BATTLE FOR LIFE. By J. Stephen Lang
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21
404: Blood flowed, men died, crowds cheered—such was the “entertainment” enjoyed by the ancient Romans, which is familiar to us thanks to movies such as Gladiator and Spartacus.
In the gladiatorial contests, combatants greeted the emperors by shouting, “We who are about to die salute you!” The loser in each contest was usually stabbed through the throat, while the crowds roared.
The bloody sand was raked over, and a new contest would begin. Such bloodbaths were not just for the dregs of society but for everyone, including the emperors.
Constantine, the first Christian emperor, ended the gladiator spectacles in 313—but apparently the ban was not enforced for long, for the games were revived later. The emperors, even though they were Christians, feared to take away something that gave the masses such pleasure.
The early Christians lamented the evil of Roman public amusements. One Christian author called the games “cannibal banquets for the soul.” Other Christians claimed that the public shedding of blood for sport encouraged crime and a general disdain for human life.
Even though many gladiators were convicted criminals under a death sentence, sensitive souls grieved that citizens enjoyed watching the butchery.
Churches refused baptism to a gladiator unless he changed professions. Pastors taught their flocks that Christ’s people had no business attending such spectacles, and some congregations refused holy communion to Christians who did.
One Christian tried a more drastic approach. In the year 400, Telemachus leapt into the arena to stop a gladiatorial contest. The mob (composed mostly of citizens who were nominally Christian) stoned him to death.
The emperor eventually ordered the contests stopped permanently. The last gladiator contests were held January 1, 404. They did not end solely because of Telemachus’s martyrdom.
They ended because enough Christians, and people influenced by Christians, saw the games as the vulgar, inhumane outrages that they were. Faith in the Prince of Peace had triumphed over the spirit of cruelty.
Prayer: Lord of life, make us beacons of light in a dark world. Amen.