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Christian Quotes about Gladiators

Various Christian quotes about gladiators and Roman festivals.


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Tatian, c. A.D. 165

I have seen men weighed down by bodily exercise, and carrying about the burden of their flesh. Rewards and wreath crowns are set before them, while those who judge them cheer them on—not to deeds of virtue, but to rivalry in violence and discord. The one who excels in giving blows is crowned.

     These are the lesser evils! As for the greater, who would not shrink from telling them?

     Some, who have given themselves over to idle and extravagant living, sell themselves to be killed. The destitute barters himself away, while the rich man buys others to kill him. And for these the witnesses take their seats! Boxers meet in single combat, for no reason whatever, nor does any one come down into the arena to offer aid. Do such exhibitions as these redound to your credit?

     The chief among you collect a legion of blood-stained murderers, paying to maintain them. Then these ruffians are sent forth by him, and you assemble at the spectacle to be judges—partly of the wickedness of the adjudicator and partly of that of the men who engage in the combat.

     And he who misses the murderous exhibition is grieved, because he was not doomed to be a spectator of wicked, impious, and abominable deeds. You slaughter animals for the purpose of eating their flesh, but you purchase men to supply a cannibal banquet for the soul, nourishing it by the most ungodly bloodshedding. The robber commits murder for the sake of plunder, but the rich man purchases gladiators for the sake of their being killed. (Address to the Greeks 23)

Theophilus, A.D. 168

We are forbidden even to witness shows of gladiators, so that we do not become partakers and abettors of murders. Nor may we see the other spectacles, lest our eyes and ears be defiled, participating in the utterances they sing there.

     For if one should speak of cannibalism, in these spectacles the children of Thyestes and Tereus are eaten. As for adultery—both in the case of men and of gods ... —this is made the subject of their dramas.

     But far be it from Christians to conceive any such deeds. For with them temperance dwells, self-restraint is practiced, monogamy is observed, chastity is guarded, iniquity exterminated, sin extirpated, righteousness exercised, law administered, worship performed, God acknowledged. Truth governs, grace guards, peace screens them. The holy word guides, wisdom teaches, life directs, God reigns. (To Autolycus III:15)

Athenagoras, A.D. 177

[Athenagoras is responding to an incredible rumor that Christians regularly killed and ate infants in their ceremonies.]

When they know that we cannot bear even to see a man put to death, though justly, who of them can accuse us of murder or cannibalism? Who does not reckon the contests of gladiators and wild beasts among the things of greatest interest, especially those which are given by you [the ones in Rome, put on by the emperor, to whom this plea is addressed]. But we, because we believe that to watch a man be put to death is much the same as killing him, avoid such spectacles. (A Plea for the Christians 35)

Irenaeus, A.D. 183 - 186

The "most perfect" among [the gnostics] addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that "they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." ... some of them do not even keep away from that bloody spectacle hateful both to God and men, in which gladiators either fight with wild beasts or individually encounter one another. (Against Heresies I:6:3)

Tertullian, c. A.D. 210

There are those, too, who at the gladiator shows, for the cure of epilepsy, quaff with greedy thirst the blood of criminal slain in the arena, even as it flows fresh from the wound. (Apology 9)

When Christians are brought before you [the Roman emperor] simply because of their name, is there ever found a criminal of any sort? It is always with your people that the prisons are streaming, the mines are sighing, and the wild beasts are fed. It is from you that the exhibitors of gladiator shows always get their herds of criminals to feed up for the occasion. You will find no Christian there except for simply being one. (Apology 44)

The prohibition of murder shows me that a trainer of gladiators also is excluded from the Church; nor will any one fail to be the means of doing what he assists another in doing. (On Idolatry 11)

We shall see how the Scriptures condemn the amphitheater. If we can maintain that it is right to indulge in the cruel, the impious, and the fierce, then let us go there. If we are what others accuse us of, then let us regale ourselves with human blood.

     It is good, no doubt, to have the guilty punished. Who but the criminal would deny that? Nonetheless, an innocent man can find no pleasure in another's suffering. Rather, he will mourn a brother who has sinned so heinously as to require a punishment so dreadful.

     And who is my guarantee that it is always the guilty who are sentenced to the wild beasts or some other doom and that the guiltless never suffer from the vengeance of the judge, the weakness of defense, or the pressure of the rack [i.e., forced to confess to something they're not guilty of]? ...

     At any rate, gladiators never charged with a crime are offered in sale for the games so that they may become the  victim of public pleasure. And even in the case of those who are judicially condemned to the amphitheater, what a monstrous thing it is that in undergoing punishment they advance from some less serious delinquency to the status of manslayers. (The Shows 19)

The very man who comes to the show because he thinks murderers ought to suffer for their crime  drives the unwilling gladiator to the murderous deed with rods and scourges. The one who demands the lion for every manslayer of deeper dye will have the staff for the savage swordsman and rewards him with the cap of liberty. Yes, and he must have the poor victim back again, sothat he may get a sight of his face-with zest inspecting near at hand the man whom he wished torn in pieces at safe distance from him. (The Shows 21)

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