Why was the Church so much against theater and actors

I was reading this section in Wikipedia and I found it to be quite disturbing.


Here is just a little bit of it.

Excommunication of actors was both literal and metaphorical practice of demeaning the reputation of actors as individuals or of their profession as the actors as well as refusing to recognize them as the individuals deserving the benefits of the religious rites under the Catholic customs. Many bishops, priests, and monks have strongly condemned theatrical amusements, and they even declared the actors to be ‘instruments of Satan’, ‘a curse to the Church’, and ‘beguiling unstable souls’.[1]:11 The Roman Catholic Church believed theatre caused people to “indulge themselves in amusements which its fascinations interfere with the prosecution of the serious work of daily life. Anything pleasing or appealing to the lower nature, the ‘sensual appetites,’ were considered as temptations as dictated in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Lead us not into temptation,’”[1]:38 which one must avoid in order to lead an ideal Christian life. One must eat and drink for strength and not for gluttony and drunkenness, rest and sleep to the glory of God and not to sink into indolence and sloth nor to become the masters instead of the servants of the body, and amusements are the most dangerous temptations and the worst impulses from [1]:35 otherwise, "many Christians will relax their ordinary strictness “for the sake of the cause,” and that having once obtained a “taste of the nectar, they will continue to drink it”[1]:66 The Church instead encouraged Christians to strive to please their neighbours for good edification rather than pleasing oneself.[1]:43

I was also reading the Catholic Encyclopedia:


In 401 a Council of Carthage decided that plays ought not to take place on Sundays and feasts, and fulminated against actors being decoyed back to their old way of life (but cf. Cod. Theod., XV, vii, 13). Finally, the Council in Trullo in 692, for those that recognized it, condemned plays altogether, threatening degradation against all clerics and excommunication against the laity who assisted at the performances (Hefele-Leclereq, “Conciles,” I, 256, 283, 1032; II, 87, 89, 126, 471; III, 566, 569)

Does this mean it’s sinful to be an actor/participant in the theater/film?

I’m not talking about a “religious education” type of act either. I’m talking about something like Charlie Chaplan or something like that.

I don’t know how accurate the article is (it may be 100% accurate), but I think the Church was correct that entertainment media can be distracting (even consuming) and desensitizing and erode Christian living. Look around today. Even faithful Christians get a kick out of movies that are scandalous (violence or sex), though strong ones are able to not let this affect their beliefs and practices, though it may further morally erode those with weak faith.

I don’t think being an actor today automatically means you’re sinning. I’m not in a position or informed enough to know if individual priests and bishops acted correctly at the time (assuming the article is accurate/contains all relevant info), but I do think the Church was responding to a truth about how media can affect us. I just don’t know if the response was proportional.

The Church still frequently frowns on the entertainment industry, though not as an absolute rule (St JPII the Great was an actor) and I assume it will be forced to continue to do so until the end of time. Gladiatorial games for ancient Rome; people murdered on Shakespeare’s stage to add realism; smut put on modern television to glorify sinful habits, and it goes on and on.

The entertainment industry is in a precarious position, because in the business, one finds themselves easily able to gain money and reputation if they feed and encourage people’s objectively harmful desires.

But yes, Church authorities haven’t historically always been as wise as what they could have been on this issue. Rather than confronting corruption in entertainment with wholesome alternatives, it was instead just a blanket avoidance of it. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I think this was because in past days, the Church was more prevalent in society, and it could afford to be lazy on this issue. Nowadays, it can’t afford that. Novel/stage/theater - like all other art - is “the grandchild of God” (God made man to express Himself, man made art to express himself: art is God’s grandchild) and it can be an enormously powerful tool to sharpen human virtue.

Augustine, Tertullian, and other Church Fathers noted how many plays were lewd tales about what the gods had done - and how contradictory it was that we should hate a man who did those things, but laud the gods when they did them. Lysistrata comes to mind. Thus plays were not only lewd and lascivious, but could also be an action of idolatry. After all, Greek liturgy was the beginning of theatre.

These days, and even in the Middle Ages, media may not have the religious issues, but plays can be and often still are crude fare. Shakespeare’s work had many sexual references and double entendres. It’s no different from TV or internet videos; be prudent about what you watch and avoid anything that would throw you into the arms of an inordinate lust.

Apollinaris of Alexandria wrote Christian plays in the fourth century. One early play that may be his is the Christus Patiens, or Passion of Christ: archive.org/stream/poeticalworksnow02sanduoft#page/416/mode/2up

There are also the Plays of Roswitha, a tenth century nun who contributed to the Ottonian Renaissance: archive.org/stream/playsofroswitha00hrotuoft#page/n9/mode/2up

If so, why, for several years, have Roman Catholic colleges such as Holy Cross college in Massachusetts, have students participate in filthy plays such as the V monologues?

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for once very Catholic colleges to become very… unCatholic.

Wikipedia does not have a good academic reputation. Take whatever you find there with a couple of tablespoons of salt. :rolleyes:

That said, do yourself a favor and drop television; you’ll be glad you did. The desire to see what’s on will disappear in a couple of weeks (or less) and then you’ll wonder what you ever saw in it.

Why did the local Roman Catholic bishop approve the production of the play?

I think that you have a flawed vision of what the Catholic Church actually is.

The Pope does not micromanage the whole Catholicdoom as perhaps many believe and neither does the Bishop.
It should have been, no, IT IS the responsibility of the dean of that school, down to the teacher and the parents of the children, to oversee that wholesome adequate material is presented to their charges.

It is called “the principle of subsidiarity”.

And believe me. Jesus has some very harsh admonitions to those who inflict harm to His little ones. Remember if you are Baptised as Jesus commanded you are a Catholic. A member of HIS body. And there will be a price to be paid for harming a member of HIS body.

St Paul in the road to Damascus was confronted with this fact when Jesus appearing to hem asked “Saulo, Saulo why do you persecute ME”.

You will have to ask the Bishop himself. There is a pernicious fallacy that assumes because one is Christian or Catholic that one is somehow elevated to the level of saintly, but we all fall short, all are sinners. If indeed the local Bishop ‘approved’ many bishops criticized the productions.

"The Monologues has been criticized by several bishops for its positive portrayal of distorted human sexuality and promotion of immoral behaviors, such as lesbian sexual activity and masturbation. Bishop John D’Arcy, the late bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, called the play “an affront to human dignity.” Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing described it as “anti-woman, reducing her God-given genius and dignity to a bizarre emphasis on one physical aspect of her person.”


That’s a good question. Why did he? :wink:

It really shouldn’t be hard to figure out that priests, bishops, even Popes, are not impeccable. They can do bad, even evil things, too.

Oh. I thought that the role of a Catholic bishop was to teach, rule and sanctify. What is flawed about that?

Are these colleges Catholic or not? If they are Catholic why are they showing the play?
The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., confirmed to the Newman Society that the Jesuit institution will host the Monologues from February 18-19.
The Georgetown University Women’s Center in Washington, D.C., is advertising the Monologues as a “powerful performance that raises awareness about violence against women and girls.” Performances run from February 6-9.
DePaul University in Chicago, Ill., will be hosting the Monologues for the 15th time this year, according to a Facebook post. There will be three performances from February 14-16.
The Facebook page of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., is advertising performances of the play from March 28-29.
The student group “Una” at Saint Louis University (Mo.) will be presenting the Monologues from February 20-21 at the Sheldon Concert Hall a block north of campus.
Fordham University (N.Y.) hosted auditions for the Monologues from January 22 -23 and show dates are scheduled from March 6-8, according to a Facebook event page. The listing reads: “No male actors…People who lead their lives as women are eligible to perform in this production. This includes individuals who were born with a vagina and transgendered individuals (trans men and trans women are welcome).”
Auditions for the play were held at Loyola University New Orleans (La.) on February 13 and the play will be produced in April, according to a Facebook page. The play is being produced by the student group Student Advocates for Gender Equality (SAGE). The auditions are for any who “identify as female.”
Loyola University Chicago (Ill.) spokesman Maeve Kiley told the Newman Society that the Monologues performance is being sponsored by the Fine Arts department.
Saint Mary’s College of California will be hosting the play for the 12th year in a row,

They are Catholic in name - just as Bishop John Shelby Spong is an Episcopal bishop in name.

Beyond that, it’s a matter of whether they teach what the Church teaches.

I have not seen The V***** Monologues myself. However, if what is said about it is true - i.e, that it “seriously distorts human sexuality and celebrates sinful behaviors, including lesbian activity and masturbation”, that would be contrary to Catholic teaching, as well as reason. And from what I’ve heard, at least some of those schools allow other things to go on that are contrary to Catholic teaching.

So, in short: in name, they are Catholic. Beyond that? How can one be Catholic if ones affirms that the Catholic Church’s teaching is wrong?

Don’t they have the approval of the local bishop as they must if they are Catholic? Why is the local Catholic bishop approving of their calling themselves Catholic?

I don’t know why a bishop would ignore the performance of such plays in a Catholic college. Unless I have misunderstood something, they have every right to forbid it under pain of excommunication for the college president, or loss of Catholic status for the institution. Nevertheless, there could be reasons why they don’t do this even if they disagree with the play, and I don’t think we should be too harsh on the bishops on this account. But I think it is wise to pray that they use their authority to stop these performances as best they can.

.This seems to be another very serious change in Catholic teaching. At one point in time you are excommunicated for assisting at a play, but at another point in time, you have Catholic colleges all over the USA for fifteen years having students participate and show a filthy play and nothing happens?

It is “Teach, Govern and Sanctify”
My dear friend, you don’t go to Jesus under duress. Perhaps you are thinking of some other “religion”.
Jesus calls you and I, it is up to us to submit to HIM. Free will. Now Sanctify YES, absolutely, teach YES absolutely. Rule means absolute power quite different than Govern.


Well actually we might yet get there again, back in those days plays were extremely graphic. The “actors” would perform lascivious acts on stage.
The Romans would carry out, actual battles in their “circuses” where people actually died. And later on Christians were fed alive to wild beasts that were kept without food for weeks.

The so called “culture” is devolving back to pre-Christians times. Many people are now going back to pagan religions, human sacrifices, so called theaters, where fornication, orgies, homosexual acts and all manner of debauchery is “performed” with the justification that it is art.
Humanity will pay a heavy price because of all this.

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