Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Economy in dress - 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.
"And if such must be woven for the women, let us weave apparel pleasant and soft to the touch, not flowered, like pictures, to delight the eye. For the picture fades in course of time, and the washing and steeping in the medicated juices of the dye wear away the wool, and render the fabrics of the garments weak; and this is not favourable to economy." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Not all clothes are of the same workmanship or quality and innovation in clothing is not to be strictly rejected, but it should be that which tends to wearability and durability of the clothes rather than merely their appearance which offers little to them as covering. How many clothes are discarded by our western culture because they have simply become faded although they still provide adequate covering and protection? We have become, in many ways, a society that appreciates what things look like more than how they are made. We buy clothes not because they fit and are well made but because they look good and conform to the latest "fashion." Then, when they fade or the fashions change, we simply discard them for something else.

God is not concerned solely with out modesty in clothing but also our economy of clothing. King Solomon once said, "Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God." (Ecclesiastics 5:19) Wealth is a gift from God, but so also is the ability to know how to rightly use that wealth given to us. If our wealth comes from the Lord then shouldn't we use that wealth in a way that is in accordance with wisdom and right counsel? Solomon said of wisdom, "I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries." (Proverbs 8:20-21) Wisdom build wealth and by wisdom one learns to use wealth. On the issue of clothes one must ask the wisdom of buying that which serves the eye at the sacrifice of the body; looking good but wearing out and failing to cover and protect the body.
"For as well-nurtured bodies, when stripped, show their vigour more manifestly, so also beauty of character shows its magnanimity, when not involved in ostentatious fooleries... The covering ought, in my judgment, to show that which is covered to be better than itself, as the image is superior to the temple, the soul to the body, and the body to the clothes. But now, quite the contrary, the body of these ladies, if sold, would never fetch a thousand Attic drachms. Buying, as they do, a single dress at the price of ten thousand talents, they prove themselves to be of less use and less value than cloth. Why in the world do you seek after what is rare and costly, in preference to what is at hand and cheap? It is because you know not what is really beautiful, what is really good?" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
What is of greater value, the clothes that cover the body or the body that is covered? This question is at the heart of our choices in clothing and hits deep to our understanding of what it means to be beautiful. Some will dress up the body to portray an image of what they secretly feel they lack in reality. The want to look beautiful because they don't feel beautiful inside. Unfortunately, external beauty fades and we are constantly searching for that latest outfit that will replace the fading beauty of our present outfit so that no one will notice what we perceive as our inward unattractiveness. The real issue is not the dress but the heart. We seek for beauty externally that we might feel beautiful inside, and all the time we fail to see that our God who created us already finds us beautiful. "Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear: forget your people and your father's house; then the King will desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him." (Psalm 45:10-11) It is only when we stop chasing after external things, things that are fading away, and come to know the God who created us that we can really begin to understand who we are and discover the true beauty that is within us. To truly understand beauty, we need to know the King!.

David Robison

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