Gladiators, Christian Views Concerning
Gladiators, Christian Views Concerning Some pagan moralists expressed more or less strongly their disapprobation of the gladiatorial shows, as being inhuman and demoralizing; but they were too popular to be checked by such remonstrances; and nothing effectual was done to stop them until they were opposed and finally suppressed by the intervention of Christian principles and Christian heroism. The Church expressed its abhorrence of these barbarous games as soon as it came in contact with them, not only by discountenancing attendance at them, but by refusing to admit gladiators to Christian baptism. Charioteers, racers, and many others are included in the same condemnation; probably because the public exhibitions in which they took a part were more or less connected with idolatry. For the same reason such persons, if they had already been received into the Church, were to be punished by excommunication.
The first imperial edict prohibiting the exhibition of gladiators was issued by Constantine in A.D. 325, just after the Council of Nice had been convened. Forty years later, Valentinian forbade that any Christian criminals should be condemned to fight as gladiators; and in A.D. 367 he included in a similar exemption those who had been in the imperial service about the court.
In the year 404, while a show of gladiators were exhibiting at Rome in honor of the victories of Stilicho, an Asiatic monk named Telemachus, who had come to Rome for the purpose of endeavoring to stop this barbarous practice, rushed into the amphitheatre, and strove to separate the combatants. The spectators — enraged at his attempt to deprive them of their favorite amusement — stoned him to death. But a deep impression was produced. Telemachus was justly honored as a martyr, and the emperor Honorius, taking advantage of the feeling which had been evoked, effectually put a stop to gladiatorial combats, which were never exhibited again.