Archive for the “Christian Biography” Category

By Guest blogger Phil Hovatter

Today is Saint Patty’s Day, a day where people adorn themselves with hideous shades of green not found in nature, municipalities dye waterways green, parades are held, and buttons are worn proclaiming “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” by people you wouldn’t kiss on a bet.

At least that’s how Saint Patrick’s Day is observed in the United States. Sandy and I had the pleasure of making friends with a couple of women from Ireland while we were on a cruise a few years ago. When we asked them how Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Ireland, they said, “Why, people go to church, of course!”

Imagine that! Instead of going to parades or lining up for green beer at the local tavern, the Irish observe the day honoring their patron saint by going to church.

I think they could be on to something. I think Patrick would like their way better than ours.

Patrick is one of the most interesting characters in history. Surprisingly, he himself wasn’t Irish. He was born in England around the year 387 to a Christian family. His father was deacon and his grandfather had been a priest. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by Irish raiders, taken to Ireland, and sold into slavery. It is believed he lived on the far western shore of Ireland where he served his master as a shepherd. Not unlike some shepherds from biblical times, Patrick used the opportunity afforded him by his shepherd duties to pray and grow closer to God.

After six years of slavery, Patrick seized the chance to escape from his slavery and walk 200 miles to the east coast where he boarded a ship to take him back home to his family in England.

Only two documents written by Patrick have survived. In one of them, he tells about the circumstances leading to his return to Ireland. Much like the vision Paul had when he received his Macedonian call, Patrick tells about the vision that he had:

“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’”

Of his own free will, Patrick returned to the land and the people who had captured him and bound him into slavery only a few years earlier. Instead of holding a grudge against them, he held a burden for them and for their salvation.

The Ireland of Patrick’s time was a wild and dangerous place ruled by regional warlords. Patrick brought peace to the nation by winning the warlords to Christ. He founded a series of monasteries as outposts and training centers for the spread of the gospel. While the medieval civilization around them was crumbling as the Roman Empire was being dismantled by rampaging hoards of barbarians, Patrick was preserving every scrap of literature and art that he could in his monasteries, to be passed on to subsequent generations.

You can read more about this in the book by Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.

So today is Saint Patty’s Day. How will you celebrate?

God bless the Irish.

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Perpetua and Felicitas

She was 22 years old with a newborn baby, a son. A noblewoman by birth, educated and fluent in Latin and Greek, she was a young bride, a woman who had married honorably. She was her father’s favorite, his only daughter in a family of sons. She was also a criminal, by her own confession — a follower of Jesus Christ. The year was 203 and the emperor had declared it illegal to convert to Christianity. Her name was Perpetua.

Much of what we know about her comes from her own prison diary, which perhaps represents the oldest Christian writings from the hand of a woman.

Perpetua had a maidservant and friend named Felicitas. Felicitas was also a Christian. Like Perpetua, she was young, and she was 8 months pregnant. She was arrested with Perpetua along with three men. Felicitas gave birth in prison shortly before their execution.

Perpetua describes her initiation into prison life:

“After a few days we were taken into prison, and I was much afraid because I had never known such darkness. O bitter day! There was a great heat because of the press, there was cruel handling of the soldiers. Lastly I was tormented there by care for the child.”

Undoubtedly, Perpetua had never been in such a position.

In prison, her father came to her repeatedly, sometimes commanding, sometimes begging, sometimes angry — doing all in his power to convince her to simply renounce her faith and to save herself and her child. He pleaded for himself and Perpetua’s mother, that they might not lose their daughter. He pleaded on behalf of her son, that he might not lose his mother. He tore at her heartstrings to save her life. In one interchange, Perpetua tried to explain, in a way that He might understand, why she could not deny Christ:

“Father,” she answered, “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.”

Perpetua knew that to save her life, she must lose it. She wrote of her father after one visit:

“This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father’s case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God’s. And he went from me very sorrowful.”

Notice the phrase “he would not rejoice at my passion.” Perpetua had had a dream which convinced her and those around her that she and her friends would not be delivered out of the prison by the Lord, but would become martyrs. And their hope shifted from this world to the world to come. They rejoiced at the promise of suffering for her Lord.

At her trial, Perpetua watched her father be beaten because of her faith and her child taken from her, but she remained resolute. One biographer described Perpetua’s entrance to the amphitheater like this:

Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Perpetua followed behind, glorious of presence, as a true spouse of Christ and darling of God; at whose piercing look all cast down their eyes…Perpetua began to sing…

A wild, savage bull was let into the ring. Perpetua and Felicitas were wearing loose robes. Perpetua was thrown by the beast first. Upon landing hard, she sat up and arranged her robe “mindful rather of modesty than of pain.” She then asked for a hairpin to pin up her disheveled hair. In the culture, women wore their hair down when they were in mourning, and Perpetua wanted to be as one prepared to meet her groom with joy, not one mourning a loss. At one point, she encouraged believers around her saying “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.”

When the ladies were not killed by the bull, the crowd called for them to brought into the arena and killed with a sword, so that the people could witness their death. Perpetua and Felicitas, hearing the cries, rose without prompting, kissed one another as a sign of peace and came forward to be slain. The executioner was a novice, perhaps nervous in front of the large crowd. Perpetua took his hand and put the sword to her throat, demonstrating that she was giving her life of her own free will.

It is said that the adjutant of the jail where Perpetua and Felicitas were held became a believer, as did many in the crowd that day. Augustine noted two centuries later that joined together, “perpetua felicitas” means “everlasting happiness.” Most would not give that title to a martyr, but Augustine points out that it is exactly what the two women gained.

The next time you see a woman’s hair clip, let it remind you of the faithfulness of a young woman, her maidservant and their God.

Quotes taken from:

  • Paul Halsall, editor, Internet Medieval Sourcebook: St.Perpetua: The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity 203,
  • Dave Kopel,

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 His mom was a “Dissenter” who taught him Scripture before she died. His father married his stepmother, a woman in whose home he never felt welcome. He became an angry young man. Following in his father’s footsteps, he also became a sailor. His father was a man of reputation and integrity. He was not. He was insubordinate, a blasphemer, and a deserter from the British navy. He served on slave trading ships, even serving as captain seeking to buy his African slaves for the lowest possible price and sell them back in England at the highest possible price.

He also wrote one of the greatest hymn of the faith — “Amazing Grace.” His name was John Newton, and one night he became convinced that God had protected him “while he was yet a sinner.” He should have died, along with everyone on his ship. Instead he and his fellow shipmates lived. And John Newton became convinced of the reality of God and of His great love for sinners.

John Newton became a man with one purpose — serving God and helping others come to know Him. He also became a Dissenter. Dissenters were those who met outside the sanctioned Church of England. They were known for lively, non-traditional worship services. They preached a personal relationship with Christ. Eventually John became ordained in the Church of England and served church members, Dissenters and seekers alike for more than forty years.

He wrote hundreds of songs and books. He was innovative in finding new ways to help believers lead transformed lives. He continued to pastor and preach into his eighties. As age began to take its toll, his eyesight, hearing and memory began to fail. “Near the close of his life,” writes biographer Anne Sandberg, “he told a friend at his bedside, ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I can still remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.'” (John Newton, published by Barbour and Company, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH)

We complicate it so much. John Newton got it right. We are great sinners. And Christ is a great(er) Savior.

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