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Introductory Notice to the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas.

[Translated by the Rev. R. E. Wallis, Ph.D.]


Nobody, will blame me for placing here the touching history of these Martyrs.  It illustrates the period of history we are now considering, and sheds light on the preceding treatise. I can hardly read it without tears, and it ought to make us love “the noble army of martyrs.” I think Tertullian was the editor of the story, not its author.89708970    Cap. lv. He calls her fortissima martyr, and she is one of only two or three contemporary sufferers whom he mentioned by name. Felicitas is mentioned by name in the De Anima: and the closing paragraph of this memoir is quite in his style. To these words I need only add that Dr. Routh, who unfortunately decided not to re-edit it, ascribes the first edition to Lucas Holstenius.  He was Librarian of the Vatican and died in 1661. The rest may be learned from this Introductory Notice of the Translator:

Perpetua and Felicitas suffered martyrdom in the reign of Septimius Severus, about the year 202 a.d. Tertullian mentions Perpetua,89718971    [In the De Anima, cap. lv. as see above.] and a further clue to the date is given in the allusion to the birth-day of “Geta the Cæsar,” the son of Septimius Severus.  There is therefore, good reason for rejecting the opinion held by some, that they suffered under Valerian and Gallienus. Some think that they suffered at Tuburbium in Mauritania; but the more general opinion is, that Carthage was the scene of their martyrdom.

The “Acta,” detailing the sufferings of Perpetua and Felicitas, has been held by all critics to be a genuine document of antiquity. But much difference exists as to who was the compiler. In the writing itself, Perpetua and Saturus are mentioned as having written certain portions of it; and there is no reason to doubt the statement. Who the writer of the remaining portion was, is not known. Some have assigned the work to Tertullian; some have maintained that, whoever the writer was, he was a Montanist, and some have tried to show that both martyrs and narrator were Montanists.89728972    [Yet see the sermons of St. Augustine (if indeed his) on the Passion of these Saints. Sermon 281 and 282, opp. Tom. v. pp. 1284–5.] The narrator must have been a contemporary; according to many critics, he was an eye-witness of the sufferings of the martyrs. And he must have written the narrative shortly after the events.

Dean Milman says, “There appear strong indications that the acts of these African martyrs are translated from the Greek; at least it is difficult otherwise to account for the frequent untranslated Greek words and idioms in the text.89738973    Hist. of Christianity, vol. i. ch. viii.

The Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas was edited by Petrus Possinus, Rome, 1663; by Henr. Valesius, Paris, 1664; and the Bollandists. The best and latest edition is by Ruissart, whose text is adopted in Gallandi’s and Migne’s collections of the Fathers.

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