Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Dreaming of beauty - The Instructor on Clothes

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.
"If, then, He takes away anxious care for clothes and food, and superfluities in general, as unnecessary; what are we to imagine ought to be said of love of ornament, and dyeing of wool, and variety of colours, and fastidiousness about gems, and exquisite working of gold, and still more, of artificial hair and wreathed curls; and furthermore, of staining the eyes, and plucking out hairs, and painting with rouge and white lead, and dyeing of the hair, and the wicked arts that are employed in such deceptions?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
This world will not last forever. John reminds us that, "The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:17) All the things that are external to our inner and outer man are on track for destruction and one day will be completely done away with. Jesus was very clear that we should not be anxious or give care for seeking after the external things of life. Our Father already knows we need them. Rather that we should, "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) External things may be of necessity for this life, such as food, clothing, and shelter, but our use of them must be governed by moderation, temperance, and frugality. Paul reminds us that we should be people who use the things of this world, "as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:31) All such cares for the external and temporal things of life are misdirected cares; cares spent after those things which are fading away rather than the Kingdom which is growing ever brighter.
"I admire that ancient city of the Laced√¶monians which permitted harlots alone to wear flowered clothes, and ornaments of gold, interdicting respectable women from love of ornament, and allowing courtesans alone to deck themselves. On the other hand, the archons of the Athenians, who affected a polished mode of life, forgetting their manhood, wore tunics reaching to the feet, and had on the crobulus—a kind of knot of the hair—adorned with a fastening of gold grasshoppers, to show their origin from the soil, forsooth, in the ostentation of licentiousness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Far too often we allow our culture to deceive us into believing that our way of life is the normal way of life. Our manor of dress, our social and political organizations, and even they way we interact with others are often formed by our culture to the point where we believe that all these things are "normal." However, just because our culture teaches one way of living that does not mean that it is the right way of living. Just because something is normal doesn't mean that it is best. Here, Clement contrasts the two different cultures of the Lacedaemonians and the Athenians, each with their own since of "normal" when it comes to dress and fashion. When we look at other cultures and contrast them with ours we often find ways where our culture falls short and anther excels. However, for the believer, the goal is not to compare our culture with others to find whose is best, but rather to compare our culture with he culture of Heaven to find that which is true and eternal. In discussing our standard, or culture, of dress, our comparison should not be the nations around us but the Kingdom of God. We must look for wisdom from God and His Word to guide us in developing a Kingdom culture in our life, a culture based on truth and real beauty.
"Those, therefore, who are devoted to the image of the beautiful, that is, love of finery, not the beautiful itself, and who under a fair name again practice idolatry, are to be banished far from the truth, as those who by opinion, not knowledge, dream of the nature of the beautiful; and so life here is to them only a deep sleep of ignorance; from which it becomes us to rouse ourselves and haste to that which is truly beautiful and comely, and desire to grasp this alone, leaving the ornaments of earth to the world, and bidding them farewell before we fall quite asleep." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
There is a vast difference between beautiful things and true beauty. Some people desire beautiful things that they might appear beautiful, but true beauty does not come from external things but from within. Dressing up and adorning the body of an ugly soul will not make the person any more beautiful than they already are. Conversely, simple dress of a truly beautiful soul can never hide the beauty that lies hidden within them. Clement warns us of dreaming of beauty as if it was a thing, for true beauty is not a thing, it is a person. By allowing Jesus to increase His image within us, to allow Him to progressively conforms our lives to His image and nature, we will be ever increasing in true beauty; a beauty that never fades away, the beauty of a soul that bears the image of God.

David Robison

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