Pope St. Clement of Rome

The earliest Fathers of the Church are labeled "Apostolic Fathers" — Christians who were immediate successors to the work of the Apostles (2 Tm 2:2; Ti 1:5). The Apostolic Fathers provide precious insights concerning first-century Catholicism. One such Father was Pope St. Clement of Rome. St. Clement of Rome (A.D. 30-101), also known as Pope St. Clement I, was the fourth bishop of Rome per St. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.3.3) and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.4.10). St. Clement’s historical descent, ascertained from Patristic literature, appears as follows: St. Peter (died A.D. 68), St. Linus (d. A.D. 80), St. Cletus (d. A.D. 92), and St. Clement (d. A.D. 101). This order of Roman bishops is repeated in the "Roman Canon" of the Holy Mass. Little is known personally about St. Clement, however, there is a tradition that he is the "Clement" mentioned by St. Paul in Philippians 4:3. Ecclesiastical writers such as Origen (Commentaries on John 6.36) and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.15.1) affirm this tradition. A highlight in the life of St. Clement is his composition of a remarkable document: the Letter to the Corinthians. Dated circa A.D. 96-98, this work was written to the Church at Corinth in Greece. This was the same congregation founded by St. Paul (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1). The letter is noteworthy for its "ecclesiology" — the doctrine of the Church. The background for the "Letter to the Corinthians" is interesting. At Corinth, rebels had rejected legitimate ecclesiastical authority, driving out duly appointed presbyters from office. This faction was causing great scandal to pagans and disrupting the faithful. This type of problem was noted circa A.D. 57 by St. Paul (1 Cor 1:10; 2 Cor 13:11). The Corinthian unrest was the occasion for St. Clement’s appeal for peace, giving testimony to one of the earliest exercises of "Roman intervention" in ecclesiastical matters. St. Clement, acting as Bishop of Rome, lays down in his "Letter to the Corinthians" several important points to quell the disruption at Corinth. A few points are the authority of God, apostolic succession and the Roman primacy: points repeated throughout Christendom and reiterated nearly 2,000 years later in the Catechism ofthe Catholic Church (1997). Regarding "God’s authority," we read: "The Apostles preached to us the Gospel received from Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ was God’s Ambassador. Christ, in other words, comes with a message from God and the Apostles with a message from Christ. Both of these orderly arrangements, therefore, originate from the will of God" ("Letter" 42.1-2). The power of God is foundational for the authority of the Catholic Church, reiterated in the Catechism, No. 874. Concerning "apostolic succession," St. Clement writes: "Our Apostles too, were given to understand by our Lord Jesus Christ that the office of the bishop would give rise to intrigues. For this reason, equipped as they were with perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the men mentioned before, and afterwards laid down a rule once for all to this effect: when these men die, other approved men shall succeed to their sacred ministry" ("Letter" 44.1-2). The Catechism, No. 861, footnotes St. Clement to stress the succession of bishops from the Apostles. Emphasizing the "Roman primacy," the "Letter" asserts: "But if any disobey the words spoken by Him [God] through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and no small danger… For you will give us great joy and gladness, if you obey what we have written through the Holy Spirit and root out the unlawful anger of your jealousy, in accordance with the appeal for peace and harmony which we have made in this letter" ("Letter" 59.1; 63.2). This primacy of the bishop of Rome, found in the Catechism, No. 882, is explicit. Pope St. Clement of Rome gives us crucial data regarding the early Catholic Church. The "Letter to the Corinthians" testifies that the ecclesiology of the first century, in all essentials, is the ecclesiology of today. For this reason, Catholic theologians cite St. Clement’s document as an excellent witness for the episcopate and the papacy. Ciresi serves on the faculty at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom Collegein Alexandria.

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