Thursday, January 09, 2014

Put some clothes on - The Instructor 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.
"I say, then, that man requires clothes for nothing else than the covering of the body, for defence against excess of cold and intensity of heat, lest the inclemency of the air injure us. And if this is the object of clothing, see that one kind be not assigned to men and another to women. For it is common to both to be covered, as it is to eat and drink. The necessity, then, being common, we judge that the provision ought to be similar. For as it is common to both to require things to cover them, so also their coverings ought to be similar;" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Clement contends that the basic purpose of clothes is to protect us. In one case to protect the sight of our body from prying eyes and the other to protect our bodies from the harshness of the elements. As I am writing this, it is about twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside and I will definitely be wearing a sufficient amount of clothes to protect myself from the freezing weather. However, we also wear clothes to cover our naked form; to give discretion to the less presentable parts of our body. "On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it." (1 Corinthians 12:22-24) Here, Paul is making a comparison between how we cloth our natural body, to hide and protect some members, with how God clothes His spiritual body, the church.

It is interesting to note that Clement believes that men and women's dress should be similar. It is odd that we would have one code of dress for men and one for women; for example, requiring women to wear skirts and men slacks. If the purpose is for cover and protection then our expectations should be similar regardless of whether a person is male or female. It is my belief that, most of the time, especially in Christian settings, when our expectation of dress for men and women are different, that it is as a result of our culture and not the Word of God. Perhaps we need to rethink our standards in light of God's word and reason rather than the prevailing culture.
"For if the female sex, on account of their weakness, desire more, we ought to blame the habit of that evil training, by which often men reared up in bad habits become more effeminate than women. But this must not be yielded to. And if some accommodation is to be made, they may be permitted to use softer clothes, provided they put out of the way fabrics foolishly thin, and of curious texture in weaving; bidding farewell to embroidery of gold and Indian silks and elaborate Bombyces (silks)... For these superfluous and diaphanous materials are the proof of a weak mind, covering as they do the shame of the body with a slender veil. For luxurious clothing, which cannot conceal the shape of the body, is no more a covering. For such clothing, falling close to the body, takes its form more easily, and adhering as it were to the flesh, receives its shape, and marks out the woman’s figure, so that the whole make of the body is visible to spectators, though not seeing the body itself." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
While, since men and women's need for covering are the same, and therefore their dress should be similar, Clement does recognize that the sexes are different; allowing women to wear softer clothes then men as their skin is often softer then their counterparts. However, it makes no sense to wear clothes that are revealing, provocative, or clingy to the form leaving little to the imagination. If we dress to clothe our naked body then why would we select clothes that reveal it or show off its form? Just as we wouldn't go outside in the freezing weather in short pants and a T-shirt, why would we go outside in clothes that reveal and not cover?
"Dyeing of clothes is also to be rejected. For it is remote both from necessity and truth, in addition to the fact that reproach in manners spring from it. For the use of colours is not beneficial, for they are of no service against cold; nor has it anything for covering more than other clothing, except the opprobrium alone. And the agreeableness of the colour afflicts greedy eyes, inflaming them to senseless blindness. But for those who are white and unstained within, it is most suitable to use white and simple garments... But garments which are like flowers are to be abandoned to Bacchic fooleries, and to those of the rites of initiation, along with purple and silver plate, as the comic poet says:— 'Useful for tragedians, not far life.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Clement's aversion to colorful dress is two fold. First, he views the care and pursuit of such things to be misguided and a distraction from our care and pursuit of God and His Kingdom. Dress is a necessity and any excess or pursuit beyond what is necessary serves only our vanity or our sensual desires for what the world calls "beauty." Secondly, our dress often indicates our desire to be like the world; to look like them, talk like them, act like them, and be like them. However, we are called to be different; we are called to be, "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:9 KJV) How can we be a peculiar people if we are mere carbon-copies of those around us? Let us not let our culture think for us but look to God and His Word. Let us consider what is necessary and pursue that while leaving all other excesses behind. If we are clothed and protected by our dress, let that satisfy us as we pursue the Kingdom of God.

David Robison

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