Saturday, May 26, 2012

Clement of Rome

Life (approximate): AD 30 - 100
Bishop of Rome (approximate): AD 90 / 91 - 100
Writings: Letter to the Corinthians

Early Sources Concerning Clement of Rome: (not a comprehensive list)
Paul - Philippians 4:3 (Eusebius claims that Paul is speaking about Clement here)
Irenaeus - Against Heresies: Book 3, Chapter 3
Eusebius - Church History: Book 3
Tertullian - Prescription Against Heretics

Timeline with Roman Emperors:


Clement of Rome, who according to the Roman Church is the fourth pope, is grouped among what are called the Apostolic Fathers.  Apostolic church fathers are early church fathers who had dealings with the apostles.  In the case of Clement, he is said to have been ordained by the Apostle Peter.  There isn't a single book that tells about his life and thought, rather we have glimpses of the man through various sources.  The only legitimate letter we have from him is his letter to the Corinthians which was read in many churches along with Scripture for several centuries.
"There is extant an epistle of this Clement which is acknowledged to be genuine and is of considerable length and of remarkable merit. He wrote it in the name of the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, when a sedition had arisen in the latter church. We know that this epistle also has been publicly used in a great many churches both in former times and in our own. And of the fact that a sedition did take place in the church of Corinth at the time referred to Hegesippus is a trustworthy witness." -Eusebius: Church History

Epistle to the Corinthians

In this letter, Clement responds to a sedition or rebellion that was going on at the church of Corinth.  He addresses this when he writes:
"...the worthless rose up against the honoured, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years." -Chapter 3
In the following several chapters, Clement offers examples from the Old Testament and from the apostles.  For example, he offers Cain and Able, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and the Pharoh, etc. as examples of what happens when envy creeps in.
"You see, brethren, how envy and jealousy led to the murder of a brother. Through envy, also, our father Jacob fled from the face of Esau his brother. Envy made Joseph be persecuted unto death, and to come into bondage..." -Chapter 4 emphasis mine
From these examples he moves to exhortation.  He writes to them to admonish them of their duty.  The twofold duty to which he calls them is that of repentance and obedience.  The admonishment here is for the Corinthians to repent and to obey God.  As Clement writes,
"Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us... Let us turn to every age that has passed, and learn that, from generation to generation, the Lord has granted a place of repentance to all such as would be converted unto Him." -Chapter 7
Clement then continues to give numerous examples from nature and Scripture to show the church at Corinth that God has setup order in the cosmos and in His church.  He exhorts them to give up envy and to embrace godly love.  He warns them, again from examples in Scripture, of the fate of those who would rise up against God's ministers.  Finally, he admonishes them to obey their leaders and to put away their jealousy.  Essentially, the letter is a call to be united "through our High Priest and Protector, Jesus Christ".

Brief Response to Bryan Cross

In an article on Clement of Rome, the Catholic apologist Bryan Cross argues that Clements point is not primarily that the Corinthians be obedient to God directly, but that they be obedient to God by means of their obedience to the authorities that God has placed over them.
"The argument that St. Clement is constructing over the course of the entire epistle is that we follow God by following those authorities whom God has appointed, not those who rise up in sedition." -Bryan Cross
While this claim is not objectionable, it seems to me that Cross overstates his case.  In his article, he is trying to show a continuity between the ecclesiology of Clement of Rome and the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church.  This is where his understanding of Clement's letter seems strained.  Again, most of what Cross says is not objectionable to a Protestant or an Eastern Orthodox believer.   For example, I wouldn't disagree when Cross says the following:
"There is an intimate connection between esteeming those who have rule over us, and reverencing Jesus Christ." -Bryan Cross
The Protestant Reformers themselves wouldn't disagree with this statement in and of itself.  Where Cross seems to go beyond Clement is in his affirmation that Clement is clearly affirming "a three-fold distinction in Holy Orders".  According to Cross, Clement is affirming the orders of bishop, priest, and deacon by drawing a parallel between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood under the new covenant.  Cross says the following:
"Christ established in His New Covenant three different Holy Orders: new high priests, new priests, and new Levites. And these clearly are referring to the three-fold division of bishop, priest, and deacon, with the bishop being the high priest of the Church in his city." -Bryan Cross
To be sure, Clement is concerned about the schism taking place in Corinth.  He also teaches that God sets the universe, nature, and the church in proper order.  There is no doubt that Clement desires the church to be unified and to conduct themselves in an orderly way.  Additionally, Clement clearly wants the church laity to submit to their presbyters.

But I do not see how Clement is advocating the "three-fold distinction" to which Cross refers.  Clement refers to "high priests" of the Old Testament (chapters 40 and 41) in an effort to drive home the point that God sets up orderly administration over the people of God.  But this in itself doesn't admit of the distinction mentioned above.  Protestants also admit of hierarchy in the church.  Admittedly, those offices vary from denomination to denomination, but they very often entail deacons and elders as leaders or ministers of the church.  So an admission of hierarchy and order in the church doesn't necessary yield the Roman Catholic Holy Orders.

As a Protestant, what I find interesting is that all other references to "high priests" in this letter speak of "the" high priest, not "high priests" in the plural.  The High Priest is specifically named in the letter.  When speaking of the current ecclesiastical structure, Clement only refers to Jesus Christ as the High Priest.  (see chapter 36, 61, and 64)

I would be interested in getting responses back on this to further the discussion.

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