Saturday, March 01, 2014

Hair - 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.
"About the hair, the following seems right. Let the head of men be shaven, unless it has curly hair. But let the chin have the hair. But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets. For an ample beard suffices for men. And if one, too, shave a part of his beard, it must not be made entirely bare, for this is a disgraceful sight... Since cropping is to be adopted not for the sake of elegance, but on account of the necessity of the case; the hair of the head, that it may not grow so long as to come down and interfere with the eyes, and that of the moustache similarly, which is dirtied in eating, is to be cut round, not by the razor, for that were not well-bred, but by a pair of cropping scissors. But the hair on the chin is not to be disturbed, as it gives no trouble, and lends to the face dignity and paternal terror." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
It is interesting to note that Clement qualifies this section saying, "the following seems right." Based on what he has said to this point and the things he has adduced from the scriptures, the following admonition, at least in his mind, seem fair and right. It is also easy to see his biases when it comes to external appearances: Men should be manly and dress and grooming done to the extent of usefulness. The hair is to be trimmed as to not interfere with daily work and the mustache so that it does not interfere with eating. However, the beard is to be left alone for, among other reasons, dignity and "parental terror." Parents should look and act like parents and, for the father, a beard was a useful look.
"It is enough for women to protect their locks, and bind up their hair simply along the neck with a plain hair-pin, nourishing chaste locks with simple care to true beauty. For meretricious plaiting of the hair, and putting it up in tresses, contribute to make them look ugly, cutting the hair and plucking off it those treacherous braidings; on account of which they do not touch their head, being afraid of disordering their hair. Sleep, too, comes on, not without fear lest they pull down without knowing the shape of the braid." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Similarly, Clement admonishes a women to dress and groom becomingly, but without the trappings of luxury or superfluity. Also, women should be free from any anxiety relating to their appearance or dress, such as afraid to sleep at night lest they mess up their hair. Jesus came to free our anxious heart. It is therefore dishonoring to God to voluntarily return to a manor of living where we are once again anxious about our looks and outward appearance.
"Consequently neither is the hair to be dyed, nor grey hair to have its colour changed. For neither are we allowed to diversify our dress. And above all, old age, which conciliates trust, is not to be concealed. But God’s mark of honour is to be shown in the light of day, to win the reverence of the young. For sometimes, when they have been behaving shamefully, the appearance of hoary hairs, arriving like an instructor, has changed them to sobriety, and paralyzed juvenile lust with the splendour of the sight." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 11)
Finally, we should not fear growing old, for there is honor in age. Sirach said, "Wisdom concealed, and treasure undiscovered, what use is either of these?" (Sirach 20:30) I understand people who are prematurely gray and want to cover it up, but there is also a dignity that comes with age and a wisdom that is needed by the young. There comes a time in our lives where we must set aside vanity and rejoice in our maturity and to delight in the years God has given us and in the days we have had to spend walking with Him. Being old is not something to be dreaded of hidden, especially if it is accompanied by wisdom. Do not fear to let others see your age. Perhaps they may find the boldness to seek from you the wisdom they need for their youth.

David Robison

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