Sumptuary Laws

Sumptuary Laws At an early period Christianity controlled domestic habits in a great variety of ways both in food and dress. Excesses were condemned. Thus Clement of Alexandria says, "Other men, like the unreasoning animals, may live to eat; we have been taught to eat that we may live. For the nourishment of the body is not the work we have to do, nor is sensual pleasure the object of our pursuit, but rather the entrance into those mansions of incorruption whither the divine wisdom is guiding us. We shall therefore eat simple food, as becomes children, and merely study to preserve life, not to obtain luxury. Great varieties of cookery are to be avoided. Atiphanes, the Delialn physician, considers variety and research in cookery to be a main cause of disease; yet many have no taste for simplicity, and; in the vainglory of, a fine table, make it their chief anxiety to have choice fish-es from beyond sea." They might "use a little wine for the stomach's sake," as the apostle exhorted Timothy "for it is good to bring the help of an astringent to a languid constitution; but' in small quantity, lest, instead of benefiting, it should be found to produce a fullness which would render other remedies needful; since the natural drink of a thirsty man is water, and this simple beverage alone was supplied from the cleft rock by the Lord for the use of the Hebrews of old… Water is the medicine of a wise temperance. Young men and maidens should, for the most part, forego wine altogether; for to drink wine during the boiling season of youth is adding fire to fire… Those who require a mid-day meal may eat bread altogether without wine, and, if thirsty, let them satisfy themselves with water only. In the evening at supper, when our studies are over and the air is cooler, wine may be used without harm perhaps, for it will but restore the lost warmth; but even then it should be taken very sparingly, until the chills of age have made it a useful medicine; and it is for the most part best to mix it with water, in which state it conduces most to health." "Precious vases, rare to be acquired and difficult to be kept, are to be put away from among us," says the same writer that we have been quoting. "Silver sofas, silver basins and saucers, plates and dishes; beds of choice woods decorated with tortoise- shell and gold, with coverlets of purple and costly stuffs, are to be relinquished in like manner. The Lord ate from a humble dish, and reclined with his disciples on the grass, and washed their feet, girded with a towel. Our food, our utensils, and whatever else belongs to our domestic economy should be conformable to the Christian institutions." "It is proper that both the woman and the man should come into the church decently dressed, with no studied steps, in silence, and with a mind trained to real benevolence; chaste in body, chaste in heart, fitted to pray to God. Furthermore, it is right that the woman should be veiled, save when she is at home; for this is respectable and avoids offence." "It is enough to have the disposition which becomes Christian women," says Tertullian. "God looks on the heart. The outward appearance is nothing. Why make a display of the change that has been wrought in us? Rather are we bound to furnish the heathen no occasion of blaspheming the Christian name, and accusing Christianity of being irreconcilable with national customs." Yet he adds, "What reasons can you have for going about in gay apparel when you are removed from all with whom this is required? You do not go the round of the temples; you ask for no public shows; you have nothing to do with pagan festivals. You have no other than serious reasons for appearing abroad. It is to visit a sick brother, to be present at the communion or a sermon; and if offices of courtesy or friendship call you among the pagans, why not appear in your own peculiar armor, that so the difference may be seen between the servants of God and of Satan?" Sumptuary laws have been passed by the State and Church, generally, however, to be disregarded. Roman laws prohibited certain luxuries in dress and food, but they were all habitually transgressed in the later times of the Republic. Such laws were in great favor in the legislation of England from the time of Edward III down to the Reformation (see statute 10 Edward III, c. 3, act 37 Edward III). In France they were as old as Charlemagne, but the first attempt to restrict extravagance in dress was under Philip IV. Scotland had also a similar class of statutes. In all these countries, however, these laws seem to have never been practically observed. Most of the English sumptuary laws were repealed by James I, c. 25, but a few remained on the statute-book as late as 1856.

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