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Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI: TERTULLIAN; PERPETUA AND COMPANIONS (AD 181-206)

The Emperor Marcus Aurelius died in 181, and the Church was little
troubled by persecution for the following twenty years.

About this time a false teacher named Montanus made much noise in
the world. He was born in Phrygia, and seems to have been crazed in
his mind. He used to fall into fits, and while in them, he uttered
ravings which were taken for prophecies, or messages from heaven:
and some women who followed him also pretended to be prophetesses.
These people taught a very strict way of living, and thus many
persons who wished to lead holy lives were deceived into running
after them. One of these was Tertullian, of Carthage, in Africa, a
very clever and learned man, who had been converted from heathenism,
and had written some books in defence of the Gospel, but he was of a
proud and impatient temper, and did not rightly consider how our
Lord Himself had said that there would always be a mixture of evil
with the good in His Church on earth (St. Matt. xiii. 38, 48). And
hence, when Montanus pretended to set up a new church, in which
there should be none but good and holy people, Tertullian fell into
the snare, and left the true Church to join the Montanists (as the
followers of Montanus were called). From that time he wrote very
bitterly against the Church; but he still continued to defend the
Gospel in his books against Jews and heathens, and all kinds of
false teachers, except Montanus. And when he was dead, his good
deeds were remembered more than his fall, so that, with all his
faults, his name has always been held in respect.

After more than twenty years of peace, there were cruel persecutions
in some places, under the reign of Severus. The most famous of the
martyrs who then suffered were Perpetua and her companions, who
belonged to the same country with Tertullian, and perhaps to his own
city, Carthage. Perpetua was a young married lady, and had a little
baby only a few weeks old. Her father was a heathen, but she herself
had been converted, and was a "catechumen"-- which was the name
given to converts who had not yet been baptized, but were in a
course of "catechising", or training for baptism. When Perpetua had
been put into prison, her father went to see her, in the hope that
he might persuade her to give up her faith. "Father," she said, "you
see this vessel standing here; can you call it by any other than its
right name?" He answered, "No." "Neither," said Perpetua, "can I
call myself anything else than what I am--a Christian." On hearing
this, her father flew at her in such anger that it seemed as if he
would tear out her eyes; but she stood so quietly that he could not
bring himself to hurt her, and he went away and did not come again
for some time.

In the meanwhile Perpetua and some of her companions were baptized;
and at her baptism she prayed for grace to bear whatever sufferings
might be in store for her. The prison in which she and the others
were shut up was a horrible dungeon, where Perpetua suffered much
from the darkness, the crowded state of the place, the heat and
closeness of the air, and the rude behaviour of the guards. But most
of all she was distressed about her poor little child, who was
separated from her, and was pining away. Some kind Christians,
however, gave money to the keepers of the prison, and got leave for
Perpetua and her friends to spend some hours of the day in a lighter
part of the building, where her child was brought to see her. And
after a while she took him to be always with her, and then she felt
as cheerful as if she had been in a palace.

The martyrs were comforted by dreams, which served to give them
courage and strength to bear their sufferings, by showing them
visions of blessedness which was to follow. When the day was fixed
for their trial, Perpetua's father went again to see her. He begged
her to take pity on his old age, to remember all his kindness to
her, and how he had loved her best of all his children. He implored
her to think of her mother and her brothers, and of the disgrace
which would fall on all the family if she were to be put to death as
an evil-doer. The poor old man shed a flood of tears; he humbled
himself before her, kissing her hands, throwing himself at her feet,
and calling her Lady instead of Daughter. But, although Perpetua was
grieved to the heart, she could only say, "God's pleasure will be
done on us. We are not in our own power, but in His."

One day, as the prisoners were at dinner, they were suddenly hurried
off to their trial. The market-place, where the judge was sitting,
was crowded with people, and when Perpetua was brought forward, her
father crept as close to her as he could, holding out her child,
and said, "Take pity on your infant." The judge himself entreated
her to pity the little one and the old man, and to sacrifice but,
painful as the trial was, she steadily declared that she was a
Christian, and that she could not worship false gods. At these
words, her father burst out into such loud cries that the judge
ordered him to be put down from the place where he was standing and
to be beaten with rods. Perhaps the judge did not mean so much to
punish the old man for being noisy as to try whether the sight of
his suffering might not move his daughter; but, although Perpetua
felt every blow as if it had been laid upon herself, she knew that
she must not give way. She was condemned, with her companions, to be
exposed to wild beasts; and, after she had been taken back to
prison, her father visited her once more. He seemed as if beside
himself with grief; he tore his white beard, he cursed his old age,
and spoke in a way that might have moved a heart of stone. But still
Perpetua could only be sorry for him; she could not give up her
Saviour.

The prisoners were kept for some time after their condemnation, that
they might be put to death at some great games which were to be held
on the birthday of one of the emperor's sons; and during this
confinement their behaviour had a great effect on many who saw it.
The gaoler himself was converted by it, and so were others who had
gone to gaze at them. At length the appointed day came, and the
martyrs were led into the amphitheatre. The men were torn by
leopards and bears; Perpetua and a young woman named Felicitas, who
had been a slave, were put into nets and thrown before a furious
cow, who tossed them and gored them cruelly; and when this was over,
Perpetua seemed as if she had not felt it, but were awaking from a
trance, and she asked when the cow was to come. She then helped
Felicitas to rise from the ground, and spoke words of comfort and
encouragement to others. When the people in the amphitheatre had
seen as much as they wished of the wild beasts, they called out
that the prisoners should be killed. Perpetua and the rest then
took leave of each other, and walked with cheerful looks and firm
steps into the middle of the amphitheatre, where men with swords
fell on them and dispatched them. The executioner who was to kill
Perpetua was a youth, and was so nervous that he stabbed her in a
place where the hurt was not deadly; but she herself took hold of
his sword, and showed him where to give her the death-wound.