Saturday, December 07, 2013

How to drink wine - The Instructor on drinking

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 the introduction to Book 2 of The Instructor as it give advice on how to understand Clement and his writings.
"It is fitting, then, that some apply wine by way of physic, for the sake of health alone, and others for purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. For first wine makes the man who has drunk it more benignant than before, more agreeable to his boon companions, kinder to his domestics, and more pleasant to his friends. But when intoxicated, he becomes violent instead." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
Wine is one of the many gifts from God. Even King Lemuel wrote, "Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his trouble no more." (Proverbs 31:6-7) The partaking of wine can be enjoyable and pleasant, yet, in its abuse, it can bring swift and certain destruction. How many men have lost life, wealth, health, and family through the abuse and addiction to strong drink? While a little drink may make us more agreeable to those around us, an excess always brings out the worst in us and leads to the destruction of families, wealth, and futures.
"It has therefore been well said, 'A joy of the soul and heart was wine created from the beginning, when drunk in moderate sufficiency.' And it is best to mix the wine with as much water as possible, and not to have recourse to it as to water, and so get enervated to drunkenness, and not pour it in as water from love of wine. For both are works of God; and so the mixture of both, of water and of wine, conduces together to health, because life consists of what is necessary and of what is useful. With water, then, which is the necessary of life, and to be used in abundance, there is also to be mixed the useful." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
I must admit that I grew up in a "dry" home and drinking has never been a part of my lifestyle, so when talking about mixing water with wine, I am in no way an expert. However, it appears to me that Clement is drawing a distinction between drinking for wine and drinking for alcohol. Are we drinking because we enjoy wine or are we drinking because we enjoy getting drunk? Drinking out of an enjoyment of wine still requires wisdom not to drink to excess or drunkenness. However, the one who drinks to get drunk stands condemned even before he drinks, have already sinned in his heart before he ever gets drunk.
"Wherefore most people say that you ought to relax over your cups, and postpone serious business till morning. I however think that then especially ought reason to be introduced to mix in the feast, to act the part of director (pædagogue) to wine-drinking, lest conviviality imperceptibly degenerate to drunkenness...But the miserable wretches who expel temperance from conviviality, think excess in drinking to be the happiest life; and their life is nothing but revel, debauchery, baths, excess, urinals, idleness, drink. You may see some of them, half-drunk, staggering, with crowns round their necks like wine jars, vomiting drink on one another in the name of good fellowship; and others, full of the effects of their debauch, dirty, pale in the face, livid, and still above yesterday’s bout pouring another bout to last till next morning." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
It is always good to have wisdom present when drinking wine or other strong drink. However some see such feasts and parties as a time to cast off all restraint and to disregard wisdom in an empty pursuit of drunkenness. I'm sure that many can relate to the year end office Christmas party where those who are otherwise well reasoned cast of all reason in their pursuit of alcohol, bringing shame to themselves even though they will not remember it in the morning. If, and when, we choose to drink, we must always seek the pleasant company of wisdom, self-restraint, and temperance. We must never "coat check" our wisdom at the door of the party!
"Such a life as this (if life it must be called, which is spent in idleness, in agitation about voluptuous indulgences, and in the hallucinations of debauchery) the divine Wisdom looks on with contempt, and commands her children, 'Be not a wine-bibber, nor spend your money in the purchase of flesh; for every drunkard and fornicator shall come to beggary, and every sluggard shall be clothed in tatters and rags.' For every one that is not awake to wisdom, but is steeped in wine, is a sluggard. 'And the drunkard,' he says, 'shall be clothed in rags, and be ashamed of his drunkenness in the presence of onlookers.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 2)
What defines our life? Is it partying, feasting, and drinking or is it such virtues that speak of our dignity, worth, and honor such as temperance, wisdom, gentleness, self-control, and others? God has called us to a life that is abundant and full of purpose. Therefore why should we spend it on prodigal living, both destroying both our present life and the good life yet to come? If we choose to drink, do so with wisdom and in the fear of God, lest we too become like one of them, being destitute of that which is truly life.

David Robison

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