My friend Alypius had come to Rome before me with the intent of learning law, and was swept away by a violent and extraordinary passion for gladiatorial shows.
Until then he detested and avoided such entertainment, but one day some of his friends and schoolmates ran into him on their way back from lunch, and although he resisted and spoke strongly against joining them, they dragged him off with friendly force into the amphitheater on a day that featured cruel and mortal combat.
“Maybe you can drag my body into the stadium,” Alypius said, “but can you force my mind and eyes to attend such entertainment? I will be present, and yet absent, and so defeat both you and the games.” When his friends heard this, they pulled him along with no less enthusiasm, perhaps eager to find out if he was able to make good on his boast.
By the time they were able to find seats, the crowd was in a state of brutal rapture. Alypius shut tight the doors of his eyes, forbidding his mind from paying attention to such evils.
If only he could have sealed his ears! For when, in response to some knock-down in the arena, the giant roar of the entire crowd pounded on him, Alypius, overcome by curiosity but still confident that he could condemn and be the master of whatever he looked on, opened his eyes.
Struck with a wound more deadly for is soul than for the body of the man who was the object of his sight, he fell, and fell more pitifully than that man whose all occasioned the uproar.
The source of the fall which entered through his ears, and unlocked his eyes, to make way for he striking and beating down of a soul, bold rather than resolute, and the weaker, in that it had presumed on itself, which ought to have relied on Thee Lord.
For as soon as he saw the blood, he drank up the savagery, and did not then look away, but stared and swallowed the fury without knowing that he drank, thrilled by the crime of the combat and intoxicated by the bloodlust.
No longer was he the person who had entered, but one of the crowd he had joined; he was now the true companion of those who had led him in.
St. Augustine, Confessions 6.8
There was a reason why antiquity was studied. It served as a microcosm of society, an era which could be studied and learnt from. In AD308 (1705 years ago) it was recorded what effect just spectating violence would have on the psyche and the soul. St Augustine, along with the entire Church from the time of Christ until the late 300’s, professed that
violence, even just spectating violence was a great and very grave evil. The Christian was taught to pursue the course of virtue which meant abstaining from all violence, even spectating violence.
Now I need to be the first to say, that while I believe this Truth (that Violence, even spectating violence, is a grave evil, and is to be avoided if one wishes to follow the Way of Christianity), I must confess my great struggle to surrender addiction to violence in media (films, games, interests). I continue to ask God for the willingness and Grace to turn away from my selfishness, towards His bounty. Even if my worldliness screams against it…
Violence, as St Augustine points out, wounds the soul and the psyche, it is inherently addictive. And St Augustine here is not talking about going into the arena and chopping somebody up. St Augustine is simply talking about watching it.
If passive spectating of violence is a grave evil, then what is active simulation?