The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter 32

Learn, then, you who pretend ignorance, and mark well the facts while you grumble against the One who delivered you from such masters. The stage plays, those exhibitions of depravity and unbounded license, were not introduced in Rome by men’s vices, but by the command of your gods. Far more justifiably might you have paid divine honors to your Scipio than worshiped gods such as those, for they were not more virtuous than their high priest. And now mark further, if your mind, besotted as it is with long draughts of error, is still able to entertain a sane thought. Your gods, in order to allay a plague that seized upon your bodies, ordered stage plays in their honor, but your pontifex forbade the construction of the stage in order to keep a plague from seizing your souls. If your mind retains enough sense to esteem the soul more than the body, then choose whom you should worship.

Moreover, the plague did not abate when the wanton madness of the stage plays took possession of a warlike people, once accustomed only to the sports of the arena. It was the work of wicked spirits crafty enough to know that that pestilence would soon run its course. They seized the occasion, to their great delight, to inject a more deadly contagion, not into men’s bodies, but into their souls. This contagion so beclouded the wits of those wretches, so befouled and deranged them, that even now—for, future generations will scarcely believe the story if it reaches them—after the City of Rome has been laid waste, those who were so infected by the plague and were able to flee from Rome to Carthage were day after day stampeding one another in a mad rush after the clowns in the theatres.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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