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Early Church History Newsletter: March 25, 2008 - The Epistles of Clement
March 25, 2009
Dear Friends,

The Epistles of Clement

It seems to be a lot easier to write web pages than to decide what to write in a newsletter!

However, I hope you'll be both encouraged and educated by the following:

***Please note, there's a LOT of information which follows. This newsletter only comes out once a month, so if it's too long, read it a section at a time. If you have an interest in church history, this is the stuff I like. Further down is a discussion of an early Christian sermon, so this is not all just historical facts.

Introduction

Clement of Rome is one of the famous of the early Christian writers. It is entirely possible that he is the earliest Christian writer outside of the New Testament.

However, he might not be.

First off, his letter to the church at Corinth, written in A.D. 95 or 96 and known as First Clement, is not addressed from him. It is addressed from the church at Rome. Tradition assigns authorship to him, but it is clear that the letter was meant to be from the church, not from Clement. We can't really know for certain that he wrote it, though his authorship is not really doubted.

What Is Tradition, Anyway?

If you have read much church history at all, then you've heard mention of tradition. "Tradition has it . . . "; "According to tradition . . . "

What is tradition?

Tradition is simply the testimony of writers who are later, but closer to the history than ourselves. In the case of First Clement, tradition would be any later early Christian writer, and often specifically Eusebius the historian.

Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History is an excellent history, overflowing with quotes from earlier Christian writers. Many extant (still available) writings were identified because of quotes contained in Eusebius' history. Other writings are preserved only in the fragments found in his history.

His intro:

The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ch. 1)

Secondly, two other writings may possibly pre-date First Clement. The anonymous Epistle to Diognetus and The Didache (also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) are both possibly first century documents, though they are much more difficult to date. (First Clement's date is known because of a reference to a recent persecution.)

Clement, the Fourth Pope?

The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) would list Clement as the fourth pope. Was there a pope in the first century church? And was Clement one of them?

I address this issue fully in a video teaching available at Christian-history.org. However, here's the issues briefly:

  • The pope is simply the bishop of Rome, whom the RCC believes has authority over all other bishops. It is clear from First Clement that Rome still had multiple bishops, not just one (chs. 42, 44).
  • Clement addresses his letter from the church at Rome. Had he been a pope, considering himself to possess "the keys of the kingdom" from Peter, he would surely have addressed the letter from himself.
  • In A.D. 250—when Stephen was the only bishop of Rome and he very likely had authority over much or all of Italy—the bishop of Rome attempted to resolved a doctrinal dispute by declaring that he was bishop of bishops. Cyprian of Carthage, considered a saint by the RCC, called a council of eighty-two bishops in North Africa (possibly a quarter of all the bishops in the Roman empire), all of whom condemned Stephen's decision and rejected his claim to be bishop of bishops.
  • At the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, Canon Six describes the bishop of Rome as ruling an area similar is scope to the bishop of Alexandria. Those two bishops and the bishop of Antioch are all given acknowledged authority over the area surrounding their city, but none are given universal authority.

Clement As Messenger of the Church in Rome

A personal theory of mine is that each church had one specific leader designated as messenger. Here's the evidence for it.

  • In The Shepherd of Hermas, Hermas has a vision telling him to write down what he sees and send it to a Clement. Clement, Hermas is told, will make copies and send the book out to foreign countries. (vision II, par. 4)
  • A major piece of evidence is First Clement itself. It is always attributed to Clement, but it is addressed from the church in Rome. Is that because Clement was their messenger?
  • In the Book of Revelation, John is told to write seven letters and send them to the "angels" of the seven churches. It's not well-known, but the Greek word angellos simply means messenger. It is often left untranslated, as "angel," but not always. The "messengers" John the Baptist sent to Jesus in Luke 7:24 are angelloi in the Greek.

I've never heard anyone else suggest this. It's just a personal theory of mine.

Finally, the Heart of this Ezine: Second Clement!

Introduction

I wanted you to have some appreciation of Clement, which you can only get from a discussion of First Clement, before addressing Second Clement.

Second Clement is attributed to Clement by tradition, which in this case means only Eusebius. No one really believes Clement wrote it, so it is often also called An Early Christian Sermon. Historians generally date it between A.D. 100 and 150, but no one knows for sure.

You can read it at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, along with all the other writings mentioned on this page. CCEL is a great site for finding historical writings. You should bookmark it. I've learned some things about Martin Luther there that I will end up putting on Christian-history.org.

Second Clement: We Ought To Think Highly of Christ

Second Clement begins this way:

Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as you do of God—as the Judge of the Living and the Dead. And it is not fitting for us to think lightly of our salvation, for if we think little of it, we will also hope for little from it. (ch. 1)

This was a fitting message 1800 years ago, and it's a fitting message today. It is easy to underestimate the salvation of Christ.

That is especially true today, when we are so prone to seeing the cross of Christ as a mere ticket to heaven. Many have forgotten the words of the hymn, "Rock of Ages":

Let the water and the blood, from wounded side which flowed, be for sin the double cure: cleanse from guilt and make me pure.

The Scripture actually gives some quite similar wording:

If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn. 1:9)

The blood of Jesus Christ, the source of our salvation, washes away sin in both the sense of forgiving sin and delivering us from its power. There are numerous promises to that effect. Here's just three examples among many:

  • Sin will not have power over you because you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)
  • Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? . . . and such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:9,11)
  • His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness. (2 Pet. 1:3)

These things are already ours in Christ. It is up to us to walk in faith in these promises, "working out our salvation with fear and trembling," knowing that "it is God who works in us both to do and to will of his good pleasure" (Php. 2:12-13).

The Shepherd of Hermas—another early work that was mentioned as Scripture even by Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185) and Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 190) and then appended to the New Testament of the Codex Sinaiticus (a 4th century manuscript)—speaks to us powerfully about walking in those promises:

If you lay it down as certain that [these commandments] can be kept, then you will easily keep them, and they will not be hard. But if you come to imagine that they cannot be kept by man, then you will not keep them. (commandment 12, par. 3)

Let us be those who are of faith, who do not underestimate our salvation, but who give glory to God by walking in the promises of God.

Your friendly neighborhood historian,

Shammah Pavao




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