Tertullian was a Pagan who was converted to Christianity then he separated from the cleric ridden priest's-church. He would, very probably, be called an Evangelical Non-Conformist today. His importance is that he lived when Middle Eastern Paganism was still being widely practised and the Roman Catholic Church was emerging; he stands at a crossroads. Tertullian's thoroughness in tackling the various subjects he took up has caused the priest's church and the state's church to oppose him with dishonest vigour.
T. R. Glover, one of his translators, writes:- "He [Tertullian] laid the foundation of Latin [not Roman] Christianity. The [Catholic, or High] churchmen have never really liked Tertullian; they have found in him too much of the Puritan and the Covenanter; they read him uneasily and praise him with reservations. --- They remember how he left the great [clerical & state] Church to follow [what they called] the Montanist heresy. --- No other writer approaches him in irony; but he gets beyond irony - it is sarcasm, savage strident sarcasm at times; and it jars upon churchmen and scholars alike." [Note: when a charge of heresy is made we should first look at those making the accusation, in this case it is the Clergy of the Roman Catholic Church who charge the 'Montanists' with heresy. Pots and kettles! That is, when there are allegations it is vitally necessary to examine the allegator. J.C.]
It has not been
considered advisable to edit this document, because that would spoil
Tertullian's detailed logic, even though it leaves us with difficult
to follow second century reasoning. This is presented with the skill
of a court room lawyer, the irony of an orator, and the immediacy
of an extempore preacher, for he was all three. This is for the careful
reader. Some of the translator's footnotes have been inserted, in
square brackets, these may have been edited.
Sections 1 to 9 can be found below. Sections 10 to 30 can be found here.
This work was written for the problems of the second century but it has an ageless application, which the studious and careful reader will be quick to notice.
Note: for those persons with a different understanding of the English language, it is necessary to point out that, the terms 'man', 'men' or 'he' are often equated with the term 'mankind'. Gender distinction is, therefore, not always implied.
"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 the contest or spectacle.' But we find relevant to this type of thing that first word of David; 'Happy is the man, etc'." Spectacles Para 3. Now, please, read on.
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 pleasure, that the 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 [The name frequently used by Tertullian for the Christian community.] by the dangers to pleasure 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 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 [Sonship is a principle which is gender free and is little understood by Christians of both genders. J.C.] - 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 not His adversary. We have not then merely o 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 [Or doer] 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, [Or, possibly, 'man's whole nature'.] 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 the contest or spectacle." But we 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." For even though he appears to have spoken of "that just man" because he had no part in the gathering and session of the Jews 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 Jews "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 Jews 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 recesses assigned to for chairs. [Apart from archaeology and architecture the matter is unimportant. Tertulliam makes a verbal point. J.C.] 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 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." [Tertullian now refers to immersion. J.C.] When we enter the water and profess the Christian faith in the terms prescribed by its law, we pronounce with our mouths that we have renounced the devil, his pomp and his angles. What shall we call the chief and outstanding matter, in which the devil and his pomps and his angels are recognised, 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 [Note, Tertullian uses the Latin word and not the transliteration in incorrect, but common, usage in post-Costantian Christendom. J.C] 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, 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 connection 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 Timaes 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 superstition, they institute 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 from ludas (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 honour 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, arguing they claim the Consualia as well for Romulus named the Ecurris, 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 the founder who slew his brother and was the son of Mars. There is still (I might add) an underground altar, dedicated to that Consus, in 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 Jupter Feretrius on the Tarpian, 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 Martinus, 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 guilt origin of the games in idolatry.
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 matters 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 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. 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. [Rev.18;2] If less elaboration is bestowed on it all 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 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 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. 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 fallen angels. In the very decoration of the place itself, how many idolatries do you recognise? 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 Messis (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 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 those 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. 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 worshiper, 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, 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 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. So to Castor and Pollux is dedicated this kind of exhibition, the pair to whom Stesichorus says horses are 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 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 sacrificed 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 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.