"Ancient Immortal Spirit, chaste Father of all that is Beauty, Grandeur and Truth Descending appear with Thy presence Illumine Thine Earth and the Heavens. Shine upon noble endeavors wrought at the Games on Track and in the Field … To Thine Temple, to Thy Worship, come all. Oh! Ancient Eternal Spirit!"

Whatever religion the Olympic anthem espouses (some nineteenth-century version of the cult of Zeus, it would seem, though he was anything but chaste), it sure isn't Christianity. Yet members of the Christian tradition were involved at the inception of the modern games, and Christians have tried in various ways to redeem the event or infuse it with orthodox religion ever since.

Two Olympic catchphrases originated with church leaders. The beginning of the Olympic creed, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part," was adapted from an address by Anglican Bishop Ethelbert Talbot of Pennsylvania to athletes at the 1908 games. The Olympic motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Faster, Stronger, Higher) was coined by Dominican Father Henri Didon in 1891. But neither of these men had a direct role in organizing the modern games, which are modeled on pagan games that began in 776 B.C. but were banned by Christian Emperor Theodosius I in the fourth century. That honor goes to French baron Pierre de Coubertin.

De Coubertin was educated by Jesuits, and his mother hoped he would enter the priesthood. Instead, he became enchanted with late Victorian humanism, which was busily rediscovering the glories of pre-Christian Greek and Roman society, and a relatively new trend in English education, sometimes associated with "Muscular Christianity," that stressed sport as an aid to the development ...

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