THE Holy Prophets of Old, did in a special manner Preach and Write against the prevailing Iniquities of the Age and place wherein they lived. And the Lord Jesus has by his own most Holy Example taught his Ministers to do the like. Yea, though they should be exposed to great Sufferings from the World on that account, having declared that it shall turn to them for a Testimony of their Faithfulness to Him, whose Servants and whose Witnesses they are. Such like Considerations, have caused me to look upon it as my Duty, both Living and Dying, to enter my Humble Testimony for the ways of Christ, and against those things which I am Convinced are directly Opposite thereunto; and I have therefore Written what cometh hereafter. Since the Composure whereof, there is much discourse of beginning of Stage-Plays in New-England. The last Year Promiscuous Dancing was openly practised, and too much countenanced in this Degenerated Town. There was, in the day of it, a Testimony published against that Evil, by the Ministers of Christ in this place; amongst whom I am the least. If we should now behold things as bad or worse coming in upon us, and be altogether silent, I know not how we should be able to answer it to him, who has set us as Watchmen to the House of Israel, and most solemnly charged us to shew unto them their Iniquities.
But as for Stage-Plays, the Evil thereof has been abundantly discovered by several of our English Writers; particularly by Mr. Stubbs, Mr. Perkins, Dr. Ames, and by Mr. Prin in his large and Elaborate Discourse on that Subject; and Dr. John Rainolds (of whom Heylin himself confesses that he was περιπανπεπαιδευμενος, has a most Learned Treatise called, The Overthrow of Stage-Plays, wherein it is manifestly proved, That it is not only Unlawful to be an Actor, but a Beholder of those Vanities. The Reader is referred to the Books mentioned for further satisfaction; I must but very briefly Suggest a few things here.
1. Stage-Plays had their Original from those Devil-Gods whom the Gentiles Worshiped. The Infernal Spirits did expressly command that men should use such Recreations, which we may be sure they would never have done, were not such Pastimes displeasing to God, and dangerous to the Souls of Men. Austin (de Civitate Dei Lib. 4. Cap. 26.) Relates that Titus Latinus was by a Daemon told that he should declare to the Senate that they ought to renew their Stage-Plays; He neglecting to deliver his Message, was again by the Daemon called upon; and a Third time; the Issue was, that Stage-plays were revived more then ever. Valesius (a rich Roman) having Prayed to his Household Gods for the Recovery of his Children, who were dangerously sick of the Pestilence, he was by them bidden to give them Water to drink taken from beside the Altar of Pluto; which having done, they recovered, and the Infernal Spirits required him in way of Gratitude to Celebrate Night Plays. See Polydor. Virgil de Invent. Return, Lib. 4. Cap. 14. But that Scenical Interludes had no better an Original then what has been mentioned, is further manifest from the Testimony of Tertullian, de Spectaculis, Cap. 5. 7, 10, 24 Clemens Alexandrinus; Orat ad Gentes. Arnobius adversus Gentes, Lib. 7. Lactantius de vero cultu Cap. 7. ac de Origine Erroris Cap. 8 Austin de Civitate Del, Lib. 1. Cap. 32. Valerius Maximus, Lib. 12. Cap. 1. Hence Ancients call such Theaters, the Devil’s Temples, and Stage Plays, the Devil’s Lectures, and the Actors in them, the Devil’s chief Factors. Tertullian in his Book de Spectaculis, Cap. 26. speaks of a Woman, that upon her going to see a Stage Play was immediately possessed with the Devil, and the Evil Spirit being in a way of Exorcism Expostulated with, for Entering into one that professed Christianity, he answered that he had just cause to do it, for said he, In meo Inveni, I found her in my own Ground, where I have Dominion.
2. For Men who call themselves Christians, to do that which is contrary to their Vow in Baptism, must needs be very Evil. But this is sadly true concerning Stage-Plays. Baptized Persons are under Obligation to renounce all the Pomps of Satan; and therefore to Abhor and Abandon Stage-Plays, which bear a principal part in the Pomps the of Devil. Thus Salvian (de provid. Dei. Lib. 6.) Argueth, in Stage-Plays (saith he) there is an Apostasy from the Faith, men in Baptism profess that they Renounce the Devil, his Pomps and Shows; The Devil is in his Pomps and Plays. If then thou dost return to Stage-Plays, thou dost leave the Faith of Christ, and return again to serve Satan. Thus did that Faithful Minister of God Declare and Testify against the Degenerate Christians of that Apostatizing Age wherein he lived, it has been proved that the Impleaded Interludes were at first Instituted for the honour of Idols, and they were a special part of the Old Ethnical Worship. Hence for Christians to take them up, is practically to Renounce the Faith and Allegiance which they promised to the Lord in their Baptism.
3. ‘Tis the usual practice of Stage-Players to make themselves and others merry with the Vices and Wickednesses of men. Now this is certainly Evil. To set forth Sin Dramatically or Sportfully, is inconsistent with that Sorrow for Sin, as Sin, which is every mans Duty. The Wickedness of other men is not to be named without detestation, Ephesians 5:3. Nor to be thought on without Sorrow, because of the dishonour which has been done to the Blessed Name of God thereby, Psal. 119:136,158. Wherefore to make such things a matter of Recreation and Delight, is as contrary to the Spirit of a true Christian, as Darkness is to Light.
4. The Natural Effects of Stage-Plays have been very pernicious. Not to speak of the loss of precious Time, and of Estate, which might be better Improved; Multitudes (especially of Young Persons) have thereby been Corrupted and everlastingly Ruined. When they have seen a lively Representation of Wickedness on the Stage, their Minds have been Vitiated, and instead of learning to hate Vice (as is Vainly pretended) they have learned to practice it. Seneca could say that nothing has a greater tendency to Corrupt good Manners, then to be at these Spectacles. It’s a sad Observation which some have made, that Persons who have been Corrupted by Stage-Plays, are seldom, and with much difficulty Reclaimed. A more woeful and effectual Course to Debauch the Young Generation, Satan himself cannot easily devise. I remember Austin in his Confession (Lib. 6. Cap. 8.) Reports concerning Alipius (a very hopeful Young Man whom he had a great Affection for) That he was much Importuned by some of his Acquaintance, to go along with them to see a Sword-Play. He at first denied to go along with them, but at last to please them he consented; only resolved that he would keep his Eyes shut as long as he continued on the Stage: but one of the Fencers being smitten so as to fall, the Spectators gave a shout, at the hearing of which, Alipius opened his Eyes. And then (saith Austin) he was struck with a deeper Wound in his Soul, then the other was in his Body; so that he fell more miserably then the Sword-Player had done, whose fall caused the mighty shout of the People. He no sooner saw another Mans Blood, but at the very instant drank down a kind of Savageness; being much taken with the Barbarousness of the Sword-Fight, and made Drunk with that Bloody Pastime. Nor was he now the Man he was when he first came thither, but became an entire Companion of them, who brought him to the Theater. He was so Inflamed with it, and carried home with him such a measure of Madness, as that he came another time, nay ran before them who first enticed him, and haled on others to do so too. And in this course continued a long time, but God was pleased at last by a strong and merciful Hand to Convert him. Thus far is Austin’s Relation, by which we see how dangerous it is for Persons (especially young Ones) to go to a Stage-Play, or to behold a Sword-Fight; God may be provoked thereby to give them up to walk in the ways of their Heart, and in the sight of their Eyes. The Emperour Honorins abolished all the Gladiators or Sword-Players in Rome. See Grymston’s Imperial History, p. 273.
5. The generality of good Men, both in former and in latter Ages, have looked upon Stage-Plays as abominable Vanities. The Fathers (as they are called) do with one Voice vehemently Condemn them. Clemens Alexandrinus would have the very memory of Stage-Plays to be abolished, and he stiles them the Chairs of Pestilence, and concludes that it is not Lawful for Christans to be present at such Plays. Lactantius saith of them, That they are the greatest Instigations to Vice, and the most Powerful Instrument to corrupt the minds of Men, and ought therefore to be wholly abolished amongst Christians. Hierom declared concerning them, That they are lewd Inventions, by which the Devil useth to gain innumerable companies of Evil Men to himself: And he saith, That in places where the Gospel prevailed, Stage-Plays and Play-Houses went down; whence the Heathen complained of the Times of Christianity as unhappy Times. Chrysostom saith, That nothing brings the Ordinances of God into Contempt so much as these Plays, and that Gods Ordinances will do the Man no good, that shall be a Spectator of such Vanities. But I forbear mentioning other Testimonies against the Impleaded Interludes. Not to be present at a Stage-Play, was of old a Character of a Christian, whereby such were discerned from other Men. V. Tertullian de Spectaculis, Cap. 24. 38, 42. And Austin de Symbolo ad Catechum. Lib. 4. Cap. 1. In those days they would not Baptize any Person, that should be so much as a Beholder, much less one that should be an Actor in a Stage-Play. Yea, if Christians did afford their presence at such Stage-Plays, they were by the Ecclesiastical Constitutions judged as guilty of a Crime deserving no less then Excommunication. V. Clement. Constitut. Apostol. Lib. 8. Cap. 32. In the Council at Aries in France, Anno. 314. And in the Eleberine Council in Spain. Anno. 305, it is decreed that Stage-Players shall be Excommunicated out of the Society of Christians. The like is to be seen in many other Ancient Councils, which for Brevities sake I Omit. As for Pagano-Christians, as Dr. More rightly calls them (I mean Papists) they Excuse, plead for, and practise these Vanities. Nevertheless, amongst them Bonaventure, Cellotius, and Rovenius reflect upon Histrionical-Plays as Evil things. Nay, the Council of Trent does not absolutely, but with some Restrictions approve of them. Since the Reformation, Protestant Divines have abundantly Testified against such Recreations, as in themselves Evil. So Martyr, Aretius, Danaeus, Rivet, and many others. In the Discipline of the Reformed Churches in France, Anno. 1571. I find these Words, It shall not be Lawful to assist at Comedies, Tragedies, and other Interludes, Plays of Manners, and other Plays represented publickly or privately, because at all times they have been prohibited amongst Christians as causing Corruption of good Manners.
In a National Synod at Dort in Holland, Anno. 1578. and in several Provincial Councils there, such Interludes are condemned. Voetius (in Disput. Select. Part. 4. Page 376) Declares that Stage-Plays had been quite Banished out of the City of Utrecht, and other places, and not practised for many Years; Yet that some of the Senators did against the serious and solemn obtestations of Christ’s Ministers, suffer them to be revived, Anno. 1663. And he saith, that those Comedies were forerunners of the Dismal Tragedies which followed within two Years after in respect of the Sword and Pestilence, wherewith the Land was visited. The Lord in Mercy grant that New-England may never see Comedies attended with the like Tragedies.
But if I should Enlarge on these things, this Porch would be too big for the small Building it stands before. Nevertheless, the Talk which passeth amongst some Vain Persons, concerning a May-Pole which they intended to set up when the Time shall come, constrains me to add one word concerning that. These Sports are the very same with the Old Heathens, Anthestesia, Floralia or Laurentinalia, which some Christian Emperours did utterly abolish. They are observed not only after the same manner, but at the same time of the Year with the Pagans Floralia; which had from the time of their Celebration the Name of Majuma, or May-Games, given to them. Hence is that of the Poet, Exit et in Majas Feature Florale Calendas. Ovid. Fast. Lib. 4. The best Authors give this account concerning May-Poles, and the Plays attending them, There was a prodigious Strumpet, whose Name was Flora, who by Harlotry had gained a vast sum of Money. She bequeathed her whole Estate so Infamously gotten, to the People of Rome, only desired, and it was agreed to by the Senate, that once in a Year (viz. in the Month of May) Plays and Dances might be instituted in Honour to that great Whore. This is the Original of May-Games. And from hence is it, that May-Poles are adorned with Flowers and Garlands. See Lactantius de false Religione, Lib. 1. Polydor. Virgil. Lib. 5. Cap. 2. Holpinian de Origine Festorum, p. 88. It would cause me too far to exceed the Limits of a Preface, if I should produce the Testimonies of Ancient and Modern Divines against this wicked Vanity. I therefore desist at present. It is an abominable shame, that any Persons in a Land of such Light and Purity as New-England has been, should have the Face to speak or think of practising so vile a piece of Heathenism.
October 30, 1686.