Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fashion in dress - The Instructors 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 our life ought to be anything rather than a pageant. Therefore the dye of Sardis, and another of olive, and another green, a rose-coloured, and scarlet, and ten thousand other dyes, have been invented with much trouble for mischievous voluptuousness. Such clothing is for looking at, not for covering... The Instructor expressly admonishes, 'Boast not of the clothing of your garment, and be not elated on account of any glory, as it is unlawful.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Do we dress to be covered or to be noticed and, if so, by whom? Our lives should not be spent to be noticed by men, but by God. Jesus did say, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) However, the purpose for being seen by men is that God would get noticed not ourselves. When we live to be noticed by men we loose sight of God and our entire spiritual focus is turned downward rather than upwards. "How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?" (John 5:44) Fashion is one way we can live to be noticed by men and to receive glory from them.
"Accordingly, deriding those who are clothed in luxurious garments, He says in the Gospel: 'Lo, they who live in gorgeous apparel and luxury are in earthly palaces.' He says in perishable palaces, where are love of display, love of popularity, and flattery and deceit. But those that wait at the court of heaven around the King of all, are sanctified in the immortal vesture of the Spirit, that is, the flesh, and so put on incorruptibility." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Our choice of outward dress can often reflect and inward reality. If our outward dress is simple and modest then we show forth our inward confidence in our own value and standing with God. We no longer need outward pretentiousness to recommend ourselves to others because we are already approved by God. Our inward beauty satisfies us and we no longer need to live for the praise and glory of men. However, those who excel in fashion often reflect an inward need to be seen as beautiful, to be popular, to be loved, and to be desired. Their outward extravagances is an expression of their inward need. However, such appealing to men (and women) can never earn us what we truly desire: true and sincere love. Such love can only be found in a relationship with God and with His Son and is something that expensive clothing and dress can ever provide.
"As therefore she who is unmarried devotes herself to God alone, and her care is not divided, but the chaste married woman divides her life between God and her husband, while she who is otherwise disposed is devoted entirely to marriage, that is, to passion: in the same way I think the chaste wife, when she devotes herself to her husband, sincerely serves God; but when she becomes fond of finery, she falls away from God and from chaste wedlock, exchanging her husband for the world, after the fashion of that Argive courtesan, I mean Eriphyle,— 'Who received gold prized above her dear husband.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Clothing is not a sin, but it can be a snare. Clement introduces us to three type of women, although the same can be said of men. There is the celibate woman who lives to please God. Her life is focused upward and her life is spent in devotion to God. Then there is the chaste woman who loves God and loves her husband. Her life is divided between upward and horizontal relationships. She lives a life to please God and to please her husband. However, even in her devotion to her husband she is pleasing to God and God accepts her marital devotion as devotion to Him. Finally there is the woman of passion who lives to please herself. Her life is spent on pleasure and her every thought is for herself. While the two married women may perform the same acts, one does so out of love and the other out of passion and selfishness.Therefore, one's love is blessed by God and the other's passion demonstrates that she "is dead even while she lives." (1 Timothy 5:6) Clothing, along with other worldly possessions, can be a snare to our life with Christ and our relationships with others. When we love and live for fine expensive things then we demonstrate our love for self as being greater than our love for others. Materialism and the love of "things" will choke out all other loves in our lives and will render our relationships subservient to our possessions.

David Robison

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