Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chap. IX.—On Sleep.
Chap. IX.—On Sleep.
How, in due course, we are to go to sleep, in remembrance of the precepts of temperance, we must now say. For after the repast, having given thanks to God for our participation in our enjoyments, and for the [happy] passing of the day, 1477 our talk must be turned to sleep. Magnificence of bed-clothes, gold-embroidered carpets, and smooth carpets worked with gold, and long fine robes of purple, and costly fleecy cloaks, and manufactured rugs of purple, and mantles of thick pile, and couches softer than sleep, are to be banished.
For, besides the reproach of voluptuousness, sleeping on downy feathers is injurious, when our bodies fall down as into a yawning hollow, on account of the softness of the bedding.
For they are not convenient for sleepers turning in them, on account of the bed rising into a hill on either side of the body. Nor are they suitable for the digestion of the food, but rather for burning it up, and so destroying the nutriment. But stretching ones self on even couches, affording a kind of natural gymnasium for sleep, contributes to the digestion of the food. And those that can roll on other beds, having this, as it were, for a natural gymnasium for sleep, digest food more easily, and render themselves fitter for emergencies. Moreover, silver-footed couches argue great ostentation; and the ivory on beds, the body having left the soul, 1478 is not permissible for holy men, being a lazy contrivance for rest.p. 258
We must not occupy our thoughts about these things, for the use of them is not forbidden to those who possess them; but solicitude about them is prohibited, for happiness is not to be found in them. On the other hand, it savours of cynic vanity for a man to act as Diomede,—“And he stretched himself under a wild bulls hide,” 1479 —
unless circumstances compel.
Ulysses rectified the unevenness of the nuptial couch with a stone. Such frugality and self-help was practiced not by private individuals alone, but by the chiefs of the ancient Greeks. But why speak of these? Jacob slept on the ground, and a stone served him for a pillow; and then was he counted worthy to behold the vision—that was above man. And in conformity with reason, the bed which we use must be simple and frugal, and so constructed that, by avoiding the extremes [of too much indulgence and too much endurance], it may be comfortable: if it is warm, to protect us; if cold, to warm us. But let not the couch be elaborate, and let it have smooth feet; for elaborate turnings form occasionally paths for creeping things which twine themselves about the incisions of the work, and do not slip off.
Especially is a moderate softness in the bed suitable for manhood; for sleep ought not to be for the total enervation of the body, but for its relaxation. Wherefore I say that it ought not to be allowed to come on us for the sake of indulgence, but in order to rest from action. We must therefore sleep so as to be easily awaked. For it is said, “Let your loins be girt about, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like to men that watch for their lord, that when he returns from the marriage, and comes and knocks, they may straightway open to him. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching.” 1480 For there is no use of a sleeping man, as there is not of a dead man. Wherefore we ought often to rise by night and bless God. 1481 For blessed are they who watch for Him, and so make themselves like the angels, whom we call “watchers.” But a man asleep is worth nothing, any more than if he were not alive.
But he who has the light watches, “and darkness seizes not on him,” 1482 nor sleep, since darkness does not. He that is illuminated is therefore awake towards God; and such an one lives. “For what was made in Him was life.” 1483 “Blessed is the man,” says Wisdom, “who shall hear me, and the man who shall keep my ways, watching at my doors, daily observing the posts of my entrances.” 1484 “Let us not then sleep, as do others, but let us watch,” says the Scripture, “and be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night,” that is, in the darkness of ignorance. “But let us who are of the day be sober. For ye are all children of the light, and children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of the darkness.” 1485 But whoever of us is most solicitous for living the true life, and for entertaining noble sentiments, will keep awake for as long time as possible, reserving to himself only what in this respect is conducive to his own health; and that is not very usual.
But devotion to activity begets an everlasting vigil after toils. Let not food weigh us down, but lighten us; that we may be injured as little as possible by sleep, as those that swim with weights hanging to them are weighed down. But, on the other hand, let temperance raise us as from the abyss beneath to the enterprises of wakefulness. For the oppression of sleep is like death, which forces us into insensibility, cutting off the light by the closing of the eyelids. Let not us, then, who are sons of the true light, close the door against this light; but turning in on ourselves, illumining the eyes of the hidden man, and gazing on the truth itself, and receiving its streams, let us clearly and intelligibly reveal such dreams as are true.
But the hiccuping of those who are loaded with wine, and the snortings of those who are stuffed with food, and the snoring rolled in the bed-clothes, and the rumblings of pained stomachs, cover over the clear-seeing eye of the soul, by filling the mind with ten thousand phantasies. And the cause is too much food, which drags the rational part of man down to a condition of stupidity. For much sleep brings advantage neither to our bodies nor our souls; nor is it suitable at all to those processes which have truth for their object, although agreeable to nature.
Now, just Lot (for I pass over at present the account of the economy of regeneration 1486 ) would not have been drawn into that unhallowed intercourse, had he not been intoxicated by his daughters, and overpowered by sleep. If, therefore, we cut off the causes of great tendency to sleep, we shall sleep the more soberly. For those who have the sleepless Word dwelling in p. 259 them, ought not to sleep the livelong night; but they ought to rise by night, especially when the days are coming to an end, and one devote himself to literature, another begin his art, the women handle the distaff, and all of us should, so to speak, fight against sleep, accustoming ourselves to this gently and gradually, so that through wakefulness we may partake of life for a longer period.
We, then, who assign the best part of the night to wakefulness, must by no manner of means sleep by day; and fits of uselessness, and napping and stretching ones self, and yawning, are manifestations of frivolous uneasiness of soul. And in addition to all, we must know this, that the need of sleep is not in the soul. For it is ceaselessly active. But the body is relieved by being resigned to rest, the soul whilst not acting through the body, but exercising intelligence within itself. 1487 Thus also, such dreams as are true, in the view of him who reflects rightly, are the thoughts of a sober soul, undistracted for the time by the affections of the body, and counselling with itself in the best manner. For the soul to cease from activity within itself, were destruction to it. Wherefore always contemplating God, and by perpetual converse with Him inoculating the body with wakefulness, it raises man to equality with angelic grace, and from the practice of wakefulness it grasps the eternity of life. 1488
[Family prayers, apparently.]257:1478
See p. 258, infra. Sleep, he supposes, frees the soul as really, not so absolutely, as death:—“Th immortal mind that hath forsook
Her mansion in this fleshly nook.”
Penseroso, line 91.]258:1479
Iliad, x. 155. [Note the Scriptural moderation with which he censures, recognising what is allowable, and rejecting the “pride that apes humility.”]258:1480
Luke xii. 35-37. [Concerning “sleep,” see p. 259, infra.]258:1481
[Holy men, on waking in the night, have always used ejaculations, even when unable to rise. Ps. cxix. 62; Acts xvi. 25.]258:1482
John i. 5.258:1483
John 1:3, 4.258:1484
Prov. viii. 34.258:1485
1 Thess. v. 5-8.258:1486
[Does our author here use the term “regeneration” with reference to the restitution of all things? (Matt. xix. 20; Acts iii. 21.) He touched upon the subject above, speaking of one that is illuminated: then he begins upon the true life, and to this he may refer. But it strikes me, that naming Lot, his place in the dispensations of grace strikes him as needing some comment, and so he apologizes for passing on.]259:1487
[See note 7 supra, p. 257. Here the immaterial soul is recognised as wholly independent of bodily organs, and sleep is expounded as the image of death freeing the mind.]259:1488
[The psychology of Clement is noteworthy, but his ethical reflections are pure gold.]
Next: Chapter X.
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