PERPETUA and FELICITY
– From the Mystical Revelations of Maria Valtorta –
– INTRODUCTION –
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." So goes an ancient saying handed down by tradition, a time-altered version perhaps of Tertullian's original taunt to pagan persecutors: "The more you hew us down, the more we multiply. The blood of Christians is seed."1
Down the ages of the Church's existence, the earth has opened its mouth to receive the blood of countless numbers of Her martyred children. But the Church, reinvigorated by the blood of Her children's supreme sacrifice, has grown numberless new shoots on Her ancient Vine. The names of most of these, Her noblest children, we will know only on the Last Day when the Book of Life is opened. Still, a loving Providence has wanted some of them known, honored and remembered even in this life.Thus, Mother Church has enshrined a few of their names in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
Among these are the subjects of this present paper: the African catechumens Perpetua and Felicity. They were martyred with their companions for their Christian Faith on March 6, 203 A.D., in the amphitheater at Carthage. This premiere translation of their martyrdom is taken from the Visions and Dictations given to the modern Italian mystic, Maria Valtorta (1897-1961†), and recorded in her "Notebooks." Valtorta is best known for her increasingly popular and chief work, The Poem of the Man-God.2 However, she also recorded many other Visions and Dictations (Locutions) in the three large volumes of her still largely untranslated "Notebooks for 1943, ...1944, and ...1945-1950" respectively. The present translation is taken from the critical edition of her "Notebooks for 1944," 3 and might best be read along with the more traditional account found, e.g., in Butler's translation of the Acta Sanctorum4 for March 7th. The presentation given here consists first of Valtorta's vivid eyewitness account of the imprisonment and death of the martyrs as shown to her. This is followed by two Locutions: Commentaries dictated by Christ Himself on the generous sacrifice of His martyrs.
Sadly, in our own day we are seeing the utter antithesis of this supreme sacrifice. Untold numbers of Catholic Christians today, grown cold and callous from rationalism, materialism, sensuality, and power-hungry ideologies, have partially or wholly thrown away the truths of their ancient Faith so dearly bought and bequeathed them by their forebears: their brothers and sisters who died to defend this Faith. But, today too, many Christians are being called again to the grace of martyrdom given the early Church. And this is perhaps in reparation for the thoughtless ingratitude, the heartless and wanton waste of so costly a heritage by myriads of their fellow "Catholics/Christians" today. In Russia, e.g., China, Africa, former Yugoslavia, Latin America, countless numbers of faithful Catholics have been called anew today to make the supreme sacrifice of their life's blood, to bear witness to Christ, the Truth, and to the truths of the Faith He bequeathed us.
But if we give due credence to the uncanny agreement among so many of today's disparate prophets and visionaries, the blood of new martyrs soon will flow in the streets of America too. For if the rising tide of Christian/Catholic bashing today indicates anything: the insults, derision, verbal and even physical abuse in the media, by government and law enforcement agencies -- then we are perhaps seeing the dark forebodings of more violent persecutions for which modern prophecies are trying to prepare us.
If that be so, perhaps the martyrdom of early Christian Saints like Perpetua and Felicity presented here can inspire and help us in our own day, which grows more and more ominously like that of these Saints. May they intercede for us and obtain for us the strength and courage to face whatever be our destiny.
Valtorta: ["Toward 5:00 p.m., Jesus says to me"]:
"It was not My intention to give you this vision this evening. I had intended to show you another episode of the 'gospels of faith.' 5 But someone who deserves to be satisfied expressed a desire, and [so] I satisfy him.6 Despite your pains: see, observe and describe. As for your pains, give them to Me; and the description, to your brothers."
"So I write despite my pains, so severe, in which I seem to have my head in a vise that starts from the nape [of the neck] and joins my forehead, and then goes down toward my spine in back: a terrible pain in which I thought I would explode with meningitis; and then I fainted. Even now it is so severe. But Jesus allows me to write successfully in order to obey. Later..., later..., what will be, will be.
Meanwhile, I assure you7 that I pass from one surprise to another. Because, first, I find myself before some Africans, or at least Arabs, while I have always believed that these Saints were Europeans. For I had not the least notion of their social and physical condition and their martyrdom. As for Agnes, I knew her life and death.8 But these! It is as if I were reading an unknown account.
For the first illustration, before I fainted, I saw an amphitheater somewhat like the Coliseum (but not in ruins), then empty of people. Only one young and very beautiful dark-skinned woman stands erect there in the middle of it. Raised above the ground, she radiates a beatific light that bursts out from her brown body and from the dark garment that covers her. She seems an angel of the place. She looks at me and smiles. It is then that I faint and see nothing more.
Now the Vision is completed. I am in a building that, from its gloomy appearance and lack of any conveniences whatever, reveals itself as a fortress used as a prison. It is not the underground place of the Tullianum 9 I saw yesterday. Here there are little rooms and elevated corridors. But they are of such scant space and light, and furnished with such bars, iron gates and locks, that their severity nullifies their 'somewhat better' [aspect] given by their placement [compared to the Tullianum]. This cancels that still smaller idea of their freedom.
In one of these 'holes,' the young dark-skinned woman I saw in the amphitheater sits on an ugly little table that also serves as bed, seat and table. Now, she does not radiate any light, but only such peace. She has in her lap a little boy a few months old to whom she gives her milk. She sings him a lullaby, cuddling him with a gesture of love. The baby plays with the young mother and she caresses his little face, which is more olive-complected against her brown maternal breast. He attaches and detaches himself from it greedily, and with sudden little laughs full of milk.
The young woman is very beautiful: with a regular, roundish face, and very beautiful large eyes of a velvety black, a thick but small mouth full of very white and regular teeth; black and somewhat kinky hair, but held in place by tight tresses wrapped round her head. She has a brown color, swarthy but not excessively so. Even among us Italians, and especially in the south of Italy, we see that color, but just a little lighter than this. When she rises to put the little boy to sleep by walking up and down the cell, I see that she is tall and gracefully shaped. Not excessively so, but her figure is already well formed. She seems a queen in her stately bearing. She wears a simple dark garment, almost like her skin. It falls down on her in soft folds along her beautiful body.
An old man enters. He, too, is dark. The jailer lets him enter by opening the heavy gate. He then withdraws. The young woman turns and smiles. The old man looks at her and weeps. For some minutes they remain thus.
Then the pain of the old man erupts. With anxiety he pleads with his daughter to have pity on his suffering:
'It's not for this that I begot you!' he says to her. 'Among all my children I have loved you: joy and light of my house. And now you want to ruin yourself and ruin your poor father, who feels his heart dying with the pain that you give him. Daughter! for months now I am pleading with you. You wished to resist [me] and [now] you have known prison: you who were born amid comforts. Bowing my back before the powerful, I have obtained [permission] for you, though a prisoner, to remain in your house. I assured the judge that I had made you yield to my paternal authority. Now he mocks me, because he sees that you care nothing about my authority. This is not what that doctrine you call "perfect," should teach you. What kind of God is He Whom you follow, then, that He inspires you not to respect the one who begot you? not to love him? For if you loved me you would not give me so much sorrow. Your stubbornness -- that not even pity for that innocent child has conquered -- has succeeded in having you snatched from your house and shut up in this prison.
But now they no longer talk of prison, but of death! And an atrocious death! Why? For whom? For whom do you want to die? Does this God of yours need your, need our sacrifice -- mine and that of your offspring who will have no more mother -- does He!? Does His triumph need your blood and my weeping to be complete? But how so? The wild animal loves its offspring, and loves them all the more as it has held them at its bosom. Even in this I was hoping, and it was for this that I obtained for you to be able to feed your baby. But you do not change. And after you have fed him, warmed him, and made yourself a pillow for his sleep, now you reject him, abandon him without regret. I do not plead with you for myself. But in his name. You have no right to make him an orphan. Your God has no right to do this. How can I believe Him to be more good than our gods if He wants these cruel sacrifices? You cause me not to love Him, but to curse Him always more. But No! No! What am I saying? Oh! Perpetua, forgive me! Forgive your old father whom sorrow drives mad!
You want me to love Him, your God? I will love Him more than myself. But stay among us. Tell the judge that you relent. Then you may love whomever you wish of the gods of the earth. Then you may do with your father whatever you wish. I do not call you "daughter" anymore. I am not your father any longer, but your servant, your slave; and you are my mistress. Lady: order, and I will obey you. But have pity, have pity. Save yourself while you still can. There is no more time to wait. You know your companion has brought her offspring to light, and nothing stops the sentence now anymore. Your son will be torn from you; you will not see him anymore. Perhaps tomorrow, perhaps this very day. Have pity, daughter! Have pity on me and on him who does not even know how to speak. But you see how he looks at you and smiles! How he calls for your love! Oh! Mistress! My Mistress! Light and queen of my heart! Light and joy of your newborn son: have pity, have pity!'
The old man is on his knees and kisses the hem of his daughter's garment. He embraces her knees and seeks to take her hand, which she places on her heart to suppress her human torment. But nothing makes her yield.
'It is for the love that I have for you and for him,' she answers, 'that I remain faithful to my Lord. No glory of earth will give to your white head and to this innocent child such adornment as my dying will give you. You will join the Faith. And then what would you say of me if, out of momentary cowardice, I had renounced the Faith? My God does not need my blood nor your weeping to triumph. But you need it, in order to be joined to Life. And this innocent child does, in order to remain there. Through the life that you gave me and the joy that he has given me, I obtain the Life that is true, eternal, blissful. No. My God does not teach us to have no love for our fathers, our children. But to have true love. Sorrow makes you delirious now, Father. But afterward, the light will be in you and you will bless me. I will bring it to you from Heaven. And this innocent child: it is not that I love him less, now that I have caused the pouring out of my blood to nourish him. If pagan ferocity were not against us Christians, I would have been a most loving mother to him, and he would have been the goal of my life. But God is greater than [this] flesh born from me, and infinitely greater the love that should be given to Him. I cannot -- even in the name of my maternity -- put His love after that of a creature.
No. You are not the slave of your daughter. I am always a daughter to you and in all things obedient -- apart from this: in renouncing the true God for you. Let the will of men be accomplished. And if you love me, follow me in the Faith. There you will find your daughter, and for always, because the true Faith gives Paradise, and my holy Shepherd has already given me a welcome in His Kingdom.'
Here the vision changes, because I see other personages enter the cell: three men and a very young woman. They kiss and embrace each other in turn. The jailers also enter to take away Perpetua's son. She staggers as if struck by a blow, but she recovers.
Her feminine companion comforts her:
'I, too, have lost my offspring. But she is not lost. God was good to me. He granted me to beget her for Him and her baptism is bejewelled with my blood. She was a baby..., and beautiful as a flower. Your child also is beautiful, Perpetua. But to make them live in Christ, these flowers need our blood. Thus, we will give them a double life.'
Perpetua takes the little boy, whom she had placed on the cot where he sleeps, full and content. She gives him to her father, after having kissed him lightly so as not to wake him. She blesses him also and traces a cross on his forehead, on his small hands, his little feet, and his breast, dipping her finger in the tears flowing from her eyes. Perpetua does it all so gently that the baby smiles in his sleep as if it is a caress.
Then the condemned go out, and in the middle of some soldiers, they are brought to a dark dugout of the amphitheater to await their martyrdom. They pass the hours praying and singing sacred hymns, exhorting each other to heroism.
Now I, too, seem to be in the amphitheater that I have already seen. It is filled with a crowd of people with, for the most part, bronze skin. However, there are also many Romans. The crowd is noisy and agitated on the tiers of seats. The light is intense, despite the curtain stretched out on the side with the sun.
They make the six martyrs enter the arena in single file. It seems to me that they have already carried out some cruel games there, because it is already stained with blood. The crowd whistles and curses. The martyrs, with Perpetua in the lead, enter singing. They stop in the middle of the arena and one of the six turns to [address] the crowd:
'You would do better to show your courage by following us in the Faith and not by insulting unarmed people, who repay you for your hate by praying for you and loving you. The rods with which you beat us, the prison, the tortures, snatching from two mothers their children -- none of this changes your heart, neither out of love for God nor love of neighbor. You liars who call yourselves civil, but wait for a woman to give birth so that afterward you may kill her in both body and heart, separating her from her offspring. You cruel people, who lie in order to kill, because you know that none of us does you harm; and so much less do these mothers who have no other thought but their offspring. Three times, six times, a hundred times over we will give our life for our God and for you, that you may come to love Him. And we pray for you while already Heaven opens above us: "Our Father, Who art in Heaven..."'. The six martyrs pray on their knees.
A large low gate opens, and out charge some wild beasts running so swiftly they seem to be racing. They seem to be wild bulls or buffalos. 10 Driven out together and equipped with pointed horns, they attack the unarmed group. They lift then into the air on their horns like so many rags. They throw them back down on the ground, they trample them. They turn back, fleeing as though maddened by light and by noise; and then return to the attack.
Perpetua, caught like a twig on the horns of a bull, is hurled many yards away. Yet for all her wounds she raises herself again, and her first concern is to rearrange her garments torn off her bosom. Holding them on her with her right hand, she drags herself toward Felicity who landed on her back, disemboweled in her midriff. Perpetua covers her and raises her, making herself a support for the wounded woman. The beasts return to wound them while the five others, only half-alive, are stretched out on the ground. Then the keepers drive the beasts back in [their dens] and the gladiators finish the job.
But Perpetua's gladiator, whether from pity or inexperience, does not know how to kill her. He wounds her, but doesn't get the right spot. 'Brother, here, let me help you,' she says in a thin voice and with a very sweet smile. Then, leaning the point of the sword against her right carotid [artery], she says: 'Jesus, I commend myself to You!' 'Push, brother. I bless you,' and she moves her head toward the sword to help the inexperienced and troubled gladiator.
COMMENTARY OF CHRIST
Valtorta: ["Jesus says to me"]:
"This is the martyrdom of My martyr, Perpetua, of her companion, Felicity, and that of their companions. She was guilty of being a Christian: a catechumen, yet. But how fearless in her love for Me! To the martyrdom of her flesh, Perpetua had joined that of her heart, and Felicity with her. If they knew [thus] how to love their executioners, how [well] would they have known how to love their children?
They were young and happy in their love of their husbands and their parents, in their love for their offspring. But God should be loved above all things. And thus do they love Him. They tear out their very bowels in separating themselves from their little babies, but their Faith does not die. They believe in the other Life. Firmly. They know that It belongs to whomever was faithful and lived according to the Law of God.
The law within the Law is love: for the Lord God, for one's neighbor. What greater love [than] to give one's life for those whom one loves, just as the Savior gave it for humanity that He loved? They gave their life to love Me and to bring others to love Me, and therefore to possess eternal Life. They want their children and parents, their husbands, their brothers and all those whom they love: with love of the blood and with love of the spirit -- their executioners among these, since I said: 'Love those who persecute you11 -- they want them all to have the Life of My Kingdom. And, to guide them to this My Kingdom, with their own blood they trace a sign that goes from Earth to Heaven, and it shines, it calls.
To suffer? To die? What is that? It is a fleeting moment, while Life eternal endures. It is nothing -- that moment of sorrow, of pain -- compared to the future of joy that awaits them. The wild beasts? The swords? What are they? Let them be blessed, for they give Life.
The martyrs' sole preoccupation: to preserve their modesty -- because whoever is holy, is holy in all. At that moment they were concerned, not with their wounds, but with their disordered garments: because [even] if not virgins, they are always modest. True Christianity always bestows virginity of spirit. It preserves it, this beautiful purity, even where matrimony and offspring have taken away that seal that makes virgins angels.
The human body, washed by Baptism, is the temple of God's Spirit. It should therefore not be violated with immodest behavior or immodest dress. From a woman especially who does not respect herself, there can come only depraved offspring and a corrupt society -- from which God withdraws Himself, and in which Satan plows and sows his briars, his troubles, that make you despair."
~ ~ ~
Valtorta: ["Jesus says to me"]:
"My martyrs had possessed Wisdom. And with them, My confessors. And all possess It who truly love Me and make of this love the aim of their life.
To the eyes of the world, that is not apparent. Rather, to be just seems [to the world] a weakness. It seems like something to take advantage of. As though with the passing of the ages, changes had taken place in the relationship between God and His faithful.
No. If I reduced the severity of the Mosaic Law, and gave all of you re-sources of incalculable power to help you practice the Law and reach Perfection: there has been no change, however, in the duty of respect and obedience that you should have for the Lord your God. If He has made Himself good to the point of giving Himself to make you good, you should be still more good, and not say: 'Let Him think about saving us. Let's enjoy ourselves.' That is not wisdom: it is lunacy and blasphemy. That is the wisdom of the world, and blameworthy, not Divine Wisdom.
My martyrs were Divinely wise. They did not, like the ungodly, say to themselves: 'Let's enjoy today, for it never returns, and with death every joy ends. And, in order to enjoy [ourselves], let's make arrogance our right. And by extorting from the weak and the good what it's not permitted to extort, let's draw from these our extortions wherewith to fill our wallets and purses, so as later to fill our belly and glut the lusts of our flesh and mind.' The martyrs did not, like the ungodly, say to themselves: 'To be just is a sacrifice, and it's tiresome to be so. What a rebuke it is to see the just man. So let's take him out of our midst, for his justice reminds us of God and rebukes us for living like beasts.' 12
Instead, My martyrs overturned the theory of the world and wanted to follow only that of God. So the world put them to the test, it outraged them, tormented, killed them, hoping to disturb their virtue. But in its stupidity, the world did not know that every blow given to shatter their soul, was like a hammer that made them penetrate more into Me, and I into them, with a love of perfect fusion. So much so, that in the prisons and circuses they were already in Heaven, and they saw Me just as, after that moment of pain and death, they had seen Me for their blessed eternity.
They were neither dead, nor destroyed, nor tortured, nor in despair: as the travail of giving birth is neither death, nor destruction, nor torture, nor despair. Rather, it is life that begets life. It is a redoubling of a flesh that was only one and [now] becomes two. It is the satisfaction, the hope of being a mother and in having from that maternity unutterable joy for the whole of life. So also for them: that pain was hope, security, the Life that made them blissful.
The world could not understand them -- these holy lunatics whose lunacy was loving God with all the perfection possible to a creature; making themselves voluntarily barren, since their only nuptials were those with Me, the Divine. They made themselves eunuchs: for a spiritual love, they amputated human sensuality in themselves and lived as chastely as angels. The world could not understand these sublimely mad [souls]. Though aware of the sweetness of the bridal bed and of offspring, they knew how to renounce both and to fly to their torments, after they willingly tore their heart out in leaving their children and husbands for love of Me, their Love.
But they saved the world. If you, after such an example and washed so much with purifying blood, have become the wild beasts that you are: what would you have become, and how much so, without the holy and blessed generation of My martyrs? It is they who have kept you from plunging down to Satan far sooner than the moment that your lusts provoked. They still invite you to stop and put yourselves back on the way that ascends, forsaking the path that plunges down. They speak words of salvation to you. They say them to you with their wounds, with their words to the tyrants, with their charity, with their concern for their modesty, with their patience, their purity, faith, constancy. They say to you that there is only one science necessary: That which streams from Eternal Wisdom.
Wiser still than Solomon, they prefer this Wisdom to all the thrones and the riches of the earth. And to obtain It and preserve It they brave persecutions and torments, they embrace even death so as not to lose It. They love this Wisdom more than health and beauty, and want to have It for their light. Because Its splendor comes directly from God, and to possess It means for the soul to anticipate the beatific Light of the Eternal Day. With uprightness of heart they learn It and with charity they share It even with their enemies. They have no fear of remaining deprived of It themselves because they share It with the crowds deprived of It. For This Wisdom, living in them, instructs them that 'to give is to receive.'13 And that the more they spread the celestial waters that the Divine Font poured back into them, so much the more did those waters increase, even to brimming them over like chalices of a holy Mass, consumed for the good of the world by the Eternal Priest.
The wise king [Solomon] enumerated the gifts of Wisdom whose spirit is intelligent, holy, one, manifold, subtle..., but all these qualities they, My martyrs, possessed. There was in them what Solomon calls 'a vapor of God's power, and an emanation of the glory of the Almighty.' 14 They therefore mirrored God in themselves again as no one [else] in the world. They mirrored God again in His qualities, and they mirrored Me, the Christ-Savior, in My holocaust.
Oh! How on the lips of every martyr could be put those words of Solomon proclaiming that he loved and sought Wisdom from his youth, and that he wanted Her for his Spouse! That he wanted Her for his Teacher and his riches! 15 And how [well] you can think without fear of error, that the prayer to obtain Wisdom that blossomed on the lips of Solomon, blossomed also on the lips of the martyrs. 16
And how above all you should strive -- O you whom the greed of the flesh has dragged back again into a pagan darkness much deeper than the darkness of those to whom My martyrs brought the Light -- how you should strive to make yourselves love and desire Wisdom. To pray that It come to you as a Guide in your individual and collective undertakings, that thus you may no longer be what you are: cruel maniacs who torture each other, ruining your life and substance -- the two things to which you cling; and ruining the salvation of your spirit -- to which I cling Who died to give your spirits salvation.
'It is through Wisdom,' says Solomon, 'that the ways of men are corrected and that they know what is pleasing to God.' 17 Remember it. And be aware that nothing else is pleasing to God but your good. Therefore, if you know and follow this way pleasing to Him, you will do good to yourselves both on Earth and in Heaven."
† † †
– NOTES –
1. Apologetics, Chap. 50.
2 . Maria Valtorta, The Poem of the Man-God, trans., Nicandro Picozzi and Patrick McLaughlin (Centro Editoriale Valtortiano srl, 1986-1990), 5 Volumes, hardbound, $35.00 U.S. Distributed (among others) by Saint Raphael's Publications Inc., 31 King St. W., Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, J1H 1N5, and in select bookstores in the U.S. See also links to other Valtorta Sites given on this Web Site.
3. Maria Valtorta, I Quaderni Del 1944 (Edizioni Pisani / Centro Editoriale Valtortiano srl, Via Po 95, I 03036 Isola del Liri Fr, Italia, 1985), pp.227-237.
4. Butler's Lives of the Saints, Ed., Herbert Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater (P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956) Vol. I (March 6), pp.493-498.
5. "gospels of faith:" that is, more detailed visions of episodes from the Gospel or which are not in the Gospel but related to its episodes.
6. Possibly a reference to Fr. Migliorini, O.S.M., Valtorta's spiritual director to whom she sent her handwritten copy of her Visions and Dictations for his scrutiny and to be typed by him.
7. Valtorta as usual is addressing the account of this Vision to her spiritual director, Fr. Migliorini, O.S.M.
8. Valtorta refers to Visions of St. Agnes given her on January 13th and 20th, 1944.
9. The Dungeon of the State Prison at Rome, shown Valtorta in a Vision of February 29, 1944.
10. Probably the very dangerous African Cape Buffalo.
11. Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 6:27.
12. See Wisdom 2:1-20, passim.
13. Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35.
14. Wisdom 7:22-30.
15. Wisdom 8.
16. Wisdom 9.
17. Wisdom 9:18.