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Commentary on 1 Clement, Chapter 1

I hope to get through many of the apostolic fathers before our Father calls me home. My one rule for the commentaries is: I deal with the text, not the scholarship behind the veracity or dating of the writers. I leave that to scholars who have more time and better libraries to research. Unless you are studying at a prestigious university, you should do the same.

You can read the text of "1 Clement," ch. 1 with me at I am not covering all the text, but parts of each chapter and then commenting.


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1 Clement ch. 1

"Owing, dear brothers, to the sudden and calamitous events which have happened to us."

Scholars use this line to help date the letter. Most believe the letter was written in A.D. 95-96 during the Domitian persecution, but others date it from A.D. 70 and even to 140. Wikipedia gives references for the dates.

On the use of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a fantastic source when used correctly. The best way to use Wikipedia is to read enough to get a general feel for your topic, then go through the footnotes to find sources to go deeper.

>"We have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us."

This line lets us know that one or several of the saints in Corinth contacted Rome about the problem going on in Corinth. Rome did not simply hear about it and intervene. Also, this letter is addressed from "we." If a pope, with "full, supreme, and universal power over the whole church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 882, and the Vatican II Council both say this) existed at that time, Clement would have written "I," not "we."

On the other hand, we also get a hint of the authority Rome, as a church, had with other churches. This is just a hint, but when Irenaeus writes about the church in Rome almost a century later (c. 185), Rome is described as the greatest and most trustworthy church. Seventy years later, the elders in Rome, during a time when there was no bishop because the previous bishop had been martyred, spoke of the greatness of Rome and that it would be "the greatest crime" to fall from it (Epistle 30).

Here's a plug for my book Rome's Audacious Claim, which covers the rise of Rome's claim that their bishop has supreme authority over all churches and Christians.

Churches were honored for various reasons, and there were many reasons to honor the Roman church in the second and third centuries. First, both Peter and Paul taught there. Most churches believed Peter became one of the elders there, and obviously the head elder, a position which would eventually become standardized in all churches and named "bishop" (lit. "overseer"). Second, most martyrdoms occurred in Rome and from members of the Roman church. Third, Rome was one of the wealthier churches, and they were known for their generosity to other churches. Finally, "all roads led to Rome," and Rome had much more interaction with all churches in general than other churches. This allowed them both input from and influence towards other churches, helping them preserve the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Irenaeus argues that all these things together make Rome the greatest authority on the faith of the apostles in the his time (the late second century).

How unfortunate that the centuries have produced a church in Rome that has turned its trustworthy witness to the true faith of the apostles into the right to decree its own version of the faith. This is indeed the "great crime" that the Roman elders spoke of in their letter to Cyprian in the third century.

"For who ever dwelt even for a short time among you, and did not find your faith to be as fruitful of virtue as it was firmly established? Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificence of your habitual hospitality? And who did not rejoice over your perfect and well-grounded knowledge?"

This passage lets us know that the Corinthians received the rebukes of Paul in his letters to Corinth. They had put away the divisions rebuked in Paul's first letter. Chapter 2 of Clement's letter says, "Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight." They had put away the immoralities Paul was worried about in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. They had turned away from the careless communion meals spoken of in 1 Corinthians 11.

There are those who dismiss the teaching and testimony of the "pre-Nicene" (before the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325) fathers because they suppose (wish?) the early churches fell away immediately after the time of the apostles. We learn from Clement's letter and from many other second-century writings that this was absolutely not the case. When we look at Ignatius' writings, who was bishop of Antioch while Clement was the messenger for the Roman church, we will see what happened to the gnostics that John was worried about in his epistles.

In other words, history testifies in no uncertain terms that the churches did not fall away immediately after the time of the apostles.

"You enjoined young men to be of a sober and serious mind; you instructed your wives to do all things with a blameless, becoming, and pure conscience, loving their husbands as in duty bound; and you taught them that, living in the rule of obedience, they should manage their household affairs becomingly and be in every respect marked by discretion."

This passage finishes chapter 1 of First Clement. I quoted this because it mentions women and their role. "Manage their household affairs" could well be managing a household in which servants did the work. History, and even the last chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, testifies that the Gospel converted even some of the wealthy. While some of those may have sold all their goods to give to the poor, there were women who could not do that because their husbands were not converted. Of course, most women were not wealthy and likely managed their own households and children themselves.

There is so much that can be talked about as we go through the writings of the early fathers. Their writings allow us to discuss Scripture, to learn most of their theology, and see the way they lived their lives. Remember, these men lived in the culture of the apostles and spoke the Greek language that was somewhat universal in Rome. (In the late first and early second centuries the western Roman Empire and its churches switched to Latin as the most common language.)

Until next time, grace and peace be with you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.

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