Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A Crown of Flowers - The Instructorvon the use of Ointments and Crowns

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.
"But the use of crowns did not exist at all among the ancient Greeks; for neither the suitors nor the luxurious Phæacians used them. But at the games there was at first the gift to the athletes; second, the rising up to applaud; third, the strewing with leaves; lastly, the crown, Greece after the Median war having given herself up to luxury." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
The use of "crowns" or floral wreaths worn around the head, was a rather new development within the Greek/Roman culture. It stemmed from the noble intent of honoring the winners in athletic games but quickly became common place and a symbol of fashion and luxury, loosing all its sense of nobility. As new believers were being added to the church, many of them brought into the church their practice of wearing crowns. Clement challenges them to rethink why they wore them and whether or not their use was suitable to one pursuing a holy, righteous, and temperate life.

While we may not share this same custom today, when we come to the Lord we bring with us a collection of customs and practices that have been formed by our culture. We bring these customs and practices into the church often without thinking about them or reevaluating if such customs and practices are worthy of a child of God. Often these practices have been formed by the world rather than by the Word of God and we need to examine each one to see if they necessitate their replacement with new customs or practices that are founded on the Word rather than the world. Clement gives us several reasons why believers of his day needed to avoid floral crowns.
"Such a use of crowns, also, has degenerated to scenes of revelry and intoxication. Do not encircle my head with a crown, for in the springtime it is delightful to while away the time on the dewy meads, while soft and many-coloured flowers are in bloom, and, like the bees, enjoy a natural and pure fragrance... As beauty, so also the flower delights when looked at; and it is meet to glorify the Creator by the enjoyment of the sight of beautiful objects. The use of them is injurious, and passes swiftly away, avenged by remorse. Very soon their evanescence is proved; for both fade, both the flower and beauty... In one word, the enjoyment of them except by sight is a crime, and not luxury. It becomes us who truly follow the Scripture to enjoy ourselves temperately, as in Paradise." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
God has filled His creation with many wonderful and beautiful things; objects of creation to be marveled at and enjoyed, objects to remind us of the God who created them and to stir our hearts to thanksgiving, giving glory to God for His wonderful gifts of nature. However, men and women had turned to use what was meant for God's praise and glory to draw praise and glory to themselves rather than towards God the creator of all. Even Adam and Eve enjoyed themselves temperately in paradise, delighting in what God had made and in their own creation; never taking upon their bodies that which God had made in order enhance their own glory and beauty. It was only after the fall that they began to cover themselves with what God had made.
"We must regard the woman’s crown to be her husband, and the husband’s crown to be marriage; and the flowers of marriage the children of both, which the divine husbandman plucks from meadows of flesh. 'Children’s children are the crown of old men.' And the glory of children is their fathers, it is said; and our glory is the Father of all; and the crown of the whole church is Christ." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
Secondly, Clement reminds us that God has already provided crowns for the heads of His children. When we crown ourselves with flowers we are obscuring the truth of God's word and choosing the glory of that which quickly fades over that glory which is eternal. The crown of a woman is her husband and the crown of her husband is their marriage. The crown of both is their children and they are also a crown and glory to their children. Beyond all this, the crown of us all is the Father and the crown of the Church is Christ. How can we ever be satisfied with such fleeting and fading crowns of this life when God has offered us everlasting crowns and glories that will never fade away? How can we ever compare a crown of flowers to the crown of a Godly marriage and family? Such fading crowns only server to hide the truth of God and to draw our attention to this life rather than the life to come.
"Further, it were irrational in us, who have heard that the Lord was crowned with thorns, to crown ourselves with flowers, insulting thus the sacred passion of the Lord." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
Further, seeing that our Lord was crowned with a crown of suffering, how shall we insult his sacrifice by crowning ourselves with luxury? "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." (1 Peter 2:21)
"Those, then, who are trained by the Word are restrained from the use of crowns; and do not think that this Word, which has its seat in the brain, ought to be bound about, not because the crown is the symbol of the recklessness of revelry, but because it has been dedicated to idols... For if the flowers were made especially for man, and senseless people have taken them not for their own proper and grateful use, but have abused them to the thankless service of demons, we must keep from them for conscience sake... For revellers do not without crowns celebrate their orgies; and when once they are encircled with flowers, at last they are inflamed excessively. We must have no communion with demons." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
Finally, the floral crowns that people wore were often dedicated to their idols. In making  these crowns, they took what was created by God and intended for His glory and thanksgiving and dedicated to their daemons giving them honor and praise in the place of God. In many ways, these crowns had become symbols of their daemons and their abdominal deeds. While many of us today no longer worship daemons, at least not out-rightly, we must still be careful not to take to ourselves those symbols of our world and our culture that designed to bring glory to anything or anyone other than God. For example, when we wear clothing that imitates or includes the symbols of those who have chosen to live lives separate from God, we are honoring their daemons and giving approval to their sinful deeds. These things we should avoid.
"To resume, then: we have showed that in the department of medicine, for healing, and sometimes also for moderate recreation, the delight derived from flowers, and the benefit derived from unguents and perfumes, are not to be overlooked. And if some say, What pleasure, then, is there in flowers to those that do not use them? let them know, then, that unguents are prepared from them, and are most useful... We should have much to say respecting them, were we to speak of flowers and odours as made for necessary purposes, and not for the excesses of luxury. And if a concession must be made, it is enough for people to enjoy the fragrance of flowers; but let them not crown themselves with them."  (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 8)
In the end, it boils down to temperance and moderation. For all things there is a good and proper use, a use provided to us by God and meant for our benefit and enjoyment, but there is also a use that is destructive and one that runs counter to the ways and wisdom of God. Maturity is learning to know and discern the difference and courage is the ability to choose what is right.

David Robison

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