Catholic teaching on Sports – Physical culture –



‘I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course’


By A Catholic Priest


Pope Pius XII – Allocution to Italian sporting associations, May 20, 1945


both those who accuse the Church of not caring for the body and physical culture, and those who want to restrict Her competence and activity to things described as ‘purely religious’ and ‘exclusively spiritual’ are far from the truth. As if the body, a creation of God like the soul to which it is united, did not have its part to play in the homage to be rendered to the creator !’ . . . 

“In the final analysis, what is sport if not a form of education of the body? – This education is closely related to morality. How then could the Church not care about it? And in fact, the Church has always shown for the body a care and respect which materialism, with its idolatrous cult, has never manifested. . .’


A Master Piece of God’s handy work – Made for His Glory –


‘The human body is, in its own right, God’s masterpiece in the order of visible creation. The Lord has intended that it should flourish here below and enjoy immortality in the glory of heaven. He has linked it to spirit  in the unity of the human nature, to give to the soul a taste of the enchantment of the works of God’s hands, to help it to see he Creator of them both in this mirror, and so to know, adore and love Him. It is not God who made the body mortal. It was sin ! But if because of sin the body made from clay of the earth, must one day return to dust, God will nonetheless form it again from the dust and recall it to life. Thus the Church respects even the body reduced to dust, because it will rise again.’


Hence the Body is one complete whole – before God. We are one – not like as though, the soul is trapped in the body as the Manicheans wanted to maintain. It is essentially part of what we are. This is why the saints in heaven who don’t have their bodies are in a state of incompletion so to speak – As they are not angels, - Man is a composite being – made of body and soul. – And is destined by God to remain that way for all eternity – either in heaven or hell.


“Glorify God by making your bodies the shrines of His presence’ -  I Cor 6:20



Grace, builds on nature – Hence we need to subject our nature in order that it will have a certain amount of docility to the soul.


“Now what is the prime purpose and object of sport , if not precisely to cultivate the dignity and harmony of the human body to develop its health, strength, agility and grace?  - Pius XII


 ‘To achieve this work of education (of the body), it (Sport) subjects the body to a rigorous discipline which dominates it and really makes it a slave: training in stamina, resistance to pain, a severe habit of continence and temperance, are all indispensable conditions to carrying off the victory. Sport is an effective antidote to softness and easy living. It awakens the sense of order, and forms the man in self examination and mastery of self, in despising danger, without either boasting or cowardice. So you see already how it goes far beyond mere physical strength, and leads man to moral strength and greatness. . . . Sport is the school of loyalty, of courage, of fortitude, of resolution and universal brotherhood: all natural virtues, these, but which form for the supernatural virtues a sound foundation, and prepare man to carry without weakness the weight of the greatest responsibilities.” –


(My own comments thus – That is why it is not surprising to see that a great number of officials  - popes and bishops (Pius XI master mountaineer), St. Anthony of Padua – Master swordsman – Bishop Antonio Castro Mayer – Master table tennis player -  and saints in the Church were in their youth good sportsman – as it helped give them the moral virtuous they would need to carry out latter in life precisely the strength of character they would need to excel in the task providence will assign for them. 


On this point, Pope Pius XII says that ‘Have you ever noticed the considerable number of soldiers among the martyrs whom the Church venerates? Their body and character formed by the training inherent to the profession of arms, they were at least the equal of their comrades in their countries service, in strength, in courage; but they proved themselves to be incomparably superior to them by their readiness to fight and sacrifices themselves in the loyal service of Christ and of his Church.’


Pope Pius XII gives some guiding principles:


  1. Mortification of the body is necessary – Penance – This is what sport should be seen as –

To help obtain the ability and willingness to make sacrifices and to see the importance of sacrifice – Thus the saying ‘No pain, no gain’ – Both in the natural order and spiritual order – Mans life here on earth says Job, is a battle, it is warfare, a struggle.


Here the Pope says that ‘What matters to the Apostle saint Paul (in his word about the Athlete) is the superior reality of which sport is the image and symbol: - unceasing work for Christ, the restraining and subjection of the body to the immortal soul, eternal life – the prize of this struggle.


  1. ‘The body should be so treated and trained as to be able to obey the counsel of wisdom and reason, whether it be a matter of work to be done or trials to be endured.’

Hence sport has it’s purpose in helping us to learn the importance of wisdom and perseverance in the struggles of daily life.


In this sense says Pius XII ‘sports, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser and a gracious victor; it refines the sense, gives us intellectual penetration, steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sprit, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps an to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, namely, the service and praise of his creator.’ –


Good loser as well. – How few know how to loose well. Lack of humility –



  1. Sport is the school of Loyalty, of courage, of fortitude, of resolution and – forming a sound foundation for the supernatural virtues – preparing man to carry without weakness the weight of the greatest responsibilities.


Grace builds upon nature – Hence in so many Catholics what is lacking is not the grace of God, but nature – nature virtue – today we have become weak spiritually because we are effeminate even on a natural level.


  1. We can never without sufficient necessity endanger our life for the sake of a sport – Hence serious life threatening sports are not permitted to us as Catholics. We can’t risk our life just for the thrill of it. –


‘Sport which is worthy of the name makes man courageous in the face of danger, but does not authorise his undergoing a grave risk without proportionate cause. This would be morally wrong/illicit’


  1. ‘Sport is not an end in itself, but a means. As such, it is and must remain subordinated to its end, which consists in the perfect and balanced formation and education of the whole man, for whom sport is an aid in the ready and joyful accomplishment o his duties.’


Here the Pope goes on to point out how for so many this has meant that ‘home has become for them only a hotel, where like strangers they occasionally put up when passing! – In short an exaggerated amount of time and effort is put into sports but so little time into studies, work, family and other responsibilities.



Sport must not degrade us – If it does it no longer becomes a sport in the true Christian sense of the Term.


The means employed to give health to the body, “the noble instrument of the soul,” he stated, should take into account suitability of time and place. They should not excite vanity or promote immodesty. And they must not lessen a young woman’s “reserve and

self-possession which are both the ornament and guarantee of virtue” – Pope Pius XI – (Letter A Lei, Vicario Nostro, May 2, 1928).


Pope Pius XII

“If a form of dress becomes a grave and proximate danger for the soul, it is certainly not hygienic for the spirit, and you must reject it”  . . . .  “Will you, then, for the love of Christ, in the esteem for virtue, not find at the bottom of your hearts the courage and strength to sacrifice a little well-being – a physical advantage, if you will – to conserve safe and pure the life of your souls?” -  Allocution to the girls of Catholic Action, October 6, 1940


The early Christians had like the Jews before them to confront this issue of the Pagan Gymnasium   - In these places, the men, had little to no clothes on, and this was always seen, by the Jews as a means of undermining the Godly spirit and introducing in a subtle manner the pagan vision of things into daily life. And so in like manner the early Christians were exhorted to keep away from such places.


Spirit has priority over the body and bodily comfort – this also includes the whole issue of women wearing pants.


  1. What is more, he added, if one does not have the right to endanger the physical health of others simply for one’s own pleasure, then it is certainly even less licit to compromise the health of their souls.


  1. Our Sports, must be a re-creation – that is something that gives us the ability of greater help in our daily life – ‘Thank God that you are different, dear Children! For after a fine game you return to your work with a renewed strength and vigor, and in the home you raise the spirits of the whole family with your enthusiastic description of your experience. . . If sporting activity is for you a recreation and a stimulus which aids you in better fulfilling your duties of work and study, then it can be said that it is being used in its true sense, and is attaining its true end.’



While sports has many noble aspects about it – The serious harm that the pope has pointed out an is rife in our day and age, is that while sports, if taken their proper context have the ability of transforming us into well developed adults – if taken out of proportion they can have the opposite effect – namely the ability to transform us into rotten imbecile. 


  1. Sport, can and should be also at the service of God. ‘While the pagan subjects himself to the strict regime of sport to obtain a merely corruptible crown, the Christian subjects himself to the same with a nobler aim, for an immortal reward.’


Important point of the Pope here is this:


‘What would be the use of physical courage and boldness of character if Church employed them only for earthly ends, to win some cup, or to give himself the airs of a superhuman? If he were unable, when necessary, to rob a half hour of sleep or put off an appointment at the sports ground in order to attend Sunday Mass? If he could not conquered human respect in order to practice and defend his religion? If he did not use his superiority or authority to prevent or halt with a look, a word or a gesture, some blasphemy, evil speech, dishonesty, or to protect the younger and weaker members from provocation and suspect companionship? If he could not make a habit of concluding his sporting successes with a praise of God, Creator and lord of nature, and of all his own faculties?’ – Where did you get the strength from ? Thank God, use it for his glory, or else both you and it your physical strength or talent will be equally plunged into hell.


St. Sebastian – would use his military strength and courage to defend the faith against the wicked emperor Diocletian who was having the Christians put to death. Pope Caius at the time said that he thought it would be good for Sebastian to remain in Rome to defend the cause of the Christians and this he did -

And so St. Sebastian defended the Christians, encouraged the Martyrs and openly denounced the Emperor – for which he was called up before Diocletian and rebuked by him and then sent out to be shot to death by arrows. Even though his body was covered in Arrows, God granted him the strength of recovery, at which he once more went before the Emperor with the same courage and denounced him in public for his crimes. The Emperor had him eventually beaten to death. Now, this is true purpose of sport – to grant us the strength and courage to accomplish great things for God and souls. If we don’t do that, better had we not played, we would have less to account for.



Finally the words of St. Paul “And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be made partaker thereof. Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receive the prize. So run that you may obtain. And every one that strives for the mastery refrains himself from all things. And they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown: but we an incorruptible one.   I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty: I so fight, not as one beating the air.  But I chastise my body and bring it into subjection. . . .  . I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course: I have kept the faith.  As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.’ 2 Tim 4.