Theater of the Devil

How should Christians approach film and television? Is anything off limits, such as Game of Thrones or Quentin Tarantino, or is everything a matter of personal discernment? What factors should we consider as we make entertainment choices? Is this a trivial matter, or is it central to the Christian confession?

In order to help us find answers to these questions, I scoured the 38-volume standard collection of the church fathers for any reference to the theater. Since these translations are now in the public domain, I collected the most relevant excerpts and published them on Amazon in an anthology of around 100 pages entitled, Theater of the Devil.

Here are a few snippets to pique your interest:

John Chrysostom | On coming back from the tombs, [many people] are used to wash themselves, but on returning from theaters they have never groaned, nor poured forth any fountains of tears; yet surely the dead man is no unclean thing, whereas sin induces such a blot, that not even with ten thousand fountains could one purge it way, but with tears only, and with confessions.

Tertullian | How vain, then, - no, how desperate - is the reasoning of persons, who, just because they decline to lose a pleasure, hold out that we cannot point to the specific words [in Scripture] ... where the servants of God are directly forbidden to have anything to do with such assemblies!
Cyprian | What has the Scripture forbidden? Certainly it has forbidden gazing upon what it forbids to be done. ... I am ashamed to tell what things are said [in the theaters]. ... What does a faithful Christian do among these things, since he may not even think upon wickedness? 

Theophilus of Antioch | We are forbidden so much as to witness shows of gladiators, lest we become partakers and abettors of murders. But neither may we see the other spectacles, lest our eyes and ears be defiled. ... [Violence and adultery are] made the subject of their dramas. But far be it from Christians to conceive any such deeds.

John Chrysostom | It is for this most especially that I grieve, that what is done [on stage] does not so much as seem evil, but there is even applause and clamor, and much laughter, at commission of so foul adultery. 

Salvian | What folly and madness is it for us to think laughter and joy worthless unless they involve injury to God! Injury indeed, and a very great one. The spectacles involve a sort of apostasy from the faith, a fatal violation of the creed itself and of the divine sacraments.

Tertullian | The rejection of these amusements is the chief sign to them that a man has adopted the Christian faith. If anyone, then, puts away the faith's distinctive badge, he is plainly guilty of denying it. 

Augustine | A good Christian has no wish to attend the public shows.

John Chrysostom | You in a market-place would not choose to see a woman stripped naked ... but call such thing an outrage. ... Is it that when we are apart, then such a thing is outrageous, but when we are assembled and all sitting together [in the theater], it is no longer equally shameful? Nay, this is absurdity and a disgrace, and words of the utmost madness; and it were better to besmear the eyes all over with mud and mire than to be a spectator of such a transgression. 

Salvian | Let us suppose that our Lord would like to watch us even though we do not deserve it: can he do so? ... Can God watch over men who are reveling in the circuses and committing adultery in the theaters? Or do we perhaps think it fitting and desirable that when God sees us in the circuses and theaters, he should see with us what we ourselves see there, and look with us at the disgraceful sights at which we gaze? One of two things must happen; either, if he deigns to look on us, he must also see our surroundings, or if he averts his eyes from them, which he surely does, then he must avert them equally from us, who are among them.

John Chrysostom | Now then for a season, in order not to be too burdensome, I will here bring my discourse [on the theater] to an end. But if you continue in the same courses, I will make the knife sharper, and the cut deeper; and I will not cease, till I have scattered the theater of the devil, and so purified the assembly of the Church.