Christians and public amusements

On amusements Christians also set themselves against the prevailing mores of Grsco-Roman life. The theatre, gladiatorial combats, and contests between men and beasts were almost universal. Every city of consequence had prominent structures for them. The pagan Emperors, even such noble spirits among them as Marcus Aurelius, considered it part of their public duty to give gladiatorial shows and to attend them, and the crowd demanded them. Yet leading Christians unhesitatingly condemned the theatre and the sports of the amphitheatre. The theatre was opposed because of the lewdness of its plays and its hypocrisy — its simulation of love, wrath, fear, and sorrow. Tertullian gave as reasons for the prohibition to Christians of attendance at the public spectacles the fact that the games and the gladiatorial contests were in honour of the pagan gods, that they stirred up rage, bitterness, and grief, that the accompanying betting was too agitating to be wholesome, and that through them crime was not only committed but also taught. Another of the early Christian writers denounced the gladiatorial shows as "a cannibal banquet for the soul," and still another as inculcating murder. Some, including Clement of Alexandria, forbade Christians to frequent the race course. Hippolytus declared that early Christian tradition did not countenance attending or taking part in chariot races. Augustine described and condemned the blood lust aroused by witnessing the gladiatorial combats. For a time the Church refused baptism to a professional gladiator unless he would renounce that occupation and excluded from the communion those who frequented the games. Under the influence of his new faith, the Emperor Consrantine forbade gladiatorial shows and abolished the legal penalties which required criminals to become gladiators. John Chrysostom, like many a lesser bishop and preacher, took up the verbal cudgels against horse-racing, popular farces, and pantomimes.

Yet these amusements were continued even after the majority of the population of the Empire had become professed Christians and when many, perhaps most of their patrons bore the Christian name. We are told that the gladiatorial combats persisted in Rome until, in the fifth century, a monk, Telemachus, leaped into the arena to stop the combatants and the mob, presumably nominally Christian, stoned him to death for interfering with their pleasure. Thereupon the Emperor ordered that the spectacles be stopped and Telemachus enrolled among the martyrs. Probably, however, the end of the gladiatorial combats and of contests in the arena between men and beasts was due as much to the growing poverty of the declining Empire and the dearth of recruits for the ranks of the gladiators as to the Christian conscience.

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