ANF -The First Epistle of Clement

One of my goals for many years has been to familiarize myself with the Church Fathers.  Though defined in different ways, I define it as those earliest Christians who left us manuscripts after the Apostles.  Thanks to a generous and very kind gift from Lois, I’m able to begin work on this goal at long last.  Yes, I know there are online resources for many of these things, but I’m old fashioned and like the idea of having a physical book to mark-up and refer to as necessary.

While many folks talk about the Church Fathers, I was never introduced to them properly in Seminary so I assume I will display gross ignorance on a regular basis as I comment on these writings.

Lots of interesting things to note.  Firstly, the Church Fathers don’t generate a lot of interest these days, as the last major translation work was done over 100 years ago (at least in treating of all of the writings and Fathers as a whole).  Scholarship is likely to have improved at least in some respects for some of these writings, but I’ll figure that out down the road, maybe.

The first writing in the compendium is the First Epistle of Clement.  Clement is traditionally held to be the one mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3, which means Clement is a contemporary of Paul and knew him personally – something I didn’t know – and which merits him priority as the first of the Church(post-apostolic) Fathers.   This letter is written from Clement, presumably at Rome, to the church in Corinth – the same church that St. Paul founded in Acts 18 and wrote two letters to that are included in the New Testament canon.  This Epistle is the only writing that is known (at least through tradition) to come from Clement’s hand, although other various writings are less reliably attributed to him.  Roman Catholics refer to him as Pope Clement I.  He is presumed to have been ordained by St. Peter prior to Peter’s martyrdom.  Little is known about his life and death (anything claiming to be authoritative or specific dates from 300 years after his life and death), but he is referenced as early as 199 AD by Tertullian.

The letter itself is a call for peace and reconciliation in the church at Corinth, which was apparently experiencing an even greater division and lack of unity than when St. Paul wrote his 1 Corinthians.  The issue appears to be a group of people in that church who wished to be treated with special honor and prestige, and were causing division in the congregation, to such an extent that word has come to Clement in Rome as well as to other Christian communities.  Clement calls the Corinthians to humility, repentance, and reconciliation.

To do this, he quotes a rather stunning number of Old Testament precedents while also making reference to Paul and the apostles.  Reconciliation is the duty of Christian community, and those guilty of causing discord should be willing not just to repent, but to even bear suffering or eviction from the community if those are the only means by which unity can be restored.  Clement concludes his letter trusting that such measures are unnecessary and looking forward to further reports that his admonitions have been heeded.

It’s not a particularly fascinating read, and is markedly different from the apostolic writings of the New Testament.  The Apostles write with authority – quoting Scripture on occasion or frequently, but for the most part simply saying what needs to be said.  Clement relies far more on Scripture quotations than he does on his own words for at least 3/4 of the letter, becoming more direct and authoritative towards the end.  Clearly he wants to demonstrate that the Corinthians should listen in accordance to the word of God and not just his own word, but even still – it’s a lot of regurgitation on a scale far exceeding the New Testament.

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