Marie-Louise von Franz: Niklaus Von Flüe And Saint Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Their Visions

Chapter17

The Visions of St Perpetua

201 Whereas the facts of her life and the description of her martyrdom are contributed by another hand, the visions-or rather dreams are recorded by Perpetua herself.

She had the first vision in prison after a visit from her brother.

The text runs as follows:1

202 My brother then said to me: “Sister, thou hast already traveled so far on the Christian road that thou canst now ask for a vision, and it shall be shown thee whether the passion awaits thee, or thy release:’2

And, mindful that I was in the habit of holding converse [colloquies] with God, who had so abundantly blessed me with his favors, and strong in faith and trust, I promised to report it to him [my brother] on the morrow.

And I called [for the vision] and the following was shown to me:

203 I beheld3 a ladder of brass, of miraculous size, which reached up to Heaven, and was so narrow that it could only be ascended singly.

On either side of the ladder, all manner of iron implements were fastened- swords, lances, hooks, daggers and spears-so that anyone who was careless, or who did not hold himself erect while climbing, was torn to pieces

and remained hanging. Beneath the ladder was a gigantic dragon, lying in wait for the climbers and frightening them away.

Saturus, however, went up before me (just as he later chose to be put to death first, for love of us, because he it was who had taught us, but afterward was not with us when we were thrown into prison). And he reached the top of the ladder and, turning to me, spake: “Perpetua, I am holding thee, but see that the dragon does not bite thee:’ And I answered: “He shall not harm me, in the name of Jesus Christ:’ And the dragon slowly lifted his head out from under the ladder, as if in fear of me, and I trod on it, as though I were treading on the first rung of the ladder, and ascended to the top.

20s And I beheld a vast garden and, seated in the center of it, a tall white-haired man, in shepherd’s dress, who was milking sheep, and round about him were many thousands of people clad in white.

And he raised his head, looked at me, and spake: “It is well that thou art come, child!”

And he called me to him and gave me also a morsel of the cheese which he was

milking, and I received it with folded hands and ate. And all who stood round said, ”Amen:’

206 And at the sound of this invocation I awoke, and was aware that I was still eating something sweet, I know not what.

And I immediately reported the vision to my brother, and we understood that it meant the coming passion.

And from that time we began to put no more hope in this world.

207 The second vision, following her condemnation, goes like this:

A few days later, as we were all praying, a word suddenly burst from my lips, in the middle of the prayer, and I said, “Dinocrates!”

And I started, for he had never entered my mind before, and I was pained at the recollection of his fate.

And I knew immediately that I was held worthy to pray for him, and I began to intercede for him, and prayed at great length, lifting up my voice in lamentation.

And forthwith, in the same night, the following was shown to me: I beheld Dinocrates, coming forth from a dark place, where there were many other people, glowing with fever and thirsty, his face dirty and pale, and showing the wound in it which he had when he died.

This Dinocrates had been my own brother, who succumbed to a cancer of the face at the age of seven in the most frightful circumstances, so that his death was a source of horror and dismay to everybody.

It was for this child that I had prayed; and between myself and him there was a great distance, so that we could not reach one another.

209 In the place where Dinocrates stood there was also a piscina [basin], filled with water, whose rim was higher than the boy, and Dinocrates reached up as if to drink.

But I was pained at the thought that the piscina was full of water, and yet that he could not drink on account of the height of its rim.

And I awoke, and knew that my brother was in need, but I was confident that I would be able to help him in his need, and I prayed for him daily till we were taken over to the prison of the Proconsular palace; for we were to fight in the amphitheater.

That was [just] the time of Caesar Geta’s birthday.

And I prayed for [Dino crates], groaning and weeping night and day, that fulfillment might be granted me for his sake.

210 Here is Perpetua’s third vision:

The day that we remained in the prison I was shown the following: I beheld the same dark place which I had seen before (now quite light) and Dinocrates, with a clean body and well clothed, was refreshing himself.

211 And where the wound was, only a scar was to be seen; and the piscina which I had perceived before had lowered its rim to the height of the boy’s navel, and he drank from it without ceasing, and on its edge stood a golden flask filled with water, and Dinocrates went up to it and began to drink out of it and it never became empty.

212 Content and happy, he then went off to play as children do and I awoke. Then I understood that he had been removed from the place of punishment.

213 The fourth vision follows:4

On the day before we were to fight [ with the beasts], I saw the deacon Pomponius, in a vision, come to the prison door and knock violently.

I went out and opened to him, and he wore a white festive toga, without a girdle, and manifold [elaborate] shoes, and he spake to me: “Perpetua, we are awaiting thee, come!”

214 And he took my hand, and we began to walk through a rough and pathless country.

Toiling and panting, we came at length to the amphitheater and he led me into the middle of the arena and spake to me; “Fear not, I am here with thee and shall fight with thee;’ and departed.

215 I beheld a huge crowd tense with expectation.

And as 1 knew that I was to be brought before the beasts, I marveled that they were not let in. [Instead] an Egyptian of horrible appearance came out with his attendants to fight against me.

Fair young men, my attendants and friends, came to me also and I was undressed and changed into a man.

216 My attendants began to rub me with oil, as was the custom before an agon; whereas I saw the Egyptian rolling himself in the dust.

And there then came forth a man of miraculous size, so that he almost towered above the whole amphitheater, wearing a festive tunic, without a girdle, with a purple undergarment, which appeared across the middle of his chest between two other purple stripes falling from his shoulders and manifold shoes made of gold and silver.

He carried a rod, like a trainer of gladiators [lanista], and a green bough, on which hung golden apples.

And he called for silence and spake: “This Egyptian here, if he is victorious, will kill her with the sword, and if she vanquishes him, she will receive this bough:’ Thereupon he withdrew.

21s And we fell upon each other and began to deal blows with our fists. He endeavored to seize me by the feet.

But I trod upon his face with the soles of my feet and I was lifted up in the air and began to trample him as if I myself no longer touched the ground.

But when I saw that I was getting no further in this way, I clasped my hands together and seized his head, then he fell upon his face and I trod upon his head.

And the people began to shout and my assistants to jubilate.

219 I, however, went up to the lanista and received the bough.

And he kissed me and spake: “Daughter, peace be with thee:’

Then, wreathed in glory, I began to go toward the gate of the pardoned [porta sanavivariaj].

220 And I awoke and understood that it was not with the beasts, but against the devil that I should have to fight, but I knew the victory would be mine.

221 The main facts of the actual ensuing martyrdom, which were contributed by yet a third hand, are as follows.

222 When Perpetua was led into the arena, she and the others sang psalms in ecstatic exaltation.

She was immediately knocked down by a mad cow, which was let loose upon her so that her dress tore, whereupon she tried anxiously to hide her nakedness and to put up her hair, which had fallen loose.

Then, she gave her hand to her fellow martyr Felicitas in order to help her rise.

223 The crowd could not help being impressed by such a scene and pardoned her to the extent that she should be put to death by the sword.

The gladiator, who was a novice, thrust the sword into her ribs with an unsteady hand and hit bone.

Perpetua groaned aloud, and according to an eyewitness, took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. … It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.5  ~Marie-Louise von Franz, Niklaus von Flue and Saint Perpetua, Page 141-146