Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Economy of beauty - The Instructor on fondness of jewles

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.
"Resigning, therefore, these baubles to the wicked master of cunning himself, let us not take part in this meretricious adornment, nor commit idolatry through a specious pretext. Most admirably, therefore, the blessed Peter says, 'In like manner also, that women adorn themselves not with braids, or gold, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works' ... For, granting that they are beautiful, nature suffices. Let not art contend against nature; that is, let not falsehood strive with truth. And if they are by nature ugly, they are convicted, by the things they apply to themselves, of what they do not possess." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Clement calls us to abandon all external trapping by which we try to make ourselves beautiful. All such attempts at external beauty are, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a doorway to sensuality and licentiousness. If a woman is beautiful, let her natural beauty suffice. If she is ugly, let her realize that true beauty and ugliness comes from within not without. True beauty will always shine forth regardless of how plane the frame may be. A woman who is beautiful inside will always shine forth as being beautiful in appearance as well. To try and dress up the body that we might "feel beautiful" is a dead end and quite like chasing a moving target. In the end, we will be exhausted and no closer to true beauty. However, if we realize that what makes a person beautiful is a beautiful soul, and apply our efforts there, then we will in increasing measure posses an eternal beauty that can never be taken away.
"It is suitable, therefore, for women who serve Christ to adopt simplicity. For in reality simplicity provides for sanctity, by reducing redundancies to equality, and by furnishing from whatever is at hand the enjoyment sought from superfluities. For simplicity, as the name shows, is not conspicuous, is not inflated or puffed up in aught, but is altogether even, and gentle, and equal, and free of excess, and so is sufficient. And sufficiency is a condition which reaches its proper end without excess or defect. The mother of these is Justice, and their nurse “Independence;” and this is a condition which is satisfied with what is necessary, and by itself furnishes what contributes to the blessed life." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Many believers are weighed down in their journey towards eternal life by the encumbrances of this world. Their material possessions, their pursuits for worldly things, all hinder them in following Jesus. Worse yet, it hardens their heart towards their fellow man as they compete with each other to be the most beautiful, most successful, and richest among them. How much simpler would our life in Christ be if we were not burdened with the cares and possessions of this world! The path to simplicity will require both justice and independence. Justice to realize that we are called to care for our fellow man. It is God who grants us wealth yet He never intended for us to spend it all upon our own selves. God makes rich that we might not only care for our own needs but that we might have excess to help others who are in need. Our journey towards simplicity will also require independence. We cannot follow after the world and expect to end up in the Kingdom of God. How can we don the image of Christ when we are so committed to following the behavior and actions of others? Choosing simplicity will require us to choose to separate ourselves from our culture and may, at times, put us at odds with those around us. However, we were not called to be like the world but rather to be transformed that we might become "the light of the world. A city set on a hill" that cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14)
"Let there, then, be in the fruits of thy hands, sacred order, liberal communication, and acts of economy. 'For he that giveth to the poor, lendeth to God.' 'And the hands of the manly shall be enriched.' Manly He calls those who despise wealth, and are free in bestowing it. And on your feet let active readiness to well-doing appear, and a journeying to righteousness. Modesty and chastity are collars and necklaces; such are the chains which God forges." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Let us participate in God's economy by sharing what we have with others, thus beautifying our own souls though obedience to His word. This is not a call for the weak and self-absorbed, and it will take courage and independence on our part, but those who find this path will find themselves working with God; participating in God's economy. How great are the rewards to be found in the economy of God!

David Robison

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