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2 Clement is the earliest Christian sermon known outside the New Testament. It is so-called because tradition assigns the sermon to Clement of Rome as his second epistle.
There is no way of knowing if that tradition is accurate. Whether Clement wrote it or not, this early Christian sermon comes from no later than very early in the second century. It is entirely possible that it is from the late first century.
It is interesting to note that this sermon quotes 1 Clement, the letter to the Corinthians that is believed to have been penned by Clement of Rome (see ch. 11 below).
I owe it to you to give you some of the introductory notice written by Professor M.B. Riddle, D.D. as found in volume 7 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
For those of you that are not from a liturgical church, a "homily" is a sermon.
Though Riddle's introduction was written over 100 years ago, in the late 1800's, his summary above remains true.
Dr. Riddle writes:
To clarify, the battle with the gnostics, who were driven out of the churches in the first half of the second century, was heated in the last half of the second century. A work that makes no reference to "the heretics," would be unlikely to date from the late second century.
Much ado—possibly for good reason—is made about the first use of "it is written" in reference to a New Testament writing. The Letter of Barnabas (ch. 5) cites Matthew 20:16 or 22:14 with the authoritative formula "it is written."
I question the importance of that first clear reference to a New Testament writing as Scripture. From the earliest days of the church, the apostles preaching and teaching were regarded as the Word of God. Pauls' letters and 2 Peter both state this somewhat explicitly (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Pet. 3:16). For a fuller treatment of this subject, see "The Authority of the Apostles," a video I put up on Youtube concerning the formation of what we call the New Testament, but I prefer to call "The Apostles' Writings."
Thus, any writing that was believed to be written by an apostle would have been regarded as Scripture from the earliest days in the church, whether we have someone citing it as Scripture or not.
However, the way 2 Clement addresses the apostles' writings, and his inclusion of a quote from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas helps scholars to date it to near the time of Barnabas.
Finally, I need to address this comment by Dr. Riddle:
I think I only included this quote because I found the criticism so harsh as to be humorous. "Its chief excellence is its brevity." Wow!
Dr. Riddle may be correct. I'm not quite so negative about the style, but whether he is right or not, there is a very positive side to 2 Clement.
As the earliest Christian sermon available, we get a picture of what was on the mind of Christian leaders. In fact, the subject of this sermon—the importance of keeping the commands of Christ—is the central subject of most Christian writings of that period. It was only as heresies, mainly gnosticism grew in popularity, that more in-depth expositions of Scripture are found in the Christian writings.
So here's 2 Clement, taken from Volume 7 of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, with updated vocabulary and punctuation.
Brothers, it is appropriate that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God, as the Judge of the living and the dead. It does not become us to think lightly of our salvation. If we think little of him, we shall also hope to obtain but little from him.
Those of us who carelessly listen to these things, as if they were of little importance, commit sin. We do not know from where we have been called, by whom, to what place, nor how much Jesus Christ submitted to suffer for our sakes.
What repayment, then, shall we make to him? What fruit that could be worthy of what he has given to us? Truly, how great are the benefits we owe to him!
He has graciously given us light. As a Father, he has called us sons. He has saved us when we were ready to perish.
What praise, then, shall we give to him? Or what repayment shall we make for the things we have received?
We were deficient in understanding, worshipping stones, wood, gold, silver, and brass, the works of men's hands. Our whole life was nothing but death. Involved in blindness and full of darkness in our sight, we have received sight. Through his will we have laid aside the cloud which enveloped us. For he had compassion on us and mercifully saved us because he saw the many errors in which we were entangled as well as the destruction to which we were exposed. He saw that we had no hope of salvation unless it came to us from him. He called us when we were nothing, and he willed that out of nothing we should obtain a real existence.
"Rejoice, you barren that do not give birth! Break forth and cry, you that do not labor in birth! For she that is desolate has many more children than she that has a husband" [Is. 54:1].
When he said, "Rejoice, you barren that do not give birth," he referred to us because our Church was barren until children were given to her. But when he says, "Cry out, you that do not labor," he means this: we should sincerely offer up our prayers to God. We should not, like women in labor, show signs of weakness.
When he said, "For she that is desolate has many more children than the one that has a husband," he means that our people seemed to be outcast from God, but now, through believing, we have become more numerous than those who are considered to possess God.
Another Scripture says, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" [Matt. 9:13; Mk. 2:17]. This means that those who are perishing must be saved. For it is truly a great and admirable thing to establish, not the things which are standing, but those which are falling. Thus, Christ also wanted to save the things which were perishing, and he has saved many by coming and calling us while we were hurrying to destruction.
Since he has displayed such great mercy toward us—especially in this regared, that we who are living should no longer offer sacrifices to gods that are dead, nor pay them worship, but should obtain, through him, the knowledge of the true Father—how shall we show that we really know him except by not denying the One through whom this knowledge has been obtained? For he himself declares, "Whoever shall confess me before men, him I will confess before my Father" [Matt. 10:32].
This is our reward, then, if we will confess the One by whom we have been saved. But how do we confess him? By doing what he says, not transgressing his commandments, by honoring him not with our lips alone, but with all our heart and all our mind. For he says in Isaiah, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" [Is. 29:13].
Let us, then, not only call him Lord, for that will not save us. For says, "Not everyone that says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall be saved, but he that works righteousness" [Matt. 7:21, misquoted slightly].
Therefore, brothers, let us confess him by our works, by loving one another, by not committing adultery, speaking evil of one another, nor cherishing envy. Instead, let us be chaste, compassionate, and good. We should also sympathize with one another and not be greedy. By these works let us confess him and not by those that are of an opposite kind.
And it is not appropriate that we should fear men; rather we should fear God. For this reason, if we do such wicked things, the Lord has said, "Even though you were gathered to me in my very bosom, yet if you were not to keep my commandments, I would cast you off and say to you, 'Depart from me, I do not know where you are from, you workers of iniquity" [cf. Matt. 7:23; Luke 18:27; the first part of this quote has not been found even in apocryphal works].
Therefore, brothers, let us willingly leave our sojourn in this present world. Let us do the will of him that called us without being afraid to leave this world. For the Lord says, "You shall be like lambs in the midst of wolves" [Matt. 10:16].
And Peter answered him by saying, "What, then, if the wolves shall tear the lambs into pieces?"
Jesus said to Peter, "The lambs have no reason to fear the wolves after they are dead. In the same way, don't be afraid of those that kill you, but can do nothing more to you. Instead, fear him who, after you are dead, has power over both soul and body, to cast them into hell-fire" [Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5].
Brothers, think about the fact that the sojourning in the flesh in this world is brief and transient, but the promise of Christ is great and wonderful, even the rest of the kingdom to come and of everlasting life. By what course of conduct, then shall we obtain these things other than leading a holy and righteous life and by deeming these worldly things as not belonging to us and by not longing for them? For if we long to possess them, we fall away from the righteous path.
Now the Lord declares, "No servant can serve two masters." If we desire, then, to serve both God and mammon, it will be unprofitable for us. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?" [Matt. 16:26].
This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, greed and deceit. The other bids farewell to these things. We cannot, therefore, be friends of both, and it behooves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other.
We consider it better to hate the things present, since they are trifling, transient, and corruptible, and to love those which are to come as being good and indestructible. For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment if we disobey his commandments. For this is what the Scripture says in Ezekiel also, "If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they would not deliver their children in captivity" [Ezek. 14:14,20].
Now, if even such righteous men are not able to deliver their children by their righteousness, what confidence can we have to enter the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or, who shall be our advocate unless we are found in possession of holy and righteous works?
Therefore, my brothers, let us struggle with all sincerity, knowing that the contest is very near us. Many undertake long voyages to compete for a perishable reward, yet not all are crowned, but only those that have worked hard and competed gloriously.
Let us therefore compete in such a way that we may all be crowned. Let us put the straight course in front of us, the race that is imperishable. Let us set sail for it in great numbers and compete so that we may be crowned. And should we not all be able to obtain the crown, let us at least come near to it.
We must be aware that he who strives in the perishable contest is taken away, scourged, and removed from the lists if he is found cheating. What do you think? If anyone does anything inappropriate in the everlasting contest, what will he have to bear?
For the Scripture says about those who do not preserve the seal unbroken (see sidebar), "Their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be a spectacle to all flesh" [Is. 66:24].
Therefore, as long as we are upon earth, let us practice repentance because we are as clay in the hand of the artist. Just as the potter, if he makes a vessel and it is distorted or broken in his hands, shapes it again, but if has already put it in the furnace, he can no longer help it, so let us also, while we are in this world, repent with our whole heart of the evil deeds we have done in the flesh, so that we may be saved by the Lord while we have the opportunity to repent. For after we have left this world, no further right to confessing or repenting will belong to us there.
Therefore, brothers, by doing the will of the Father and by keeping the flesh holy and observing the commandments of the Lord, we shall obtain eternal life. For the Lord says in the Gospel, "If you have not kept that which is small, who will commit great things to you? For I say to you that the one who is faithful in that which is least is also faithful in much" [Luke 16:10-12].
This, then, is what he means: "Keep the flesh holy and the seal undefiled, so that you may receive eternal life."
Let none of you say that this very flesh shall not be judged nor rise again. Consider what state you were saved in, in which you received sight. Was it not while you were in this flesh? We must therefore preserve the flesh as the temple of God, for as you were called in the flesh, so you shall come to be judged in the flesh.
As Christ the Lord who saved us became flesh, even though he was first a spirit, so we will receive the reward in this flesh. Let us therefore love one another, so that we may all attain the kingdom of God.
While we have the opportunity to be healed, let us yield ourselves to God, who heals us, and give him a payment. What sort of payment? Repentance out of a sincere heart, for he knows everything in advance and is acquainted with what is in our hearts. Let us give him praise with our heart as well as with our mouths so that he may accept us as sons. For the Lord has said, "The ones who do the will of my Father are my brothers" [Matt. 12:50].
Therefore, my brothers, let us do the will of the Father who called us so that we may live. Let us rather follow virtue and forsake every wicked tendency which would lead into transgression. Let us flee from ungodliness so that evils do not overtake us, for if we are diligent in doing good, peace will follow us.
Because of this, men who are influenced by human terrors and prefer present enjoyment to the promise which shall be fulfilled after this life cannot find it; that is, peace. For they do not know what sort of torment the present enjoyment incurs, nor what happiness is involved in the future promise.
Truly, if they were the only ones who did such things, it would be more tolerable. But now they persist in imbuing innocent souls with their pernicious doctrines, not realizing that they will receive a double condemnation, both they and those that hear them.
Therefore, let us serve God with a pure heart, and we shall be righteous. If we do not serve him, however, because we do not believe the promise of God, we shall be miserable. For the prophetic word also declares, "Wretched are those of a double mind, who doubt in their heart, and who say, 'All these things we have heard even in the days of our fathers, but though we have waited day by day, we have seen none of them accomplished.' You fools! Compare yourselves to a tree. Take, for instance, the vine. First of all, it sheds its leaves, then the bud appears; after that, the sour grape, and then the fully ripened fruit. So, likewise, my people have borne disturbances and afflictions, but afterwards they shall receive their good things" [1 Clement 23].
Therefore, my brothers, let us not be of a double mind, but let us hope and endure so that we may obtain the reward. He is faithful, and he has promised that he will bestow on everyone a reward according to their works. If, therefore, we shall do righteousness in the sight of God, we shall enter into his kingdom, and shall receive the promises "which ear has not heard, nor eye seen, neither have they entered into the heart of man" [1 Cor. 2:9].
Let us expect, therefore, hour by hour, the kingdom of God in love and righteousness, since we do not know the day of the appearing of God. For the Lord himself, when he was asked by someone when his kingdom would come, replied, "When two shall be one, and that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female, neither male nor female" [Gospel of Thomas 22; Clement of Alexandria also quotes this passage, c. AD 190, and attributes it to an unknown "Gospel of the Egyptians"].
Now, two are one when we speak the truth to one another, and there is honestly one soul in two bodies. "That which is without as that which is within" means the following. He calls the soul "that which is within," and the body "that which is without." As, then, your body is visible to sight, so also let your soul be evident by good works.
"The male with the female, neither male nor female" means that a brother seeing a sister should think nothing about her as a female, nor should she think anything about him as a male. If you do these things, he says, the kingdom of my Father shall come.
Therefore, brothers, let us now repent at length. Let us be serious about what is good, for we are full of much folly and wickedness. Let us blot our former sins out of us. By repenting from the soul let us be saved.
Let us not become men-pleasers. Nor let us desire to please only each other, but also the ones that are outside, by our righteousness so that the Name will not be blasphemed because of us. For the Lord also says, "My name is continuously blasphemed among all the Gentiles" [Is. 52:5 with "all" inserted], and again, "Woe to him on account of whom my name is blasphemed" [cf. Ezek. 36:20-23].
How is it blasphemed? In your not doing what I desire. For the Gentiles marvel at our words as beautiful and great when they hear from our mouth the oracles of God. Afterwards, when they have learned that our works are not worthy of the words we speak, they then turn to blasphemy, saying that it [our faith?] is fable and delusion.
For example, when they hear from us that God says, "There are no thanks due to you if you love those that love you; but there are thanks due to you if you love your enemies and them that hate you" [Luke 6:27 & 32, combined]. When they hear these things, they marvel at the excellence of the kindness; but when they see that we not only do not love them that hate us, but not even them that love us, they laugh us to scorn, and the Name is blasphemed.
Therefore, brothers, if we do the will of God our Father, we shall be of the first Church, the one that is spiritual, that was created before the sun and moon [cf. Ps. 72:5,17]. If we do not do the will of the Lord, we shall be of the Scripture that says, "My house was made a den of robbers" [Jer. 7:11].
So then, let us choose to be of the Church of life, that we may be saved.
I do not suppose, however, that you are ignorant that the living Church is the body of Christ, for the Scripture says, "God made man, male and female" [Gen. 1:27]. The male is Christ, the female is the Church. And the Books and the Apostles (see sidebar) plainly declare that the Church is not of the present, but from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as our Jesus also was, but was revealed in the last days that he might save us.
Now the Church, being spiritual, was revealed in the flesh of Christ, thus signifying to us that if any of us keeps her pure in the flesh and does not corrupt her, then he will partake of her again in the Holy Spirit. For this flesh is the copy of the spirit*. No one, then, who corrupts the copy shall partake of the original.
*The translator, Dr. M.D. Riddle, rendered "spirit" with a small s, suggesting that the reference here is to spiritual things, but not to the Holy Spirit directly. I have left that rendering as is. This is also true in several places that follow.
This then is what he means, "Keep the flesh so that you may partake of the spirit."
If we say that the flesh is the Church and the spirit Christ, then whoever has shamefully used the flesh has shamefully used the Church. Such a person shall not partake of the Spirit*, which is Christ.
*Dr. Riddle translated this with a small s, but that did not seem correct to me.
This flesh can partake of such life and indestructibility when the Holy Spirit is joined to it. No one can utter or speak "what the Lord has prepared" for his elect [1 Cor. 2:9].
I do not think I have given you light counsel concerning self-control. If anyone does this he will not repent of it, but will save both himself and me, the one who counseled him.
For it is no small reward to turn a wandering and perishing soul so that it may be saved [cf. Jam. 5:19-20]. For this is the repayment we have to give to God who created us, that the one who speaks and hears both speaks and hears with faith and love. Therefore, let us remain in the things which we believed, righteous and holy, so that we may make requests of God with boldness; for he says, "While you are still speaking, I will say, 'Lo, I am here'" [Is. 58:9, LXX].
This saying is the sign of a great promise, for the Lord says of himself that he is more ready to give than the one who asks is to ask.
Since we are partakers of such great kindness, let us not be envious of one another in obtaining so many good things. For as great as is the pleasure which these sayings have for them that have done them, equally great is the condemnation they have for them that have been disobedient.
Therefore, brothers, since we have received no small incentive for repentance, let us turn to God that calls us while we have opportunity and while we still have him as the One that receives us.
If we renounce these enjoyments and conquer our soul in not doing its evil desires, we shall partake of the mercy of Jesus.
You know that the day of judgment even now comes like a burning oven [cf. Mal. 4:1], and some of the heavens shall melt, and all the earth shall be like lead melting on the fire [cf. Is. 34:4; 2 Pet. 3:7,10]. Then the hidden and the open works of men shall appear.
Therefore, almsgiving is a good thing, like repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving than both [cf. Tobit 12:8-9]. Love covers a multitude of sins [1 Pet. 4:8]. Prayer out of a good conscience delivers from death.
Blessed is everyone that is found full of these, for almsgiving lightens the burden of sin [cf. Ecclesiasticus 3:30].
Let us therefore repent with our whole heart so that no one of us perishes by the way. For if we have commandments to practice this: to draw men away from idols and instruct them, how much more ought a soul who already knows God avoid perishing!
Let us therefore assist one another so that we may also lead the weak in what is good, on order that everyone may be saved. Let us convert and admonish one another.
Let us not prepare to give heed and believe now only, while we are admonished by the elders, but also when we have returned home, let us remember the commandments of the Lord. Let us not be dragged away by worldly desires, but, praying* more frequently, let us attempt to make advances in the commandments of the Lord.
*The text here is unclear, and the writer might be saying "coming" rather than "praying," meaning that we should meet together more frequently.
Let us all be of the same mind so we may be gathered together into life. For the Lord said, "I come to gather together all the nations, tribes, and tongues" [Is. 66:18; cf. Dan. 3:7]. He says this about his appearing, when he shall come and redeem us, each one according to his works.
The unbelievers shall see his glory and strength. They will think it strange to see the rule of the world in the hands of Jesus, and they will cry out, "Woe to us. You were he, and we did not know nor believe. We did not obey the elders when they announced to us the news of our salvation."
"Their worm does not die, their fire is not quenched, and they shall be a spectacle before all flesh" [Is. 66:24]. He speaks of that day of judgment, when they shall see those among us that have been ungodly and acted deceitfully with the commandments of Jesus Christ.
The righteous, however, who have done well, endured torments, and hated the enjoyments of the soul—when they will behold them that have gone astray and denied Jesus through their words or through their works—will be giving glory to God and saying, "There will be hope for the one that has served God with his whole heart!"
Let us also belong to the number of them that give thanks, that have served God, and not of the ungodly that are judged.
I, too, being a complete sinner [lit. "allsinner"; one word in Greek], not yet escaped from temptation, and still being in the midst of the weapons of the devil, make every effort to follow after righteousness so that I may have strength even to come near it, fearing the judgment to come [cf. 1 Pet. 1:17].
Therefore, brothers and sisters, after the God of truth has been heard*, I now read to you a plea that you would give heed to the things that are written, so that you may save both yourselves and the one that reads among you.
*A reference to the fact that this writing was a sermon, meant to be read aloud in the congregation.
As a reward, I ask of you that you repent with your whole heart, thus giving yourselves salvation and life. By doing this we shall set a goal for all the young who have a heart to labor on behalf of the piety and the goodness of God.
Let us not, unwise ones that we are, be offended and strongly displeased whenever someone admonishes us and turns us from iniquity to righteousness. For sometimes, while we are practicing evil things, we do not perceive it. This is because of the double-mindedness and unbelief that is in our breasts. We are darkened in our understanding by our vain desires [Eph. 4:18].
So let us practice righteousness that we may be saved to the end. Blessed are they who obey these ordinances. Even if they suffer evil in the world for a little while, they shall enjoy the immortal fruit of the resurrection.
So do not let the godly man be grieved. If he is wretched in the times that are now, a blessed time waits for him. He will live again, above with the fathers, and he shall be joyful for an eternity without grief.
Nor let it trouble your mind that we see the unrighteous having riches and the servants of God tight on supplies. Therefore let us, brothers and sisters, be believing! We are battling in the contest of the living God. We are exercised by the present life so that we may be crowned by the one to come.
None of the righteous received fruit quickly, but awaits it. If God gave the reward of the righteous after a short time, we would immediately be exercising ourselves in business, not in godliness. We would seem to be righteous while pursuing not what is godly, but what is profitable. Because of this, divine judgment surprised a spirit that was not righteous and loaded it with chains.*
*Translators disagree on this difficult sentence. Dr. Riddle opted for the reading I supplied here without change, and the sentence would then refer to Satan. Lightfoot renders the sentence, "Sordid motives bring their own punishment in a judicial blindness."
I have to leave further discussion of that sentence to those more qualified than me. I am simply passing on information from the notes in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII.
To the only God, invisible, the Father of truth, who sent forth to us the Savior and Prince of imperishability, through whom he also revealed to us the truth and the heavenly life, to him be the glory forever and ever [cf. 1 Tim. 1:17]. Amen.