The Lions who ate the Christians on the sands of the arena
By indulging native appetites played what has now been seen a
Not entirely negligible part
In consolidating at the very start
The position of the Early Christian Church.
Initiatory rites are always bloody
And the lions, it appears
From contemporary art, made a study
Of dyeing Coliseum sands a ruddy
Liturgically sacrificial hue
And if the Christians felt a little blue-
Well, people being eaten often do.
Theirs was the death, and theirs the crown undying,
A state of things which must be satisfying.
My point which up to this has been obscured
Is that it was the lions who procured
By chewing up blood gristle flesh and bone
The martyrdoms on which the Church has grown.
I only write this poem because I thought it rather looked
As if the part the lions played was being overlooked.
By lions’ jaws great benefits and blessings were begotten
And so our debt to Lionhood must never be forgotten!
Church History was my favorite subject while I was a student in Divinity School. And I remember being fascinated by stories of “martyrs for the faith.” In particular, the story of Ignatius of Antioch, a bishop in Syria, who died as a martyr in Rome during the reign of Trajan A.D. 98-117. Ignatius seemed to actually relish the idea of martyrdom and wrote in a letter, “I am the wheat of God. Let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” And his wish came true.
I love this tongue-in-cheek poem by Stevie Smith which takes a new perspective on the role the lions played in early martyrdom. I bet even Ignatius forgave the lions for their part in the whole bloody affair.