Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The food of daemons - The Instructor on eating

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.
"At this point, too, we have to advert to what are called things sacrificed to idols, in order to show how we are enjoined to abstain from them. Polluted and abominable those things seem to me, to the blood of which, fly 'Souls from Erebus of inanimate corpses.' 'For I would not that ye should have fellowship with demons,' says the apostle; since the food of those who are saved and those who perish is separate. We must therefore abstain from these viands not for fear (because there is no power in them); but on account of our conscience, which is holy, and out of detestation of the demons to which they are dedicated, are we to loathe them; and further, on account of the instability of those who regard many things in a way that makes them prone to fall, 'whose conscience, being weak, is defiled: for meat commendeth us not to God.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Today, in most western cultures, it is completely foreign to see meat dedicated to idols, but in Clement's day it was very common. Meat that was sold in the marketplace was often first dedicated to an idol and there were often great meals shared publicly which were thrown in honor of one idol or another. It was these meats and ceremonies that Clement was addressing. However, even today, we have places where food and drink are offered with a purpose towards debauchery. For example, some bars and night clubs are know for their excesses and their tendency towards sin. Even some restaurants employ women to dress revealing for the entertainment of their lusting customers. As Christians we must ask ourselves these same questions. Is it right (rather than lawful) for a christian to frequent places where sin and dissipation are prevalent? Is it not a kinship to earlier Christians who faced the same decision regarding going to feasts held in a daemon's honor?
"The natural use of food is then indifferent. 'For neither if we eat are we the better,' it is said, 'nor if we eat not are we the worse.' But it is inconsistent with reason, for those that have been made worthy to share divine and spiritual food, to partake of the tables of demons. 'Have we not power to eat and to drink,' says the apostle, 'and to lead about wives'? But by keeping pleasures under command we prevent lusts. See, then, that this power of yours never 'become a stumbling-block to the weak." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Food is amoral, it is neither good or evil, but it is our actions and attitudes that makes it use evil or good. What place does a christian have among those who are seeking defilement? Yes, there is no law against it and we do not sin if we go, but to what end and to what cost? Should we pursue pleasures even if our brother who is weak is destroyed in the process (let alone us if we yield to the temptation all around us)? Are we really going out of some righteous desire or out of an unwillingness to rule over our lusts?
"For it were not seemly that we, after the fashion of the rich man’s son in the Gospel, should, as prodigals, abuse the Father’s gifts; but we should use them, without undue attachment to them, as having command over ourselves. For we are enjoined to reign and rule over meats, not to be slaves to them... But totally irrational, futile, and not human is it for those that are of the earth, fattening themselves like cattle, to feed themselves up for death; looking downwards on the earth, and bending ever over tables; leading a life of gluttony; burying all the good of existence here in a life that by and by will end; courting voracity alone, in respect to which cooks are held in higher esteem than husbandmen." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Food is not the issue here but our misuse of it, both personally and socially. When food becomes the focus of our lives and our social intercourse then we misuse what God has given us and replace love and communications with brutish consumption.
"For we do not abolish social intercourse, but look with suspicion on the snares of custom, and regard them as a calamity... We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only are not to be taken up about them. We are to partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us, by a harmless and moderate participation in the social meeting; regarding the sumptuousness of what is put on the table as a matter of indifference, despising the dainties, as after a little destined to perish... So that the right food is thanksgiving. And he who gives thanks does not occupy his time in pleasures. And if we would persuade any of our fellow-guests to virtue, we are all the more on this account to abstain from those dainty dishes; and so exhibit ourselves as a bright pattern of virtue, such as we ourselves have in Christ." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
To completely shun all the sin and defilement of the world we would altogether need to completely separate ourselves from the world, yet this is not what God has asked of us. If we were to hold ourselves separate, then how would anyone hear of Christ? However, while being in the world we do not need to take part of its lusts and attitudes. Our behavior in mixing with the world should be based on love and not a desire for worldly things. If we chose to have dinner with our unbelieving neighbor we should do so out of a kindred love for them as fellow creatures of God. We should not desire their food more than their company; we should love them more than their food.
"If one partakes of them, he does not sin. Only let him partake temperately, not dependent on them, nor gaping after fine fare. For a voice will whisper to him, saying, 'Destroy not the work of God for the sake of food.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 2, Chapter 1)
Let us pursue the work of God with fervency and food only for our necessity.

David Robison

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