Monday, March 9, 2015

ANF V: Cyprian Treatise II On the Dress of Virgins

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 5

Cyprian: Treatise II. On the Dress of Virgins

As Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we ought to "obey and give furtherance to the empire of our Redeemer by all the obedience of service, that nothing impure or profane may be brought into the temple of God." That is, we ought to live disciplined lives according to what God has revealed in Scripture:
Discipline, the safeguard of hope, the bond of faith, the guide of the way of salvation, the stimulus and nourishment of good dispositions, the teacher of virtue, causes us to abide always in Christ, and to live continually for God, and to attain to the heavenly promises and to the divine rewards. To follow her is wholesome, and to turn away from her and neglect her is deadly.
In this treatise, Cyprian specifically asks what sort of discipline the Bible has to offer to those who dedicate themselves to Christ as virgins--those "whose glory, as it is more eminent, excites the greater interest." These are a special blessing for the church since they represent the best we have to offer--a complete rejection of the sinful pleasure the world has to offer, they "who depart from carnal concupiscence, and have vowed themselves to God as well in the flesh as in the spirit," Specifically, Cyprian discusses how these ought to dress. While some of his advice is no longer useful given the changing times and fashions, his general point that "continence and modesty consist not alone in purity of the flesh, but also in seemliness, as well as in modesty of dress and adornment stands. This rule, Cyprian points out, applies to rich and poor alike, though rich women especially will be tempted to dress in such a way as to draw attention to their physical beauty. Which is not to say that wealth can't be used:
You say that you are wealthy and rich, and you think that you should use those things which God has willed you to possess. Use them, certainly, but for the things of salvation; use them, but for good purposes; use them, but for those things which God has commanded , and which the Lord has set forth. Let the poor feel that you are wealthy; let the needy feel that you are rich.... For in this very matter you are sinning against God, if you think that riches were given you by Him for this purpose, to enjoy them thoroughly, without a view to salvation. For God gave man also a voice; and yet love-songs and indecent things are not on that account to be sung. And God willed iron to be for the culture of the earth, but not on that account must murders be committed. Or because God ordained incense, and wine, and fire, are we thence to sacrifice to idols? 
We must beware using the world's standard of beauty and dress as a model for our own--we are to reflect the heavenly City, not the one destined for destruction. While Cyprian goes a bit far when he forbids dyed cloth, jewelry and wedding attendance (since all everyone thinks about there is getting married and sex, hardly something dedicated virgins should reflect on), his point is not necessarily a bad one overall. The martyrs still have the first place in the eyes of the church, but dedicated virgins come in a close second and should resolve to live up to their high calling.

This treatise is worth skimming, though in our post-Luther era we rightly esteem marriage as a holy institution. For those who are not called to marriage, this is a useful reminder that you don't get off the hook in terms of personal discipline. While Cyprian may call for more than is strictly necessary, he is dead-on that we ought to be defined by Scripture and not by the standard of the world.

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