The story of Perpetua and Felicitas is a tale of Christians preferring martyrdom over recanting their faith. They find strength in their friendship and companionship with the remainder of those captured, particularly as they are thrown to beasts. A particularly moving example of faith is exemplified by Perpetua who chooses to become a martyr despite all of her family’s attempts at persuading her, voluntarily dying for her faith. She is not even a full Christian yet, merely a catechumen, a young convert or initiate. In the end, all of those who choose to die rather than recant their faith eventually go out peacefully with the knowledge that they have performed their duty.
Martyrdom is an interesting concept. It makes a person wonder what is worth dying for. Some people would say nothing, as a life is one’s own and he or she only has that one life to live for. Others will say it is worth it to save the life/lives of another – equivalent exchange in other words. And perhaps the strangest reason for me is for the sake of a religion or belief. I am not a religious person nor do I hold any belief strong enough such that I would die for it, which is perhaps why dying for religion or belief is something alien to me. For that, I can only say that a life is not worth an idea.
Theoretically, martyrdom is performed as an expression of the deepest faith. It appears to make sense; to galvanize and encourage the remainder of those who hold the same beliefs, show them it’s worth dying for. As the reading explained, Jesus, the focus of Christianity, was one who became a martyr. As martyrdom is something rare, anyone who commits to it is seen as incredible, a person worthy of admiration. However, you then have to question if beliefs are worth the price of a life or lives. Many will be encouraged by the moving action, but when faced with a similar persecution, will they also do the same? The reading from PBS appears to suggest that they won’t. Additionally, as an individual, it is not worth it. Disregarding the idea of equivalent exchange, an individual’s death impacts those who are closest to him or her. Dying for one’s faith, despite encouraging the remainder of the believers, will yet cause pain an anguish to family members and friends, perhaps those who a person should truly be living for.
Perpetua’s case particularly baffles me, as she voluntarily throws herself at the governor, asking to become a martyr. She is not captured nor is she actively pursued. And yet, she chooses to die, very much throwing away her life when she has no need to do so. It is one thing to become a martyr when captured. It is a completely separate matter to do so intentionally without reason save for belief. Should all others commit to the same action, there would be no one left of the belief to follow it and teach it to others (of course, that is highly unlikely, but it still stands). There are better uses for a life aside from voluntary suicide, for that is what it is.