De spectaculis

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Aerial view of a late second-century Roman amphitheater at Isca Augusta

De Spectaculis, also known as On the Spectacles, is a surviving moral and ascetic treatise by Tertullian. Written somewhere between 197-202, the work looks at the moral legitimacy and consequences of Christians attending the circus, theatre, or amphitheatre ("the pleasures of public shows").

Tertullian argues against the widely-held contemporary view that human enjoyment can be an offence to God. His view of these public entertainments are that they are a misuse of God's creation and a perversion of the gifts God has given to man. To this end he supports his claim by reminding the reader that these shows and spectacles derived from pagan ritual rites (the Liberalia, the Consualia, the Equiria, the Bacchanalia, etc.). This presupposes that the events derive from idolatry. Of key concern was that the "show always leads to spiritual agitation". By attending and partaking in the event, man is subject to strong excitements, which are aroused due to natural lapses, which create passionate desire. Additionally, Tertullian writes that that which is not permissible to say or do should not be permissible to see or hear.

Friedrich Nietzsche, in On the Genealogy of Morality (Essay 1, Section 15), uses Tertullian's words to highlight the resemblance of Christian worship to circus-going: "In place of athletes, we have our martyrs; if we crave blood, we have the blood of Christ..."

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