Monday, February 24, 2014

Clothes - The Instructor on a compendious view of the Christian life

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 my introduction to this chapter as it will help you understand his views in this area.
"The Instructor permits us, then, to use simple clothing, and of a white colour, as we said before. So that, accommodating ourselves not to variegated art, but to nature as it is produced, and pushing away whatever is deceptive and belies the truth, we may embrace the uniformity and simplicity of the truth... For, as in the case of the soldier, the sailor, and the ruler, so also the proper dress of the temperate man is what is plain, becoming, and clean." (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Christians taking to wearing all white, especially after Labor Day, would certainly make them stand out and appear very odd. However, in Clement's day, it was not that uncommon. Many people wore clothes of white or tan, simple cloths of natural color. Clement is not calling us to become an oddity in our communities but rather to prefer natural colors and fibers so that we will not be tempted into superfluity, extravagances, or dressing for show. Dress was to be plain, becoming, and clean; well suited for our life and meeting the purposes dress such as that for covering and warmth. Anything beyond this was excess whose end was not towards good for man and woman given to a life of holiness.
"As, then, signs, which are very closely allied to causes, by their presence indicate, or rather demonstrate, the existence of the result; as smoke is the sign of fire, and a good complexion and a regular pulse of health; so also clothing of this description shows the character of our habits. Temperance is pure and simple; since purity is a habit which ensures pure conduct unmixed with what is base. Simplicity is a habit which does away with superfluities... It also (temperance) is contented. And contentment is a habit which dispenses with superfluities, and, that there may be no failure, is receptive of what suffices for the healthful and blessed life according to the Word." (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Our cloths represent ourselves. Some cloths show forth our wealth and our love of finery. Others serve to align ourselves with a certain segment of society, for example, dress that is indicative of the Gothic subculture in America. Some dress shows our affinity for a group or cause that may or may not be in keeping with our Christian morals. For example, wearing a T-Shirt bearing the logo or likeness of a music group whose music and lyrics are decidedly anti-Christian. Clement calls us to chose dress that is in keeping with our Christian character, such as, purity, simplicity, and temperance. How can we claim a habit of purity when our dress states otherwise or how can we feign temperance when we use extravagance of dress?
"Let the women wear a plain and becoming dress, but softer than what is suitable for a man, yet not quite immodest or entirely gone in luxury. And let the garments be suited to age, person, figure, nature, pursuits. For the divine apostle most beautifully counsels us 'to put on Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the lusts of the flesh.'" (Clement of Alexandria, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Here is the end of the matter. The issue at hand is, how does our dress reflect upon our Christianity and upon Christ? If, when we got dressed each morning, we saw ourselves as "putting on" Christ, how would that change the way we dress? If we saw our dress as reflecting the degree to which we bear His image and likeness, how would that change our behavior as it relates to cloths? If we have experienced a change on the inside through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is it reasonable to assume that that change would also produce (and even necessitate) a change on the outside? Perhaps there does need to be a rethinking of our dress and how we present ourselves to the world.

David Robison

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