Monday, 5 May 2014

Tertullian - on gladiators as human sacrifices

I wrote in my blog yesterday how Roman gladiatorial shows were actually human sacrifices, a propitiation of some sort, under the guise of public entertainment.  I have since found that Church Father, Tertullian wrote a work called Spectacles.

This is an excellent pastoral sermon for Christians on what not to engage in, when living among pagans. In particular, it is a guide about shunning gladiatorial entertainments. Gladiatorial shows were called "munus" by the Romans.

Tertullian states:

"It still remains to examine the most prominent and most popular spectacle of all. It is called "munus" ('a obligatory service') from being an "officium" ('a duty'). For "munus" and "officium" are synonyms.

"The ancients thought they were performing a duty to the dead by this sort of spectacle after they had tempered its character by a more refined form of cruelty.

"For in time long past, in accordance with the belief that the souls of the-dead are propitiated by human blood, they used to purchase captives or slaves of inferior ability and to sacrifice them at funerals.

"Afterwards, they preferred to disguise this ungodly usage by making it a pleasure. So, after the persons thus procured had been trained--for the sole purpose of learning how to be killed-- in the use of such arms as they then had and as best as they could wield, they then exposed them to death at the tombs on the day appointed for sacrifices in honour of the dead. Thus they found consolation for death in murder.

"'Not that an idol is anything,' as the Apostle says, 'but because what they do, they do in honour of demons' who take up their abode there at the consecration of idols, whether of the dead, or, as they think, of gods.

"It is for this reason, therefore, since both kinds of idols belong to one and the same category (the dead and the gods being the same thing) that we refrain from both types of idolatry.

"Certain it is that innocent men are sold as gladiators to serve as victims of public pleasure. Even in the case of those who are condemned to the games, what a preposterous idea is it that, in atonement for a smaller offense, they should be driven to the extreme of murder!"

The whole sermon could be read with interest today for its principles and as an encouragement to "swim against the tide".

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