Thursday, February 20, 2014

Public Bathing - The Instructor on why we use 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.
"There are, then, four reasons for the bath (for from that point I digressed in my oration), for which we frequent it: for cleanliness, or heat, or health, or lastly, for pleasure. Bathing for pleasure is to be omitted. For unblushing pleasure must be cut out by the roots; and the bath is to be taken by women for cleanliness and health, by men for health alone. To bathe for the sake of heat is a superfluity, since one may restore what is frozen by the cold in other ways... Unless, then, the bath is for some use, we ought not to indulge in it." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
Clement is not talking about showering in the privacy of your own home, but the habit in his day of people frequenting public bathing houses where men and women bathed together in view of each other. Here we see clearly Clement's view that that which is done for pleasure only aught to be rejected by those who have the Spirit of Truth living inside them. To sacrifice modesty for the sake of pleasure is to loose in the exchange; giving up something of great value for that which has not lasting value here or in the life to come. Bathing for utility is permitted, as it benefits the body, but bathing for pleasure is luxury and aught to be avoided.

I do find it funny the women are allowed to bathe for cleanliness and health, but men for health alone. Clement have a very rugged view of men and found any effeminacy in men offensive. Women were to be women and men were to be men, even if they stank.
"For we must not so use the bath as to require an assistant, nor are we to bathe constantly and often in the day as we frequent the market-place. But to have the water poured over us by several people is an outrage on our neighbours, through fondness for luxuriousness, and is done by those who will not understand that the bath is common to all the bathers equally." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
Again, we must remind ourselves that Clement is not talking about hygiene or showering at home but the use of public bath houses. For some, the bath houses had become a way of life, frequenting them as often as they went to the market, not for the benefit to the body but for the pleasure of the soul. Such pleasure had at its root sensuality and an abandonment of modesty. In pursuing pleasure, the bathers did not care who saw them or who attended to their body, pleasure was first, modesty could wait outside the doors.
"But most of all is it necessary to wash the soul in the cleansing Word (sometimes the body too, on account of the dirt which gathers and grows to it, sometimes also to relieve fatigue)... The best bath, then, is what rubs off the pollution of the soul, and is spiritual... The bathing which is carnal, that is to say, of the body, is accomplished by water alone, as often in the country where there is not a bath." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 9)
There is a place for hygiene, but it is at home, or at least away from prying eyes, where modesty can be maintained. It is also simple, tending to the needs of the body without inciting the lusts of the flesh. Luxury and the desire for pleasure are the enemies of modesty and dignity. Their path never leads to truth, happiness, or life but only death, destruction, and loss. Far better to be simple and pure than lavish and polluted.

David Robison

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