*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 23rd of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
In the Protestant world, it can be common to look at extra-canonical writings as imposters. If it isn’t in the canon, it is unlikely to be read. But perhaps this is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because it isn’t canonical scripture doesn’t mean it doesn’t have something to say- especially for those trying to discern the context of what the early church was doing.
This is undoubtedly the case with several early Christian works from the Didache to the Shepherd of Hermas to the 1st Letter of Clement to the Corinthians.
And what would you know? Today the 23rd of November, is the traditional feast day for Clement of Rome so let’s look at the man and his epistle.
First: this is Clement of Rome. Not Clement of Alexandria. Clement of Alexandria is the famous father who taught Origen and is part of the “Alexandrian” tradition… that’s for another time. This is Clement of Rome. We don’t know much about him, except that many in his day seemed to think that he was critical. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote:
“This man [Clement of Rome], as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.”
Clement of Rome was the likely author of 1 Clement, or the Letter to the Corinthians- a letter written to that same church at Corinth that Paul had previously written to. And it seems the church was back at its quarrelsome ways. With 65 chapters, it would be hard to claim one theme for the book, but we will look at two that seem to be the most historically significant.
The first, and the favorite of the Roman Catholic Church, is the theme of Clement’s authority. The Church at Corinth had booted two of its leaders- Clement doesn’t give us much information about what is going on except that it is worse than when Paul initially wrote to them.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes Clement as one of the first Popes and points to his “oversight” of a church outside of Rome as the precedent for the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome over all other Bishops. While this seems like a pretty good argument, the evidence for the organization of the early church is vague. Leadership appears to be divided between apostles and prophets (an itinerant ministry- think of Paul’s ministry); some Bishops and Elders seemed interchangeable. Then some Deacons helped with Communion and the day-to-day church operations. While there isn’t some slam dunk argument for the papacy here, it is interesting to see the church hierarchy developed already at the end of the 1st century.
The Protestant’s aren’t without their favorite parts of Clement of Rome as well… dig this from his epistle:
“And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”
We call Clement of Rome an Apostolic Father- that is, he is the first generation of Church Fathers that overlaps with the apostles themselves.
His letter was read in the Corinthian Church and other churches, much as Paul’s letters were.
Clement’s theology seems to be representative of the early church.
In his letter, he references other books of the Bible (many of Paul’s letters and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.)
Regardless of the arguments about his authority, it is clear that as a church leader, he was exhorting the church, prescribing actions, and doing so in light of the Gospel.
Today we remember Clement of Rome, who we know lived around the year 100 and is commemorated throughout the church on this the 23rd of November.
The last word for today comes from Colossians 3:
Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth. 3 You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
The Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of November 2021 was brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show was produced by my darling Clementine Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis- please pray for the family of my old podcasting partner Jeff Mallinson- his family lost his oldest son in a tragic car accident.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.