We began this series, A Reading Plan for Christian Apologists, 18 months ago for the purpose of emphasizing the importance of reading for apologists –
“Christian apologists must be thinkers. That means they must also be readers. Thinkers read. Readers think. The goal is to become a better thinker for the purpose of becoming a better truth communicator with both Christians and non-Christians. The goal is not to keep what you learn to yourself or amaze your friends with “feats” of knowledge. The goal has not changed since Jesus and His apostles told Christians what to do with the gifts the Lord gave them: 1. glorify God, 2. make disciples (teach them to obey Christ), and 3. equip the saints for their work of ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ (to name a few).” Reading Plan, June 2016
So far, we have published 23 articles that cover major Christian writings from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries. In our last two articles, we looked at the 3rd century writings of Hippolytus and Clement of Alexandria. We looked at Clement’s Exhortation to the Heathen and Paedagogus (The Instructor), Book I. We now turn to Books II & III.
Paedagogus, Book II
“KEEPING, then, to our aim, and selecting the Scriptures which bear on the usefulness of training for life, we must now compendiously describe what the man who is called a Christian ought to be during the whole of his life. We must accordingly begin with ourselves, and how we ought to regulate ourselves. We have therefore, preserving a due regard to the symmetry of this work, to say how each of us ought to conduct himself in respect to his body, or rather how to regulate the body itself. For whenever any one, who has been brought away by the Word from external things, and from attention to the body itself to the mind, acquires a clear view of what happens according to nature in man, he will know that he is not to be earnestly occupied about external things, but about what is proper and peculiar to man–to purge the eye of the soul, and to sanctify also his flesh. For he that is clean rid of those things which constitute him still dust, what else has he more serviceable than himself for walking in the way which leads to the comprehension of God.” Chapter II
In light of both Old and New Testament writings, it’s not surprising that an early 3rd century Christian leader would write about such topics as how Christians should eat, drink, use costly vessels, conduct themselves at feasts, abstain from filthy speaking, be modest in public, how to deal with physical pleasures, how to dress appropriately, and not have an excessive fondness for jewels and gold ornaments.
The issue of luxury is a key issue in Clement’s advice to Christians –
“Wherefore also there is discrimination to be employed in reference to food. And it is to be simple, truly plain, suiting precisely simple and artless children–as ministering to life, not to luxury. And the life to which it conduces consists of two things–health and strength; to which plainness of fare is most suitable, being conducive both to digestion and lightness of body, from which come growth, and health, and right strength, not strength that is wrong or dangerous and wretched, as is that of athletes produced by compulsory feeding.” Chapter I
“As wine, when taken, makes people lovers of it, so does water too. The Holy Spirit, uttering His voice by Amos, pronounces the rich to be wretched on account of their luxury: “Those that drink strained wine, and recline on an ivory couch,” he says; and what else similar he adds by way of reproach.” Chapter II
“And silver couches, and pans and vinegar-saucers, and trenchers and bowls; and besides these, vessels of saver and gold, some for serving food, and others for other uses which I am ashamed to name, of easily cleft cedar and thyine wood, and ebony, and tripods fashioned of ivory, and couches with silver feet and inlaid with ivory, and folding-doors of beds studded with gold and variegated with tortoise-shell, and bed-clothes of purple and other colours difficult to produce, proofs of tasteless luxury, cunning devices of envy and effeminacy,–are all to be relinquished, as having nothing whatever worth our pains. “For the time is short,” as says the apostle. This then remains that we do not make a ridiculous figure, as some are seen in the public spectacles outwardly anointed strikingly for imposing effect, but wretched within. Explaining this more clearly, he adds,” It remains that they that have wives be as though they had none, and they that buy as though they possessed not.” And ff he speaks thus of marriage, in reference to which God says, “Multiply,” how do you not think that senseless display is by the Lord’s authority to be banished? Wherefore also the Lord says, “Sell what thou hast, and give to the poor; and come, follow me.” Chapter III
“Wherefore neither are we to provide for ourselves costly clothing any more than variety of food. The Lord Himself, therefore, dividing His precepts into what relates to the body, the soul, and thirdly, external things, counsels us to provide external things on account of the body; and manages the body by the soul (yukh), and disciplines the soul, saying, “Take no thought for your life (yukh) what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on; for the life is more than meat, and the body more than raiment.” And He adds a plain example of instruction: “Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them.” “Are ye not better than the fowls?” Thus far as to food. Similarly He enjoins with respect to clothing, which belongs to the third division, that of things external, saying, “Consider the lilies, how they spin not, nor weave. But I say unto you, that not even Solomon was arrayed as one of these.” And Solomon the king plumed himself exceedingly on his riches.
What, I ask, more graceful, more gay-coloured, than flowers? What, I say, more delightful than lilies or roses? “And if God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O ye of little faith!” Here the particle what (ti) banishes variety in food. For this is shown from the Scripture, “Take no thought what things ye shall eat, or what things ye shall drink.” For to take thought of these things argues greed and luxury. Now eating, considered merely by itself, is the sign of necessity; repletion, as we have said, of want. Whatever is beyond that, is the sign of superfluity. And what is superfluous, Scripture declares to be of the devil. The subjoined expression makes the meaning plain. For having said, “Seek not what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink,” He added, “Neither be ye of doubtful (or lofty) mind.” Now pride and luxury make men waverers (or raise them aloft) from the truth; and the voluptuousness, which indulges in superfluities, leads away from the truth. Wherefore He says very beautifully, “And all these things do the nations of the world seek after.” The nations are the dissolute and the foolish. And what are these things which He specifies? Luxury, voluptuousness, rich cooking, dainty feeding, gluttony. These are the “What?”
And of bare sustenance, dry and moist, as being necessaries He says, “Your Father knoweth that ye need these.” And if, in a word, we are naturally given to seeking, let us not destroy the faculty of seeking by directing it to luxury, but let us excite it to the discovery of truth. For He says, “Seek ye the kingdom of God, and the materials of sustenance shall be added to you.” Chapter XI
“But you also oppose Scripture, seeing it expressly cries “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.” But if all things have been conferred on you, and all things allowed you, and “if all things are lawful, yet all things are not expedient,” says the apostle. God brought our race into communion by first imparting what was His own, when He gave His own Word, common to all, and made all things for all. All things therefore are common, and not for the rich to appropriate an undue share. That expression, therefore, “I possess, and possess in abundance: why then should I not enjoy?” is suitable neither to the man, nor to society. But more worthy of love is that: “I have: why should I not give to those who need?” For such an one–one who fulfils the command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”–is perfect. For this is the true luxury–the treasured wealth. But that which is squandered on foolish lusts is to be reckoned waste, not expenditure. For God has given to us, I know well, the liberty of use, but only so far as necessary; and He has determined that the use should be common. And it is monstrous for one to live in luxury, while many are in want. How much more glorious is it to do good to many, than to live sumptuously! How much wiser to spend money on human being, than on jewels and gold! How much more useful to acquire decorous friends, than lifeless ornaments! Whom have lands ever benefited so much as conferring favours has? It remains for us, therefore, to do away with this allegation: Who, then, will have the more sumptuous things, if all select the simpler? Men, I would say, if they make use of them impartially and indifferently. But if it be impossible for all to exercise self-restraint, yet, with a view to the use of what is necessary, we must seek after what can be most readily procured, bidding a long farewell to these superfluities.” Chapter XIII
Paedagogus, Book III
Clement of Alexandria continued his theme of holy living in Book III by addressing the issues of true beauty, excessive embellishing of the body and themselves, with whom to associate, behavior in the public baths, personal wealth, exercises suited to a good life, and temperance in all things. Here’s how Clement introduced the concept of True Beauty –
“It is then, as appears, the greatest of all lessons to know one’s self. For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God, not by wearing gold or long robes, but by well-doing, and by requiring as few things as possible.
Now, God alone is in need of nothing, and rejoices most when He sees us bright with the ornament of intelligence; and then, too, rejoices in him who is arrayed in chastity, the sacred stole of the body. Since then the soul consists of three divisions; the intellect, which is called the reasoning faculty, is the inner man, which is the ruler of this man that is seen. And that one, in another respect, God guides. But the irascible part, being brutal, dwells near to insanity. And appetite, which is the third department, is many-shaped above Proteus, the varying sea-god, who changed himself now into one shape, now into another; and it allures to adulteries, to licentiousness, to seductions.” Chapter I
Clement of Alexandria also expressed concerns about luxury among Christians in Book III. As we read about the behavior of men and women in the 3rd century, we quickly see how things have not changed much in 18 centuries.
“So those women who wear gold, occupying themselves in curling at their locks, and engaged in anointing their cheeks, painting their eyes, and dyeing their hair, and practising the other pernicious arts of luxury, decking the covering of flesh,–in truth, imitate the Egyptians, in order to attract their infatuated lovers.” Chapter II
“To such an extent, then, has luxury advanced, that not only are the female sex deranged about this frivolous pursuit, but men also are infected with the disease. For not being free of the love of finery, they are not in health; but inclining to voluptuousness, they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike and meretricious way, clothed in fine and transparent garments, chewing mastich, smelling of l perfume. What can one say on seeing them? Like one who judges people by their foreheads, he will divine them to be adulterers and effeminate, addicted to both kinds of venery, haters of hair, destitute of hair, detesting the bloom of manliness, and adorning their locks like women. “Living for unholy acts of audacity, these fickle wretches do reckless and nefarious deeds,” says the Sibyl. For their service the towns are full of those who take out hair by pitch-plasters, shave, and pluck out hairs from these womanish creatures. And shops are erected and opened everywhere; and adepts at this meretricious fornication make a deal of money openly by those who plaster themselves, and give their hair to be pulled out in all ways by those who make it their trade, feeling no shame before the onlookers or those who approach, nor before themselves, being men. Such are those addicted to base passions, whose whole body is made smooth by the violent tuggings of pitch-plasters. It is utterly impossible to get beyond such effrontery. If nothing is left undone by them, neither shall anything be left unspoken by me. Diogenes, when he was being sold, chiding like a teacher one of these degenerate creatures, said very manfully, “Come, youngster, buy for yourself a man,” chastising his meretriciousness by an ambiguous speech. But for those who are men to shave and smooth themselves, how ignoble! As for dyeing of hair, and anointing of grey locks, and dyeing them yellow, these are practices of abandoned effeminates; and their feminine combing of themselves is a thing to be let alone. For they think, that like serpents they divest themselves of the old age of their head by painting and renovating themselves. But though they do doctor the hair cleverly, they will not escape wrinkles, nor will they elude death by tricking time. For it is notre dreadful, it is not dreadful to appear old, when you are not able to shut your eyes to the fact that you are so.” Chapter III
“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. O miserable spectacle! horrible conduct! Such are the trophies of your social licentiousness which are exhibited: the evidence of these deeds are the prostitutes. Alas for such wickedness! Besides, the wretches know not how many tragedies the uncertainty of intercourse produces. For fathers, unmindful of children of theirs that have been exposed, often without their knowledge, have intercourse with a son that has debauched himself, and daughters that are prostitutes; and licence in lust shows them to be the men that have begotten them.” Chapter III
“Riches are then to be partaken of rationally, bestowed lovingly, not sordidly, or pompously; nor is the love of the beautiful to be turned into self-love and ostentation; lest perchance some one say to us, “His horse, or land, or domestic, or gold, is worth fifteen talents; but the man himself is dear at three coppers.”
Take away, then, directly the ornaments from women, and domestics from masters, and you will find masters in no respect different from bought slaves in step, or look, or voice, so like are they to their slaves. But they differ in that they are feebler than their slaves, and have a more sickly upbringing.” Chapter VI
“Wherefore the wearing of gold and the use of softer clothing is not to be entirely prohibited. But irrational impulses must be curbed, lest, carrying us away through excessive relaxation, they impel us to voluptuousness. For luxury, that has dashed on to surfeit, is prone to kick up its heels and toss its mane, and shake off the charioteer, the Instructor; who, pulling back the reins from far, leads and drives to salvation the human horse–that is, the irrational part of the soul–which is wildly bent on pleasures, and vicious appetites, and precious stones, and gold, and variety of dress, and other luxuries.” Chapter XI
Paedagogus (The Instructor) contains amazing insights into the challenges of being a Christian in the 3rd century and reminds us that those same challenges face us now in the 21st century. May we live to the glory of God as His ambassadors on earth.