Sunday, January 05, 2014

Superfluity in Dress - 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.
"Wherefore neither are we to provide for ourselves costly clothing any more than variety of food. The Lord Himself, therefore, dividing His precepts into what relates to the body, the soul, and thirdly, external things, counsels us to provide external things on account of the body; and manages the body by the soul (ψυκή), and disciplines the soul, saying, 'Take no thought for your life what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on; for the life is more than meat, and the body more than raiment.' And He adds a plain example of instruction: 'Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them. Are ye not better than the fowls?' Thus far as to food. Similarly He enjoins with respect to clothing, which belongs to the third division, that of things external, saying, 'Consider the lilies, how they spin not, nor weave. But I say unto you, that not even Solomon was arrayed as one of these.' And Solomon the king plumed himself exceedingly on his riches." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
God cares for the who person. First for the soul where our desires, dreams, thoughts, and reasons live. God came to make us alive in our souls that we might know God and become conformed into His image. It is primarily here where God's saving grace continues to work in the lives of those who believe in Him. "obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9) God also cares for our bodies as they are the temple of His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We have previously discussed God's wisdom for the health of our bodies including Clement's advice on eating and sleeping. One day Jesus will returned to redeem even our bodies and to transform them into ones like His own. "waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:23) Finally, God cares for those things external to us that we use in our day-to-day lives as we live by faith with God. In this category would include our dress. Dress is a necessity and, as such, one that should be used with regard to modesty, temperance, and frugality. Our goal should be for our covering, protection, and warmth. We should use dress as needed but not as pursuing luxury or for the inducement of affections.
"For this is shown from the Scripture, 'Take no thought what things ye shall eat, or what things ye shall drink.' For to take thought of these things argues greed and luxury. Now eating, considered merely by itself, is the sign of necessity; repletion, as we have said, of want. Whatever is beyond that, is the sign of superfluity. And what is superfluous, Scripture declares to be of the devil... Now pride and luxury make men waverers (or raise them aloft) from the truth; and the voluptuousness, which indulges in superfluities, leads away from the truth. Wherefore He says very beautifully, 'And all these things do the nations of the world seek after.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
Jesus specifically warned us about being anxious as to what we should eat or what we should wear; reminding us that the Father knows of our needs and will care for them Himself. In saying this He warns us not to pursue these things for the sake of luxury, fashion, or vanity. In speaking of food, which could as easily be said of dress, Clement warns us that everything beyond what is necessary is extravagance and extravagance has the power to distract us from the way of truth; to focus our lives of the unimportant rather than on the eternal.
"And if, in a word, we are naturally given to seeking, let us not destroy the faculty of seeking by directing it to luxury, but let us excite it to the discovery of truth. For He says, 'Seek ye the kingdom of God, and the materials of sustenance shall be added to you.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 11)
There is something innate in each one of us that seeks for something to fill our lives; something to being us fulfillment, joy, peace, and satisfaction. We are all seekers, the question is, what are we seeking for? Are we seeking for the things of this life, for the things that are passing away, or are we seeking for the Kingdom of God and for those things that are true and eternal? How can the things of this world ever satisfy the longing in our heart for something true and eternal? When we give ourselves to seeking external things such as clothes, houses, and material possessions we oppress our natural inner desire for God and our pursuits leave us hollow. However, when we pursue God and His Kingdom we find the things that truly satisfy and that make for live abundant. We seek for God and find God and He provides all we need for our soul, body, and external existence. Let us not pursue external things but rather hone our seeking skills to seek for and to find God.

David Robison

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