Icon of Clement I
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Epistle to the Corinthians
Clement of Rome writes to the Corinthians regarding their conflict.
Starting in the 3rd and 4th century, tradition has identified him as the Clement that Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:3, a fellow laborer in Christ. The 2nd-century Shepherd of Hermas mentions a Clement whose office it was to communicate with other churches; most likely, this is a reference to Clement I.
The Liber Pontificalis, which documents the reigns of popes, states that Clement had known Saint Peter. It also states that he wrote two letters (though the second letter, 2 Clement, is no longer ascribed to him) and that he died in Greece in the third year of Emperor Trajan’s reign, or 101 AD.
A large congregation existed in Rome c. 58, when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans. Paul arrived in Rome c. 60 (Acts). His Captivity Epistles, as well as Mark, Luke, Acts, and 1 Peter were written here, according to many scholars. Paul and Peter were said to have been martyred here. Nero persecuted Roman Christians after Rome burned in 64, and the congregation may have suffered further persecution under Domitian (81–96). Clement was the first of early Rome’s most notable bishops.
Clement is known for his epistle to the church in Corinth (c. 96), in which he asserts the apostolic authority of the bishops/presbyters as rulers of the church. The epistle mentions episkopoi (overseers, bishops) or presbyteroi (elders, presbyters) as the upper class of minister, served by the deacons, but, since it does not mention himself, it gives no indication of the title or titles used for Clement in Rome. It has been cited as the first work to establish Roman primacy, but most scholars see the epistle as more fraternal than authoritative, and Orthodox scholar John Meyendorff sees it as connected with the Roman church’s awareness of its “priority” (rather than “primacy”) among local churches.
In the epistle, Clement uses the terms bishop and presbyter interchangeably for the higher order of ministers above deacons. In some congregations, particularly in Egypt, the distinction between bishops and presbyters seems to have become established only later. But by the middle of the second century all the leading Christian centers had bishops.
According to apocryphal acta dating to the 4th century at earliest, Clement was banished from Rome to the Chersonesus during the reign of the Emperor Trajan and was set to work in a stone quarry. Finding on his arrival that the prisoners were suffering from lack of water, he knelt down in prayer. Looking up, he saw a lamb on a hill, went to where the lamb had stood and struck the ground with his pickax, releasing a gushing stream of clear water. This miracle resulted in the conversion of large numbers of the local pagans and his fellow prisoners to Christianity. As punishment, Saint Clement was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea. The legend recounts that every year a miraculous ebbing of the sea revealed a divinely built shrine containing his bones. However, the oldest sources on Clement’s life, Eusebius and Jerome, note nothing of his martyrdom.
The Inkerman Cave Monastery marks the supposed place of Clement’s burial in the Crimea. A year or two before his own death in 869, Saint Cyril brought to Rome what he believed to be the relics of Saint Clement, bones he found in the Crimea buried with an anchor on dry land. They are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente. Other relics of Saint Clement, including his head, are claimed by the Kiev Monastery of the Caves in Ukraine.
Early succession lists name Clement as the first, second, or third successor of Saint Peter. However, the meaning of his inclusion in these lists has been very controversial. Some believe there were presbyter-bishops as early as the 1st century, but that there is no evidence for a monarchical episcopacy in Rome at such an early date. There is also, however, no evidence of a change occurring in ecclesiastical organization in the latter half of the 2nd century, which would indicate that a new or newly-monarchical episcopacy was establishing itself. Also Dionysius of Corinth and Irenaeus of Lyon both viewed Clement as a monarchial bishop who intervened in the dispute in the church of Corinth.
Clement’s only existing, genuine text is a letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, often called the First Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. The history of 1 Clement clearly and continuously shows Clement as the author of this letter. It is considered the earliest authentic Christian document outside of the New Testament.
Clement writes to the troubled congregation in Corinth, where certain “presbyters” or “bishops” have been deposed (the class of clergy above that of deacons is designated indifferently by the two terms). Clement calls for repentance and reinstatement of those who have been deposed, in line with maintenance of order and obedience to church authority, since the apostles established the ministry of “bishops and deacons.” He mentions “offering the gifts” as one of the functions of the higher class of clergy. Although one who reads the Epistle will note that when the term “offering the gifts” by the bishops is used, it has no reference to “communion” and or Remembrance of the Lord but that of the gifts of ministering to the church with no actual indication of a specific gift. The epistle offers valuable insight into Church ministry at that time and into the history of the Roman Church. It was highly regarded, and was read in church at Corinth along with the Scriptures c. 170.
Do we then think it to be a great and marvelous thing, if the Creator of the universe shall bring about the resurrection of them that have served Him with holiness in the assurance of a good faith, seeing that He showeth to us even by a bird the magnificence of His promise? 1 Clem 26:1