Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jewels over people - 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.
"It is childish to admire excessively dark or green stones, and things cast out by the sea on foreign shores, particles of the earth. For to rush after stones that are pellucid and of peculiar colours, and stained glass, is only characteristic of silly people, who are attracted by things that have a striking show. Thus children, on seeing the fire, rush to it, attracted by its brightness; not understanding through senselessness the danger of touching it. Such is the case with the stones which silly women wear fastened to chains and set in necklaces, amethysts, ceraunites, jaspers, topaz, and the Milesian 'Emerald, most precious ware.' And the highly prized pearl has invaded the woman’s apartments to an extravagant extent." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
When we live for show, everything becomes a snare. Clement likens it to children who, out of fascination for fire, run towards it not knowing its real danger. In the same way, those who pursue material possessions, out of their fascination for them, seek for and rush after them not knowing the danger they are bringing upon themselves. They are pursuing worldly possessions that have no eternal value at the expense of obtaining eternal riches that will last forever.
"But these women... gape all they can for jewels, adducing the astounding apology, 'Why may I not use what God hath exhibited?' and, 'I have it by me, why may I not enjoy it?' and, 'For whom were these things made, then, if not for us?' Such are the utterances of those who are totally ignorant of the will of God. For first necessaries, such as water and air, He supplies free to all; and what is not necessary He has hid in the earth and water. Wherefore ants dig, and griffins guard gold, and the sea hides the pearl-stone. But ye busy yourselves about what you need not. Behold, the whole heaven is lighted up, and ye seek not God; but gold which is hidden, and jewels, are dug up by those among us who are condemned to death." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
We must remember that most of these early converts in Alexandria had no prior training in either Judaism or Christianity. All they knew of were their Greek gods and the literature that surrounded and supported them. However, they quickly learned how to invoke God in their defense of their customs and behavior that they brought with them into their new life in Christ. While pretending dependence on God's will they betrayed their true motives, motives directed towards self rather than towards God and others.

Clement was not only trained in the Greek philosophy and literature but also in the scriptures and the writings of the apostles. However, he was also trained in natural philosophy, which today we call, Earth Science. In discussing the use of jewelry, instead of appealing to the scriptures, he appeals to nature. Believing that God had created both the world and us, he notices that everything needed for necessity was provided all around us and was provided freely. Those things that pertained to excess were the thing hidden, such as jewels and pearls. Tremendous effort is required to find and harvest such hidden treasures while the beauty of God's creation lays all around us and is on show for free. Instead of putting forth the effort to mine gold, should we not rather just simply enjoy the beauty of a sunset? Can gold ever compare to the beauty of nature all around us? Should we not cease from pursuing what is hidden and rather enjoy what is provided in simplicity and thankfulness?
"God brought our race into communion by first imparting what was His own, when He gave His own Word, common to all, and made all things for all. All things therefore are common, and not for the rich to appropriate an undue share. That expression, therefore, 'I possess, and possess in abundance: why then should I not enjoy?' is suitable neither to the man, nor to society. But more worthy of love is that: 'I have: why should I not give to those who need?' For such an one—one who fulfils the command, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'—is perfect. For this is the true luxury—the treasured wealth." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
Clement's understanding of material possessions runs so contrary to our modem culture that it can be hard for us to grasp it or to accept it as our own. However, this was the standing culture of the church throughout the first several centuries. Luke tells us of the church in Jerusalem, "all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." (Acts 2:44-45) Almost two hundred years later, Turtullian wrote of the church in his day, "One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives." (Turtullian, Apology, Chapter 39) To believe that God has given us riches to spend them on our own selfish interests run contrary to right reason and to the understanding of all good people and societies. Love compels us to see our material possessions as not the means to our own pleasure but as the resources needed to help others in their time of need. To ask, "How shall I spend what God has given me on my own wants?" is the height of selfishness while love asks, "How can I use what God has given me to ease the needs of others?"
"But that which is squandered on foolish lusts is to be reckoned waste, not expenditure. For God has given to us, I know well, the liberty of use, but only so far as necessary; and He has determined that the use should be common. And it is monstrous for one to live in luxury, while many are in want. How much more glorious is it to do good to many, than to live sumptuously! How much wiser to spend money on human being, than on jewels and gold! How much more useful to acquire decorous friends, than lifeless ornaments! Whom have lands ever benefited so much as conferring favours has? It remainsfor us, therefore, to do away with this allegation: Who, then, will have the more sumptuous things, if all select the simpler? Men, I would say, if they make use of them impartially and indifferently. But if it be impossible for all to exercise self-restraint, yet, with a view to the use of what is necessary, we must seek after what can be most readily procured, bidding a long farewell to these superfluities." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 13)
To spend wealth on ourselves is a waste of what God has given us. While it may provide for momentary pleasure, it is deplete of any eternal rewards and advantages. When we spend wealth on ourselves we are not benefited, but when we become the benefactors of others, we reap rewards from God. When gold, silver, and precious stones become our wealth, how truly poor we are. However, when we make people our true possessions and wealth, then we are rich indeed. Our new expensive things are destined to become our old expensive things over the course of time, but relationships formed by helping and supporting others will last for eternity. True wealth is found in people, not things. So what should be our attitude towards wealth if we possess it and how shall we use our wealth? By having an attitude of indifference towards it. It should make little concern to us if we keep it or sell it for the needs of others. Our wealth should be inconsequential to our life as we are indifferent to its keeping or giving. Only then will we be truly free from the snares of wealth and become possessors of what it of true value, the souls and love of others.

David Robison

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