Lent Madness: Perpetua vs. William Wilberforce

The Round of the Saintly Sixteen continues with two very different saintly characters. Will Perpetua perpetrate a perpetual victory? Or will the Force be with William? Let the madness resume!

In Friday’s matchup, C.S. Lewis re-martyred Fabian by the largest Lent Madness margin yet — 75% to 25%. Click Lent Madness 2011 to view the updated tournament bracket. On to Quirks and Quotes!

Perpetua was an early third century 22-year-old married, nursing mother who was martyred in Rome. Born to a noble family, her slave Felicity, herself an expectant mother, was martyred alongside her. Her story and that of her fellow martyred Christians is recorded in The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions. The text contains the autobiographical account of Perpetua later edited by Tertullian.

We hear that the group of Christians was made up of a slave named Revocatus, his fellow slave Felicitas, two free men,  and Perpetua. After their arrest and imprisonment they were joined by Saturus, who seems to have been their teacher in the faith, and now chose to share their punishment. Initially, they were all kept under strict guard in a private house. Perpetua wrote a vivid account of what happened. The agonies of prison life, the angry and desperate attempts of Perpetua’s pagan father to convince her to renounce her faith, the fortitude of the martyrs before their death, and the visions and dreams of Saturus and Perpetua in their dungeons were written down by Saturus and Perpetua.

A felicitous quote from Perpetua: “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—waterpot 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.’”

And another: “What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby…. Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British politician, evangelical Christian, and ardent opponent of the slave trade. The 2006 film “Amazing Grace” chronicles the life of Wilberforce and tells the story of the 19th century British slave trade. Following his conversion in 1775, Wilberforce considered quitting Parliament because of the immorality and political infighting. Before making a final decision, however, he visited John Newton, best known for composing the hymn Amazing Grace (hence the name of the film). Earlier in his life Newton himself had been a slave trader before his conversion and it was Newton was convinced Wilberforce that he would do the most good by remaining in Parliament: “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.”

On the quirky side, Wilberforce struggled throughout his life with health issues. He had painful condition called chronic ulcerative colitis (large bowel disease). Doctors prescribed laudanum (a sweetened solution of opium and alcohol) which was considered a strong painkiller for the time. Its addictive quality has rendered it illegal now but, despite a struggle, Wilberforce kicked the habit, but not before it had damaged his eyes. He also supposedly had a morose wife who stood out as a contrast to his cheerful disposition. Oh well.

Some quotes from Wilberforce:

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”

“Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties? ”

“So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Slave Trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for Abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.”



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