Friday, February 28, 2014

Finger 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, then, permits them a finger-ring of gold. Nor is this for ornament, but for sealing things which are worth keeping safe in the house in the exercise of their charge of housekeeping. For if all were well trained, there would be no need of seals, if servants and masters were equally honest. But since want of training produces an inclination to dishonesty, we require seals... And if it is necessary for us, while engaged in public business, or discharging other avocations in the country, and often away from our wives, to seal anything for the sake of safety, He (the Word) allows us a signet for this purpose only. Other finger-rings are to be cast off, since, according to the Scripture, 'instruction is a golden ornament for a wise man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Signet rings were rings that bore an image that when pressed against an object, or dipped in some form of ink, left a recognizable impression behind. They were used for many different purposes in Clement's day. They were used to conduct business by either signing a document or sealing correspondence. They were also used to indicate that the bearer had authority to conduct business on behalf of the one whose signet ring they wore. Finally, they were also used to mark objects as being owned by the wearer so as to prevent theft or enable the recovery of lost or stolen object. In Clement's mind, simplicity and frugality demanded that things be valued based on their utility rather than their vanity. Because signet rings served a purpose, they were allowed, as opposed to other rings whose use was merely for show.
"But there are circumstances in which this strictness may relaxed. For allowance must sometimes be made in favour of those women who have not been fortunate in falling in with chaste husbands, and adorn themselves in order to please their husbands. But let desire for the admiration of their husbands alone be proposed as their aim. I would not have them to devote themselves to personal display, but to attract their husbands by chaste love for them—a powerful and legitimate charm. But since they wish their wives to be unhappy in mind, let the latter, if they would be chaste, make it their aim to allay by degrees the irrational impulses and passions of their husbands. And they are to be gently drawn to simplicity, by gradually accustoming them to sobriety. For decency is not produced by the imposition of what is burdensome, but by the abstraction of excess." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Clement understood that not all women were fortunate enough to be married to a good and understanding husband, rather they were married to husbands who would make demands or have expectations regarding how their wives should dress in order to please them. Their concern was not for their wife but themselves, to please themselves rather than pleasing their wife. These were men who could only see the outer beauty and were ignorant of their wive's true beauty, a beauty that lay within. Clement understood that, in such cases, marital harmony and bliss were to trump frugality and simplicity, thus allowing the wife to respond in a proper and chase way to her husband. However, such compliance was to have as its goal the winning over of her husband to a view that is more godlike and more representative of the Gospel she espouses, and that such persuasion should be gentle and gradual, not forced and coerced. As Peter put it, "In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior." (1 Peter 3:1-2)

That being said, as husbands we must take care not to grieve our wive or make them "unhappy in mind." When we lay expectations and demands on our wives, especially as relates to external dress or appearances, we impugn their true beauty and treat them as less than human and as being inferior in their creation by God. Often, as men, we hold the key to our wives heath of mind, her self image, and her joy in her marriage to us. We must always see them as God does, for the beautiful work of creation they are, and always seek to release them from our carnal expectations of them, that they may be free to become whom God has called them to be.
"But women who wear gold seem to me to be afraid, lest, if one strip them of their jewellery, they should be taken for servants, without their ornaments. But the nobility of truth, discovered in the native beauty which has its seat in the soul, judges the slave not by buying and selling, but by a servile disposition. And it is incumbent on us not to seem, but to be free, trained by God, adopted by God. Wherefore we must adopt a mode of standing and motion, and a step, and dress, and in a word, a mode of life, in all respects as worthy as possible of freemen." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Sometimes our outward comportment is, either consciously or unconsciously, done for the purpose of making sure people see us for who we are (or wish we are) or in an attempt to portray ourselves in a particular light. For example, people who dress flashy or with much finery so that people will see and understand that they are wealthy. However, doing so only serves to show our own insecurities about who we are and our need for people to see us and to approve of us. If we understand that Jesus knows us and accepts us, why do we seek the recognition and acceptance of men?

My dad has a PhD and was department chair at the college in our town. However, having nine children, he and my mom did a morning paper route for several years to make ends meet. During the route they would stop in at a for a cup of coffee at a local hangout that was frequented by many of the farmers in our area. Dressed for delivering papers, when he told them he worked at the college they just assumed he worked on the grounds or doing maintenance, not knowing he was a highly educated and popular teacher on campus. Their failure to recognize his as a teach always amused him and he never told them the truth. He just kept on letting them believe he was the janitor and enjoyed his coffee with them. When you are secure in God's love for you, you care little about what others think.

Finally, Clement urges us to adopt a way of life that would express outwardly the inward reality we possess. Paul put it this way, "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." (Ephesians 4:1) We are called to live a life that is worthy of our calling in God; not that we might become worthy, but because we already are worth. Everything about us, how we walk, carry ourselves, speak, interact with others, dress, eat, relax, should all be done in a way that shows forth the truth of who we are and in a way that brings glory to God. It is not enough to conceal righteousness within us, we are to, as Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) All of our life and all that we do are holy, therefore let this be the guiding truth in all we do and who we are.

David Robison

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