Stephen Nichols (SN): On this episode, we’re up in Atlanta, Georgia. We’re at the G3 conference and I bumped into Jeremy Vuolo. It’s great to see you, Jeremy.
Jeremy Vuolo (JV): Good to see you, Dr. Nichols.
SN: Welcome to 5 Minutes in Church History. This is a great opportunity for us to talk about the influence church history has had on you. We were talking a little bit earlier, and you mentioned some figures way back in early church history that you’d like to talk about. So, we’re going go back in time to the early centuries of the church and talk about Felicitas and Perpetua.
SN: So, tell us about them and why they mean so much to you.
JV: Back in AD 203 in Carthage, there was a young woman by the name of Perpetua who was a wealthy young lady in a wealthy home. She had a servant, Felicitas, and they ended up being killed for their faith and refusing to reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and bow down to the Caesar. Actually, my wife and I have named our first daughter Felicity in memory of Felicitas.
SN: That’s great. You know, when we think of some of the great figures from church history we tend to think of the great pastors. We forget that there was a lot of laity in church history that also had lives that are encouraging to us and inspiring to us, and these are some of those lives. Now, these martyrdoms were recorded, so we know a little bit about them. As you’ve looked into this, what were some of the highlights or some of the things that stuck out to you as you thought about them?
JV: Well, it’s fascinating. Perpetua did a lot of journaling even up to the point of her death and while she was in prison. And so, we have a fascinating insight into their world as they’re pre-arrested, then they’re arrested, then they’re entering the Colosseum to be killed. It’s just a fascinating account. And one of the insights is the boldness with which these ladies stood up against the authorities of the time.
By every appearance and by everything we know about them, they were gracious, loving, kind women, but when they were asked to denounce the faith, they refused. And Felicitas was actually saved under Perpetua’s witness in the home, then underwent the same persecution. One of the fascinating insights in Felicity’s life was she was eight months pregnant when they were arrested. She was actually praying that the Lord would allow her to have her child before the date of their execution so that she could be martyred side by side with Perpetua. She didn’t want to be martyred alone. The Lord answered that prayer, and she gave birth to her son in prison.
One of the jailers made the snarky comment to her as she was wailing in the pains of childbirth, “If you’re wailing at childbirth, how are you going to endure the pain of the Colosseum?” And her response was staggering. She said, along the lines, I’ll paraphrase, “At the moment, I’m the one writhing in pain, but in there, there will be another inside of me in pain.” She was speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ who will be suffering in her place alongside her, essentially, and implying as well that He would give her the strength to endure.
SN: Yes. You know, it’s a remarkable story. I remember reading that after she has the child, they actually hold the child up to her and say, “Recant of your faith, if not for your sake”—and I believe it was her father who did this—”and if not for the sake of your father, at least for the sake of your child.”
JV: Right. Perpetua had her father pleading on behalf of the whole family. Felicity had her family pleading for her. And now, a child. And she gave the child into the care of another Christian, and she was settled in peace knowing that child would be raised in the fear of the Lord.
SN: You’re exactly right to point us to the boldness of Perpetua and Felicitas. It’s a great story from church history. It’s one we need to remember. And it’s one that now lives on. Thank you Jeremy. I really appreciate your time with us.
JV: My pleasure.
SN: That’s Jeremy Vuolo and the story of Perpetua and Felicitas.