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  Christ the Instructor


By Clement of Alexandria

How is it," some say, "that if the Lord is good and loves man that He is angry and punishes?" We must treat of this point with all possible · brevity; for this mode of treatment is advantageous to the right training of the children, occupying the place of a necessary help. For many of the passions are cured by punishment, and by the inculcation in certain principles. For reproof is, as it were, the surgery of the passions of the soul; and the passions are, as it were, an abscess of the truth which must be cut open by an incision of the lancet of reproof.

Reproach is like the application of medicines, dissolving the callouses of the passions, and purging the impurities of the lewdness of the life; and in addition, reducing the excrescences of pride, restoring the patient to the healthy and true state of humanity. Admonition is, as it were, the regimen of the diseased soul, prescribing what it must take, and forbidding what it must not. And all these tend to salvation and eternal health. Furthermore, the general of an army, by inflicting fines and corporeal punishments with chains and the extremest disgrace on offenders, and sometimes even by punishing individuals with death, aims at good, doing so for the admonition of the officers under him.

       Thus also He who is our great General, the Word, the Commander-in-chief of the universe, by admonishing those who throw off the restraints of His law, that He may effect their release from the slavery, error, and captivity of the adversary, brings them peacefully to the sacred concord of citizenship.

As, therefore, in addition to persuasive discourse, there is the hortatory and the consolatory form; so also, in addition to the laudatory, there is the inculpatory and reproachful. And this latter constitutes the art of censure. Now censure is a mark of good-will, not of ill-will. For both he who is a friend and he who is not, reproach; but the enemy does so in scorn, the friend in kindness. It is not, then, from hatred that the Lord chides men; for He Himself suffered for us, whom He might have destroyed for our faults. For the Instructor also, in virtue of His being good, with consummate art glides into censure by rebuke, rousing the sluggishness of the mind by His sharp words as by a scourge. Again in turn He endeavors to exhort the same persons. For those who are not induced by praise are spurred on by censure; And those whom censure calls not forth to salvation, being as dead, are by denunciation roused to the truth. "For the stripes and correction of wisdom are in all time." "For teaching a fool is gluing a potsherd; and sharpening to sense a hopeless blockhead is bringing earth to sensation." Wherefore He adds plainly, "rousing the sleeper from deep sleep," which of all things else is most like death.

        Further, the Lord shows very clearly of Himself, when ... He says, I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Then He adds, Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit He pruneth, that it may bring forth more fruit. For the vine that is not pruned grows to wood. So also man. The Word--the knife---clears away the wanton shoots; compelling the impulses of the soul to fructify, not to indulge in lust. Now, reproof addressed to sinners has their salvation for its aim, the word being harmoniously adjusted to each one's conduct; now with tightened, now with relaxed cords. Accordingly it was very plainly said by Moses, Be of good courage; God has drawn near to you, that His fear may be among you, that ye sin not (Ex. 20:20). And Plato, who had learned from this source, says beautifully, "For all who suffer punishment are in reality treated well, for they are benefited; since the spirit of those who are justly punished is improved." And if those who are corrected receive good at the hands of justice, and, according to Plato, what is just is acknowledged to be good, fear itself does good, and has been found to be for men's good. For the soul that feareth the Lord shall live, for their hope is in Him who sayeth them (Eccles. 34:14, 15). And this same Word who inflicts punishment is judge; regarding whom Isaiah also says, The Lord has assigned Him to our sins (Is. 53:6), plainly as a corrector and reformer of sins. Wherefore He alone is able to forgive our iniquities, who has been appointed by the Father, Instructor of us all; He alone it is who is able to distinguish between disobedience and obedience. And while He threatens, He manifestly is unwilling to inflict evil to execute His threatenings; but by inspiring men with fear, He cuts off the approach to sin, and shows His love to man, still delaying, and declaring what they shall suffer if they continue sinners..

       God, then, is good. And the Lord speaks many times and often before He proceeds to act.

                    With all His power, therefore, the Instructor of humanity, the Divine Word, using all the resources of wisdom, devotes Himself to the saving of the children, admonishing, Upbraiding, blaming, chiding, reproving, threatening, healing, promising, favouring; and as it were, by many reins, curbing the irrational impulses of humanity. To speak briefly, therefore, the Lord acts towards us as we do towards our children. Hast thou children? correct them, is the exhortation of the book of Wisdom, and bend them from their youth. Hast thou daughters? attend to their body, and let not thy face brighten towards them (Eccles. 7:23, 24)---although we love our children exceedingly, both sons and daughters, above aught else whatever. For those who speak with a man merely to please him, have little love for him, seeing they do not pain him; while those that speak for his good, though they inflict pain for the time, do him good for ever after· It is not immediate pleasure, but future enjoyment, that the Lord has in view.

     …Sick, we truly stand in need of the Saviour; having wandered, of one to guide us; blind, of one to lead us to the light; thirsty, of the fountain of life, of which whosoever partakes, shall no longer thirst; dead, we need life; sheep, we need a shepherd; we who are children need a tutor, while universal humanity stands in need of Jesus; so that we may not continue intractable sinners to the end, and thus fall into condemnation, but may be separated from the chaff and stored up in the paternal garner.            (Excerpted from The Instructor, Book I, chapters viii, ix) 

Formerly a pagan philosopher, Titus Flavius Clemens (c. 153 - c 220) traveled widely collecting pearls of Christian wisdom before becoming head of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, the "brain" of Christendom. His three principal works: Exhortation to the Heathen, The Instructor, and Stromata, are among the most substantial extant patristic texts of that early period.

 


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