Friday, January 31, 2014

Know yourself - The Instructor on True Beauty

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.
"It is then, as appears, the greatest of all lessons to know one’s self. For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God, not by wearing gold or long robes, but by well-doing, and by requiring as few things as possible. Now, God alone is in need of nothing, and rejoices most when He sees us bright with the ornament of intelligence; and then, too, rejoices in him who is arrayed in chastity, the sacred stole of the body." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
It seems strange that one must be told to know themselves for doesn't everyone know themselves? However, we need to come to know ourselves in light of God who created us. We must come to understand firstly our value to God, secondly that He created us with meaning and purpose, and lastly that we were created to bear His image. When we come to know these things about ourselves then our heart will naturally turn to know the one who created us, who loves us, and who has a plan for our lives. Finally, in knowing Him we will seek to conform our lives into His image and nature; becoming like Him.

To be like God is to be in want of nothing. The man who needs "stuff" to feel fulfilled has not yet come to know himself and even less to know God. We were never created to become consumers and hoarders of "stuff." We may use "stuff" in the course of our lives, but we were created to one day leave it all behind and to enjoy eternity in heave with God. We must learn to judge ourselves not by what we have gained in life but by who we have become and by who's image we bear. Our goal should be to grow in our inner man, what Clement names "intelligence," and to discipline our flesh towards chastity. These qualities should be the ornaments of our lives. These are the qualities that God is looking for in us.
"Since then the soul consists of three divisions; the intellect, which is called the reasoning faculty, is the inner man, which is the ruler of this man that is seen. And that one, in another respect, God guides. But the irascible part, being brutal, dwells near to insanity. And appetite, which is the third department, is many-shaped above Proteus, the varying sea-god, who changed himself now into one shape, now into another; and it allures to adulteries, to licentiousness, to seductions." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
Many have sought to divide a person into distinct facets. Paul refereed to the inner and outer man, John to the body, soul, and Spirit, and Jesus to the heart, soul, mind, and strength. However, here Clement is subdividing the inner-man, what we may call the Psyche of a man. The inner-man is pulled in three different directions. First, and most nobly, by reason. Jesus is the Logos, or reason, of God and when we order our lives by reason we share in His nature. It is this reasoning part of our inner-man that hears and responds to God. It is what allows us to receive His word and to assert discipline in applying it to our lives.

The irascible part is that part that is prone to anger, wrath, and heated emotions. It is a raging fire ready to consume itself and others who might cross its way. It is a heavy burden on the backs of those who must carry its outburst. Anger sits next to insanity because it ignores reason to give full vent to its emotions.

Finally there is appetite. This is not just physical appetite but represents the desires and wants of the soul. It represents the things we lust for and seek after. Appetites, when set free from reason, will always take us where we do not want to go. Appetite turns us into blind beasts that are forever pursuing that which will never satisfy. In the end, our life is left empty and our soul wearied.

The goal of our lives should be to surrender our anger and appetite to the control of reason. To live our lives by what we know to be right not by our lusts or emotions. To know ourselves is to know God and to know God is to be like God. If we understand who we are and how we are made, the multifaceted nature of our soul, then we must learn to rule over our soul by our reason rather than letting the baser parts of our soul lead us into corruption. Let us be rational and intellectual men and women rather than angry and hungry beasts.

David Robison

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