Further, since human nature has that weakness by which it cannot always concentrate on grave and serious matters but demands other rest besides sleep, there must also be provision made for certain relaxations from work and useful studies and a certain recreation of the strength both of the spirit and of the body in play and games, especially when grave and serious obligations have been satisfied, and by all means in proper moderation and prudence, so that the kind of games is prescribed and presented for adults and youth in which there need not be feared any relaxation of morals or delight in wicked idleness and from which there may also be gained a certain strengthening of health as well as some improvement in the cultivation of the mind. As a pagan philosopher wrote, “We have not been so fashioned by nature that we seem to have been made for sport and games but rather for hardship and for certain more serious and more important pursuits. (Cicero De Officiis 1.29)
These games must be derived from musical and gymnastic art. From music one will take poems and songs that present and proclaim nothing futile, nothing inappropriate to the Christian profession and nothing obscene and wicked, but rather the praises of God and the Savior derived from all his works and judgments as these are expressed in Holy Scripture; the praise of virtues and of men excelling in virtue; laws and precepts of a pious life, and well known and helpful historical narratives.
To these may be added dances (but the dances of pious girls must be separate from the dances of young boys) which may be danced to pure and holy songs,80 with chaste and modest motion befitting those who profess piety, as Miriam, the sister of Moses, danced and the matrons of Israel when they had crossed the Red Sea and sang the praises of God for such a wonderful delivery of their nation from the slavery of Egypt (Ex. 15:20-21). Such was the dance of holy girls who celebrated David and Saul in a song of victory when they returned from the slaughter of the Philistines (I Sam. 18:6), the kind of dance the Holy Spirit requires in Ps. 149:3 and 150:4 when he says, “Praise the Lord with timbrel and dance.”
For what do we remember and sing about in this world which more properly fills us with joy and arouses exultant gladness in us than those innumerable blessings and benefits of the divine love toward us? God has manifested this love to us in our creation and the creation of all other things for our sake, and he continually manifests it in very wisely governing and so munificently preserving us and the whole world because of us. He exhibits his love also in imparting his law and religion, divine and saving wisdom, in giving his Son, our eternal advocate, and with him all things, the Holy Spirit, a new and heavenly life, the blessed fellowship of his Church, and so many external advantages and gifts, both public and private.
In pious singing, therefore, we are reminded of these gifts from such an immense goodness of God. And should the spirit not rightly leap with joy and gladness and excite the body to bear witness to this joy and impel it to express this gladness, by action, however, becoming to every age and nation? Certainly a deeper recollection of divine blessings strongly moved David, although he was a king, when he was bringing in the Ark of the Lord, so that he danced before it (II Sam. 6:12-15). He was a Palestinian, I admit, of a nation far more emotional and uninhibited than our European people. But since our young people delight in dancing, why are such dances not introduced among us too, who have become citizens of heaven through the blood of Christ, so that they spring forth from a pious and holy exultation of the mind over the goodness of God and strengthen and increase that exultation and inflame the spirit with a desire for all piety?
Certainly if we belong to Christ, if he is our life, if eternal salvation is from him and about him, every cause of joy and gladness ought to be ours; and complete exultation both of spirit and of body should be aroused, something which anyone will acknowledge who has experienced but a little of what it is “to love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, and with all your strength” (Luke 10:27) indeed, who has ever known any of the power of human love and exultant gladness.
This is clearly true for all believers in Christ: ”Exult in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise becomes the righteous. Celebrate the Lord with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song, make a fine melody with jubilation” (Ps. 33:1-3). Likewise: “I shall bless the Lord at all times, his praise will be always in my mouth. My soul will glory in the Lord; the meek will hear and be glad” (Ps. 34:2-3). And again: “My heart is prepared, O God, my heart is prepared, I shall sing and make melody; awake, O my glory, awake harp and lyre; I shall awaken early, I shall celebrate you among the peoples, O Lord, and I shall sing to you among the nations, because your great kindness extends to the heavens, and to the clouds your truth” (Ps. 57:8-11) . And in another place: “My soul will be satisfied with abundance and fullness, and my mouth will speak praise with exultant lips” (Ps. 63:5). And again: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and whatever is within me bless his holy name; bless the Lord, O my soul” (Ps. 103:1-2). “I shall praise God as long as I live, and I shall sing melody to my God as long as I exist” (Ps. 146:2). “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
Thrice miserable and lost are people whom nothing can delight except what is, if not obscene and dirty, yet inane, profitless, ridiculous, and unworthy of man. Also, Plato was of the opinion that it should not be allowed privately, much less publicly, that any songs be sung or dances danced except ones which are chaste, holy, and suited to foster and promote piety. For this reason, no singing nor any kind of dancing should be allowed, either privately or publicly, which has not been approved by wise and religious men to whom this responsibility will be referred by Your Majesty.
Youth could also perform comedies and tragedies, and by such means a useful form of entertainment, honorable and contributing toward an increase of piety, may be staged for the people; but it will be necessary that devout and wise men experienced in the Kingdom of Christ compose these comedies and tragedies, in which there may be presented on the stage the plans, actions, and events of mankind, whether common and ordinary as it occurs in comedies or unique and eliciting admiration as it is characteristic of tragedies. All this will contribute toward a correction of morals and a pious orientation to life. (Aristotle, Poetics II, 1448a.)
If a comedy is presented, take, for example, the quarrel of the shepherds of Abraham and Lot and their separation from each other (Gen. 13:5-12) . For although Abraham and Lot are heroic figures appropriate to tragedy, yet the quarrels that arose among their shepherds because they had too many sheep were common and ordinary. It was also common and ordinary that these holy householders were somewhat disturbed with each other by the quarrels of their servants, so much so that Abraham rightly decided that they should separate from one another. In a comedy of this kind, the following themes might be treated and presented for useful entertainment and pious instruction:
First, how very kindly God treats all who have left something for his sake, as Abraham and Lot had left their native soil and many of their dear kindred at the call of the Lord.
Second, that men, by the suggestion of Satan and the corruption of their own nature, are often wont to call down upon themselves many disadvantages in the face of the more liberal blessings of God in their external affairs, as the shepherds of Abraham and Lot took the occasion of the great number of their sheep to quarrel among each other and disturb their masters.
Third, there could be depicted that disease of servants and domestics by which they are accustomed to commit their masters to false and untimely accusations of each other because of their own iniquitous wranglings.
Fourth, the weakness of human nature for preserving mutual benevolence and tranquillity could be explained.
Fifth, how much better it is for friends and relatives to dwell apart and to get together more rarely and thus to keep their feelings toward each other more friendly and peaceful than to stay together or to get together more frequently with offended feelings and disturbances or at least with the danger of some offense and disturbance.
Sixth, the example of Abraham can be praised as a role of real humanity and pious humility, by which he as the older one and an uncle yielded and gave the option of choosing a place to the younger man, his nephew, and also the result of this humility, the very ample kindness and munificence of God toward Abraham.
In the same manner, pious comedy will be supplied with material rich and very suitable for the building of piety from the story of Isaac’s seeking, finding, and marrying his bride, Rebekah (Gen. 24:2-67). From this story there can be described the pious solicitude of parents in seeking religious marriages for their children; the good faith and efficiency of reputable servants; the power of holy prayer; the desired outcome of events as an answer to pious prayer; the character of the girl, a really modest person and also humane and hospitable; likewise, the readiness of the parents to marry their daughters piously; also their humanity in not joining them with those with whom they do not wish to be united; likewise, the wonderful power of God in uniting people in marriage, which appears in the case of Rebekah, when she so readily consents to set out with a man whom she has not yet seen, and this with the abandonment of parents, brothers, everything at home, and her fatherland. Here there comes up for praise the ingenuity of modesty, as Rebekah was not ashamed to confess her willingness to marry a pious man, and again the force of honest decency and modesty, that at the sight of Isaac she got down from the camel and covered her face. Here may also be preached the piety of Isaac while he was yet a youth, observing the evening hour of prayer so religiously; likewise, his singular love for his wife. It will also be appropriate to commend a holy marriage which is contracted by those who are known and joined to each other by religion.
A not dissimilar plot could be derived also from the story of Jacob, in the part in which it is described that in fear of his brother, leaving his parents, he went to his uncle Laban and there was enriched with two wives, children, and great wealth, by the goodness of God, because of the faithful service he performed for his uncle. Likewise, how on his return he was restored to the favor of his brother (Gen. 28:10 to 33:20). There is also a tragic aspect to this story in the apparition of the Lord on the way and the struggle with the angel. But these consolations of God are not foreign to any real Christians, although they are not set forth to all in visions and signs of this sort as they were to Jacob. For it is clearly a mark of all Christians that they live in God and before God and have the Father and the Son abiding in them and angels ministering to them.
Although the Scriptures contain very many stories from which holy comedies befitting Christians can be portrayed, apt and pious poets can nevertheless produce many such things from other stories and from occurrences in daily life.
The Scriptures everywhere offer an abundant supply of material for tragedies, in almost all the stories of the holy patriarchs, kings, prophets, and apostles, from the time of Adam, the first parent of mankind. For these stories are filled with divine and heroic personages, emotions, customs, actions, and also events which turned out contrary to what was expected, which Aristotle calls a reversal. (Aristotle, Poetics XI, 1452a) Since all such things have so wonderful a power of confirming faith in God and enkindling a desire and love for God and likewise an admiration of piety and righteousness, and of engendering and increasing the horror of impiety and all perversity, how much more does it befit Christians to derive their poems from these things, in which they can represent the great and illustrious plans, efforts, characters, emotions, and events of mankind, rather than from the godless fables and stories of the pagans.
It must be observed, however, that when in both kinds of poetic material, comic and tragic, the activities and sins of men are described and actively presented to be seen with the eyes, it should be done in such a way that although the crimes of reprobate men are related, yet a certain terror of divine judgment and horror of sin should appear in these things, and a shameless daring and an exultant delight in crimes should not be expressed. It is better here to take something away from poetic fitness rather than from the concern for edifying the piety of the spectators, which demands that in every representation of sin there be felt the condemnation of one’s conscience and the horrible fear of God’s judgment.
But when pious and good actions are shown, they should express as clearly as possible a happy, secure, and confident sense of the divine mercy, but moderate and diffident as regards the self, and a joyful trust in God and his promises, with holy and spiritual pleasure in doing good. This is the way by which one can present most skillfully the saints’ character, way of life, and emotion for the establishment of all piety and virtue among the people.
In order that the people of Christ may receive this enjoyment of this matter who have a singular understanding of poetry as well as a known and constant zeal for the Kingdom of Christ so that no comedy or tragedy is enacted which these persons have not seen and decreed fit for performance. These will also take care that nothing shallow, or histrionic is admitted in the acting, but that everything is shown by means of a holy and grave, though agreeable action, for the saints alone, in which there are represented not so much the actualities and activities of men and their feelings and troubles, but rather their morals and character; these should be presented in such a way that what has been piously planned and rightly done arouses the spectators to an eager imitation, but what has been wrongly designed and done, strengthens them in their detestation of it and stimulates them to a vigilant avoidance of it.
When these precautions are observed, much material for the diversion of youth can certainly be presented which is indeed useful for nourishing and promoting virtue, especially when a desire and an interest have been aroused for this sort of comedies and tragedies, both in the vernacular language and in Latin and Greek. There are now available some of these comedies and tragedies with which one cannot be displeased. Although in the comedies of our time the scholars miss that acumen and wit and pleasantness of speech which people admire in Aristophanes, Terence, and the tales of Plautus, and in the tragedies the gravity, cleverness, and elegance of dialogue of Sophocles, Euripides, and Seneca, yet those who want to know the Kingdom of Christ and who desire to learn the wisdom of living unto God do not miss, in this poetry of our people, heavenly doctrine, emotions, behavior, speech, and adventures worthy of the sons of God. It is desirable, however, that those to whom God has given more of a talent for this sort of thing will prefer to use it for his glory rather than to retard the pious enthusiasms of others by their untimely criticisms, seeing that it is more satisfactory to stage comedies and tragedies in which, even if they lack poetic art, the knowledge of eternal life is excellently exhibited, rather than those in which for the sake of some contribution to the cultivation of genius and language, spirit and behavior are dirtied by filthy and scurrilous imitation.
Now, from gymnastic art those sports will have to be proposed to youth which, besides what they contribute to the health and preservation of the body and the production of graceful movements, also render men fit and ready for military service and the advantageous use of arms. Young men should therefore exercise themselves in running, jumping, wrestling, horseback riding, the handling of all arms and weapons which are used for open and hand-to-hand combat, the arrangement of battle formations, the positioning of camp, and mock battle. (Plato, Laws VII, 803c, 813 d-e.) To these, nobles may add the exercise of hunting. (Plato, Laws VII, 824 a-c.)
These exercises which pertain to military science ought to be so constituted and conducted in such a serious manner that they approximate as much as possible the actual operations of war, as Plato has said. (Plato, Laws VII, 813 d-e) If young people are able to learn military science and the practices of war at home and in their own country, under good laws and pious magistrates, there will be no need to send them to military service in foreign lands, which (on the assumption that wars waged in these times are just) is so replete with wickedness and lacking in every discipline that is indeed required by Christian soldiers, that they who hope for successful warfare and victory from the Lord cannot put their own sons into that army, according to the words of the psalm: “It is God who girds me with strength for war and prepares my path” (Ps. 18:32).
In charge of these sports, as of the kind previously mentioned, there should always be men singularly experienced in the field involved, men of universal wisdom most zealous for all piety and virtue, who are admired and therefore have the authority and power to relate and to adapt all youthful sport to a zeal for and practice of the virtues, which is the one goal of all sports among Christians; for we have been created for the praise of God and the glory of his name and we have been redeemed by the blood of the Son of God in order to obtain the salvation of our neighbors and not in order to be destroyed in pernicious buffoonery and empty vanity.
Therefore, for the pious and wholesome regulation of sports, singing, and dancing, there should be issued this seventh chapter of the law by which pious industry will come to be repaired among the citizens. For as by these methods each citizen is applied from childhood to good skills and practices salutary to the commonwealth, the use of diversions such as we have described will be ordered, and godless and pernicious idleness, that perennial and overflowing spring of vices and of every wickedness, will be removed from the citizens; there will be procured for them a pious and holy industry, an inexhaustible vein abounding with every advantage and convenience, by which the commonwealth will be spiritually and physically adorned and wonderfully helped. For we must very much deplore and be ashamed of the fact that so many ancient nations, although ignorant of God, drove out idleness and laziness so severely and educated and compelled their citizens to serious activities useful to the state (one reads that Draco the Athenian was of the opinion that laziness deserved the death penalty), and that we who regard ourselves as the sons of God so greatly neglect the responsibility for this holy and salutary matter that the Turks ridicule and detest us particularly for this reputation. For neither at home nor in military service do they tolerate idle men, with the result that they abound both in men and power and that they have achieved and continue to achieve remarkable victories.
So much for the civil education of youth, the suppression of idleness, and the introduction and increase of honest crafts and business affairs.