One of the earliest Church fathers to leave writing(s), if not the earliest, is Clement of Rome. Clement was a leader in the subapostolic era and wrote 1 Clement anywhere from around 80AD to 100 AD, but 95-96 AD is commonly held. That means this document was written in the same period as the New Testament documents. This is because most of the New Testament writings were probably written before 1 Clement but at the very least James and Revelation were probably written later. (See the timeline for more information.)
Origen and Eusebius identified Clement as the man in:
Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life. [Phil 4:3][i]
Clement was one of the earliest bishops of Rome. There are two epistles with his name, 1st and 2nd Clement, but only the first is considered genuinely written by him.
I Clement was considered authoritative, read in some churches with the gospels, and was included in some early bibles. (It was included at the end of the fifth century codex Alexandrinus of the Greek Bible.)[ii] This is incredible. As someone who believed the inerrancy position that the bible always contained the same books from the beginning I was surprised when I read this. (Other books also had scriptural status in various places including the epistle of Barnabas and the Shepard of Hermas.)[iii]
I have to say that the first time I read 1 Clement I was moved. It is beautiful and inspiring. Look at this passage where Clement praises the walk of the believers there:
Moreover, ye were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive. Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and ye had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all. [iv]
What encouragement these words are. The epistle has a tone that is similar to epistles in the New Testament where the writings exhort, reprove, and teach. Notice how Clement recognizes the outpouring of the spirit on the believers there. Look at this exhortation:
“Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; let us esteem those who have the rule over us; let us honour the aged among us; let us train up the young men in the fear of God; let us direct our wives to that which is good. Let them exhibit the lovely habit of purity [in all their conduct]; let them show forth the sincere disposition of meekness; let them make manifest the command which they have of their tongue, by their manner of speaking; let them display their love, not by preferring one to another, but by showing equal affection to all that piously fear God. Let your children be partakers of true Christian training; let them learn of how great avail humility is with God — how much the spirit of pure affection can prevail with Him — how excellent and great His fear is, and how it saves all those who walk in it with a pure mind. For He is a Searcher of the thoughts and desires [of the heart]: His breath is in us; and when He pleases, He will take it away”[v]
In future posts I will look the focus of the epistle and at some of the significant insights the epistle presents. But the point of this post is to introduce the first church father of whom we have writings. Certainly Clement was a devoted leader who appears to have sat at the feet of the original apostles and have learned much from them. The style and tone of his writing looks very much like the writings that were canonized into the New Testament. And in fact his letter was considered “scripture” for centuries in some places.
[i] THE FAITH OF THE EARLY FATHERS, Volume 1, William A Jurgens, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1970, p. 5
[iv] THE CANON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Bruce M. Metzger, Clarendon Paperbacks, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-826954-4 p.187
[iv] ibid p. 188
[iv] The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter III, Thanks to the E-Sword program.
[v] First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter XXI
© copyright 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.