Samples from Seminary – De Spectaculis

Today we have a lesson from church history on the topic of entertainment.

The figure in church history that we are interested in is Tertullian. He lived into the 3rd century and is well known for his work in developing the doctrine of the Trinity. Today though, I want to call attention to another important work of his called De Spectaculis, that is, his work concerning the spectacles or shows.

In this work, Tertullian tried to convince his fellow Christians that attending the various forms of public entertainment in that day was not compatible with Christianity. This was a necessary subject to write about in his day for Christians were tempted to enjoy the sinful entertainment of Roman culture. He argued that the “things which are going on at the spectacles are all opposed to God.”[1]

That is a strong statement. What did he have in mind?

For example, the events at the circus stirred up sinful passions. The shows at the theater were known for their immorality and obscenity. The gladiator games exhibited inhuman cruelty and brutality. Thus, neither the conduct of the performers nor the behavior of the spectators could possibly have been viewed as pleasing to God.

With this in mind, Tertullian asks: “Will the man, seated where there is nothing of God, at that moment think of God?”

This question applies to us in our day and age. We too are tempted to enjoy the sinful entertainment that our culture offers. I don’t think it’s necessary to show the parallels. Instead, I would like to end with a quote that I hope you will actually read. It is the tail end of a longer section in which Tertullian poetically calls Christians to find their delight and to be satisfied in the “exquisite pleasures” found in God. These are far greater than any pleasure or delight that comes from the entertainment of the world.

“If the literary accomplishments of the stage delight you, we have sufficient literature of our own, enough verse and maxims, also enough songs and melodies; and ours are not fables, but truths, not artful devices, but plain realities. Do you want contests in boxing and wrestling? Here they are – contests of no slight account, and plenty of them.  Behold impurity overthrown by chastity, faithlessness slain by faith, cruelty crushed by mercy, impudence put in the shade by modesty. Such are the contests among us, and in these we win our crowns. Do you have desire for blood, too? You have the blood of Christ.”

-Matt Kortus

[1] All quotes taken from: The Fathers of the Church, Volume 40, Tertullian Disciplinary, Moral and Ascetical Works, Spectacles, p. 33-107.

2 thoughts on “Samples from Seminary – De Spectaculis

  1. I would agree Matt that the bloody sports and lascivious plays of Rome were godless affairs because they inflamed blood-lust and sexual lust BUT Paul does use boxing, wrestling and Olympic language several times in the New Testament and I think believers may with good conscience wrestle or box or watch the same to the glory of God. Certainly most sports would constitute “adiaphora” (Romans 14:14) in my estimation.


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