable about justice and persistence in which a widow consistently brings her case to the judge in order to receive justice. With much annoyance and little deliberation, the judge grants the woman's pleas and justice is served. The point of this parable is to show that persistence and boldness are rewarded. And given the fact that we live in a microwave society, where everything moves at the speed of light, and things are here today gone tomorrow, its not surprising that Jesus ends the parable with this question to his disciples, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"*
"In the blood of the martyrs, lie the seeds of the church." Are you willing to be a martyr for your faith?
Listen to the story of Perpetua
*(Ephesians 4:1) (2Thessalonians 1:11)