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Clement of Rome

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Little is known about Clement (?-c.100). He was appointed a leader in the Roman church by Peter, and served as the second or third bishop of Rome from around 88 to 100, possibly as the successor of Peter. He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the church. Clement, together with Polycarp and Ignatius of Antioch are considered to be the three most significant of the apostolic fathers.

During the third and fourth centuries, a tradition arose in the church to identify Clement with the Clement mentioned by Paul in his Letter to the Philippians (Phil 4:3), who was one of Paul’s co-workers, but there is no reliable way of confirming this. He is probably mentioned in the Shepherd of Hermas, from the second century, which mentions a Clement whose job it was to communicate with other churches (Vision 2:4).

According to tradition, Clement was imprisoned in Greece under the Emperor Trajan, in the third year of his reign, which would be around the year 100. According to tradition, he was set to work in a stone quarry, where he found his fellow prisoners were suffering from lack of drinking water. Looking up, he saw a lamb on a hill. He went to where the lamb stood, and struck the ground with his pickaxe. This released a gushing stream of clear water. This miracle resulted in the conversion of a large number of his fellow prisoners as well as many of the local population. As a punishment, he was executed by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

Clement wrote to the church in Corinth where there had been a revolt against the bishop there by younger men in the church. His letter is one of the earliest Christian writings. There was some debate over whether it should be included in the New Testament.

Clement describes these people as proud and arrogant. It is interesting to see that the disunity and factionalism in Corinth that had been addressed by Paul in his letters, was still a problem at the end of the century. Clement sees the revolt as being motivated by jealousy, so he calls for humility and gives many examples of this from the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament. He calls his readers to follow the example of the great people of the past. He also give examples of jealousy from the Old Testament, including Cain, Esau, and Moses having to flee from Egypt. Jealousy also led to the recent persecution of and martyrdom of Peter and of Paul. He also stressed the necessity of love, again a major theme of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13). Clement urges these people and tries to persuade them to respond to his letter. He does not assume the apostolic authority to tell them what to do, although the letter does assume the prominent position of the church in Rome.

Clement also urges submission to the bishops and elders, who he sees as having authority because they were appointed by the apostles. The apostles had been appointed by Christ himself, who had been sent by God, saying this, “The apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus the Christ was sent forth from God. So then Christ is from God, and the apostles are from Christ. Both, therefore, came of the will of God in good order. Having therefore received their orders and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and full of faith in the Word of God, they went forth with the firm assurance that the Holy Spirit gives, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God was about to come. So, preaching both in the country and in the towns, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had tested them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons for the future believers. And this was no new thing they did, for indeed something had been written about bishops and deacons many years ago; for somewhere thus says the Scripture, ‘I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith.’” (1 Clement 42:1-5).

The quotation is from the Septuagint version of Is 60:17. However, this is a mistranslation of the original Hebrew text. Clement claimed this passage refers to bishops and deacons. This is the origin of the doctrine of apostolic succession, which became part of the teaching of the Roman Catholic church, particularly to support the role and authority of the Pope.

There are other writings which have been attributed to Clement. Another letter, 2 Clement was thought to be by Clement, but is now believed to be a homily by another unknown author.