Friday, September 5, 2014

A Warning for Sports Fanatics

Football season has begun, and all too many Southerners, Midwesterners, etc. will be following closely every play, coach, and player for months.

St Cyprian of Carthage (martyred in 258), another pillar of Orthodox theology from Africa,

has stern words for those who call themselves Christians yet eagerly run after all these kinds of events.  Few there are who take any time at all to consider the spiritual reality (Idols?  Demons?) that is at back of the material game they are watching.  But we ought to, for nothing is more precious than our souls. 

If, for the sake of saving of our souls, it is better for us to distance ourselves from the vulgarity and barbarity on the field, court, or whatsobeit, then let us do so.  Perhaps a little listening on the radio is best, or simply a summary in the newspaper after the game is over.  Pray that the merciful Lord will reveal what is best.

Here are some of St Cyprian’s writings on the matter, from his letter ‘On the Public Shows’.

 . . . However certain I may be, then, that you are no less respectable in the conduct of your life than faithful in respect of your sacramental vow;4819 still, since there are not wanting smooth-tongued advocates of vice, and indulgent patrons who afford authority to vices, and, what is worse, convert the rebuke of the heavenly Scriptures into an advocacy of crimes; as if the pleasure derived from the public exhibitions might be sought after as being innocent, by way of a mental relaxation;—for thereby the vigour of ecclesiastical discipline is so relaxed, and is so deteriorated by all the languor of vice that it is no longer apology, but authority, that is given for wickedness,—it seemed good in a few words not now to instruct you, but to admonish you who are instructed, lest, because the wounds are badly bound up, they should break through the cicatrix of their closed soundness. For no mischief is put an end to with so much difficulty but that its recurrence is easy, so long as it is both maintained by the consent, and caressed by the excuses4820 of the multitude.
     2. Believers, and men who claim for themselves the authority of the Christian name, are not ashamed—are not, I repeat, ashamed to find a defence in the heavenly Scriptures for the vain superstitions associated with the public exhibitions of the heathens, and thus to attribute divine authority to idolatry. For how is it, that what is done by the heathens in honour of any idol is resorted to in a public show by faithful Christians, and the heathen idolatry is maintained, and the true and divine religion is trampled upon in contempt of God?  Shame binds me to relate their pretexts and defences in this behalf. “Where,” say they, “are there such Scriptures? where are these things prohibited? On the contrary, both Elias is the charioteer of Israel, and David himself danced before the ark. We read of psalteries, horns,4821 trumpets, drums, pipes, harps, and choral dances. Moreover, the apostle, in his struggle, puts before us the contest of the Cæstus, and of our wrestle against the spiritual things of wickedness. Again, when he borrows his illustrations from the racecourse, he also proposes the prize of the crown. Why, then, may not a faithful Christian man gaze upon that which the divine pen might write about?” At this point I might not unreasonably say that it would have been far better for them not to know any writings at all, than thus to read the Scriptures.4822 For words and illustrations which are recorded by way of exhortation to evangelical virtue, are translated by them into pleas for vice; because those things are written of, not that they should be gazed upon, but that a greater eagerness might be aroused in our minds in respect of things that will benefit us, seeing that among the heathens there is manifest so much eagerness in respect of things which will be of no advantage.
3. These are therefore an argument to stimulate virtue, not a permission or a liberty to look upon heathen error, that by this consideration the mind may be more inflamed to Gospel virtue for the sake of the divine rewards, since through the suffering of all these labours and pains it is granted to attain to eternal benefits. For that Elias is the charioteer of Israel is no defence for gazing upon the public games; for he ran his race in no circus. And that David in the presence of God led the dances, is no sanction for faithful Christians to occupy seats in the public theatre; for David did not twist his limbs about in obscene movements, to represent in his dancing the story of Grecian lust.  Psalteries, horns, pipes, drums, harps, were used in the service of the Lord, and not of idols. Let it not on this account be objected that unlawful things may be gazed upon; for by the artifice of the devil these are changed from things holy to things unlawful. Then let shame demur to these things, even if the Holy Scriptures cannot. For there are certain things wherein the Scripture is more careful in giving instruction. Acquiescing in the claim of modesty, it has forbidden more where it has been silent. The truth, if it descended low enough to deal with such things, would think very badly of its faithful votaries. For very often, in matters of precept, some things are advantageously said nothing about; they often remind when they are expressly forbidden. So also there is an implied silence even in the writings of the Scripture; and severity speaks in the place of precepts; and reason teaches where Scripture has held its peace. Let every man only take counsel with himself, and let him speak consistently with the character of his profession,4823 and then he will never do any of these things.4824 For that conscience will have more weight which shall be indebted to none other than itself.
4. What has Scripture interdicted?  Certainly it has forbidden gazing upon what it forbids to be done. It condemned, I say, all those kinds of exhibitions when it abrogated idolatry—the mother of all public amusements,4825whence these prodigies of vanity and lightness came. For what public exhibition is without an idol? what amusement without a sacrifice? what contest is not consecrated to some dead person? And what does a faithful Christian do in the midst of such things as these? If he avoids idolatry, why does he4826 who is now sacred take pleasure in things which are worthy of reproach? Why does he approve of superstitions which are opposed to God, and which he loves while he gazes upon them? Besides, let him be aware that all these things are the inventions of demons, not of God. He is shameless who in the church exorcises demons while he praises their delights in public shows; and although, once for all renouncing him, he has put away everything in baptism, when he goes to the devil’s exhibition after (receiving) Christ, he renounces Christ as much as (he had done) the devil. Idolatry, as I have already said, is the mother of all the public amusements; and this, in order that faithful Christians may come under its influence, entices them by the delight of the eyes and the ears. Romulus was the first who consecrated the games of the circus to Consus as the god of counsel, in reference to the rape of the Sabine women. But the rest of the scenic amusements were provided to distract the attention of the people while famine invaded the city, and were subsequently dedicated to Ceres and Bacchus, and to the rest of the idols and dead men. Those Grecian contests, whether in poems, or in instrumental music, or in words, or in personal prowess, have as their guardians various demons; and whatever else there is which either attracts the eyes or allures the ears of the spectators, if it be investigated in reference to its origin and institution, presents as its reason either an idol, or a demon, or a dead man.  Thus the devil, who is their original contriver, because he knew that naked idolatry would by itself excite repugnance, associated it with public exhibitions, that for the sake of their attraction it might be loved. . . .

As St Cyprian says, beware idolatry, especially the idol of nationalism, dedicating all to the American Empire - its symbols, destructive militarism and other values, rulers. 

This is a rather glaring sin at many sporting events.  But it is not the only evil to be guarded against, visible or invisible.

What, then, ought we to do instead for relaxation and enjoyment?  St Cyprian’s advice is something any agrarian-minded Christian Southron could approve of:

 . . .

9. The Christian has nobler exhibitions, if he wishes for them. He has true and profitable pleasures, if he will recollect himself. And to say nothing of those which he cannot yet contemplate, he has that beauty of the world to look upon and admire.4831 He may gaze upon the sun’s rising, and again on its setting, as it brings round in their mutual changes days and nights; the moon’s orb, designating in its waxings and warnings the courses of the seasons; the troops of shining stars, and those which glitter from on high with extreme mobility,—their members divided through the changes of the entire year, and the days themselves with the nights distributed into hourly periods; the heavy mass of the earth balanced by the mountains, and the flowing rivers with their sources; the expanse of seas, with their waves and shores; and meanwhile, the air, subsisting equally everywhere in perfect harmony, expanded in the midst of all, and in concordant bonds animating all things with its delicate life, now scattering showers from the contracted clouds, now recalling the serenity of the sky with its refreshed purity; and in all these spheres their appropriate tenants—in the air the birds, in the waters the fishes, on the earth man. Let these, I say, and other divine works, be the exhibitions for faithful Christians. What theatre built by human hands could ever be compared to such works as these? Although it may be reared with immense piles of stones, the mountain crests are loftier; and although the fretted roofs glitter with gold, they will be surpassed by the brightness of the starry firmament.4832 Never will any one admire the works of man, if he has recognised himself as the son of God. He degrades himself from the height of his nobility, who can admire anything but the Lord.
10. Let the faithful Christian, I say, devote himself to the sacred Scriptures,4833 and there he shall find worthy exhibitions for his faith. He will see God establishing His world, and making not only the other animals, but that marvellous and better fabric of man. He will gaze upon the world in its delightfulness, righteous shipwrecks, the rewards of the good, and the punishments of the impious, seas drained dry by a people, and again from the rock seas spread out by a people. He will behold harvests descending from heaven, not pressed in by the plough; rivers with their hosts of waters bridled in, exhibiting dry crossings.  He will behold in some cases faith struggling with the flame, wild beasts overcome by devotion and soothed into gentleness. He will look also upon souls brought back even from death. Moreover, he will consider the marvellous souls brought back to the life of bodies which themselves were already consumed. And in all these things he will see a still greater exhibition—that devil who had triumphed over the whole world lying prostrate under the feet of Christ. How honourable is this exhibition, brethren! how delightful, how needful ever to gaze upon one’s hope, and to open our eyes to one’s salvation! This is a spectacle which is beheld even when sight is lost. This is an exhibition which is given by neither prætor nor consul, but by Him who is alone and above all things, and before all things, yea, and of whom are all things, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and honour for ever and ever. I bid you, brethren, ever heartily farewell. Amen.4834

Source:, posted 1 June 2005, accessed 3 Sept. 2014

Holy St Cyprian, pray to God for us!

(Icon from the above OCA web site.)

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