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ABOUT HONEST RECREATIONS
URTHERMORE, since such is the frailty of human nature that it cannot always devote itself to serious and weighty matters, but demands (just as it does sleep and other intervals of rest) some relaxations from business and useful pursuits together with a certain mental and physical relief purveyed by sports and games, most of all when weighty and serious matters have been attended to. it will be necessary to provide for this business by exercising moderation in wisely prescribing how recreation of this kind is to be provided for the people and for their youth, so that they may profit from them, in such a way that from them not only is no dissolution of morals to be feared or enticement of wicked idleness, but rather, as it were, a certain in their intellectual cultivation. For, as a pagan philosopher wrote, “We are not so created by nature that we are made for sport and entertainment, but rather for seriousness and for certain weightier, greater pursuits.”
2. These recreations are to be sought from the musical and gymnastic arts: from music come poetry and songs, which must represent or proclaim nothing foolish or unfit for the Christian profession, let alone anything obscene and disreputable, but rather should sing the praises of God and our Savior, and all the things derived from His works and judgments set forth in Holy Scripture, together with laudations of the virtues and of men who have excelled in virtue, pious precepts for living, and histories wholesome to remember.
3. To these can be joined choral dances, but pious ones performed separately by little girls and boys, danced to pure and holy song, and with chaste movement and decent steps expressive of piety, such as Moses’ sister Miriam and the matrons of Israel sang in praise of God after crossing the Red Sea for His wonderful rescue of their people from Egyptian servitude. Similar was the hymn of victory performed by a chorus of holy girls who celebrated David and Saul when they returned from slaughtering the Philistines, and the kind of choral dance demanded by the Holy Spirit in Psalms 149 and 150 when it said “Praise the Lord with timbrel and dance.”
4. For what things in this world, when commemorated and sung about, deservedly fill us with greater joy and excite more exultant happiness than those countless, ineffable gifts of divine charity and boons which God has displayed by our creation, and the creation of all things for our sake, as He perpetually displays by generously preserving and most wisely governing ourselves and our world, and which He manifests by imparting His law and its obligations, His divine and saving wisdom, by granting us His Son, our eternal Advocate, and all that came with Him: the Holy Spirit and celestial life, the blessed communion of the Church, and all the outward boons and gifts we receive, both public and private?
5. So should not our mind justly leap up with happiness and joy in pious songs because of the great goodness of God’s gifts, and excite and move our body to attest to this joy and express this happiness, but with movement appropriate to each nation and each age? Certain, although he was a king, a more compelling mindfulness of the divine benefits he had received moved David, when he was bringing in the Ark of Lord, that he danced in its presence. He was, I admit, a man of Palestine, belonging to a nation far more emotional and mercurial than our Europeans. But since our boys and young gentlemen delight in dancing, why should dances not also be established among ourselves, who by means of Christ’s blood have been granted citizenship in heaven, so that they might exist with pious and holy rejoicing over God’s goodness, and have the power to enhance our rejoicing and inflame our minds with zeal for every manner of piety?
6. Certainly, if we belong to Christ, if for us He is life, if eternal salvation is also from Him and about Him, we should every reason for joy and happiness, and all rejoicing both of our minds and our bodies should be aroused, as is readily appreciated by anybody who has the slightest sense of what it means to love God with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, and all one’s strength, nay. who has ever experienced the power of human love and exultant happiness.
7. These words apply to all who believe in Christ: Rejoice in the Lord, o ye righteous, for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto Him with the psaltry and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. Likewise, I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. And again: My heart is fixed, o God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and five praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltry and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise Thee, o Lord, among the people: I will sing unto Thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy truth unto the clouds. And in another place: My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips. And once more: Bless the Lord, o my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, o my soul. While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
8. Thrice-miserable indeed and lost are those whom nothing can delight save for that which exists, if not obscene and filthy, at least trifling, empty, unprofitable, silly, and unworthy of a man. And so, as Plato opined, it should not be allowed that any song be sung or dance danced in private, let alone in public, unless it is chaste, holy, and fit for the advancement and promotion of piety. For which reason, it should not be allowable for no song, no manner of dancing to be used either privately or in public not approved by wise and religious men, entrusted with this task by your sacred majesty.
9. Then too, youth could be exercised in the acting of comedies and tragedies, and a delight not without its uses for the increase of piety to be purveyed to the people, But there would be a need for men pious, trained for Christ’s kingdom, and wise ,who could compose comedies and chaste tragedies, I mean ones in which could might be represented the imitation of human counsels, actions and events, either common and ordinary, as occurs in comedies, or singular and worthy of greater admiration, which is property to tragedy, things which are conducive to a sure correction of morals and pious manner of living.
1o. As would occur if a comedy represented the quarrel of the shepherds of Abraham and Lot and their mutual separation. For albeit Abraham and Lot may be heroic characters suitable for tragedies, nevertheless the quarrels which arose between their shepherds because of the excess number of their sheep was a common and ordinary thing, as was the fact that these holy heads of households were no little troubled by their servants’ wranglings, to the point that Abraham rightly advised that they should separate from one another. In such a comedy, the following points, could be exhibited with a delight useful for pious instruction:
1. That God deals most kindly with those who abandon something for His sake, as because of the abundance of their sheep Abraham and Lot left behind their native soul and many of their kinsfolk at the Lord’s summons.
2. That men, at the inspiration of Satan and their own corrupt nature, are often wont to bring down many troubles upon themselves over such outward matters, rather than relying on God’s more generous bounty, just as the shepherds of Abraham used the occasion of the abundance of sheep to quarrel between themselves and trouble their masters.
3. It would be possible to depict that disease of servants and domestics, creation of contention between their masters by the bearing of false or untimely witness.
4. It would be possible to display the weakness of human nature when it comes to maintaining mutual peace and good will.
5. How better it is for friends and kinsmen and dwell apart and rarely meet, maintaining friendly and peaceful attitudes towards each other, rather than coming together and come together frequently with some offence or disturbance of their minds, or assuredly running the risk of some offence or disturbance.
6. The example of Abraham could be cited in praise of that office of true humanity and pious humility with which he, the elder and the uncle, ceded to his junior and nephew the choice of place, and of the fruit he gained by this humility in the form of God’s kindness and generosity towards Abraham.
11. In the same way, pious comedies also provide ample and very appropriate matter for the enhancement of piety taken from the story of the bride Rebecca, wooed and won by Isaac. For from this story can be described the pious devotion of parents in seeking religious marriages for their children; the good faith and dutifulness of upright servants; the power of holy prayer and the hoped-for results of pious praying; the girl’s nature, being genuinely bashful and yet kindly and hospitable; likewise the readiness of parents in piously bestowing their daughters’ hands and also their sensitivity in not marrying them to men they would not like to marry. Further, it shows God’s wonderful power in joining mankind in marriage, as is evident in Rebecca when she so readily consents to go and meet a husband she has never seen, leaving behind her parents, her brothers, and all her house and homeland. In this matter there also crops up Rebecca’s laudable character because she was unashamed immediately to admit her willingness to marry that pious man, and again the power of her honorable bashfulness and modesty when, catching sight of Isaac, she dismounted from her camel and veiled her face. Here one might also preach about the piety of Isaac while yet a young man, as he scrupulously observed the time for his evening prayers, and likewise his unique love for his wife. It would likewise be suitable to praise their marriage, contracted between those familiar to each other and joined by their religion.
12. A not dissimilar plot could be taken from the tale of Jacob, in that part where it is told how, out of fear of his brother, he abandoned his parents and absconded to his uncle Laban, and there was enriched by two wives, children, and great wealth, granted him out of God’s kindness because of the fidelity with which he served his uncle. And also how he went home and reconciled with his brother. Within this part of the story are also certain tragic elements, dealing with how the Lord appeared to him on his way, his wrestling with the angel, though these consolations are not unfamiliar to true Christians, even if they are not revealed to all by visions and signs which were revealed to Isaac. For indeed it is true of all Christians that they live in God and in God’s sight, and maintain within themselves the Father, the Son, and their ministering angels.
Although Scripture contains plenty of other tales from which pious comedies suitable for Christian men can be created, nevertheless fit and pious poets can supply a multitude of such plays taken from other stories and the experience of everyday life.
13. At all points, Scripture offers a great deal of matter for tragedies: the stories of nearly all the holy Fathers, kings, prophets, and apostles, beginning with Adam, mankind’s first father. These stories are quite crammed with divine and heroic characters, emotions, manners, actions, and also results which are unanticipated or contrary to expectations, what Aristotle calls peripeteia. All of which have a wonderful power to confirm our faith in God and kindling our zealous love for Him, and also our admiration for piety and justice, and our horror at impiety and everything that creates and enhances perversity. How much more befitting it would be for Christians to take their plots from these things, which represent great and illustrious human counsels, strivings, character, emotions and events, rather than from the impious tales or histories of pagans! But stories must be told in both these genres, the comic and the tragic, in such a way that when human vices and sins are described or represented, as it were, before our eyes in action, this be done in such a manner that, albeit the sins of abandoned men are displayed, a certain terror of divine judgment and horror of sin be made manifest, and pleasure that rejoices in sin and bold audacity not be displayed. Better to subtract something from poetic elegance than divert the spectators from their concern for enhancing piety, and this requires that in every representation of sin the pricking of personal conscience and quaking dread of God’s judgment be felt.
14. And while pious, upright actions are shown, within them should be expressed as clearly as possible a happy sense of divine mercy, secure and confident and yet moderate and distrusting itself while rejoicing in faith in God and God’s promises, together with a holy and spiritual pleasure in doing right. For by this way the saints’ character, morals, and enthusiasm for instilling piety and virtue in all the people is represented most artfully. For, in order for Christ’s people to gain this profit from pious comedies and tragedies, the doing of this business must be entrusted to men who are both uniquely trained in the writing of such poetry, and are also well-tried in their constant zeal for Christ’s kingdom, lest comedy or tragedy act out anything at all which they have not previously reviewed and decided to be fit for performance. These men will also ensure that nothing silly or stagy should be allowed in the acting, but rather that everything should be represented in a holy, grave manner albeit a pleasant one, and only for the benefit of the saints. By this action not just the things themselves and human actions, emotions and perturbations should be represented, but also their morals and natures, and they should be represented so that a zealous desire to imitate them should be aroused in the spectators, and things done otherwise should be established as detestable, so that a more watchful avoidance might be provoked. If these injunctions are heeded, many indeed are the things that can be provided our youth which are matter for nourishing virtue no less than they are useful for dramatization, especially since the greatest carefulness and energy has been expended on this kind of thing, both in the vernacular and in Latin and Greek. We now have some comedies and tragedies of this kind, plays of which we need not be ashamed, even if the learned gentlemen of this world find them lacking in them the wit and style of speech they admire in the plays of Aristophanes, Terence ad Plautus, and the gravity, subtlety and elegant diction of Sophocles, Euripides and Seneca, nonetheless those well instructed with respect to God’s kingdom and desirous to acquire the wisdom of living for God’s sake, will not find wanting in the verses of men of our times the lore of heaven, emotions, morals and situations worthy of God’s sons. And yet it is to be hoped that those God granted excellence in these things will prefer to display them to His glory rather than to hold back the pious strivings other men by making inappropriate criticisms, thinking it better to produce comedies and tragedies in which, even if their poetical art is less manifest, their understanding of life eternal is placed on excellent display, rather than plays whereby, so that the elegance of the young men’s talent and language might somehow be helped along, their minds and manners would be sullied by some impious, foul, scurrilous imitation.