Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bathing for all to see - The Instructor on behavior in the baths

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.
"And of what sort are their baths? Houses skilfully constructed, compact, portable, transparent, covered with fine linen. And gold-plated chairs, and silver ones, too, and ten thousand vessels of gold and silver, some for drinking, some for eating, some for bathing, are carried about with them... proving at least that they themselves cannot meet and cannot sweat without a multitude of vessels, although poor women who have no display equally enjoy their baths. The dirt of wealth, then, has an abundant covering of censure. With this, as with a bait, they hook the miserable creatures that gape at the glitter of gold... They will scarce strip before their own husbands affecting a plausible pretence of modesty; but any others who wish, may see them at home shut up naked in their baths. For there they are not ashamed to strip before spectators, as if exposing their persons for sale." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
Here Clement is not referring to public bath houses but portable rooms that were moved and setup in the house for the purpose of bathing, Yet even here the trappings of luxury surround the wealthy. One would not think of bathing in an ordinary tub, lacking its gold, finery, and accessories. It's almost as if expensive dirt requires expensive means by which to be removed.

What is most curious in Clement's mind is how one can show such modesty in one setting and yet, in another, cast it off entirely. We no longer have such bath houses today, but living near the coast, the comparison is not lost on me. I find it odd that women who would shutter to walk around in  their underwear would yet present themselves on the beach wearing even less than if they wore their unmentionables. How can that be? Should not modesty in one setting be the same in another? Does the presence of salt air make all the difference and render immodesty as modest? I think not! One should seek to be modest where ever they are.
"The ancient athletes, ashamed to exhibit a man naked, preserved their modesty by going through the contest in drawers; but these women, divesting themselves of their modesty along with their tunic, wish to appear beautiful, but contrary to their wish are simply proved to be wicked. For through the body itself the wantonness of lust shines clearly." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
Unfortunately, many women, wishing to become beautiful, assume they must become what lustful men desire; men who care more for flesh and form than they do for the person. Men desire a certain look of a women so a woman assumes she must become that in order to be beautiful. However, in doing so they enslave themselves to the expectations and wishes of men and, in the end, fail to find what it means to be truly beautiful. In seeking the approbation of men they forget the one who already loves them and who finds them truly beautiful for so He created them.
"Men, therefore, affording to women a noble example of truth, ought to be ashamed at their stripping before them, and guard against these dangerous sights; 'for he who has looked curiously,' it is said, 'hath sinned already.'... For so only shall one remain without falling, if he regard God as ever present with him." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 5)
I had a friend who worked in an office building that was wrapped with one way glass. On the outside it looked like mirrors while those inside could clearly see out. In the same office building was a beauty shop and women would come and prep themselves outside by looking in the mirrors, not knowing that the people inside could see them. One day, my friend's wife was visiting him at work while this was going on and his coworker said to her, "You don't have to worry about Jim for he always looks away." Men should guard women's modesty by looking away from all indecency. Remember the story of King David and Bathsheba. "Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king's house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, 'Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'" (2 Samuel 11:2-3) How different would things have been if David had just looked away, yet he gazed, inquired, and sinned. By looking away we honor women, protect their modesty, and save our souls from sin.

Sometimes, when we are alone, with no one around to see us, it is easy to let our guard down and to look upon things that we aught not. However, we must always remember that God is always with us, watching what we are watching. We must always stop to conciser, if Jesus was sitting next to us would He be watching what we are watching? If not, maybe we should just simply look away.

David Robison

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