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Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

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I was looking at an edition of Augustine’s Confessions, and happened upon this brief note:


The early Fathers strongly reprobated stage-plays, and those who went to them were excluded from baptism. This is not to be wondered at, when we learn that ‘even the laws of Rome prohibited actors from being enrolled as citizens’ (De Civ. Dei. ii. 14), and that they were accounted infamous (Tertullian, De Spectac. sec. xxii). See also Tertullian, De Pudicitia, c. vii.

This is attached to that well-known remark of Augustine in 3.2:

Stage-plays also drew me away, full of representations of my miseries, and of fuel to my fire. Why does man like to be made sad when viewing doleful and tragical scenes, which yet he himself would by no means suffer? And yet he wishes, as a spectator, to experience from them a sense of grief, and in this very grief his pleasure consists. What is this but a wretched insanity? For a man is more affected with these actions, the less free he is from such affections. [sic] Howsoever, when he suffers in his own person, it is the custom to style it ‘misery;’ but when he compassionates others, then it is styled ‘mercy.’ But what kind of mercy is it that arises from fictitious and scenic passions? The hearer is not expected to relieve, but merely invited to grieve; and the more he grieves, the more he applauds the actor of these fictions. And if the misfortunes of the characters (whether of olden times or merely imaginary) be so represented as not to touch the feelings of the spectator, he goes away disgusted and censorious; but if his feelings be touched, he sits it out attentively, and sheds tears of joy.

The edition is one translated and annotated by J. G. Pilkington (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1876). And here we see again, at very least, that early Christians imposed what some today might deride as mere legalistic “standards,” and that those “standards” even touched upon forms of entertainment and the theater. This is not to say that these church fathers are right or wrong, or to assert that modern believers (such as fundamentalists) have been as skillful as their predecessors in addressing such matters, or even to assert that American fundamentalists have been particularly consistent in their approach, but only to observe that the assertion that dramatic theater (and its ilk) is incongruous with a confession of the Lord Jesus Christ is not at all novel.