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Virgins and Martyrdom; The changing meaning of martyrdom

Phoebe Ndoro
01:06 PM ET (US)
Perpetua's life provides us with a certain insight as to how matyrdom's influence on women and family.
Matyrdom empowers Perpetua, as an ordinary woman she would simply be expected to obey and abide by the wishes of her family, especially her father. But as a Christian matyr, she is able to defy her father and society and take a bold stand in society under the banner of Christianity.
Women at that time were expected to be content with being a wife and a mother, but as a matyr she is able to transcend this traditional expectation of herslef as a woman. This is because her focus is Christ and to die publically for his name, and her baby of less consequence to her as she hopes that she will give birth ver soon so that she can join her fellow Christian's in the arena.
Perpetua's case illustrates that the path to matyrdom requires an enormous amount of inner strength, yet is was also a way of escaping from and rebelling against the confines and dictates of society.
Ana-M. Pardo.
01:33 PM ET (US)
As Evie points it out, there is a different view of the family when one is Christian. Members of the family are not family there just part of your community. It was hard for me to accept this aspect, to read Origen asking to give up everything (including the love for your family) for eternal life. As Karen says, life for a Christian is a "contest" were his love for god is always being tested.
My question while reading Origen's exhortation to martyrdom was,how can anyone accept this?:"He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." ,"If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not for him." Apparently, more than one person is willing to love god more than anything else in the world. Perpetua goes from being a worried mother for her baby to being content with abandoning him and going to paradise....Also, what is wrong with Felicitas? Praying to be able to quickly have her baby so that she's able to go to the arena! All this martyrdom is becomming too much with Christianity. There 's no limit for the love of god. The sacrifice of family, specially children, for principles or religion, seems to have become an almost gratuitious act. Iphigenia's father suffered, Abraham did too, but these women are actually happy to leave their kids.
Evie Thibault
12:18 PM ET (US)
Two things Karen and Mandy mentioned connect to something I'm very interested in: Perpetua's relationship with her father and her family. The reverence people, especially her family, pay to her before her death kind of complicates the idea that a martyr's strength is found in the act of being killed. As Mandy said, she completely denies her father's wishes, and this makes her even more important.

It seems as if Perpetua was the favorite child in her family, as her father says he favored her above all of her brothers. She was also nobly born, and not a servant like many of her fellow martyrs. She is a central figure in her family, but it is odd that there is no mention of her husband in her account. The other men in her life (her living brother, her dead younger brother, and her father) all appear as supplicants to her. Her brother asks her for a vision, which she is able to deliver because of her "position of great dignity." Through her prayer, Dinocrates is "translated from the place of punishment." She is not able to help her father, because he is asking for something she cannot give without surrendering her power, but it is important that he calls her "not Daughter, but Lady." Her Stoic denial of her family, if you will, elevates her above them. To answer CES's question, Perpetua gets independence and respect from being a Christian. She would not have been so revered by all around her if she was not a Christian. In a way, her Christianity is a rebellion against her father. She is backed by a whole community and ideology when she chooses Christianity to establish her independence.

Christianity has an important place in the family drama, because it encourages Christians to see the Christian community, not her blood relatives, as family. Origen alludes to this too, pointing out that only those who despise their families could become Christ's disciples. And disciple is the way Perpetua is presented. Her legacy is great, especially because she offers what few other martyrs offered. She wrote her own passion. She is an example to other Christians of how to think, not just how to act. Deny your family, think of God before yourself, and you won't even feel the mad cow attacking you!
Karen JohannsPerson was signed in when posted
09:23 AM ET (US)
I think Mandy is right on in her comments about how the strength of the martyr was found in the act of being killed in front of witnesses. In Origen's "Exhortation to Martyrdom" this theme occurs fairly frequently. A martyr is a contestant in an athletic game, with the "contest" viewed by not only human spectators but the angels as well. Origen is extremely concerned about how the martyr behaves during their time of trial. He states "but if we are not so strong as always to preserve calm, at least not let the disquiet of the soul be poured forth or appear to strangers..." The martyr must not only give up his or her life as a witness to Christ, but they must will themselves not only to accept death, but to transcend all desire for life and actively seek death. Origen certainly believes that the act of martyrdom is superior to that second great act of sacrifice: living the ascetic life. In chapter XV he praises the ascetic, but is quick to point out that the martyr's sacrifice is superior.

I have been wondering about the emphasis placed on this very public display of Stoicism. I definitely see it as a witness to others in the Church who are also being persecuted, but what of the non-Christian witnesses? Is this an exercise to prove that there was still something worth dying for during this period of Roman history?
Mandy Cass
11:56 PM ET (US)
Last week in class we were discussing whether all martyrs had to suffer in order to become martyrs, and the general consensus was yes. The accounts of Perpetua and Felicitas seem to contradict this and perhaps disprove our statement. However, it occurs to me that the reason we decided suffering was neccessary was to prove to OTHERS that the cause was legitimate, and therefore the suffering needed to only be in the eyes of the onlookers, and not the mind of the martyr. This emphasizes a point that I personally have been interested all along, the role of legacy in the definition of a martyr. It was not the actions and motivations of the martrys which caused them to become martyrs, but rather that the people saw their suffering and believed that they had truly sacrificed for their cause. Or maybe I'm way off base... but that really seems to be a key point for me...

It's hard for me to see the appeal of Christianity in this time, unless you really were out to be a martyr. Perpetua's total disregard for the wishes of her father and the wellbeing of her infant in order to die for a religion is really beyond me. Really cements the reversal from "I'm dying for the glory of my family and my country" to "I'm dying so that I will be in Paradise forever". Yikes. Now that's a leap of faith.
Hannah Fisher
08:57 PM ET (US)
I was skimming Ambrose of Milan's "On Virginity" and I started thinking about virginity as an exalted state. All of the martyrs we've read about transcended the dirt of the terrestrial world, not necessarily by their deaths, but by their attitudes. The sources that write about them give little information to how they lived as mere mortals. It seems that we are introduced to them, their relation to others, a daughter, a teacher or a warrior, but we don't know whether they always lead a good and pure life, or whether they cheated from time to time or told white lies. The way in which the stories are told gives the impression that to be a martyr, one has to be born pure. Obviously, I don't know where I'm going with this, but my feeling is taht the stories of martyrs are one-sided and in a sense, boring. We don't see the suffering, fighting the desire to live, to choose the right path and die. Iphegenia agrees to be sacrificed, Isaac marches up the mountan without question, Socrates is certain his death is the right choice. What about the people who struggled? Or even the people who sacrificed their principles in order to live, like Kichijiro in Silence? I think that it is part of the author's goal to show these people as godlike, but I"m skeptical of the lack of human emotions. Maybe I haven't learned anything from the stoics, but I want to see people struggle with such a big decision. Perpetua was a little different, since she felt sorry for her father, but she never turned.
Carolina CamargoPerson was signed in when posted
08:31 PM ET (US)

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