Monday, January 27, 2014

Prohibitions in Sex - The Instructor on having children

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. Finally, it may be helpful to review my first post on this chapter as it gives a good introduction into Clement's basic philosophy on sexuality.
"We should consider boys as our sons, and the wives of other men as our daughters. We must keep a firm control over the pleasures of the stomach, and an absolutely uncompromising control over the organs beneath the stomach. If, as the Stoics teach, we should not move even a finger on mere impulse, how much more necessary is it that they who seek wisdom control the organ of intercourse? I feel that the reason this organ is also called the private part is that we are to treat it with privacy and modesty more than we do any other member." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
We are not to be like animals of which Jeremiah describes, "A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, that sniffs the wind in her passion. in the time of her heat who can turn her away? All who seek her will not become weary; in her month they will find her." (Jeremiah 2:24) Sex must not drive us nor should we look at others as objects of sexual conquest. Clement is reminding us not to objectify others as sexual objects, but to see them as human beings under our own care; as our own children. This we cannot do if we give full vent to every sexual impulse that impresses itself upon our soul. We are not to be controlled by sex, rather we are to control ourselves and our response to the sexual urges within us.
"In lawful wedlock, as with eating, nature permits whatever is conformable to nature and helpful and decent; it allows us to desire the act of procreation. However, whoever is guilty of excess sins against nature and, by violating the laws regulating intercourse, harms himself." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
There is a place for the fulfillment of sexual desires and it is in marriage. However, even here decency must reign. Marriage is not a license for "anything goes." Decency, mutual love, and a respect for the bound of nature must still be practiced even by those who are married. Clement reminds us that those who participate in excessive or unnatural sex, even in marriage, harm themselves and, often, their partners.
"First of all, it is decidedly wrong ever to touch youths in any sexual way as though they were girls. The philosopher who learned from Moses taught: 'Do not sow seeds on rocks and stones, on which they will never take root.' The Word, too, commands emphatically, through Moses: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, for it is an abomination.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
Clement begins to lay down some prohibitions as they relate to sexual behavior. The first of all prohibitions is for the protection of youths. When Clement speaks of sexual touching he is speaking of more than just the touch but also the intent. One may lust for boys and girls but true love compels us not to violate their innocence and purity. Sexual orientation and desire is never sufficient to justify sexual contact nor should we ever justify harms against love because of our lustful desires.
"Again, further on, noble Plato advises: 'Abstain from every female field of increase,' because it does not belong to you. (He had read this in the holy Scripture and from it had taken the Law: 'Thou shalt not give the coition of thy seed to thy neighbor's wife, to be defiled because of her.' Then he goes on to say: 'Do not sow the unconsecrated and bastard seed with concubines, where you would not want what is sown to grow?' In fact, he says: 'Do not touch anyone, except your wedded wife,' because she is the only one with whom it is lawful to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh for the purpose of begetting lawful heirs. This is to share in God's own work of creation, and in such a work the seed ought not be wasted nor scattered thoughtlessly nor sown in a way it cannot grow." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
Clement second prohibition relates to other men's wives. Clement has already stated that we should view other men's wives as our own daughters and to treat them with all purity just as we would our own children. Clement puts forth a unique test for judging the appropriateness of our sexual relations: If you don't want to have a child with someone, don't have sex with them! If you don't want to have a public child by your private adulterous affair, then stop the affair. If you don't want a child as the result of your fornication, then stop fornicating. If you are participating in sexual relations where the result can never be a child (such as homosexual relations) or where you desperately do not want to have a child (such as in an affair) then you should stop to consider the appropriateness of your sexual adventures and what God has to say about the nature and limitations of sex. The sexual act is never neutral and it is always irreversible. It is the proverbial bell that can never be unrung. To find the blessing and fulfillment that God designed in sex we must always enter into it according to His wisdom and prescription. Everything else will be but a beggarly imitation of God's true blessing.

David Robison

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