Saturday, November 30, 2013

Living for food - The Instructor on eating

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series. You may also want to read the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"Some men, in truth, live that they may eat, as the irrational creatures, 'whose life is their belly, and nothing else.' But the Instructor enjoins us to eat that we may live. For neither is food our business, nor is pleasure our aim; but both are on account of our life here, which the Word is training up to immortality. Wherefore also there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food. And it is to be simple, truly plain, suiting precisely simple and artless children—as ministering to life, not to luxury. And the life to which it conduces consists of two things—health and strength; to which plainness of fare is most suitable, being conducive both to digestion and lightness of body, from which come growth, and health, and right strength, not strength that is wrong or dangerous and wretched, as is that of athletes produced by compulsory feeding." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Clement warns of a life that is centered around food. Eating is a necessity of this life and yet it should not be the focus of our lives. Food is necessary for our life here on Earth, yet we are being prepared for an eternal life in heaven, a life which does not require the consumption of food. While we must eat to live, we must not live to eat. We must view food in light of eternity, something that is required for a short period of time out of necessity, but not part of our eternal life to come. As such, our choice and use of food should be that which contributes to a life of health and strength. In fine, the eating of food that is easily digested and leads to leanness of the body.
"Antiphanes, the Delian physician, said that this variety of viands was the one cause of disease; there being people who dislike the truth, and through various absurd notions abjure moderation of diet, and put themselves to a world of trouble to procure dainties from beyond seas. For my part, I am sorry for this disease, while they are not ashamed to sing the praises of their delicacies, giving themselves great trouble to get lampreys in the Straits of Sicily, the eels of the M├Žander..." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Antiphanes was a physician of Clement's day that believed that variation in diet was one of the causes of certain disease of the body, and yet men went to great lengths, even risking personal danger and harm, to procure rare and diverse foods from around the world. I must confess, I do enjoy eating King Crab legs from time to time, but we must ask ourselves "at what cost?" Should we expect men to risk life and limb that we might enjoy such delicacies? Should we expect people to risk personal harm just for "food?" I know it is their job and they do it for the money, but it is our appetite that actually funds their risky behavior. It is one thing to risk one's life for that which sustains life, but another for that which is merely for pleasure and tends to luxury.
"In their greed and solicitude, the gluttons seem absolutely to sweep the world with a drag-net to gratify their luxurious tastes. These gluttons, surrounded with the sound of hissing frying-pans, and wearing their whole life away at the pestle and mortar, cling to matter like fire. More than that, they emasculate plain food, namely bread, by straining off the nourishing part of the grain, so that the necessary part of food becomes matter of reproach to luxury." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
When our life's care centers around food, then our life is centered around that which is temporal and earthly and unbefitting of our call to life eternal with Christ. Clement also denounces the practice of refining foods; removing that which is nutritious for that which is tasty; preferring luxury over that which provides sustenance.
"There is no limit to epicurism among men. For it has driven them to sweetmeats, and honey-cakes, and sugar-plums; inventing a multitude of desserts, hunting after all manner of dishes. A man like this seems to me to be all jaw, and nothing else. 'Desire not,' says the Scripture, 'rich men’s dainties;' for they belong to a false and base life. They partake of luxurious dishes, which a little after go to the dunghill." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Epicurism is the unrelenting pursuit of pleasure. When we pursue food for pleasure we are pursuing that perishes with the use. Our life is meant to be more than "all jaw" and food is meant to support that greater life we have been called to and to provide health more than pleasure.
"But we who seek the heavenly bread must rule the belly, which is beneath heaven, and much more the things which are agreeable to it, which 'God shall destroy,' says the apostle, justly execrating gluttonous desires. For 'meats are for the belly,' for on them depends this truly carnal and destructive life;" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
This is the heart at which Clement is driving at, that we should rule our stomachs rather than be ruled by them. Jesus said, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) We should seek first God's Kingdom and food only as a necessity. All other pursuits other than the pursuit of His Kingdom are vain and empty and devoid of eternal life, even the pursuit of food.

David Robison

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