Monday, January 20, 2014

Beauty and Ugliness - The Instructor on fondness of jewels

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 introductionto 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.
"In fine, they must accordingly utterly cast off ornaments as girls' gewgaws, rejecting adornment itself entirely. For they ought to be adorned within, and show the inner woman beautiful. For in the soul alone are beauty and deformity shown. Wherefore also only the virtuous man is really beautiful and good. And it is laid down as a dogma, that only the beautiful is good. And excellence alone appears through the beautiful body, and blossoms out in the flesh, exhibiting the amiable comeliness of self-control, whenever the character like a beam of light gleams in the form. For the beauty of each plant and animal consists in its individual excellence. And the excellence of man is righteousness, and temperance, and manliness, and godliness. The beautiful man is, then, he who is just, temperate, and in a word, good, not he who is rich." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Clement lays down the dogma that "only the beautiful is good," thus conversely, that which is good must also be beautiful. Unfortunately, our concepts of beauty have become corrupted along with our culture to the point where not only do we no longer recognize true beauty but we have also failed to recognize that which is good. True beauty, and for that matter, true ugliness, is not external but it is found in the soul. A woman should not be judged as beautiful based on the clothes and jewels she wears, yet this is precisely what is paraded before us at one of those Hollywood events where each one tries to out do the other in dress and jewelry. True excellence, which is the expression of beauty, is the outward expressions of a hidden beauty of the soul; self-control, gentleness, righteousness, kindness, truth and the like are the marks of excellence from an inward beauty. To be beautiful is not the same as to be rich.
"But the love of ornament, which is far from caring for virtue, but claims the body for itself, when the love of the beautiful has changed to empty show, is to be utterly expelled. For applying things unsuitable to the body, as if they were suitable, begets a practice of lying and a habit of falsehood; and shows not what is decorous, simple, and truly childlike, but what is pompous, luxurious, and effeminate. But these women obscure true beauty, shading it with gold. And they know not how great is their transgression... O foolish trouble! O silly craze for display! They squander meretriciously wealth on what is disgraceful; and in their love for ostentation disfigure God’s gifts, emulating the art of the evil one." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Sometimes we don clothes and accessories as a form of costume to hide the image of the person inside. This is either because we fail to understand the true value of who we are or, upon recognizing the ugliness of our souls, we are want to know how to transform the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. However, no amount of clothes, gold, or jewelry can make an ugly soul beautiful, that is something only God can do. Fortunately, God has given us His promise and sent His Son for this very purpose. "Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King... For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation." (Psalms 149:2,3 NKJV) Jesus came to make us beautiful once again. It is only as we allow God to work in our soul, to conform it to His very image, that we will find true beauty; a beauty that is not dependent on what we wear because it comes from who we are.
"Apelles, the painter, seeing one of his pupils painting a figure loaded with gold colour to represent Helen, said to him, 'Boy, being incapable of painting her beautiful, you have made her rich.' Such Helens are the ladies of the present day, not truly beautiful, but richly got up. To these the Spirit prophesies by Zephaniah: 'And their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s anger.' But for those women who have been trained under Christ, it is suitable to adorn themselves not with gold, but with the Word, through whom alone the gold comes to light." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Let us no longer confuse riches for beauty and show for truth. What matters is not how people esteem us but who we are in truth. For even if people should reject us and count us among the unbeautiful, it cannot change who we are in truth inside. Their blindness can never diminish the beauty of salvation that God has worked into our soul. Others may not see it, but we do and God does. In the end, it will be as Paul said, "The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after." (1 Timothy 5:24) For some, their beauty precedes them, yet even for those whose beauty is not now recognized by the world, in then end, even that too will be revealed. For as Jesus said, "For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light." (Mark 4:22)

David Robison

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