It would be refreshing to have to discipline someone under my care for being too rigid about entertainment. I probably wouldn’t discipline him but, rather, stand back in awe of his self-control (or wonder if he was just a hypocrite). It would be refreshing, too, to see in myself more awareness of and sensitivity to the danger of consumption.
Why do I talk about the theatre? Often if we meet a woman in the marketplace, we are alarmed. But you sit in your upper seat, where there is such an invitation to outrageous behaviour, and see a woman, a prostitute, entering bareheaded and with a complete lack of shame, dressed in golden garments, flirting coquettishly and singing harlots’ songs with seductive tunes, and uttering disgraceful words. She behaves so shamelessly that if you watch her and give consideration, you will bow your head in shame. Do you dare to say you suffer no human reaction? Is your body made of stone? Or iron? I shall not refrain from saying the same things again. Surely you are not a better philosopher than those great and noble men, who were cast down merely by such a sight? Have you not heard what Solomon says: “If someone walks onto a fire of coals, will he not burn his feet? If someone lights a fire in his lap, will he not burn his clothing? It is just the same for the man who goes to a woman that doesn’t belong to him.” For even if you did not have intimate relations with the prostitute, in your lust you coupled with her, and you committed the sin in your mind. And it was not only at that time, but also when the theatre has closed, and the woman has gone away, her image remains in your soul, along with her words, her figure, her looks, her movement, her rhythm, and her distinctive and meretricious tunes; and having suffered countless wounds you go home. Is it not this that leads to the disruption of households? Is it not this that leads to the destruction of temperance, and the break up of marriages? Is it not this that leads to wars and battles, and odious behaviour lacking any reason? For when, saturated with that woman, you return home as her captive, your wife appears more disagreeable, your children more burdensome, and your servants troublesome, and your house superfluous. Your customary concerns seem to annoy you when they relate to managing your necessary business, and everyone who visits is an irritating nuisance.
The cause of this is that you do not return home alone, but keeping the prostitute with you. She does not go visibly and openly, which would have been easier. For your wife could have quickly driven her away. But she is ensconced in your mind and your consciousness, and she lights within you the Babylonian furnace, or rather something much worse. For it is not tow, naphtha [not sure of the words here] and pitch, but her qualities mentioned above that provide fuel for the fire, and everything is upside down. It is just like people suffering from a fever, who have no reason to rebuke those who attend them, but because of the affliction of their illness are unpleasant to everyone, reject their food, insult their doctors, are bad tempered with their families and furious with those who care for them. Just so those who suffer from this dread disease are restless and vexed, and see that woman at every turn. What a terrible state of affairs! The wolf and the lion and other beasts when they are shot at flee the huntsman. But a man, though the most intelligent, when wounded pursues the woman who has wounded him, so as to receive a much more deadly missile and revel in the wound. What is most sickening of all, is that he makes the disease incurable. For if someone does not hate the injury and does not want to be free of it, why would he summon a doctor? Therefore I lament and am in torment, because after receiving such a brutal outrage you return from the theatre, and for the sake of a small pleasure you undergo continual pain. For even before the punishment of Hell, you demand the ultimate penalty here. Tell me, does it not merit the final punishment, to nurture such a desire, to be constantly enflamed, and to carry everywhere the furnace of unnatural love and the condemnation of your own conscience? How will you climb those sacred steps? How will you touch the heavenly table? How will you hear the sermon about temperance, when you are full of such injuries and wounds, and your intellect is the slave of your passion? Why should I say anything else? From what is now going on amongst us it is possible to see the pain of your intellect. Now just as I am speaking these words I can see some people beating their foreheads, and I am very grateful to you for being such a compassionate people. In fact I think many of those who have never sinned are beating themselves, because they suffer pain from their brothers’ wounds. Therefore I lament and grieve, because the devil is tormenting this flock. But if you want to we can quickly block his entrance. How and by what means? If we could see those who are diseased becoming healthy. If we could unfurl the nets of our doctrine and go around seeking those who have been captured by wild beasts, and snatch them from the lion’s throat. Do not say to me “There are only a few who have been taken from the flock.” Even if there were only ten, it would be no ordinary loss. Even if there were five, or two or one. That famous shepherd left behind the ninety nine sheep for the same reason, and ran after the one sheep, and did not return until he brought it back with him, and completed the defective number of one hundred through the restoration of that one which had wandered away. Do not say “It is only one.” But consider, it is a soul, on whose account everything that can be seen came into being: laws, penalties and punishments, and countless wonders, and the infinitely varied works of God. On that soul’s account he did not spare his only-born son. Consider what a price has been paid even for the one man, and do not undervalue his salvation, but go away and bring him back to us, and persuade him no longer to fall into the same mistakes. Then we have a sufficient defence. But if he should not give in, either to our advice or to your entreaties, then I shall thereafter use my power, which God gave us not for destruction but for construction.
Therefore I make this proclamation, in a clear and loud voice, that if anyone after this exhortation and teaching deserts back to the unlawful disgrace of the theatre, I shall not receive him within these precincts, I will not let him share in the sacraments, I will not let him touch the sacred table. Just as shepherds separate the sheep that are afflicted by mange from the healthy sheep, so as to prevent the rest from catching the disease, so I shall act in the same way. For if in ancient times the leper was ordered to sit outside the camp, and even if he was a king, was expelled along with his crown, so much more should we expel from this sacred camp the one who has leprosy in his soul. Just as in the beginning I used exhortation and advice, so now after all this exhortation and teaching it is necessary from now on to deploy exclusion. For it is a year since I entered your city, and I have not ceased from frequent and constant reminders to you about this. But since some have persisted in the putrefaction, well then from now on we should introduce exclusion. If I do not possess an iron sword, at least I have a word which is sharper than iron. If I cannot touch fire, I have a doctrine which is hotter than fire, and can burn more fiercely.
Do not scorn my decree. Although we are worthless and most pitiable, nevertheless we have been granted a status by the grace of God that can achieve these things. Let such people be ejected, so that those of us who are healthy may become more healthy, and those who are sick may restore themselves from serious illness. If you shudder when you hear this decree (and I see that you are all looking gloomy and flinching), let them repent, and the decree will be cancelled. For just as I have received the power to bind, so I have the power to release, and to recall them back. I do not wish to excommunicate our brothers, but to dispel the disgrace of the Church. For as things stand even the pagans will laugh at us, and the Jews will mock us, when we overlook our own members sinning in this way. But in the other case they will greatly praise us, and admire the Church, and respect our laws. So let not a single one of those who remain in this prostitution set foot in the church, but let him be censured by you, and let him be a common enemy. For if anyone, as it is said, will not heed my word set out in my letter, mark him out and do not associate with him. But do this: do not share conversation, or receive him into your home, or share your table, or your going out or going in, or visit the forum with him. In this way we will easily win them back. Just as hunters chase their difficult prey not just from one direction but from all sides, and so drive them into the net, so too shall we herd together those who have been driven into a frenzy, and quickly hurl them into the nets of salvation, we on one side and you on the other. In order that this will happen you too will share our anger, or rather suffer pain on account of God’s laws, and soon retrieve those of the brethren who are diseased in this way and breaking the law, so that you will keep them for ever. For it will be no ordinary charge against you, if you ignore such destruction, but you will be subject to the greatest penalty. In men’s households if one of the servants is caught stealing silver or gold, the thief himself is not the only one punished, but also his conspirators and anyone who did not report him. So much more does the same thing happen in the Church. For at that time God will ask you: “When you saw no silver or gold vessel being robbed from My house, but temperance itself being stolen, and the one who had taken the venerable body, and shared in so great a sacrifice, departing into the place of the devil and committing such sins, how could you keep silent? How did you tolerate it? Why did you not report it to the priest?” And you will be subjected to extreme chastisement. For that reason I too, though it will cause me pain, will not fail to use any of the more grievous penalties. For it is much better that we should suffer pain here and be freed of the coming judgement, rather than use indulgent words here and be punished then alongside you. For it is not safe or without danger for us to tolerate such things in silence. Each of you will give an account of himself. But I am liable to account for the salvation of all of you. For that reason I shall not cease doing and saying everything, even if I have to cause you pain or appear hateful, or tiresome, so that I will be able to stand before that awesome tribunal, without a stain or a blemish or any such thing. May it be with the help of the prayers of the saints that those who have been lost may quickly return, and those who have remained unharmed may advance towards greater propriety and temperance. In this way you may be saved, and we may rejoice, and God may be glorified now and always, and for unending ages upon ages. Amen.