The book “Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas” reflects the unique ideals and values o women during the Middle Ages and desires to enter martyrdom similar to men who follow this experience for centuries. The uniqueness and impotence of his text are that it is written by a Christian woman who experiences hardship and sufferings even more than men. During the Middle Ages, women were perceived as weak sex unable to perform the same functions as fathers and husbands. With a suggestion to the direct extension of control by authority, while it is obvious that when the issue appeared authority was asserted, the degree of achievement is evident.
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Certainly, the religion of this time was embarrassed by the fact that some of the women were themselves unable to perform that which they commanded their flocks to do. Not only did a number of women lapse and deny their faith but others compromised themselves by journey in order to avoid court proceedings. While the attempt was made to honor their behavior by calling withdrawal, retirement, or expulsion, nevertheless the woman so situated had difficulty in maintaining the authority. However, the declaration of authority was attempted, with some measure of success, at least. “Since therefore the Holy Spirit has suffered, and suffering has willed, that the order of the games also should be written; yet we accomplish the will of the holiest Perpetua, nay rather her sacred trust, adding one testimony more of her own steadfastness and height of spirit”.
The text tells that fathers were against such actions as committed by Perpetua and Felicitas, and tried to return their daughters back to home and “normal life”. That the most strategic attempts in harassment made specific aim indicate that their authority was recognized by the state to be effectual. On the other hand, the failure of such efforts clearly shows that the formal authority of a father was not the most important element in winning the issue. A helpful aspect of the question of formal father’s authority was the situation broached by the appeals of the failed members for readmission to the religion and Christianity on the basis of certificates from confessors. The text vividly portrays hardship and grievances experienced by the two women in prison, the troubles of the martyrs before their execution, the visions of Saturus and Perpetua in dungeons. Thus, this experience differed greatly from the traditional roman norms that accepted martyrdom of men. The clearest evidence of the roman traditions and values of the church appears from the disorganization which resulted as persecution or local repression entailed the interruption of meetings. Regular meetings of the communities were held as long as possible, but presently this became an element of risk since it marked out to the opponents of the Christians where their victims might be found and aided in identifying Christians as such.
There is confirmation that willingness to experience martyrdom depended largely upon the strength of the norms and social life of the community. This appears unquestionably from the fact that women who undergo martyrdom away from the home communities were held by Christian leaders to be less desirable than the public execution of a martyr in the sight of his fellows. The Passion mentions the following episode: “Felicity likewise, rejoicing that she had borne a child in safety, that she might fight with the beasts, came now from blood to blood, from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after her travail in a second baptism”. To some extent, this situation violated the traditions and norms of the society and religious values it followed for ages.
Another factor involving matters of martyrdom experienced by women was the special position of the confessors. It was only natural that the example and catchphrase of a confessor should be effective; they had actually passed their first crisis and were awaiting death. As a result, their influence was great. It was this very impact which became a humiliation to the authorized officials, when the imprisoned women assumed, as they not seldom did, to declare peace to the failed, and in an almost curt tone to inform their enemies that they had done so. The text states: “For this cause came we willingly unto this, that our liberty might not be obscured. … the tribune suffered that they should be brought forth as they were, without more ado”. The problem of the women greatly disturbed the social function of the religion. In such persecution as that of thousands renounced their faith and performed the demanded sacrifices. What to do with these cases of martyrdom was a problem, of scale, since the number was large, and of a kind, since differing policies presently appeared. Critics say with confidence that whether operating with a degree of familiarity or in organized purpose in ritual and authoritative discipline, the communal control over candidates for martyrdom was affected by the Christian communities. In all forms of such activity, the churches acted as social agencies.
For many women, an adequate impression of the value of their companionship was generated that they were highly competent in attaining their objectives. The main factor in the control of their lives was the force of the value of unity. It was for the protection of the unity that rewards were promised, and for the failure to maintain it that punishment was in danger. Both the rewards and the punishments were asserted, and information of them gained, through the companionship which must be kept inviolate. The women martyrs were prepared in their companionship as a Christian community, which, through meetings, ritual, and power, succeeded in producing the necessary attitudes of which its women martyrs were made.
In sum, the text reveals that women martyrs were rejected by society and family because of their gender and social status. Married women from noble families were an exception among martyrs and violated all norms and traditions created by society.
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What was aimed at was to make the behavior of the witness in every eventuality predictable, for the expected thing is always controllable; if it is not probable to manage the event, the attitude toward it may be controlled. The Christians might not prevent harassment; but they might, and did, manage the behavior of martyrs. The religion and religious leaders undertook to formulate the loyalties of their adherents, not leaving the matter to chance. The family relations in the story of Perpetua and Felicitas are related for the clear purpose of exciting an emotional response. Whatever reduction must be made from these stories, the details of torture in the later passions are so unnecessarily explicit that they unmistakably disclose the pleasure which accrued to the writer in the consideration of pain. The importance of these stories is that they recommended answers to the questions that worried other believers, and framed replies to the arguments of religious leaders of that time. They even held the notice of witnesses during their examinations. Lastly, these women martyrs attempted so to control witnesses that if their cases were issued unfavorably they would prefer martyrdom to release by denial.
Lynn Hunt, et al The Making of the West, Peoples and Cultures a Consice History, Bedford/St. Martin’s; Second Edition edition, 2006.
Lualdi, K. J. Sources of the making of the west peoples and cultures Vol.1, Bedford/St. Martin’s; 2nd edition, 2—6.