Saturday, February 11, 2006

Olympic Games Open

I just watched the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympic games: it opened with the pagan god Vulcan at his forge, featured Disco music in the middle, and ended with the atheistic John Lennon song "Imagine". Yes, this Enlightenment institution is completely secular; however, they seem to promote secularism instead of just secularity. But the ceremonies were quite pretty at times, and I otherwise enjoyed them.

In ancient times, as well as now, the Olympics were a huge event. The Fathers of the Church used Olympic imagery in their writings.

According to John Cassian, in his Institutes:
That in our spiritual contest we ought to draw an example from the carnal contests...he who aims at preparing himself for the crown of glory...should first in the Olympic and Pythian games give evidence of his abilities as a youth, and his strength in its first beginnings; since in these the younger men who want to practise this training are tested as to whether they deserve or ought to be admitted to it, by the judgment both of the president of the games and of the whole multitude.

And when the scrutiny is the of the president of the contest finds that we are stained by no infamy of disgraceful lust, and when we are judged by him not to be slaves of the flesh, and ignoble and unworthy of the Olympic struggle against our vices, then we shall be able to enter the lists against our equals, that is the lusts of the flesh and the motions and disturbances of the soul. For it is impossible for a full belly to make trial of the combat of the inner man: nor is he worthy to be tried in harder battles, who can be overcome in a slight skirmish.

This then is our first contest, this is as it were our first trial in the Olympic games, to extinguish the desires of the palate and the belly by the longing for perfection.

How, after the fashion of the Olympic games, a monk should not attempt spiritual conflicts unless he has won battles over the flesh...And so when the desires of the belly and of the palate have been by these considerations overcome, and when we have been declared, as in the Olympic contests, neither slaves of the flesh nor infamous through the brand of sin, we shall be adjudged to be worthy of the contest in higher struggles as well....


St. John Chrysostom, from various homilies:
Nay, they will not so much as imitate them that wrestle in the Olympic games, who although so great a multitude is sitting there, and so many princes, desire to please but one, even him who adjudges the victory amongst them; and this, though he be much their inferior. But thou, though thou hast a twofold motive for displaying the victory to Him, first, that He is the person to adjudge it, and also, that He is beyond comparison superior to all that are sitting in the theatre,—thou art displaying it to others, who so far from profiting, do privily work thee the greatest harm.

For conquering by doing ill is one of the devil's laws. Hence in the Olympic games which were celebrated to him it is so that all the competitors conquer. But in Christ's race this is not the rule about the prize, for, on the contrary, the law is for the person smitten, and not for the person smiting, to be crowned.

Tell me then, I beseech [you], in the Olympic games does not the herald stand, calling out with loud and uplifted voice, saying, "Does any one accuse this man? Is he a slave? Is he a thief? Is he one of wicked manners?" And yet, those contests for prizes are not of the soul nor yet of good morals, but of strength and the body. If then where there is exercise of bodies, much examination is made about character, how much rather here, where the soul is alone the combatant.

Many of you have often beheld the Olympic games: and not only have beheld but have been zealous partisans and admirers of the combatants, one of this [combatant], one of that. You know then that both during the days of the contests, and during those nights, all night long the herald thinks of nothing else, has no other anxiety, than that the combatant should not disgrace himself when he goes forth...If therefore he who is about to strive before men, uses such forethought, much more will it befit us to be continually thoughtful, and careful, since our whole life is a contest.

For if on occasion of a wrestler's success, not a herald below but the king above should have risen up and himself proclaimed the Olympic Victor, would not this have seemed to him more glorious than the crown, and have turned the gaze of the whole theatre upon him? When then no mortal king, but God Himself, not in this theatre but in the theatre of the universe, in the assembly of the angels, the archangels, proclaimeth his name with uplifted voice shouting from heaven, tell me what place shall we assign to this holy man?

If now it should happen, as I pray it may not happen nor at any time fall out, that there be a war against churches, and a persecution, imagine how great will be the ridicule, how sore the reproaches. And very naturally; for when no one exercises himself in the wrestling school, how shall he be distinguished in the contests? What champion, not being used to the trainer, will be able, when summoned by the Olympic contests, to show forth anything great and noble against his antagonist? Ought we not every day to wrestle and fight and run? See ye not them that are called Pentathli [pentathletes], when they have no antagonists, how they fill a sack with much sand, and hanging it up try their full strength thereupon? And they that are still younger, practise the fight against their enemies upon the persons of their companions. These do thou also emulate, and practise the wrestlings of self denial. For indeed there are many that provoke to anger, and incite to lust, and kindle a great flame. Stand therefore against thy passions, bear nobly the mental pangs, that thou mayest endure also those of the body.

And whereas the Olympic judge proclaims and crowns the victor, and the master rewards the servant, and the king the soldier, and each in general him that hath done him service, with what good things he can; shall God alone, after those so great toils and labors, repay them with no good thing great or small? shall those just and pious men, who have walked in every virtue, lie in the same state with adulterers, and parricides, and manslayers, and violators of tombs?


Origen, on fasting:
Let Olympic...boxers cram themselves to satiety. To them bodily ambition is suitable to whom bodily strength is necessary; and yet they also strengthen themselves by xerophagies. But ours are other thews and other sinews, just as our contests withal are other; we whose "wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the world's power, against the spiritualities of malice." Against these it is not by robustness of flesh and blood, but of faith and spirit, that it behoves us to make our antagonistic stand. On the other hand, an over-fed Christian will be more necessary to bears and lions, perchance, than to God; only that, even to encounter beasts, it will be his duty to practise emaciation.


From the Apostolic Constitutions, on whom to accept to Baptism, and whom to reject:
If any one be a maintainer of harlots, let him either leave off to prostitute women, or else let him be rejected. If a harlot come, let her leave off whoredom, or else let her be rejected. If a maker of idols come, let him either leave off his employment, or let him be rejected. If one belonging to the theatre come, whether it be man or woman, or charioteer, or dueller, or racer, or player of prizes, or Olympic gamester, or one that plays on the pipe, on the lute, or on the harp at those games, or a dancing-master or an huckster, either let them leave off their employments, or let them be rejected.


St. Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata:
[T]hough the wild olive be wild, it crowns the Olympic victors...So also the philosopher, resembling the wild olive, in having much that is undigested, on account of his devotion to the search, his propensity to follow, and his eagerness to seize the fatness of the truth; if he get besides the divine power, through faith, by being transplanted into the good and mild knowledge, like the wild olive, engrafted in the truly fair and merciful Word, he both assimilates the nutriment that is supplied, and becomes a fair and good olive tree. For engrafting makes worthless shoots noble....


After a thousand years of the Olympics, the emperor Theodosius ended the games in A.D. 393.

2 comments:

  1. I half wonder if many of the people who love 'Imagine' even have any idea what the man is actually saying.

    No God, no country, no religion, no nothing...what kind of crappy blueprint is that?

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  2. Most people whoi like ths song is because it promotes peace. The Romans would create a desert and call it "peace". I remember that during the Cold War folks would say that we should just give up, for the sake of peace. Better Red than Dead. Of course, many of them liked the Soviet system, and worked for the same here in this country.

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