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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol II:
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA: Chapter X.—The Exercises Suited to a Good Life.

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Chapter X.—The Exercises Suited to a Good Life.

The gymnasium is sufficient for boys, even if a bath is within reach. And even for men to prefer gymnastic exercises by far to the baths, is perchance not bad, since they are in some respects conducive to the health of young men, and produce exertion—emulation to aim at not only a healthy habit of body, but courageousness of soul. When this is done without dragging a man away from better employments, it is pleasant, and not unprofitable. Nor are women to be deprived of bodily exercise. But they are not to be encouraged to engage in wrestling or running, but are to exercise themselves in spinning, and weaving, and superintending the cooking if necessary. And they are, with their own hand, to fetch from the store what we require. And it is no disgrace for them to apply themselves to the mill. Nor is it a reproach to a wife—housekeeper and helpmeet—to occupy herself in cooking, so that it may be palatable to her husband. And if she shake up the couch, reach drink to her husband when thirsty, set food on the table as neatly as possible, and so give herself exercise tending to sound health, the Instructor will approve of a woman like this, who “stretches forth her arms to useful tasks, rests her hands on the distaff, opens her hand to the pour, and extends her wrist to the beggar.” 1659

She who emulates Sarah is not ashamed of that highest of ministries, helping wayfarers. For Abraham said to her, “Haste, and knead three measures of meal, and make cakes.” 1660 “And Rachel, the daughter of Laban, came,” it is said, “with her father’s sheep.” 1661 Nor was this enough; but to teach humility it is added, “for she fed her father’s sheep.” 1662 And innumerable such examples of frugality and self-help, and also of exercises, are furnished by the Scriptures. In the case of men, let some strip and engage in wrestling; let some play at the small ball, especially the game they call Pheninda, 1663 in the sun. To others who walk into the country, or go down into the town, the walk is sufficient exercise. And were they to handle the hoe, this stroke of economy in agricultural labour would not be ungentleman like.

I had almost forgot to say that the well-known Pittacus, king of Miletus, practiced the laborious exercise of turning the mill. 1664 It is respectable for a man to draw water for himself, and to cut billets of wood which he is to use himself. Jacob fed the sheep of Laban that were left in p. 284 his charge, having as a royal badge “a rod of storax,” 1665 which aimed by its wood to change and improve nature. And reading aloud is often an exercise to many. But let not such athletic contests, as we have allowed, be undertaken for the sake of vainglory, but for the exuding of manly sweat. Nor are we to straggle with cunning and showiness, but in a stand-up wrestling bout, by disentangling of neck, hands, and sides. For such a struggle with graceful strength is more becoming and manly, being undertaken for the sake of serviceable and profitable health. But let those others, who profess the practice of illiberal postures in gymnastics, be dismissed. We must always aim at moderation. For as it is best that labour should precede food, so to labour above measure is both very bad, very exhausting, and apt to make us ill. Neither, then, should we be idle altogether, nor completely fatigued. For similarly to what we have laid down with respect to food, are we to do everywhere and with everything. Our mode of life is not to accustom us to voluptuousness and licentiousness, nor to the opposite extreme, but to the medium between these, that which is harmonious and temperate, and free of either evil, luxury and parsimony. And now, as we have also previously remarked, attending to one’s own wants is an exercise free of pride,—as, for example, putting on one’s own shoes, washing one’s own feet, and also rubbing one’s self when anointed with oil. To render one who has rubbed you the same service in return, is an exercise of reciprocal justice; and to sleep beside a sick friend, help the infirm, and supply him who is in want, are proper exercises. “And Abraham,” it is said, “served up for three, dinner under a tree, and waited on them as they ate.” 1666 The same with fishing, 1667 as in the case of Peter, if we have leisure from necessary instructions in the Word. But that is the better enjoyment which the Lord assigned to the disciple, when He taught him to “catch men” as fishes in the water.



Prov. 31:19, 20, Septuagint.


Gen. xviii. 6.


Gen. xxix. 9.




φενίνδα or φεννίς.


The text has ἦλθεν. The true reading, doubtless, is ᾖληθεν. That Pittacus exercised himself thus, is stated by Isidore of Pelusium, Diogenes, Laertius, Plutarch.


Gen. xxx. 37. Not “poplar,” as in A.V. [See Abp. Leighton on “Laban’s lambs,” Comm. on St. Peter, part i. p. 360, and questionable note of an admirable editor, same page.]


Gen. xviii. 8.


[The old canons allowed to clergymen the recreation of fishing, but not the chase, or fowling. Of this, the godly Izaak Walton fails not to remind us. Complete Angler, p. 38, learned note, and preface by the late Dr. Bethune. New York, 1847.]

Next: Chapter XI.—A Compendious View of the Christian Life.

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