Thursday, December 12, 2013

Party tunes - The Instructor on behavior at feasts

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.
"Let revelry keep away from our rational entertainments, and foolish vigils, too, that revel in intemperance. For revelry is an inebriating pipe... of sorrow. And let love, and intoxication, and senseless passions, be removed from our choir. Burlesque singing is the boon companion of drunkenness. A night spent over drink invites drunkenness, rouses lust, and is audacious in deeds of shame. For if people occupy their time with pipes, and psalteries, and choirs, and dances, and Egyptian clapping of hands, and such disorderly frivolities, they become quite immodest and intractable, beat on cymbals and drums, and make a noise on instruments of delusion; for plainly such a banquet, as seems to me, is a theatre of drunkenness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
Revelry is defined as "lively and noisy festivities, especially when these involve drinking a large amount of alcohol." Clement is describing parties that are large, loud, brusque, and drunken. These are parties that have an atmosphere intended to reduce inhibitions and incite the passions and desires of the soul. These parties are conceived and designed to move the person from the rational to the emotional, from order to disorder, and from the honorable to the dishonorable. Clement contends that such parties have no place in the lives of those whose aim it is is to please God.
"For the apostle decrees that, 'putting off the works of darkness, we should put on the armour of light, walking honestly as in the day, not spending our time in rioting and drunkenness, in chambering and wantonness.' Let the pipe be resigned to the shepherds, and the flute to the superstitious who are engrossed in idolatry. For, in truth, such instruments are to be banished from the temperate banquet, being more suitable to beasts than men, and the more irrational portion of mankind." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
Of special interest to clement is not just the wanton behavior at parties but also the music. Here, its not the specific instruments that are in question, but the type of music played by them; music whose aim it is is to impassion the soul and to inspire it to illicit desires. Music can have a powerful influence over the soul; either to inspire it or degrade it, either to lead it to the contemplation of the greatness of God or to cause it to seek after the baser desires of man. Music, because of its influence on the soul, is not neutral; it is intended to have an impact and we must be aware of that and treat it accordingly.
"And every improper sight and sound, to speak in a word, and every shameful sensation of licentiousnes—which, in truth, is privation of sensation—must by all means be excluded; and we must be on our guard against whatever pleasure titillates eye and ear, and effeminates. For the various spells of the broken strains and plaintive numbers of the Carian muse corrupt men’s morals, drawing to perturbation of mind, by the licentious and mischievous art of music." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
We have been called to purify our souls "for a sincere love of the brethren" (1 Peter 1:22) yet how can we pursue purification when we expose ourselves to that which "titillates" and wages war against the purity of our souls? For what purpose would we willing submit ourselves to endure the louring of our souls to baseness when we have as our aim the purifying of our souls for the sincere love of God and one another? Such actions are at odds with each other. We must pursue one and escape the other.
"But let our genial feeling in drinking be twofold, in accordance with the law. For 'if thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' and then 'thy neighbour,' let its first manifestation be towards God in thanksgiving and psalmody, and the second toward our neighbour in decorous fellowship. For says the apostle, 'Let the Word of the Lord dwell in you richly.' And this Word suits and conforms Himself to seasons, to persons, to places." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 4)
In our partying, let this be our rule, that all should be done with the love of God and the love of one another in mind; that our recognition, praise, and honor of God should never be forgotten from our minds and that our behavior should always reflect our greater interest for another than for ourselves. Let our entertaining and partying be pleasing to God and full of genuine love and fellowship for each other.

David Robison

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