Saturday, February 01, 2014

Looking good - The Instructor on True Beauty

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.
"Love of ornament has degenerated to wantonness... Passions break out, pleasures overflow; beauty fades, and falls quicker than the leaf on the ground, when the amorous storms of lust blow on it before the coming of autumn, and is withered by destruction. For lust becomes and fabricates all things, and wishes to cheat, so as to conceal the man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
When one begins to feel the necessity or arraying themselves with finery to be seen as beautiful by men, they take their first steps down a slippery road lined with precipitous cliffs and other dangers. The end of this road leads not to God but to sensuality, lusts, passions, and wantonness. When we adorn ourselves in an attempt to please the eyes of men we turn our hearts away from true beauty and accept instead a counterfeit beauty; a beauty that is merely external, a beauty that simply hides the ugliness that is with in. In the end, we may look beautiful outwardly but our inward appearance grows uglier and uglier day by day,
"But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
There is a true beauty that belongs only to the men and women of God; to those who have the living Word dwelling within them. True beauty is not external but radiates from within. The one who is truly beautiful does not worry about external ornaments for they server only to hide their true beauty. While there is a natural beauty to a man's soul, this beauty is magnified to true beauty when it is mixed with the Spirit of God; when together they shine forth like the radiant beauty of the sun. To be truly beautiful one must be truly alive and to be truly alive one must have God inside.

So what is true beauty? Clement identifies two components of beauty.
"But the compassionate God Himself set the flesh free, and releasing it from destruction, and from bitter and deadly bondage, endowed it with incorruptibility, arraying the flesh in this, the holy embellishment of eternity—immortality." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
The first component of beauty is immortality. The immortal person cares less for this life and more for the life to come. They are not bound up in the cares of this world nor are they entangled in the affairs of men. Yes, they live in this world but they live as if they are just strangers passing through; as people who know their true destination and who are not afraid of the journey. They are people who are truly alive because they know death has no hold on them.
"There is, too, another beauty of men—love. 'And love,' according to the apostle, 'suffers long, and is kind; envieth not; vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.' For the decking of one’s self out—carrying, as it does, the look of superfluity and uselessness—is vaunting one’s self. Wherefore he adds... 'seeketh not,' it is said, 'what is not her own.' For truth calls that its own which belongs to it; but the love of finery seeks what is not its own, being apart from God, and the Word, from love." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
The second component of beauty is love. However, this love is not a feeling or emotion but an action. It is a love that shows itself in goodness and kindness towards others. It is a love that expresses God's love for others, for that is what it really is. The beauty of love can never be compared to the beauty of mere flesh or form. Such may entice our eyes but love pulls on our souls. One produces a response of desire and lust while the other of gratitude and affection. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." (John 3:16) God's love was shown in action. This is the true beauty of love.
"And that the Lord Himself was uncomely in aspect, the Spirit testifies by Esaias: 'And we saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness but His form was mean, inferior to men.' Yet who was more admirable than the Lord? But it was not the beauty of the flesh visible to the eye, but the true beauty of both soul and body, which He exhibited, which in the former is beneficence; in the latter—that is, the flesh—immortality." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
Some will never see beyond the flesh and form, but this is their loss. Some, looking only on the outward appearance will only ever see the counterfeit and never true beauty. It is said of Jesus Himself that He was not much to look at; that he had no outward appearance that we should take notice of Him, yet His true beauty lay inside. Some looking only on the figure never saw the beauty that God came to express to men. Jesus' form bore no comeliness yet he possessed true beauty: immortality and beneficence. Let the same be said of us.

David Robison

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