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De Spectaculis - Tertullian
Submitted by William Finck on Sat, 04/17/2010 - 22:48
142:27 minutes (16.3 MB)
Get out of Babylon!
A reading of Tertullian's De Spectaculis, with some comments.
In the 2nd century AD Tertullian wrote a thesis against Christian attendance at the spectacles, the theaters, sporting events, and other entertainments of old Rome. It still has meaning today.
1) The conditions of faith, the reason inherent in truth, the law of our discipline, which, along with all the other errors of the world, takes from us also the pleasure of the public shows, - what these are I would have you learn, O servants of God, you who are even now making your approach to God; and you too I would have rethink it all, who have witnessed and borne testimony that you have already made that approach; lest by ignorance, real or pretend, any of you fall into sin. For such is the force of pleasure that it can prolong ignorance to give it a chance, and pervert knowledge to cloak itself. In addition to both these things, it may be that the opinions of the heathen have, to this day an appeal for some. For in this matter they commonly take this line of argument against us; as that there can be no clash between religion, in your mind and conscience, and these refreshments of eye and ear that lie outside us; that God is not offended by man's enjoying himself, but that, so long as his fear of God and God's honour are unhurt, it is no guilt in its proper time and place to avail oneself of such enjoyment. But it is exactly this which here and now we purpose to prove that this does not square with true religion or duty toward God. There are those who think that Christians, a race of men ever ready for death, are trained to that stubbornness of theirs by the renunciation of pleasures, that they may find it easier to despise life, when once its ties (if the word be allowed) are severed, and they no longer crave what they have emptied of meaning for themselves. This would make it a rule of human prudence and forethought rather than of Divine command. It would forsooth go against the grain to die for the Lord, if such pleasures could still have continued! Though to be sure, if it were so, stubbornness in a rule of life such as ours might well pay attention to a plan so apt.
2) In the next place, there is no one who fails to produce this excuse - that all things were created by God and given to man (as we Christians teach), and that they are really good, all being the work of a good creator; and that among them we must reckon all the various things that go to make the public shows, the horse, for example, and the lion, the strength of body and charm of voice. It follows, they urge, that a thing cannot be counted foreign to God or hostile to Him that exists by His creation, nor must we suppose a thing hostile to God's worshipers, which is not hostile to God because it is not foreign to God. Obviously the structures of the places, - the stones, cement, marbles, columns, - are all God's own, who gave all these things to furnish the earth; yes, and the performances themselves are carried through under God's heaven.
How clever in argument human ignorance seems to itself! Especially when it is afraid of losing something of this kind, some delight or enjoyment of the world! Why, you will find more men turned from our school by the dangers to pleasure than by the danger to life! For even a fool does dread death beyond a certain point - he feels it inevitable; but pleasure, a thing of such high value, even a sage does not despise; since neither fool nor sage has any delight in life apart from pleasure. No one denies - because no one is unaware of it, and even nature tells it us - that God is the creator of the universe, and the universe is good and is given to man. But because they do not really know God - knowing Him only by natural law and not by right of sonship knowing Him from afar and not at close quarters, - they are necessarily ignorant as how He bids or forbids the things of His creation to be used. They are also unaware of the rival powers that confront God for the abuse of what divine creation has given for use. For where your knowledge of God is defective, you can neither know His mind nor His adversary. We have not then merely to consider by whom all things were created, but also by whom they are perverted. For in that way it will appear for what use they were created, if it once appear for what they were not. There is great difference between the corrupted and the uncorrupted because there is great difference between the Creator and the perverter.
Yet every form of evil, the evil that the heathen, as well as we, forbid and guard against, comes from something God made. You see murder committed by means of iron, drug, magical incantations; but iron is as much God's creature as the plants or the angels. But did the Creator of them design those things for the destruction of man? No! He interdicts every kind of man-slaying by one summary law; "Thou shalt not kill." Then think of gold, brass, silver, ebony, wood and any other material used for the making of idols - who put them in the world, unless it is God the author of the world? Yet, would you say, He did it that these things may be worshipped against Himself? No! The supreme offence in His eyes is idolatry. What is there that offends God but is God's own? But when it offends God it ceases to be His; and when it has ceased to be His, it offends him. Man himself, author of every of every kind of guilt, is not only the work of God, but also His likeness; and yet in body and spirit he has fallen away from his Creator. For we did not receive eyes for lust, not tongue for evil speech, nor ears to listen to evil speech, nor gullet for the sin of greed, nor belly to be the gullet's partner, organs of sex for shameless excess, hands for violence, feet to wander; nor was the spirit imparted in body for the planning of treachery, fraud and iniquity. I think not. For if God, who requires of us innocence, hates all malice, yes, and every thought of evil, assuredly it is certain that, whatever He created, He never created to issue in acts which He condemns, even if those acts are performed by means of what He has created. No! For there is no other account to be given of condemnation but that is the misuse of God's creation by God's creatures.
We, then, in knowing the Lord, have learnt to recognise His rival; in learning the Creator we have detected the perverter too; so we need feel neither surprise nor doubt. Man himself, God's handiwork and image, lord of the whole universe, the violence of that angel, perverter of God's work, God's rival, overthrew in the very beginning, and robbed him of his innocence; and at the same time he changed the whole material world, his possession, created like man for innocence; he changed it along with man to be perverted against the Creator; in his anger that God had given it to man and not to him, his object was to make man in it guilty before God and in it to establish his own power.
3) Furnished with this conviction against heathen opinion, let us turn rather to handle what our own friends put forward. There are certain people, of a faith somewhat simple or somewhat precise, who, when faced with this renunciation of public shows, ask for the authority of Scripture and take their ground in uncertainty, because abstinence in this matter is not specifically and in so many words enjoined upon the servants of God. No, we certainly nowhere find it enjoined with the same clearness as; "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not worship an idol," "Thou shalt not commit adultery" or "fraud"; - we nowhere find it expressly laid down, "Thou shalt not go to the circus, thou shalt not go to the theatre, thou shalt not look on at contest or spectacle." But we do find relevant to this type of thing that first word of David; "Happy is the man," he says, "who has not gone to the gatherings of the impious, who has not stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilences." [Psalm 1:1 as Tertullian understood it to read.] For even though he appears to have spoken of "that just man" because he had no part in the gathering and session of the Judaeans in debate as to killing the Lord, still Divine Scripture may always be broadly applied, wherever, agreeably with the sense of the actual matter in hand, discipline is fortified. So that in this case too the saying is germane to the prohibition of the public shows. For if then he called a mere handful of Judaeans "a gathering of the impious," how much this vast assemblage of a heathen people? Are the heathen less impious, less sinners, less the enemies of Christ, than the Judaeans were then? And how all the rest of it chimes in! For at the public shows there is sitting in the seat and standing in the way. For they use the word viae for the alleys by the barriers around the arena, and for the gangways up and down that separate the common people's sections on the sloping sides of the amphitheatre;, and cathedra is the term for the space in the recess assigned for chairs. So, conversely, "he is unhappy who has gone into any gathering whatever of the impious, and stood in any way at all of sinners, and has sat in any chair of pestilences." Let us take the general application, even when some other special interpretation is admissible. For there are things said with special intent which are of general bearing. When God recalls the Israelites to discipline or upbraids them, it surely applies to all men. When He threatens destruction to Egypt and Ethiopia, assuredly He warns every sinful nation of judgement to come. Thus the single case stands for the general class; every sinful race is Egypt and Ethiopia, in the same way as every public show is a gathering of the impious, the general class covering the single case.
4) But lest anyone suppose us to be quibbling, I will turn to authority, the initial and primary authority of our "seal." When we enter the water and profess the Christian faith in the terms prescribed by its law [so we see that water baptism. practised by not only John the Baptist, but also by Pharisees and pagans alike, held sway in Tertullian’s time], we profess with our mouths that we have renounced the devil, his pomp and his angels. What shall we call the chief and outstanding matter, in which the devil and his pomps and his angels are recognized, rather than idolatry? From which every unclean and evil spirit, I may say - but no more of that. So, if it shall be established that the whole equipment of the public shows is idolatry pure and simple, we have an indubitable decision laid down in advance, that this profession of renunciation made in baptism touches the public shows too, since they, being idolatry, belong to the devil, his pomp and his angels. We will therefore cite the origins of one set of spectacles and another - showing how they were cradled in the world; next in order, the titles they bear, the names, to wit, by which they are called; next again their equipments, and the superstitions they serve; thereafter the places, and to what presiding spirits they are dedicated; and then the arts employed and their reputed authors. If among all these anything shall be found unconnected with an idol, we shall pronounce it to have no bearing on idolatry, to have no connexion with our renunciation.
5) First as to the origins, not universally known, indeed unknown amongst most of our people, we must go further afield in our enquiry, and our authority must be no other than the books of the heathen literature. There are many authors who have published memoirs on the matter. They give this account of the origin of the games. Lydians from Asia migrated and settled in Etruria, so Timaeus tells us, under the leadership of Tyrrhenus, who in a dispute about the kingship had given way to his brother. In Etruria, then, among other rites involved by their superstitions, they institute public shows in the name of religion. From Etruria the Romans fetch the performers, and with they borrow also the time and the name - the ludii are so called from the Lydians. Even if Varro derives the ludii from ludus (that is, from playing) - just as they used to call the Luperci ludii because in play they run hither and thither, -he nevertheless reckons this playing of the youths as belonging to festal days, temples and matters of religion. But the verbal issue does not matter, when the real issue is idolatry. For since in a general way the games were called Liberalia, the sound of the name clearly signified the honour of Father Liber (Bacchus). For they were first held in honor of Liber by the countryfolk on account of the good service which they say he did them in making wine known. Then came the games originally held in honour of Neptune and called Consualia. For he is also styled Consus. After that Romulus named the Ecurria, from horses, in honour of Mars - though they claim the Consualia as well for Romulus, arguing that he instituted them for Consus, the god (they say) of counsel - meaning the particular counsel which he thought out of capturing the Sabine girls to be wives for his soldiers. An honourable counsel, indeed, to this very day just and lawful among the Romans, not to say in God's eyes! It also contributes to the taint of their origin - lest you think that good which began with evil - that the games began with shamelessness, violence and hate, and a founder who slew his brother and was the son of Mars [here I will say that elements of the Cain and Abel story are found in the tale of Romulus and Remus, as in other Greco-Roman stories]. There is still (I might add) an underground altar, dedicated to that Consus, in the Circus, at the first turning-point, with this inscription: "Consus in counsel, Mars in war, Lares Coillo mighty." Sacrifice is offered on it on the seventh day of July by the state priests, on the twentieth of August by the Flamen of Quirinus and the Vestal Virgins. Later on, the same Romulus instituted games for Jupiter Feretrius on the Tarpeian, which, Piso has told us, were called Tarpeian and Capitoline games. After him Numa Pompilius started games for Mars and Robigo (for they also invented a goddess of rust); later Tullus Hostilius, later still Ancus Martius, and the rest in their order. And for what idols they instituted these games, you will find in Suetonius Tranquillus, or in the authors from whom Suetonius borrowed. But so much will suffice on the guilty origin of the games in idolatry.
Here I would state that modern organized sports, and modern theater, are replete with idol-statues of their own, and great temples – or rather museums – to house them.
6) The evidence of antiquity is reinforced by the later generations that followed. They show the general type of origin in the titles that still prevail - titles in which it is plainly expressed for what idol or for what superstition games of one kind or the other were designed. For instance the games of the Great Mother and Apollo, and again of Neptune, Jupiter Latiaris, and Flora are general festivals; others of the games, celebrating royal birthdays and festivals, victories of the state, municipal feasts, have also a superstitious origin. Among them shows established by bequests do honour to the memory of private persons; this also is in accordance with ancient precedent. For from the very beginning games were classed under two heads, sacred and funereal, - in other words games in honour of heathen gods and of dead men. But, in the matter of idolatry, it makes no difference to us under what name and title they are given, seeing it comes in the long run to the same spirits - which we renounce. Suppose their games are in honour of dead men, suppose they are in honour of their gods, they pay exactly the same honour to their dead as to their gods; on either side you have one and the same state of things, one and the same idolatry, one and the same renunciation of idolatry on our part.
7) The games then of one kind or the other have a common origin, and names in common also, as the reasons for their being held are the same. So too their equipment must be the same, under the common guilt of the idolatry which founded them. But rather more pompous is the outfit of the games in the circus, to which the name pomp properly belongs. The pomp (procession) comes first and shows in itself to whom it belongs, with the long line of images, the succession of statues, the cars, chariots, carriages, the thrones, garlands, robes [today’s parades]. What sacred rites, what sacrifices, come at the beginning, in the middle, at the end; what guilds what priesthoods, what offices are astir, - everybody knows in that city where the demons sit in conclave. If less elaboration is bestowed on it all in the provinces, where there is less to spend, still all the shows of the circus everywhere must be attributed to their origin, must be examined at their source. For the little rivulet from its spring, the tiny shoot from its first leaf, has in it the nature of its origin. Let its splendour, let its frugality look to it - the pomp of the circus, whatever its character, offends God. Even if the images are but few in its procession, one image is idolatry; if but one chariot is drawn, it is yet Jove's car; any idolatry in any form, meanly equipped, moderately rich, splendid, is still reckoned idolatry in its guilt.
8) To proceed according to plan, and deal next with the places, the circus is primarily dedicated to the Sun; the sun's temple is in middle of it; the sun's effigy shines from the top of the temple. They did not think it right to pay sacred honours under a roof to him whom they have in the open above them. Those who maintain that the first circus spectacle was produced by Circe in honour of the Sun her father (as they chose to hold), argue that the name of the circus is derived from hers [Circe was a witch-like character in the Iliad, who lived alone on an island in the western sea]. Obviously the enchantress carried the business through (no doubt about it) in the name of those whose priestess she was; she did it, that is, for the demons and the fallen angels. In the very decoration of the place itself, how many idolatries do you recognize? The ornaments of the circus are in themselves so many temples. The eggs are assigned to the honour of Castor and Pollux by those who do not blush to believe them sprung from the egg of the swan Jove. The dolphins spout in honour of Neptune. The columns carry images of Sessia (from sowing), of Messia (from mowing), of Tutulina (from tutelage of the crops). In front of them are three altars for the triple gods, the Great, the Potent, the Prevailing. They think these are Samothracian. The huge obelisk, as Hermateles maintains, is set up for the sun; its inscription is like its origin; the superstition is Egyptian [the Egyptians called it the ben-ben stone, and Clifton Emahiser once wrote on the topic]. The concourse of demons had been dull without their own Great Mother; so she presides over the trench. Consus, as we said, is in hiding there underground at the goals - the Murcian goals; and these also are made by an idol. For they will have it that Murcia is a goddess of love, and they have dedicated a temple to her there.
[It is not a contrivance, that Tertullian equates the ancient idols with the fallen angels: Paul did this same thing at 1 Corinthians Chapter 10 and Colossians Chapter 2, and other Apocryphal literature reveals this same thing to be justified.]
Mark well, O Christian, how many unclean names have made the circus their own. It is an alien religion, none of thine, possessed by all those spirits of the devil.
And speaking of places, this will be the place for some words to anticipate the question that some will raise. What, say you, suppose that at some other time I approach the circus, shall I be in danger of pollution? There is no law laid down for us as to places. For not merely those places where men gather for the shows, but even temples, the servant of God may approach without risk to his Christian loyalty, if there be cause sufficient and simple, to be sure, unconnected with the business or character of the place. But the streets, the market, the baths, the taverns, even our houses, are none of them altogether clear of idols. The whole world is filled with Satan and his angels. Yet not because we are in the world, do we fall from god; but only if in some way we meddle with the sins of the world. Thus if, as a sacrificer and worshipper, I enter the Capitol or the temple of Serapis, I shall fall from God - just as I should if a spectator in circus or theatre. Places do not of themselves defile us, but the things done in the places, by which even the places themselves (as we have argued) are defiled. We are defiled by the defiled. It is on that account that we remind you who they are to whom places of this sort are dedicated, that we may prove that they to whom the places are dedicated, are lords of what is done in the places.
9) Now as to the arts displayed in the circus games. Equestrian skill was a simple thing in the past, mere horseback riding; in any case there was no guilt in the ordinary use of the horse. But when the horse was brought into the games, it passed from being God's gift into the service of demons. [Today’s racing business!] So to Castor and Pollux is dedicated this kind of exhibition, the pair to whom Stesichorus says horses were assigned by Mercury. But Neptune also has to do with horses; he is called Hippios among the Greeks. When they harness the horses, the four-horse chariot is consecrated to the sun, the two horse to the moon. But then again,
King Erichthonius it was who first
Harnessed four horses to his car; and stood
Lord of fleet wheels.
Erichthonius, a son of Minerva and Vulcan, offspring of lust that fell to earth, is himself a demon monster - no, a devil himself, not a snake. If indeed Trochilus the Argive is the inventor of the first chariot, he dedicated that work of his to Juno. If at Rome Romulus was the first to display a four-horse chariot, he, I fancy, is enrolled among the idols himself, if he and Quirinus are the same. Such being the inventors who produce them, chariots very properly have their drivers clad in the colours of idolatry. For at first there were but two colours, white and red. White was sacred to Winter, for the gleaming white of the snow, red to Summer because of the sun's redness. Afterwards as pleasure and superstition gained ground together, some dedicated the red to Mars, others the white to the Zephyrs, the green to Mother earth or Spring, the blue to Sky and Sea or Autumn. But since idolatry in every form has been condemned by God, that form also is assuredly condemned which is consecrated to the elements of nature.
10) Let us pass on to the stage plays. Their origin we have shown to be the same, the divine titles they bear identical, since they were called (ludi) from the very beginning, and were exhibited in conjunction with equestrian displays. Their equipment on that side is parallel. The path to the theatre is from the temples and the altars, from that miserable mess of incense and blood, to the tune of flutes and trumpets; and the masters of ceremonies are those two all-polluted adjuncts of funeral and sacrifice, the undertaker and the soothsayer, So, as we turned from the origins of the games to the shows of the circus, now we will turn to the plays of the stage, beginning with evil character of the place. The theatre is, properly speaking, the shrine of Venus; and that was how this kind of structure came to exist in the world. For often the censors would destroy the theatres at their very birth; they did it in the interests of morals, for they foresaw that the great danger to morals must arise from the theatre's licentiousness. So here the Gentiles have their own opinion coinciding with ours as evidence, and we have the preliminary judgement of human morality to reinforce Christian law. So when Pompey the Great - and there was nothing except his theatre greater than himself - when Pompey had built that citadel of all uncleanness, he was afraid that some day the censors would condemn his memory; so he built on top of it a chapel to Venus, and, when he summoned the people by edict to its dedication, he called it not a theatre but a temple of Venus, "under which" he said, we have set seats for viewing the shows." [I would think it plausible that this is the beginning of the idea that the balcony of the theater is for lovers, Venus being the Roman goddess of love!] So a structure, condemned and deservedly condemned, he screened with the title of a temple, and humbugged morality with superstition. But Venus and Bacchus do very well together, demons of drunkenness and lust, two yoke-devils sworn to either's purpose. So the theatre of Venus is also the house of Liber (Bacchus). For there were other stage plays to which they suitably gave the name Liberalia (Dionysia among the Greeks), not only dedicated to Liber and Venus, but instituted by Liber. And obviously Liber and Venus are the patrons of the arts of the stage, Those features of the stage peculiarly and especially its own, that effeminacy of gesture and posture, they dedicate to Venus and Liber, wanton gods, the one in her sex, the other in his dress; while that is done with voice and song, instrument and book, is the affair of the Appollos and the Muses, the Minervas and Mercuries. [Notice that Bacchus, the Greek god of drunken orgies, is equated with the idea of Liber, or liberty, in Latin. Licentousness mistaken for liberty: that is the freedom of the jew and of all the enemies of Yahweh. Has the jew not, ever since the so-called “enlightenment”, trumpeted licentiousness in the name of liberty?]
You, O Christian, will hate the things, when you cannot but hate the authors of them.
[Christians can hate! That is right, Tertullian does not say “you cannot hate the authors”, but “you cannot BUT hate the authors, and the double negative appears in the Latin. It means that “you cannot NOT hate the authors”!]
And now we would add a word on the arts and the things, whose authors we execrate in their very names. We know that the names of dead men are nothing - just as their images are nothing - but we are not unaware who are at work under those names and behind the images set up for them, what joy they take in them, and how they feign deity, - I mean, evil spirits, demons. We see then the arts consecrated to their glorification, who usurp the names of the authors of those arts, and that the arts do not lack the taint of idolatry when those who instituted them are as a result called gods. Further, as regards the arts we ought to have entered our demurrer at an earlier point and pled that the demons from the very beginning took thought for themselves and among the other pollutions of idolatry devised those of the spectacles for the purpose of turning man from the Lord and binding him to their own glorification, and so inspired these ingenious arts. For no others but they would have devised what should turn to their profit; nor would they have given the arts to the world at that time through the agency of any other men than those by whose names and images and legends they determined they would negotiate the trick of their own consecration. To keep to our plan of procedure, let us proceed to deal with the contests.
11) Their origin is akin to that of the games. Hence they too are instituted as sacred or as funereal, and are performed either for the gods of the Gentiles or for dead men. Take their titles - Olympian games in honour of Jupiter (these at Rome are Capitoline games), Nemean for Hercules, Isthmian for Neptune; the rest are contests in honour of the dead. What is there then to wonder at, if the whole equipment is stained with idolatry - with profane crowns, priestly judges, attendants from various sacred colleges, and, finally, the blood of bulls? To add a supplemental word on the place - a place held in common as a college of arts of the Muses, of Minerva, of Apollo, yes! And of Mars too, - in the stadium with war and with trumpet they imitate the circus. It too is a temple of the idol whose solemn rites are being performed. The gymnastic acts in their turn originated with their Castors and Herculeses and Mercuries.
12) It remains to examine the most famous, the most popular spectacle of all. It is called munus (a service) from being a service due; munus and officium mean the same thing. The ancients thought that by this sort of spectacle they rendered a service to the dead, after they had tempered it with a more cultured form of cruelty. For of old, in the belief that the souls of the dead are propitiated with human blood, they used at funerals to sacrifice captives or slaves of poor quality whom they bought. Afterwards it seemed good to obscure their impiety by making it a pleasure. So after the persons procured had been trained in such arms as they then had and as best they might - their training was to learn to be killed! - they then did them to death on the appointed funeral day at the tombs. So they found comfort for death in murder. This is the origin of the munus. But by and by they progressed to the same height in refinement as in cruelty; for the pleasure of the holiday lacked something, unless savage beasts too had their share in tearing men's bodies to pieces. What was offered to appease the dead was counted as a funeral rite. This type of thing is idolatry, for idolatry too is a type of funeral rite; the one and the other are alike service to the dead. For in the images of the dead demons have their abode.
If we are considering names - though this class of public entertainment has passed from being a compliment to the dead to being a compliment to the living on entering office (I mean quaestorships, magistracies, flaminates and priesthoods), - still, since the guilt of idolatry sticks to the dignity of the name, whatever is done in the name of dignity must inevitably share the taint of its origin.
We must give the same interpretation to the equipments which are reckoned among the ornaments of office. The purple, the rods (fasces), the fillets and garlands, and then the harangues and edicts, and the dinners on the eve of installation, do not lack the pomp of the devil nor the invocation of demons.
[So we see what Tertullian would have thought of Romish Catholic ceremony!]
Finally, what am I to say about that dreadful place, the amphitheatre? Even perjury could not face it. For it is dedicated to more names, and more awful names, than the Capitol itself; it is the temple of all demons. There are as many unclean spirits gathered there as it can seat men. [It sounds to me like he is describing Madison Square Garden.] And, by way of a last word on the arts concerned, we know that Mars and Diana are patrons of both types of games.
13) Enough, I think, has been said to complete our plan of procedure in proving in what ways, and in how many ways, the spectacles involve idolatry. We have dealt with origins, names, equipment, place and arts. So that we may be certain that in no aspect are the spectacles consonant with our twofold profession of the renunciation of idols. "Not that an idol is anything," says the apostle, "but what they do, they do in honour of demons," who plant themselves in the consecrated images of - whatever they are, dead men or, as they think, gods. So on that account, since both kinds of idol stand on the same footing (dead men and gods are one and the same thing), we abstain from both kinds of idolatry. Temples or tombs, we abominate both equally; we know neither sort of altar; we adore neither sort of image; we pay no sacrifice; we pay no funeral rite. Now, and we do not eat of what is offered on sacrificial or funeral rite, because "we cannot eat of the Lord's supper and the supper of demons." If then we try to keep our gullet and belly free from defilement, how much more our nobler parts, our eyes and ears, do we guard from the pleasures of idol sacrifice to the dead - pleasures not of gut and digestion, but of spirit, soul and suggestion - and it is purity of these far more than of the intestines that God has a right to claim of us.
14) We have now established the charge of idolatry, enough of itself to warrant our abstaining from the shows. But let us go a step further and look at it another way, chiefly for the benefit of those who flatter themselves that such abstention is not definitely prescribed - as if not enough were said about the shows, when the lusts of the world are condemned. For just as there is a lust for money, a lust for dignity, for greed, for impurity, for vainglory, so there is a lust for pleasure. The shows are a sort of pleasure. Lusts, named as a class, include, I would suppose, pleasures also; similarly pleasures, understood as a class, include the special case of the shows.
15) We have dealt above with the matter of the places, urging that the places do not of themselves pollute us, but through the things done in them - things from which the places imbibe defilement and then spit it out again on others.
So much, then, for the chief count in the indictment - idolatry. Let us now contrast the other characteristics of the shows with the things of God. God has instructed us to approach the Holy Spirit, - in its very nature tender and sensitive, - in tranquillity, gentleness, quiet and peace; not in madness, bile, anger and pain to vex it. What concord can the Holy Spirit have with spectacles? There is no public spectacle without violence to the spirit. For where there is pleasure, there is eagerness, which gives pleasure its flavour. Where there is eagerness, there is rivalry which gives its flavour to eagerness. Yes, and where there is rivalry, there also are madness, bile, anger, pain, and all the things that follow from them, and like them are incompatible with moral discipline. For even if a man enjoy the spectacles in modest and upright fashion, agreeably to his dignity, his age, and his natural character, still he cannot with a mind quite unstirred, or without some unspoken agitation of spirit. No one ever comes to pleasure without some feeling, no one has this feeling without some lapse; and lapses actually contribute to the feeling. But if this feeling flags, pleasure there is none; and the man may be condemned as an empty minded fellow, who goes where he gains nothing. But I think, the empty-minded is foreign to us. And, further, what of this? - that a man really condemns himself when he finds himself set among others, with whom he does not wish to be, - which means that he owns to himself he detests them? It is not enough for us to abstain ourselves from doing such things, unless we also keep clear of those who do them. "If thou sawest a thief," says Scripture, "thou didst consent with him." [Psalm 50:18] Oh! If only we had not to live in the world with them! Still, we are separated from them in all that is worldly. For the world is God's; what is worldly is the devil's.
16) Seeing then that madness is forbidden us, we keep ourselves from every public spectacle - including the circus, where madness of its own right rules. Look at the populace coming to the show - mad already! Disorderly, blind, excited already about its bets! The praetor is too slow for them; all the same their eyes are on his urn, in it, as if rolling with the lots he shakes up in it. [This sounds much like the coin toss at a football game.] The signal is given. They are all in suspense, anxious suspense. One frenzy, one voice! (Recognise their frenzy from their empty-mindedness.)"He has thrown it!" they cry; everyone tells everybody else what every one of them saw, all of them in an instant [like a close play in baseball ]. I catch at that evidence of their blindness; they do not see what is thrown - a handkerchief, they think; no! a picture of the devil hurled from heaven! So it begins and so it goes on, - to madness, anger, discord - to everything forbidden to the priests of peace. Next [there are] taunts or mutual abuse without any warrant of hate, and applause, unsupported by affection. What of their own are they going to achieve who act there in that way - when they are not on their own? Unless it be merely the loss of their self-control; they are plunged in grief by another's bad luck, high in delight at another's success [like a ball dropped in the end zone or a last-minute touchdown]. What they long to see, what they dread to see, - neither has anything to do with them; their love is without reason, their hatred without justice. [Absolutely the situation with sports fans today!] Or is it allowed us to love without cause any more than to hate without a cause? God, at any rate, forbids us to hate even with a cause, when He bids us love our enemies [I should interject, those enemies of our brethren]. God does not allow us to curse even with a cause, when He teaches us to bless those who curse us. But what can be more merciless than the circus, where men do not even spare their princes of fellow citizens? If any of these forms of madness, with which the circus rages, is permitted to saints, then it will be lawful in the circus too; but if nowhere then neither in the circus.
17) In like manner we are bidden to put away from us all impurity. By this command we are cut off once for all from the theatre, the proper home of all impurity, where nothing wins approval but what elsewhere has no approval [tell me that does not describe the movies of today]. Its supreme charm is above all things contrived by its filth - filth in the gestures of the actor of the farce - filth acted by the buffoon playing the woman, banishing all sense of sex and shame, so that they blush more readily at home than on the stage, filth that the pantomime undergoes, in his own person, from boyhood, to make him an artist. The very prostitutes, the victims of public lust, are produced on the stage, more unhappy in the presence of other women - the only class in the community whose notice they escape; they are paraded before the faces of every rank and age; proclamation is made of their abode, their price, their record, even before those who do not need the detail; yes and more (and say nothing of the rest) that ought to be kept hidden in the darkness of their dens and not pollute the daylight. Let the senate blush; let all ranks blush together. These women themselves, who have murdered their own shame, shudder (you can see it in their gestures) to find themselves in the light and before the populace, and blush once in the year.
But if all impurity is to be abominated by us, why should it be lawful to hear what may not speak, when we know that buffoonery and every idle word is judged by God? Why in like manner should it be lawful to see what it is sin to do? Why should we suppose that those things, which spoken by the mouth defile the man, should not defile the man when welcomed in by eyes and ears? Ears and eyes are the servants of the spirit nor can the spirit be clean whose servants are dirty. So you have the theatre prohibited in the prohibition of uncleanness. If we spurn the teaching of the world's literature, as convicted of folly before God, we have a clear enough rule as to those classes of public spectacles where the world's literature is drawn upon for the comic or tragic stage. If these tragedies and comedies, bloody and lustful, impious and prodigal, teach outrage and lust, the study of what is cruel or vile is no better than itself. What in action is rejected, is not in word to be accepted. [In other words, if you would not do it, why applaud those who act it out?]
18) But if you urge that the stadium is mentioned in the Scriptures, so much I concede you. But the things done in the stadium - you will not deny that they are unfit for you to see, blow, kick, cuff, all the recklessness of the fist, any and every disfigurement of the human face, God's image. You can never approve those idle feats of running and throwing, idler still of leaping. You can never be pleased with injurious or useless displays of strength, nor with the care that develops an unnatural frame (outdoing God's handiwork). You will hate the type of man bred to amuse the idleness of Greece. Wrestling is the devil's own trade; the devil first crushed men. Its very movements are the snake's, the grip that holds, the twist that binds, the suppleness that elude. You have no use for garlands, why seek pleasure from garlands?
19) And are we to wait now for a scriptural condemnation of the amphitheatre? If we can plead that cruelty is allowed us, if impiety, if brute savagery, by all means let us go to the amphitheatre. If we are what people say we are, let us take our delight in the blood of men. "It is a good thing, when the guilty are punished." Who will deny that, unless he is one of the guilty? And yet the innocent cannot take pleasure in the punishment of another, when it better befits the innocent to lament that a man like himself has become so guilty that a punishment so cruel must be awarded him. But who will pledge himself that it is always the guilty who are condemned to the beasts, or whatever punishment, and that it never inflicted on the innocent too, through the vindictiveness of the judge it may be, the weakness of the advocate, the severity of torture? How much better then it is not to know when the bad are punished, that I may not have to know when the good perish - that is, if savour of good is in them at all. Certain it is that innocent men are sold as gladiators for the show, to be victims of public pleasure. Even in the case of those condemned to the games, what can you say to the fact that punishment for the smaller offence should carry them on to murder? That is my reply to Gentiles. As for the Christian, God forbid he should need further teaching to hate the spectacle. No one however can fully set out the whole story here, unless he be still a spectator. I prefer to leave it incomplete than to remember.
20) How vain, then - yes! How desperate is the reasoning of those who, obviously to dodge the loss of pleasure, put forward the plea that no mention of such self-denial is made in Scripture, in definite terms or definite passage, directly forbidding the servant of God to push himself into gatherings of that kind! But the other day I heard a novel defence from one of these play-lovers. "The sun," says he, "yes! And God Himself from heaven looks on, and are not defiled." Why, yes, the sun sends his rays into the sewer and is not polluted. Would that God looked on at no sins of men, that we might all escape judgement! But God looks on at brigandage, God looks at cheating, adultery, fraud, idolatry, yes, and the spectacles too. And that is why we will not look at them, that we may not be seen by Him who looks on at everything. Man! You are putting defendant and judge on one level! - the defendant who is a defendant because he is seen, the judge because he sees is judge. Do you then really suggest that outside the circus as well as inside it we should practise frenzy? Outside the theatre stimulate lust as well as inside? Outside the stadium as well as inside give the rein to bad manners, to cruelty outside as well inside the amphitheatre? All because God has eyes outside has eyes outside the portico, the tier and the curtain? No, we are wrong! Nowhere and never is what God condemns free from guilt. Nowhere and never is that permitted which is not permitted always and everywhere. Here is the perfection of truth - and hence the full discipline, the uniform fear, the obedient faith due to truth - here, in that it never changes its decision, never wavers in its judgement. What is good, really good, cannot be anything but good; nor what is evil anything but evil. In God's truth all things are definite.
21) The Gentiles have not truth in its completeness, because their teacher of truth is not God; so they construe evil and good to square with their own judgement and pleasure; sometimes a thing is good that at other times is bad, and the same with evil, now evil now good. So it comes about that a man who will scarcely lift his tunic in public for the necessities of nature, will take it off in the circus in such a way as to make a full display of himself before all; That a man who guards the ears of his maiden daughter from every smutty word, will himself take her to the theatre to hear words of that sort and to see gestures to match; that the man who when he sees a quarrel on the streets coming to blows will try to quiet it or express strong disapproval, will in the stadium applaud fights far more dangerous; that he who shudders at the body of a man who died by nature's law the common death of all, will, in the amphitheatre, gaze down with most tolerant eyes on the bodies of men mangled, torn to pieces, defiled with their own blood; yes, and that he who comes to the spectacle to signify his approval of murder being punished, will have a reluctant gladiator hounded on with lash and rod to do murder; that the man who calls for the lion as the punishment for some notorious murderer, will call for the rod of discharge for a savage gladiator and give him the cap of liberty as a reward, yes! And the other man who was killed in the fight he will have fetched back to take a look at his face, with more delight inspecting under his eyes the man he wished killed at a distance; and if he did not wish it, so much the crueller he!
22) What wonder? These are the inconsistencies of men; it is thus they confuse and interchange the nature of good and evil, swayed by the fickleness of feeling, the wavering of judgement. Take even those who give and who administer the spectacles; look at their attitude to the charioteers, players, athletes, gladiators, most loving of men, to whom men surrender their souls and women their bodies as well, for whose sake they commit the sins they blame; on one and the same account they glorify them and they degrade and diminish them; yes, further, they openly condemn them to disgrace and civil degradation; they keep them religiously excluded from council chamber, rostrum, senate, knighthood, and every other kind of office and a good many distinctions. The perversity of it! They love whom they lower, they despise whom they approve; the art they glorify, that artist they disgrace. What sort of judgement is this - that a man should be blackened for what he shines in? Yes, and what a confession that things are evil, when their authors at the top of their popularity are in disgrace." [There is a cultural understanding needed here: actors were the lowest class of citizens in Rome, and not allowed to hold office or even vote.]
23) Since then human reflection, in spite of the clamour and the appeal of pleasure, sentences these people to forfeit everything of dignity, to be banished as it were to some island rock of infamy, how much more will divine justice punish those who practise such acts? Will God be pleased with the charioteer, who disquiets so many souls of men, who ministers to such madness, such changes of temper, crowned like a priest, coloured like a pimp, a devil's parody of Elijah swept away in his chariot? Will God be pleased with the man who changes his features with a razor, faithless to his face - which, not content with remodelling it now after Saturn, now Isis or Bacchus, on top of that he offers to the indignity of slap and buffet, as in travesty of the Lord's commandment? Oh! Yes, the devil, sure enough, teaches to offer the cheek with all patience to the blow! In the same way the devil makes the tragic actor taller on his cothurni because "nobody can add a cubit to his stature"; he wants to make a liar of Christ. And then all this business of masks, I ask if God can be pleased with it, who forbids the likeness of anything to be made, how much more His own image? The Author of truth loves no falsehood; all is that is feigned is adultery in His sight. The man who counterfeits voice, sex or age, who makes a show of false love and hate, false sighs and tears, He will not approve, for He condemns all hypocrisy. In His law He denounces that man as accursed who shall go dressed in women's clothes; what then will be His judgement upon the pantomime who is trained to play the woman? And that artist in fisticuffs, will he go unpunished? That cicatrice of the caestus [a heavy boxing glove], that scar of the fist, that thick ear - he got them from God, did he? When God fashioned him? And God, no doubt, lent him eyes to have them blinded in boxing. I say nothing of him who pushes another in front of himself to the lion - in case he is not quite murderer enough when he cuts his throat afterwards.
24) How many lines of argument have we pursued to show that nothing connected with the games pleases God? But does a thing befit the servant of God, which does not please his Master? If we have established our point that the spectacles one and all were instituted for the devil's sake, and equipped from the devil's stores (for the devil owns everything that is not God's or does not please God), why, here you have that “pomp of the devil” that we renounce when we receive the "seal" of faith. But what we renounce, we have no business to share, be it in deed or word, sight or anticipation. But by such acts we really renounce and unseal the "seal", by unsealing our witness to it. Does it remain for us to ask the heathen for an answer to our question? Let them inform us whether a Christian may go to the spectacles. Why, it is above all things from this that they understand a man to have become a Christian, that he will have nothing more to do with the games! So he openly "denies", who gets rid of the distinctive mark by which he is known. What hope is left for such a man? No man deserts to the enemy's camp, but he throws away his arms, but he deserts his standards, but he breaks his oath of allegiance to his prince, but he pledges himself to death with the enemy to whom he deserts.
25) Do you think that, seated where there is nothing of God, he will at that moment turn his thoughts to God? Peace of soul will be his, I take it, as he shouts for the charioteer? With his mind on actors, he will learn purity? No, in all the show there is nothing more sure to trip him up than the mere over-nice attire of women and men. That sharing of emotions, that agreement, or disagreement in backing their favourites, makes an intercourse that fans the spark of lust. Why, nobody going to the games thinks of anything else but seeing and being seen. But while the tragic actor declaims, he will think of the crying aloud of one of the prophets! Amid the strains of some effeminate flute player, he will muse in himself upon a psalm! When the athletes are at work, he will say that blow for blow is forbidden! The he surely can be stirred by pity, with eyes fastened on the bear as it bites, on the squeezed nets of the net-fighter! May God avert from His own such a passion for murderous pleasure! For what sort of conduct is it to go from the assembly of God to the assembly of the devil? From sky to stye, as the proverb has it? Those hands have uplifted to God, to tire them out clapping an actor? With those lips, which you have uttered Amen over the Holy Thing [that which is Holy], to cheer for a gladiator? To say forever and ever to any other whatever but to God and Christ?
26) What is to save such people from demon possession? For we have in fact the case (and the Lord is witness) of that woman, who went to the theatre and returned devil-possessed. So, when the unclean spirit was being exorcised and was pressed with the accusation that he had dared to enter a woman who believed; "and I was quite right, too," said he boldly; for I found her on my own ground." It is credibly affirmed, too, that to another woman, on the night following a day when she had listened to a tragic actor, a linen sheet was shown in a dream, the actor was named, and she was rebuked; not was that woman alive in the world five days later. How many other proofs indeed can be drawn from those, who, by communion with the devil in the shows, have fallen from the Lord? "For no man can serve two masters." "What has light to do with darkness? What have life and death in common?"
27) It is our duty to hate these assemblies and gatherings of the heathen, were it only that there the name of God is blasphemed; that there, every day, the shout is raised to set the lion upon us; that from there persecution begins; that there temptation has its base. What will you do when you are caught in that heaving tide of guilty voices? I do not suggest that you run any risk there of suffering from men - nobody recognises you for a Christian; but think well over it, what it means for you in heaven. Do you doubt but that at that very moment when the devil is raging in his assembly, all the angels look forth from heaven, and mark down man by man, how this one has spoken blasphemy and that has listened, the one has lent his tongue, the other his ears, to the devil against God? Will you not rather fly the chairs of the enemies of Christ, "the seat of the pestilences," the very overhanging air defiled with sinful cries? Granted that you have there something that is sweet, agreeable and innocent, some things that are excellent. No, one mixes poison with gall and hellebore; no, it is into delicacies well made, well flavoured, and, for the most part, sweet things, that he drops the venom. So does the devil; the deadly draught he brews, he flavours with the most agreeable, the most welcome gifts of God. So count all you find there - brave and honest, resounding, musical, exquisite, as so much honey dropping from a poisoned bit of pastry; and do not count your appetite for the pleasure worth the risk in the sweetness.
28) Let his own guests batten on sweets of that sort. The place, the time, the host who invites, are theirs. Our feast, our marriage festival, is not yet. We cannot take our place at table with them, because they cannot with us. It is a matter of turn and turn about. Now they are happy, and we are afflicted. "The world," it says, "will rejoice; you will be sad." Then let us mourn while the heathen rejoice, that, when they have begun to mourn, we may rejoice; lest, if we share their joy now, then we may be sharing their mourning too. You are too dainty, O Christian, if you long for pleasure in this world as well as the other - a bit of a fool into the bargain, if you think this pleasure. Philosophers have given the name "pleasure" to quiet and tranquillity; in it they rejoice, take their ease in it, yes, glory in it. And you - why, I find you sighing for goal-posts, the stage, the dust, the arena. I wish you would tell me; cannot we live without pleasure, who must die with pleasure? For what else is our prayer but that of the apostle "to leave the world and be at home with the Lord."? Our pleasure is where our prayer is.
29) But now, if you think we are to pass this interval of life here in delights, why are you so ungrateful as not to find enough in the great pleasures, the many pleasures, given to you by God, and not to recognise them? What has more joy in it than reconciliation with God, the Father and Lord, than the revelation of truth, the reconciliation of error, and the forgiveness for all the great sins of the past? What greater pleasure is there than disdain for pleasure, than contempt for the whole world, than true liberty, than a clean conscience, than life sufficient, than the absence of all fear of death? Than to find yourself trampling underfoot the gods of the Gentiles, expelling demons, effecting cures, seeking revelations, living to God? These are the pleasures, the spectacles of Christians, holy, eternal, and free. Here find your games of the circus, - watch the race of time, the seasons slipping by, count the circuits, look for the goal of the great consummation, battle for the companies of the churches, rouse up at the signal of God, stand erect at the angel's trump, triumph in the psalms of martyrdom. If the literature of the stage delight you, we have sufficiency of books, of poems, of aphorisms, sufficiency of songs and voices, not fable, those of ours, but truth; not artifice but simplicity. Would you have fightings and wrestlings? Here they are - things of no small account and plenty of them. See the impurity overthrown by chastity, perfidy slain by faith, cruelty crushed by pity, impudence thrown into the shade by modesty; and such are the contests among us, and in them we are crowned. Have you a mind for blood? You have the blood of Christ.
30) But what a spectacle is already at hand - the return of the Lord, now no object of doubt, now exalted, now triumphant! What exultation will that be of the angels, what glory that of saints as they rise again! What the reign of the righteousness thereafter! What a city, the New Jerusalem! Yes , and are still to come other spectacles - that last, that eternal Day of Judgement, that day they laughed at, when this old world and all its generations shall be consumed in one fire. How vast the spectacle that day, and how wide! What sight shall wake my wonder, what laughter, my joy and exultation? As I see those kings, those great kings, welcomed (we are told) in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness! And the magistrates who persecuted the name of Jesus, liquefying in fiercer flames than they kindled in their rage against Christians! Those sages, too, the philosophers blushing before their disciples whom they taught that God was concerned with nothing, that men have no souls at all, or that what souls they have shall never return to their former bodies! And, the poets trembling before the judgement-seat, not of Rhadamanthus, not Minos, but of Christ whom they never looked to see! And, then there will be the tragic actors to be heard, more vocal in their own tragedy; and the players to be see, lither of limb by far in the fire; and then the charioteers to watch, red all over in the wheel of flame; and next, the athletes to be gazed upon, not in their gymnasiums but hurled in the fire - unless it be that not even then would I wish to see them, in my desire rather to turn an insatiable gaze on them who vented their rage and fury on the Lord. "This is he," I shall say, "the son of the carpenter or the harlot [repeating a Judaean slander], the Sabbath-breaker, the Samaritan, who had a devil. This is he whom you bought from Judas; this is he, who was struck with reed and fist, defiled with spittle, given gall and vinegar to drink. This is he whom the disciples secretly stole away, that it might be said he had risen - unless it was the gardener who removed him, lest his lettuces should be trampled by the throng of visitors! Such sights, such exaltation, - what praetor, consul, priest, will ever give you of his bounty? And yet all these, in some sort, are ours, pictured through faith in the imagination of the spirit. But what are those things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, nor ever entered into the heart of man? I believe, things of greater joy than circus, theatre, or amphitheatre, or any stadium.