Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wantonness and Marriage - 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.
"He discouraged the ancient Jews, also, from having relations with a wife already with child.' Pleasure sought for its own sake, even within the marriage bonds, is a sin and contrary both to law and to reason. Moses cautioned them, then, to keep away from their pregnant wives until they be delivered... The womb welcomes the seed when it yearns for procreation, but it refuses the seed when intercourse is contrary to nature; that is, once impregnated... All its instincts, up to now aroused by loving intercourse, begin to be directed differently, absorbed in the development of the child within, cooperating with the Creator. It is wrong, indeed, to interfere with the workings of nature by indulging in the extravagances of wantonness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
To the best of my recollection, I don't remember any specific injunctions by Moses regarding sexual relations during a pregnancy. It appears that Clement's believe that Moses "discouraged" intercourse at this time is because there is no record to the contrary in Moses' teaching or any instance of such relations contained in the history of the Jews. Some commentators cite Book 3 of Clement's "Stromata" for this believe. However and unfortunately, this book has also been left in its original Latin. Be that as it may, Clement's main point, that pleasure for its own sake is sin, is worth reflecting on. When we do something to please ourselves without any regard for others, including God, then we are not operating according to the laws of love and have entered into sin. Sexual intercourse is a relating between two individuals. When one seeks to exploit it for their own self pleasure then they violate love towards the other. Whether God intended to prohibit sex during pregnancy may be debated, but there are certain to be times when the pregnant one is not ready for sex and to force oneself on them for your own pleasure is not love but mere selfishness.
"Wantonness has many names and is of many kinds. When it centers about sexual pleasure in a disorientated way, it is called lewdness, something vulgar and common and very impure, and, as its name suggests, preoccupied with coition. As this vice increases, a great swarm of diseases flows from it: gourmandizing, drunkenness, lust, and particularly dissipation and every sort of craze for pleasure in which lust plays the tyrant. A thousand-and-one like vices join the company and aid in effecting a thoroughly dissolute character." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
When Clement refers to seeking sexual pleasures in a "disoriented" way, he is not thinking about sexual "orientation" as we might. He is referring to one who pursues sexual pleasures without restraint. When we give way to pleasure we open ourselves to all kinds of evil influences. A life lived for pleasure is a life lived in decay; progressing further and further into sin and darkness. Unrestrained pleasure is like a cancer that eats our soul from the inside out.
"In my treatise on continence, I have discussed in a general way the question whether we should marry or not (and this is the point of our investigation) . Now, if we have to consider whether we may marry at all, then how can we possibly permit ourselves to indulge in intercourse each time without restraint, as we would food, as if it were a necessity?... Yet, marriage in itself merits esteem and the highest approval, for the Lord wished men to 'be fruitful and multiply.' He did not tell them, however, to act like libertines, nor did He intend them to surrender themselves to pleasure as though born only to indulge in sexual relations." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
The very fact that marriage is an option teaches us that sexual intercourse is an option and not a necessity of life. However, to live as if it were a necessity is to live in wantonness. Anything that is not a necessity is something that we must exerciser control and restraint over. Even for necessary things we exercise self-control, such as eating only till we are full, how much more shall we exercise restraint over those things for which we have discretion? We must control our sexual desires rather than being controlled by them.
"The attempt to procreate children is marriage, but the promiscuous scattering of seed contrary to law and to reason definitely is not. If we should but control our lusts at the start and if we would not kill off the human race born and developing according to the divine plan, then our whole lives would be lived according to nature. But women who resort to some sort of deadly abortion drug kill not only the embryo but, along with it, all human kindness." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 10)
The issue of abortion is not new to our age. The first and second century church also had to deal with the issue of abortion. Without going into a lengthy discussion on the subject, Clement's reminds us that children are the natural consequences of sexual intercourse and to kill them as an unwanted side affect of our sexual lust is wrong and its impact is felt by the entire human race. If we choose to have sex then we must also assume the responsibility to care for the children that might be brought into this world by our actions. What better definition of wantonness is there than to be willing to extinguish a life that we might not be hindered in our pursuit of sexual pleasures?

David Robison

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