There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:28
Perpetua was a 22-year-old widow with an infant son when she was arrested for following the Christian faith. Felicity, her pregnant slave was arrested with her.
At first, Perpetua was simply put under house arrest but during that time she and Felicity were baptized and so they were imprisoned. Her father begged, pleaded and finally even beat her to get her to renounce her faith but she would not.
All of Perpetua's household who were baptized were marched to the arena, Felicity with the baby girl she had given birth to the night before in her arms. She handed her baby over to a Christian couple who took the child into their home and raised her as their own. This is where we get the custom of Godparents.
Christian parents knew they might be killed for their faith would agreements raise one another’s children because it was so precarious being a Christian in the early days of the church.
The companions were all killed by the animals until only Perpetua and Felicity were left, wounded by the animals but still alive. They hugged each other as the executioner approached. He was so moved by their dignity and courage that he could not do it until Perpetua took his sword and guided it herself to her throat.
The crowd that had come to witness a spectacle witnessed something else and many other people in the arena watching became Christians that day.
The story of Perpetua and Felicity are a witness to this promise of the Kingdom in Galatians 3:28.
Perpetua was a noblewoman in Carthage, Africa. There's no mention of her husband so she was probably a widow which in the Roman patriarchy would put her back under the authority of her father.
But her father could not make her recant her faith in Christ.
When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, 'Do you see this vessel—water pot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?' 'No,' he replied. 'So also, I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.'"
In the Roman Empire, Felicity was Perpetua's slave. In the Kingdom of God, they were sisters in Christ.
In fact, Felicity was distressed that the Romans would not kill a pregnant woman and she would not join her companions in the arena with the wild beasts. She saw it as a gift of God when she went into premature labor so she could die with her friends.
The story of Perpetua and Felicity was always heartbreaking to me because of their infants. Perpetua writes of her anxiety over her son while in prison and how it comforted her when he was brought to her in prison.
But her father was so angry at her refusal to recant her faith; he refused to allow her to see her baby before she died. Felicity too gave over her child to be raised by another Christian family before she went gladly to her death. As a mother, I cannot fathom that.
But these women did not believe they were choosing between Christ and their children, they were witnessing to the Kingdom where there was no longer male and female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, but all were one in Christ.
It was better for their children to further that Kingdom even if it meant being separated from them in this life.
It's really quite a radical story.
The faith and love and courage of these two women was a threat to the values of the Roman Empire.
I think it's a subversive story today to the so-called "Family values" of today. There are no husbands in this story. The father is disobeyed. The women abandon their roles as mothers.