Friday, February 07, 2014

The Barbarous man - The Instructor on men embellishing the body

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.
"But the embellishment of smoothing (for I am warned by the Word), if it is to attract men, is the act of an effeminate person,—if to attract women, is the act of an adulterer; and both must be driven as far as possible from our society." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
So what is so wrong with men trying to rid their body of excess hair? Well, besides their battle against nature, the primary question must be "why?" If a man changes his appearance and behavior to attract other men, then he is tending to becoming of an effeminate man. However, if he does so to attract women, then he is behaving as a fornicator or adulterer. The problem is not the hair but that he does it for the purpose of attracting amorous desires either from men or women. Here in lies the true sin of what he is doing.
"The man, who would be beautiful, must adorn that which is the most beautiful thing in man, his mind, which every day he ought to exhibit in greater comeliness; and should pluck out not hairs, but lusts." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
The man who wishes to appear handsome should seek to improve his soul rather than his body. Here, Clement sees no difference between our mind and our soul. Our mind is the knowing part of our soul where we alternatingly resist and yield to the wishes and desires of the flesh. What makes a person ugly is not gray hair, but unrestrained lust. The goal and focus of our lives should be in the continual and incremental improvement of our souls in the resisting of sin and conforming to God's nature. In this way a man grows in beauty before God and men.
"Luxury has deranged all things; it has disgraced man. A luxurious niceness seeks everything, attempts everything, forces everything, coerces nature. Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature; women are at once wives and husbands: no passage is closed against libidinousness; and their promiscuous lechery is a public institution, and luxury is domesticated." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
The root cause of effeminacy among men and the blurring of the lines between what it means to be a man and a woman is, in Clement's day and opinion, luxury. Luxury makes us soft. It causes us to focus on external things rather than on the internal man or woman. It seeks pleasure, sensation, and pursues lust rather than developing habits of piety, purity, and the pursuit of God. It tells us that all is well within our lavish existence while hiding from us the truth about our inward darkness and need as it cloaks us within its finery. Clement once wrote, "nothing is more pernicious to the soul than uninterrupted pleasure." (Salvation of the Rich Man, Chapter 41)
"Of the nations, the Celts and Scythians wear their hair long, but do not deck themselves. The bushy hair of the barbarian has something fearful in it; and its auburn colour threatens war, the hue being somewhat akin to blood. Both these barbarian races hate luxury... and leaving its luxurious ease, the Scythian man leads a frugal life... Man may, though naked in body, address the Lord. But I approve the simplicity of the barbarians: loving an unencumbered life, the barbarians have abandoned luxury. Such the Lord calls us to be—naked of finery, naked of vanity, wrenched from our sins, bearing only the wood of life, aiming only at salvation." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 3)
By the very definition of the term "barbarian" we refer to such people as being inferior to us, in culture, society, wealth, and refinement. We have risen above such primitive lifestyles, our lives of ease have given us time to pursue the finer things in life, we are no longer burdened down with necessities of everyday life since there is little that we lack. However, in being lifted up to lives of luxury, we have become soft and easy prey for the diseases of our souls. We have become snared by our many possessions and have lost the freedom of an unencumbered life. There is something to be admired of the barbarian life, of a life that is free from the entanglement of "things." As long as we are addicted to luxury we will never arrive at the place where we are free from vanity and the sins that so often plague us. Let us cast of such things and return to holier pursuits, such as the pursuit of God and His Kingdom.

David Robison

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