Not Traditional, Original

01.1.4 Clement’s Writing – The Start of Tradition as an Authority in Church Doctrine

Clement of Rome is significant in Christian history in a number of ways. As we have seen in previous articles his epistle, 1 Clement, was almost included in the canon of scripture we use and was included in some bibles for centuries. His writing not being included in our canon, Clement becomes the first early church father that we have writings from. As we have seen his epistle, 1 Clement introduced concepts to Christian doctrine including apostolic succession and the distinction between laity and ministry.

Clement began, for all intents and purposes, the movement where “church fathers”, early Christian writers, wrote writings that expanded, developed, and changed the church. This is exemplified in how he helped formulate the doctrines of clergy/ laity and apostolic succession. The church at that time did not rely on the bible as the sole authoritative source for truth, but looked to the writings of the bible, the tradition contained in the church fathers as well as the wisdom of whoever was the current leader(s).

This “tradition” that the early church relied on as a source of truth on a par with scripture was in part the writings of the church fathers. (The other part was oral, things handed down form generation to generation.)  The early church fathers  became a  movement because succesive writers either reinforced or expanded the doctrines started by men like Clement, and this became the developing doctrine of the Church.

In his epistle Clement also makes a few other theological points that I would like to reference. Mostly these are just odds and ends. They also illustrate how Clement as a church father helped establish church docrine:

The epistle illustrates the belief that the afterlife starts right after death:

Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him. Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance… Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place [ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter V ]

Notice how both Peter and Paul are said to have changed places, from this world to the next. This clearly indicates a belief that when one dies he “passes” from this life to the next.

Clement does not make any kind of argument to establish this premise. It’s as if he writes it in passing. He is just stating that Peter and Paul departed this world to a holy, glorious place. This statement appears to reflect that this was a common belief.

The distinction is that some Christians believe that upon death Christians “sleep”, are unconscious, have no existence, until the resurrection. The other view is that on death the spirit returns to the Lord for some vague existence, and at the resurrection the body, soul, and spirit are recreated with immortality and incorruptibility. Clement’s writing reflects that the latter position was commonly held at the time of his writing.

Non-Jews in Old Testament Times were saved:

Let us look stedfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God,21 which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world. 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. Noah preached repentance, and as many as listened to him were saved.[ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter VII ]

This shows Clement’s belief that OT believers were “saved.” He specifically calls them saved.

Clement Believed Enoch Never Died

Let us take (for instance) Enoch, who, being found righteous in obedience, was translated, and death was never known to happen to him.[ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter IX ]

Clement clearly believed that Enoch never died. In the bible there are the statements about how Enoch is “translated”. It is not fully explained. Clement’s statements give further explanation: Enoch did not die like everyone else. This, like arguments above, appear to reflect commonly held beliefs. (Remember that just because a belief was commonly held does not make it true. A commonly held belief about Jesus was that he was going to re-establish the sovereignty of the kingdom. Many had a hard time believing that he wasn’t going to be the most powerful political ruler at the time he was alive and perhaps shortly thereafter.)

The next two points refer to the viability of Clement’s inspiration as a source of True Christian doctrine

Clement makes an odd reference to the phoenix.

Clement refers to the life and rebirth of the phoenix. He tells how it lives for 500 years, makes its own sepulchre of frankincense and myrrh, enters, dies, and then a worm emerges which grows into the reborn phoenix. The myth of the phoenix was popular in olden times. It was referred to by Plutarch, Philostratus, Horapollo, the Book of Enoch, Herodatus, Ovid, Pliny, and others [1]. What is strange in my opinion is that Clement uses the argument that the resurrection is reasonable because the phoenix is so unusual. It really appears he is making a case that the resurrection is real because the incredible story of the phoenix is real.

The question that begs to be answered is: how can we trust someone that believes in the myth of the Phoenix? The answer is that Clement makes no claim to be an apostle, or prophet. His only claim is that he is reporting what he has learned from the apostles. On the other hand, in my opinion, Clement loses some of his believability with this argument and the next point.

The immeasurability of the oceans

In his arguments Clements makes passing reference to the immeasurability and impassibility of the oceans (Chapter XX). “The ocean, impassible to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord” may have once been true, but it is not now.

Again, Clement is showing his humanness here as this is clearly wrong. The oceans are passable, perhaps not in his time, but truth is not limited to certain periods of history. Clement appears to believe that the immpassability of the ocean is a divine law. After all, he likens this ocean impassiblity law to the unchangibility of the order of the seasons in his next statement. His arguments appear to be based on his own reasoning, not on what he has learned from the Apostles. Again, it works against his credibility.


Clement and the church fathers became sources for a developing Christian doctrine. Clement is referred to concerning martyrdom and the afterlife because of his reference to Peter and Paul. Martyrdom became increasingly important as Christianity spread. His statements in the epistle about the succession of bishop’s apostolic succession are used to help establish the hierarchy of the organized Catholic church and the primacy of Roman pontiffs. Whether or not we accept these developments is the issue. Still the impact of Clement and the later early church fathers is undeniable. Clement clearly presented doctrine that was beyond what was stated in in the New Testament. And some of that doctrine including the distinction between the clergy and laity and the importance of apostolic succession in establishing and maintaining church leadership became firmly established in the church. All of this happened despite incredible statements about the Phoenix, and the impassibility of the oceans.

[1] THE FAITH OF THE EARLY FATHERS, Volume 1, William A Jurgens, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1970, p. 13

November 30th, 2009 Posted by | Movements | no comments

01.1.3 Clement Used Apostolic Succession as the argument against replacing Presbyters in 1 Clement

The concern of the Epistle of 1 Clement is that some of the Corinthian Church presbyters have been replaced illegally. It speaks to the reality that divisions in the church have been around since the beginning. There are verses in Paul’s epistle that state that there were already divisions then (1Cor 3:3). Clement writes;

It is disgraceful, beloved, yea, highly disgraceful, and unworthy of your Christian profession, that such a thing should be heard of as that the most stedfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. [ I Clement, Chapter XLVII ]

The letter is an appeal to reconsider this removal of some elders from the fellowship. Their removal was not on moral grounds, and Clement argues against removing bishops appointed by the original disciples and their agents. He cites the cause as envy and jealousy. He goes to great lengths to call the believers to walk obediently in humility following the examples of Noah, Abraham, Rahab, David, and especially Jesus who exemplified humility. In his discussion Clement appeals at length, talking about our salvation, the holiness we are called to, Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead that we are looking forward to, the peace that is available in Christ, how we are justified by faith but are rewarded for good works, the blessings we have in Christ, and how we should submit to the church.

The crux of Clement’s argument is that once elders have been ordained there is no reason other than some sin to remove them. Clement goes to some length of discuss the difference between laity and presbyters as well as principle of apostolic succession. He calls for the Presbyters who replaced the old Presbyters to confess their sin and restrore the fellowship to its former state.

Chapters 40 and 41 of 1 Clement give instruction that clearly establishes and delineates the difference between what we call Clergy and laity. This is the first time we are given this clear distinction between clergy and laity:

“These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen. [ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XL ]

The tone of this paragraph is striking. According to Clement there are offerings and services that are to done at appointed times and hours by priests. This sounds just like Judaism and perhaps Roman Catholicism, and not at all like what we read in New Testament writings and in other Early church writings, for that matter. For more information, let’s look at the next chapter of the epistle:

“Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. Ye see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed.” [ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLI ]

This presents a confusing situation. Is Clement here in Chapter 41 teaching the practices of Judaism? This is not entirely inconsistent with what we see in the book of Acts as there are records which show Christians participating in the temple. But there are substantial verses that say that Christians did not do at least some of the practices of the Law. First let’s look at how involved the first Christians were with temple and Jewish activities:

And day by day, continuing stedfastly with one accord in the temple…[ Acts 2:46 ]

Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.[ Acts 3:1 ]

And when they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught. [Acts 5:21 ]

Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them went into the temple, declaring the fulfilment of the days of purification, until the offering was offered for every one of them. [ Acts 21:26 ]

So we see that Peter, John, Paul and the original disciples did not stop going to temple. But several points need to be made here:

  1. The gentiles were taught not to do any of the practices of the Law (Acts 21:21,25)
  2. Paul especially taught against the legalism of the Law.
  3. Paul went to the temple in Acts 21 to do the ritual to fulfill a vow. The fact that he was there does not mean that he espoused circumcision or the Law
  4. It is possible that since the apostles and disciples went so often to the temple that they participated in some Jewish feasts and other activities.
  5. Paul writes in Romans 9-11 that the Gentiles are to be part of the promise to Israel. He specifically writes that “a hardening in part hath befallen Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (11:25). The significance is that Christians didn’t stop identifying with Israel at Pentecost.

What 1 Clement chapter XLI looks like is an affirmation of Christianity’s identification with Israel. Clement especially is establishing the priestly hierarchy and the corresponding priestly duties of the Jewish religion. Clement then goes on in succeeding chapters to say that under the guidance of the holy spirit the apostles ordained the elders in the cities they visited. Clement is favorably comparing Jewish priests and their duties to Christian presbyters and their duties. In Chapter 44 Clement writes that Jesus gave orders that the ordained elders should ordain their successors, establishing a case for apostolic succession. He presents his reasoning and then charges that the Corinthian church violated this reasoning by removing some duly ordained elders. He compares this to the priestly succession of priests that started with Aaron and his descendents.

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole Church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.[ The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XLIV ]

While succession is hinted at in 2 Tim 2:2 and Titus 1:5 this is the first time it is expressly stated in Christian history in the writings that we have. Amazingly Clement says that the apostles both knew and taught that there would be a problem with bishops being challenged. He further states that it was taught by the apostles that whoever the bishops ordained to replace them were to be the ministers. This is the center of the treatise Clement composed. The buildup to this includes the importance of obedience and humility in the believer’s walk, and after this he calls for the persons taking over the episcopy to confess, repent and be restored to fellowship.

That the apostles taught apostolic succession this way is certainly new information. 2 Timothy 2:2 says to teach faithful men who will teach others also. It doesn’t mention overseeing. It doesn’t say ordain men who will ordain others and whosever they ordain are the only ones who can oversee that congregation. Titus 1:5 is a charge to Titus to ordain elders in the cities Paul had visited. There is no mention of succession.

Again, in contrast, Chapter XLIV above says the apostles taught that ordained men would approve (ordain) their successors. Clement does say that “we are of the opinion” that those so ordained cannot be dismissed. Even though clement cites this as opinion, his stance formed the basis of doctrine that survives in many Christian churches to this day.

This very first example of the early church fathers shows how Christianity was developed with more than just the bible, it was the influence of men like Clement that formed doctrine beyond what is stated in the books in the bible. It also shows why the church said from very early on that “tradition” was as important as scripture in determining church doctrine.

Also introduced by Clement here is the concept of clergy and laymen. Without going into lengthy discussion, suffice it to say that this is new as this distinction is not in what we call the New Testament. It is clear from Clements writing that within decades of the passing of most of the original apostles, and with perhaps John and other apostles still alive, the distinction of ministry and laity was part of the church.

It is a contradiction to say that the bible is complete, yet practices like these (apostolic succession and the distinction between the roles of clergy and laity), based on writings from Clement, and later writers, especially Irenaeus, became Christian doctrine.

While the examples in the bible certainly show that the elders ordained other elders, it stops short of stating what Clement describes. In practice the application of the principle of apostolic succession proved in history to be catastrophic. Apostolic succession was rigidly adhered to by the Catholic Church. But, by the Middle Ages, bishops were ordained, not for the gift that God placed in them, but for the price they could bring to build the coffers of the Vatican. Men needed to rise up to challenge this and other ungodly practices that had permeated the church. Whether or not their ministry was in the line of apostolic succession was not as important as whether they sought to serve the living God and live according to his ways.

© copyright 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved

November 30th, 2009 Posted by | Movements | one comment

01.1.2 Clement of Rome’s Canon of Scripture

The early church Father Clement regularly quotes the Old Testament with variations of “it is written,” and quotes the Lord Jesus with the words like “the words of the Lord” [1] For example:

…being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching us meekness and long-suffering. For thus He spoke: “Be ye merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as ye do, so shall it be done unto you; as ye judge, so shall ye be judged; as ye are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure ye mete, with the same it shall be measured to you.[2]

Here Clement is clearly identifying the Lord’s words as the Lord’s words. Jesus being our Savior and the perfect prophet, Clement is apparently treating his words as “the word of God”.

But some of Clements Old Testament(OT) citations are not in the Protestant canon, notably references to Wisdom and Judith, which are deuterocanonical books in the Catholic bible, and part of the Septuagint from which Clement quoted.

There are no such “it is written” citations for parts of Clement’s writings that appear to be quotes from what we would call New Testament writings.  Although in Chapter XLVII Clement does say that the epistle Paul wrote to Corinth “truly under the inspiration of the spirit,” Clement clearly considers OT writings as scripture and does not give New Testament writings the same status. Clement marks OT scripture with the status of “It is written” which he does not do for New Testament writings. He specifically calls OT writings “scripture” which he does not do for New Testament writings.

The defining difference is that the OT references and quotations of Jesus are clearly identified. There are numerous things that Clement wrote that are also in the New Testament, but Clement does not acknowledge this. As with many other early church writers where there are many things that are stated in their writing that also appear in the New Testament.  Since these are not identified as quotations these are called “allusions” by theologians. In fact, there is no hard evidence that Clement and these other writers were intentionally quoting these New Testament documents. They were just as likely to be quoting the “Christianese” of the times, those sayings and teachings that people taught and repeated to each other. There are examples of this today. The terms “believer’s baptism” and “first communion” are modern “Christianese” in certain sects. Christianese is another name for the colloquialisms that people develop in their communities. A more modern secular colloqialism is the proverb (not necessarily true),  “You get what you pay for.”

Look at this section of 1 Clement:

Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things.  There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony.[3]

This whole section looks similar to verses in 1 Corinthians 13, but it clearly is not identical. Listing the sentences in order we can say that some of them are allusions to verses that we know as marked below and some are not.

  1. Love unites us to God.
  2. Love covers a multitude of sins. – (James 5:20; 1Peter 4:8)
  3. Love beareth all things, is long-suffering in all things. – (1Cor 13:4)
  4. There is nothing base, nothing arrogant in love.
  5. Love admits of no schisms: love gives rise to no seditions: love does all things in harmony.

It doesn’t look to me that Clement was quoting verses as much as he was teaching about love the way Paul did, and the process he used included the same expressions as verses that wound up in the New Testament because that was just the way Christians talked about love.

What is apparent is that Clement considered at least part of the Septuagint as scripture and held the words of our Lord to the highest standard. But while he acknowledged that at least once Paul wrote “truly under the inspiration of the spirit” he frequently says things that are in the New Testament without qualifying them as divinely inspired or otherwise of the standard called “scripture”. Clement doesn’t give the reference for his quote. Clement’s use of verses from Wisdom and Judith as well as the wording of some of his other quotations further suggest that the Septuagint was what he considered scripture. The frequent use of New testament sayings suggests that while the books of the New Testament were probably in existence at this time, the sayings were part of the oral tradition that was familiar to believers

Clement’s “canon of scripture”, what he called the word of God, included the Old Testament of the Septuagint and most probably the words of Jesus.  Noted bible scholar Bruce Metzger puts it this way:

By way of summary, we see that Clement’s Bible is the Old Testament, to which he refers repeatedly as Scripture…, quoting it with more or less exactness.  Clement also makes occasional reference to certain words of Jesus; for though they are authoritative for him, he does not appear to inquire how their authenticity is ensured.  In two of the three instances that he speaks of remembering the words of Christ or of the Lord Jesus, it seems that he has a written record in mind, but he does not call it ‘a gospel’.[4]

[1] 1 Clement, Chapter XIII
[2] A copy of this epistle is available at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/1clement-lightfoot.html. For OT references see 1 Clement 4:1, 13:1, 14:3, 17:3, 29:2, 36:3, 39;3, 42:5. For “words of the Lord” see 1 Clem 13;1.
[3] 1 Clement, Chapter XLIX
[4] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4 p.43

© copyright 2009-2020 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

November 30th, 2009 Posted by | Movements | one comment