Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ear Rings - 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 Word prohibits us from doing violence to nature by boring the lobes of the ears. For why not the nose too?—so that, what was spoken, may be fulfilled: 'As an ear-ring in a swine’s nose, so is beauty to a woman without discretion.' For, in a word, if one thinks himself made beautiful by gold, he is inferior to gold; and he that is inferior to gold is not lord of it. But to confess one’s self less ornamental than the Lydian ore, how monstrous! As, then, the gold is polluted by the dirtiness of the sow, which stirs up the mire with her snout, so those women that are luxurious to excess in their wantonness, elated by wealth, dishonour by the stains of amatory indulgences what is the true beauty." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
It is hard for us to understand Clement's concerns with jewelry when we live in a culture where such ornamentation is so common place and, in many ways, taken for granted. In Clement's day, such display of jewelry were mainly reserved for the very right and the meretricious. Still, Clement's concerns center around two issues of the heart.

The first is how we perceive nature and what is "natural." Clement believed that there is that which nature can teach is about how we aught to live. Appropriating God's wisdom is, in part, about understanding how we were made and how we were meant to live. A life of righteousness is not just right because it is conformant with God's laws, but it is right because it is conformant with how God made us to live. To live according to our God given "nature" is to live rightly and according to righteousness since we were made for righteousness and not sin.

This idea that nature has something to teach us was an idea that Paul taught as well. "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering." (1 Corinthians 11:14-15) In Clement's mind, understanding that we were created a certain way, it would be wrong to do "violence" to our created nature. In other words, why should we pierce what nature had not pierced.

Certainly this may be a debatable point, but still it is a thought worth considering. Most believers believe in the sanctity of life, but is there also a sanctity of nature? This question becomes even more poignant when we combine it with Clements second heart issue: the false assumption that we must dress up the body to be beautiful. When we believe that we need jewelry and ornamentation to become beautiful, we not only devalue ourselves but also the work of God, that being our bodies. At what point does our attempts to dress up the body become dishonorable to God? At what point does it become pride to presume that we know better than God what it means to be beautiful? In our attempts to "modify" our bodies by piercing and other methods do we condemn God as having created that which is less than beautiful?

Each of us must decide regarding our outward appearance as to what is honorable and pleasing to the Lord, but such a decision can only find truth with God once we come to understand and accept that He has created us and we are beautiful in His sight. Only when we are secure in His love and His estimation of us are we free to decide regarding the matters of the body and of beauty.

David Robison

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