Martydom crowns the spires of the Church as the most dramatic act of witness for the faith. No matter how a Christians dies, he knows that he who endures to the end will be saved (Mt 10:22, 24:13; Mk 13:13), so that with the grace of God he can say with St. Paul I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7)
Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. (Jas 1:12)Vivia Perpetua was an early martyr. She was a twenty-two-year-old catechumen (person preparing to enter the Church) when she was arrested in 203 A.D. during the persecution of Emperor Severus. Her father was a pagan. She was still nursing an infant son at the time of her arrest. She was liberally educated and married to a man of high rank. In short, she possessed every advantage of Roman society, yet she looked upon her worldly goods as nothing next to eternal life with her Lord, the crown of the martyrs. Her written account of her stay in prison, partially reprinted here, stands as a powerful witness to the trials she underwent.
A few days afterwards, a rumor was spread that we were to be examined. On hearing this, my father hastened again to the prison I saw at once the deep sorrow depicted on his countenance; he looked pale and emaciated with anxiety He came to me and said:
`My daughter, have pity on my gray hairs; have pity on thy father, if I still deserve to be called by that name. If thou still rememberest, that with these hands I have brought thee up to this the flower of thy age; if I have cherished thee more fondly than any of my other children, do not make me a laughing-stock to men. Look upon thy brothers, look upon thy mother and thy aunt; have compassion on thy darling babe, that cannot survive thee. Lay aside that haughtiness and foolish courage, before thou bring us all to ruin. Shouldst thou perish by the hand of the executioner, which of us shall therefore be able to lift up his head?'
Thus spoke my father, and taking my hands, he kissed them; he threw himself at my feet, and shedding a flood of tears, he called me no longer his daughter, but his lady. A great sadness overpowered my soul at this moving scene, which was much increased when I reflected, that my father was the only person in the family who would not rejoice at my Martyrdom! I endeavored to console him, and said: `My father, grieve not; nothing will befall me upon the scaffold, save what is pleasing to God. Remember that we are all in God's power, not in our own.' Then my father, without uttering a word, went away, weeping as if his heart would break.
The following day, whilst we were taking our meal, some officers suddenly presented themselves, and summoned us to appear before the judge We repaired to the forum The report of our trial had already been spread throughout the city; a vast concourse of people of every rank filled the tribunal one after another we were ordered to mount an elevated platform, whereon was seated Hilarian, the Procurator of the Province. Every one of my companions, when interrogated, generously confessed the Faith. It was now my turn; I was ready to make, without fear or trepidation, the same firm confession of my Faith, when behold, I see my father standing before me with my infant in his arms. He draws me a little aside, and, in a tone of gentlest supplication, he addresses me:
`O my daughter, have pity on thy innocent babe!' Hilarian, the judge, seeing the entreating looks of my father, immediately joins in: `Spare the gray hairs of thy father,' says he, `have' pity on this little infant. Sacrifice for the prosperity of the Emperors!'
`I will not do it,' I reply.
`Art thou then a Christian ?' asks Hilarian.
`Yes, I am a Christian,' I answer.
The boldness with which I made this confession, seemed to embarrass the magistrate Meanwhile, my father did not cease by words and looks to urge me to comply with the command of the judge. But Hilarian, recovering himself, and seeing that all endeavors of persuading me would end in disappointment, ordered one of the officers to send away my father. This officer, in order to enforce compliance with his command, was so bold as to strike my father with his stick. This blow afflicted me more than all I had hitherto endured. I knew how sensibly the disgracefulness of such an act would affect my aged parent, who had never failed to resent the least insult offered to any member of his family. Wherefore, I grieved much more for my father's sake than I would have done, had I myself been publicly beaten with rods.
After this, Hilarian pronounced our sentence, whereby we were all condemned to be exposed to the wild beasts. Our condemnation filled us with the greatest joy, and we returned cheerfully to our prison.
(from Acts of the Early Martyrs, vol. 1, by J.A.M. Fastre, 1873)