Saturday, December 28, 2013

Too much eating and speaking - The instructor on those who live together

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.
"It is the part of a temperate man also, in eating and drinking, to take a small portion, and deliberately, not eagerly, both at the beginning and during the courses, and to leave off betimes, and so show his indifference. 'Eat,' it is said, 'like a man what is set before you. Be the first to stop for the sake of regimen; and, if seated in the midst of several people, do not stretch out your hand before them.' You must never rush forward under the influence of gluttony; nor must you, though desirous, reach out your hand till some time, inasmuch as by greed one shows an uncontrolled appetite... A temperate man, too, must rise before the general company, and retire quietly from the banquet. 'For at the time for rising,' it is said, 'be not the last; haste home." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Clement continues to describe how men should behave themselves at feasts and at other times when entertaining or being entertained by friends. On the matter of food, temperance should be the rule. One should not display themselves as a glutton by his eagerness to eat or by the enormous portions he chooses. He should eat properly and with proper portions and leave off eating when full. He should also not be the last to leave but rather showing his regimented and well ordered way of life by leaving early. A man should not be one way in his day-to-day life and another when feasting; he should be consistent and temperate at all times.
"And elderly people, looking on the young as children, may, though but very rarely, be playful with them, joking with them to train them in good behaviour.For example, before a bashful and silent youth, one might by way of pleasantry speak thus: 'This son of mine (I mean one who is silent) is perpetually talking.' For a joke such as this enhances the youth’s modesty, by showing the good qualities that belong to him playfully, by censure of the bad quantities, which do not. For this device is instructive, confirming as it does what is present by what is not present." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
There is a proper place for joking and good humor, when it has regard for the well being of others. Such a joke can serve to ease the uneasiness of a shy youth while still instructing him is how to properly behave socially. However, such joking can turn destructive and must be guarded against and not used liberally.
"But if there are those who like to jest at people, we must be silent, and dispense with superfluous words like full cups. For such sport is dangerous. 'The mouth of the impetuous approaches to contrition'... I also should think it right to impose a limit on the speech of rightly regulated persons, who are impelled to speak to one who maintains a conversation with them... But let both speakers regulate their discourse according to just proportion... Let contentiousness in words, for the sake of a useless triumph, be banished; for our aim is to be free from perturbation... Answer not a word before you hear... And it is with triflers as with old shoes: all the rest is worn away by evil; the tongue only is left for destruction." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 7)
Our goal in speaking should be friendly conversation and not prideful monologues or contentions arguments that lead to offenses. In speaking of avoiding perturbations, Clement is saying that we should speak in a way as to not irritate, offend, or inflame the passions and emotions in another's soul; we should seek for peace and harmony not argument and strife. Clement also reminds us of Solomon's words, "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19) When given to words, sin is not too far behind. However, sin is vanquished when we remain silent. As with food, let temperance rule our speech as well.

David Robison

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