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CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter XIII—Against Excessive Fondness for Jewels and Gold Ornaments.
Chapter XIII—Against Excessive Fondness for Jewels and Gold Ornaments.
It is childish to admire excessively dark or green stones, and things cast out by the sea on foreign shores, particles of the earth. 1554 For to rush after stones that are pellucid and of peculiar colours, and stained glass, is only characteristic of silly people, who are attracted by things that have a striking show. Thus children, on seeing the fire, rush to it, attracted by its brightness; not understanding through senselessness the danger of touching it. Such is the case with the stones which silly women wear fastened to chains and set in necklaces, amethysts, ceraunites, jaspers, topaz, and the Milesian“Emerald, most precious ware.”
And the highly prized pearl has invaded the womans apartments to an extravagant extent. This is produced in a kind of oyster like mussels, and is about the bigness of a fishs eye of large size. And the wretched creatures are not ashamed at having bestowed the greatest pains about this little oyster, when they might adorn themselves with the sacred jewel, the Word of God, whom the Scripture has somewhere called a pearl, the pure and pellucid Jesus, the eye that watches in the flesh,—the transparent Word, by whom the flesh, regenerated by water, becomes precious. For that oyster that is in p. 268 the water covers the flesh all round, and out of it is produced the pearl.
We have heard, too, that the Jerusalem above is walled with sacred stones; and we allow that the twelve gates of the celestial city, by being made like precious stones, indicate the transcendent grace of the apostolic voice. For the colours are laid on in precious stones, and these colours are precious; while the other parts remain of earthy material. With these symbolically, as is meet, the city of the saints, which is spiritually built, is walled. By that brilliancy of stones, therefore, is meant the inimitable brilliancy of the spirit, the immortality and sanctity of being. But these women, who comprehend not the symbolism of Scripture, gape all they can for jewels, adducing the astounding apology, “Why may I not use what God hath exhibited?” and, “I have it by me, why may I not enjoy it?” and, “For whom were these things made, then, if not for us?” Such are the utterances of those who are totally ignorant of the will of God. For first necessaries, such as water and air, He supplies free to all; and what is not necessary He has hid in the earth and water. Wherefore ants dig, and griffins guard gold, and the sea hides the pearl-stone. But ye busy yourselves about what you need not. Behold, the whole heaven is lighted up, and ye seek not God; but gold which is hidden, and jewels, are dug up by those among us who are condemned to death.
But you also oppose Scripture, seeing it expressly cries “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.” 1555 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,” 1556 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, 1557 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.
In fine, they must accordingly utterly cast off ornaments as girls gewgaws, rejecting adornment itself entirely. For they ought to be adorned within, and show the inner woman beautiful. For in the soul alone are beauty and deformity shown. Wherefore also only the virtuous man is really beautiful and good. And it is laid down as a dogma, that only the beautiful is good. And excellence alone appears through the beautiful body, and blossoms out in the flesh, exhibiting the amiable comeliness of self-control, whenever the character like a beam of light gleams in the form. For the beauty of each plant and animal consists in its individual excellence. And the excellence of man is righteousness, and temperance, and manliness, and godliness. The beautiful man is, then, he who is just, temperate, and in a word, good, not he who is rich. But now even the soldiers wish to be decked with gold, not having read that poetical saying:—“With childish folly to the war he came,
Laden with store of gold.” 1558
But the love of ornament, which is far from caring for virtue, but claims the body for itself, when the love of the beautiful has changed to empty show, is to be utterly expelled. For applying things unsuitable to the body, as if they were suitable, begets a practice of lying and a habit of falsehood; and shows not what is decorous, simple, and truly childlike, but what is pompous, luxurious, and effeminate. But these women obscure true beauty, shading it with gold. And they know not how great is their transgression, in fastening around themselves ten thousand rich chains; as they say that among the barbarians malefactors are bound with gold. The women seem to me to emulate these rich prisoners. For is not the golden necklace a collar, and do not the necklets which they call catheters 1559 occupy the place of chains? and indeed p. 269 among the Attics they are called by this very name. The ungraceful things round the feet of women, Philemon in the Synephebus called ankle-fetters:—“Conspicuous garments, and a kind of a golden fetter.”
What else, then, is this coveted adorning of yourselves, O ladies, but the exhibiting of yourselves fettered? For if the material does away with the reproach, the endurance [of your fetters] is a thing indifferent. To me, then, those who voluntarily put themselves into bonds seem to glory in rich calamities.
Perchance also it is such chains that the poetic fable says were thrown around Aphrodite when committing adultery, referring to ornaments as nothing but the badge of adultery. For Homer called those, too, golden chains. But new women are not ashamed to wear the most manifest badges of the evil one. For as the serpent deceived Eve, so also has ornament of gold maddened other women to vicious practices, using as a bait the form of the serpent, and by fashioning lampreys and serpents for decoration. Accordingly the comic poet Nicostratus says, “Chains, collars, rings, bracelets, serpents, anklets, earrings.” 1560
In terms of strongest censure, therefore, Aristophanes in the Thesmophoriazousæ exhibits the whole array of female ornament in a catalogue:—“Snoods, fillets, natron, and steel;
Pumice-stone, band, back-band,
Back-veil, paint, necklaces,
Paints for the eyes, soft garment, hair-net,
Girdle, shawl, fine purple border,
Long robe, tunic, Barathrum, round tunic.”
But I have not yet mentioned the principal of them. Then what?“Ear-pendants, jewelry, ear-rings;
Mallow-coloured cluster-shaped anklets;
Buckles, clasps, necklets,
Fetters, seals, chains, rings, powders,
Bosses, bands, olisbi, Sardian stones,
I am weary and vexed at enumerating the multitude of ornaments; 1561 and I am compelled to wonder how those who bear such a burden are not worried to death. O foolish trouble! O silly craze for display! They squander meretriciously wealth on what is disgraceful; and in their love for ostentation disfigure Gods gifts, emulating the art of the evil one. The rich man hoarding up in his barns, and saying to himself, “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, be merry,” the Lord in the Gospel plainly called “fool.” “For this night they shall take of thee thy soul; whose then shall those things which thou hast prepared be?” 1562
Apelles, the painter, seeing one of his pupils painting a figure loaded with gold colour to represent Helen, said to him, “Boy, being incapable of painting her beautiful, you have made her rich.”
Such Helens are the ladies of the present day, not truly beautiful, but richly got up. To these the Spirit prophesies by Zephaniah: “And their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the Lords anger.” 1563
But for those women who have been trained under Christ, it is suitable to adorn themselves not with gold, but with the Word, through whom alone the gold comes to light. 1564
Happy, then, would have been the ancient Hebrews, had they cast away their womens ornaments, or only melted them; but having cast their gold into the form of an ox, and paid it idolatrous worship, they consequently reap no advantage either from their art or their attempt. But they taught our women most expressively to keep clear of ornaments. The lust which commits fornication with gold becomes an idol, and is tested by fire; for which alone luxury is reserved, as being an idol, not a reality. 1565 Hence the Word, upbraiding the Hebrews by the prophet, says, “They made to Baal things of silver and gold,” that is, ornaments. And most distinctly threatening, He says, “I will punish her for the days of Baalim, in which they offered sacrifice for her, and she put on her earrings and her necklaces.” 1566 And He subjoined the cause of the adornment, when He said, “And she went after her lovers, but forgot Me, saith the Lord. 1567
Resigning, therefore, these baubles to the wicked master of cunning himself, let us not take part in this meretricious adornment, nor commit idolatry through a specious pretext. Most admirably, therefore, the blessed Peter 1568 says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves not with braids, or gold, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” For it is with reason that he bids decking of themselves to be kept far from them. For, granting that they are beautiful, nature suffices. Let not art contend against nature; that is, let not falsehood strive with truth. And if they are by nature ugly, they are convicted, by the things they apply to themselves, of what they do not possess [i.e., of the want of beauty]. It is p. 270 suitable, therefore, for women who serve Christ to adopt simplicity. For in reality simplicity provides for sanctity, by reducing redundancies to equality, and by furnishing from whatever is at hand the enjoyment sought from superfluities. For simplicity, as the name shows, is not conspicuous, is not inflated or puffed up in aught, but is altogether even, and gentle, and equal, and free of excess, and so is sufficient. And sufficiency is a condition which reaches its proper end without excess or defect. The mother of these is Justice, and their nurse “Independence;” and this is a condition which is satisfied with what is necessary, and by itself furnishes what contributes to the blessed life.
Let there, then, be in the fruits of thy hands, sacred order, liberal communication, and acts of economy. “For he that giveth to the poor, lendeth to God.” 1569 “And the hands of the manly shall be enriched.” 1570 Manly He calls those who despise wealth, and are free in bestowing it. And on your feet 1571 let active readiness to well-doing appear, and a journeying to righteousness. Modesty and chastity are collars and necklaces; such are the chains which God forges. “Happy is the man who hath found wisdom, and the mortal who knows understanding,” says the Spirit by Solomon: “for it is better to buy her than treasures of gold and silver; and she is more valuable than precious stones.” 1572 For she is the true decoration.
And let not their ears be pierced, contrary to nature, in order to attach to them ear-rings and ear-drops. For it is not right to force nature against her wishes. Nor could there be any better ornament for the ears than true instruction, which finds its way naturally into the passages of hearing. And eyes anointed by the Word, and ears pierced for perception, make a man a hearer and contemplator of divine and sacred things, the Word truly exhibiting the true beauty “which eye hath not seen nor ear heard before.” 1573
[Amber is referred to, and the extravagant values attributed to it. The mysterious enclosure of bees and other insects in amber, gave it superstitious importance. Clement may have fancied these to be remnants of a pre-adamite earth.]268:1555
Matt. vi. 33.268:1556
1 Cor. x. 23.268:1557
[Chrysostom enlarges on this Christian thought most eloquently, in several of his homilies: e.g., on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Hom. xxi. tom. x. p. 178. Opp., ed. Migne.]268:1558
Iliad, ii. 872.268:1559
[The necklace called κάθεμα or κάθημα seems to be referred to. Ezek. xvi. 11, and Isa. iii. 19, Sept.]269:1560
Ἐλλόβιον by conjecture, as more suitable to the connection than Ἐλλέβορον or Ἐλέβορον. Hellebore of the ms., though Hellebore may be intended as a comic ending.269:1561
[The Greek satirist seems to have borrowed Isaiahs catalogue. cap. iii. 18–23.]269:1562
Luke 12:19, 20.269:1563
Zeph. i. 18.269:1564
Logos is identified with reason; and it is by reason, or the ingenuity of man, that gold is discovered and brought to light. [But here he seems to have in view the comparisons between gold and wisdom, in Job xxviii.]269:1565
εἴ´δωλον, an appearance, an image.269:1566
Hos. ii. 8.269:1567
Hos. ii. 13.269:1568
By mistake for Paul. Clement quotes here, as often, from memory (1 Tim. 2:9, 10).270:1569
Prov. xix. 17.270:1570
Prov. x. 4.270:1571
[Eph. vi. 15.]270:1572
Prov. iii. 13-15.270:1573
1 Cor. ii. 9.
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