Constantinople, unlike the ancient Roman pagan cities, had no arena.
It’s something Peter Leithart points out to those who blithely say “Oh it’s the end of Christendom, and thats a good thing. All that expectation that everyone was Christian, blah, blah, blah”.
That’s a cheap and cheerful and less than academic response to Christendom.
However as Leithart observes:
There was no arena in Constantinople…the gladiatorial shows were as basic to Rome as sacrifice.
And in a world in which all things are worship – I would argue the shows were sacrifice!
So say what you like about Christendom, but here’s one enormous thing it had going for it: it stopped the blood lust of the crowds and banished the arena from the city.
Constantinianism ushered in the end of public humans sacrificing each other as spectacle. It recognised that with the cross and resurrection, the need for ongoing blood to keep the crowds satisfied with the order of life was history.
So the city named after Emperor Constantine, Constantinople, was the progenitor of Christ taking over the public square – it had no arena.
No one baying for the blood of the athletes. No one determining with the loudest boos who were the biggest villains; the loudest cheers who were the greatest heroes; the turning down or up of a thumb those prostrate figures who deserved to die and who deserved to live.
Christendom was the public face of a church that had declared to the world, the new world is coming and is even breaking in right now apocalyptically.
At the outset Christendom was missional, despite what the populist titles on the shelves of the Christian bookshop say.
Constantine had no arenas, but we are rebuilding them as surely as the Christian framework drains from our public conscience.
But now that Christendom is crumbling? Now in this post-Christendom age? We’re rebuilding arenas because, without any public common assent to a single sacrifice once for all, we’re in the mood again. Bloodlust has returned. We want a spectacle.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Steve Smith, the Australian Test Cricket captain.
The look on his face at his press conference, fessing up to his sins of ball tampering tells it all.
I wrote last week that I am over the Aussie team after this latest incident. Their brashness and arrogance has cost them, and it has cost them before the almost-all-seeing eye of TV cameras. I pointed out how that almost-all-seeing eye is not the ultimate all-seeing Eye before whom we must give account.
In other words, there’s a check and balance on our outrage towards the Aussie cricket. Annoyed and angry that it should come to this? Yes. But a limit to that? Yes. Or at least there should be.
We don’t need to bay for Steve Smith’s blood because we recognise that the all-seeing Eye sees straight through us too. We are equally culpable in the transcendent eyes of God, so we are called to tread more lightly with the sins of others.
But with no transcendence? No hell below us? No sky above? Then we need to make heaven and hell right here. We need to fill heaven with saints right here. And, more worryingly, we need to fill hell with sinners. And Steve Smith is Sinner #1 at the moment for so many who love their arenas and their blood sports.
And it’s not just cricket – actually not just cricket. When AFL star Chris Judd left the West Coast Eagles to go to Carlton, the headline in The West Australian newspaper left no doubt as to his guilt: JUDDAS! screamed the bold headline, in case we were in any doubt that he had betrayed our God.
Our sports stadia have become our arenas, egged on by the ever voracious sporting bodies who want bums on seats and money in coffers.
The cricketers and footballers are the gladiators. And faced with the need for blood we are baying for it with all the outrage we have.
On this Good Friday, perhaps spare a thought for Steve Smith (and for Dave Warner even though every bone in my body dislikes his attitude), and for Cameron Bancroft. As bad luck would have it they have found themselves in a post-Christendom world in which arenas are filled and blood must be spilled.