A Lament For Clement

Oh Clement, you could not have been aware of
the precedent you were setting when you wrote
to a wayward congregation in Corinth on behalf
of your congregation that they were erring in the
eyes of God and man by tossing out godly leaders
widely recognized as so in order to suit the
schismatic interests of a few people who had
whipped up the crowds in their favor.  It is clear
to see that when you were writing to Corinth you
did do with modesty and tact and a fair amount
of wit and that you were looking back to what
Paul had written them previously when they
were stuck in schismatic ways choosing between
Jesus Christ, Paul, Peter, and Apollos, all of whom
were much more notable godly believers than any
of those who you were writing about in the time
you wrote.  And yet most people do not think of
your writing as a look back to what Paul did when
he too decided that the brethren of Corinth needed
a stern correcting lesson in a letter, but rather they
look forward to the trouble that would result when
later Romans would not look at your graciousness
and modesty as the model of their own efforts at
involving themselves in the affairs of other
congregations, but would rather write imperiously
as if they had some sort of divine charge to run or
ruin the rest of Christendom, which they tried to do
over the course of the next few centuries until they
were successfully resisted.  But is that your fault
that this was the case?  I think not.


There is much that one can say about Clement [1].  Clement was simultaneously the author of one of the first post-Apostolic texts that was an early witness to the New Testament scriptures, the writer of the first attempt of a congregation to influence the governance of another congregation, an early writer on the legend of the phoenix, and someone whose writing has been truly complicated.  Clement is viewed as one of the earliest popes, a somewhat anachronistic view, even though the fact that he wrote about authority does make it fairly easy for him to be associated with authority.  He is a writer about whom I have a great deal of sympathy, someone who is not really viewed for what he is but rather for what he represents, and he likely could not have had any idea about what he would represent in the eyes of later writers and thinkers.  He was a servant of a congregation and if a leader of the church of Rome, he was certainly not someone who was lording it over his congregation or anyone else’s, or had any idea of himself as a vicar of Christ or any such thing.

There is a great irony about Clement that is worth exploring.  Clement was largely unknown for his actual writings in the Latin west.  He wrote when Greek was still the language of the early church and his actual works were forgotten by the Latinizing church of the second century and later.  There were later forgeries attributed to Clement that kept Clement recognized as a writer, but his genuine writings were only preserved by the Greek-speaking East, which meant that Clement was always a figure who was misunderstood and misinterpreted by many of his early readers.  One wonders how Clement would have felt about all of this.  He didn’t seem to want to borrow anyone’s laurels or relish the attitude of pseudonymity that was popular in the Latin church, but his one genuine letter is a masterpiece of subtlety and graciousness as well as some pointed but well-earned rebuke.  It is not the effort of someone engaging in a willful power play and it is not the sort of writing that one would think would attract a great deal of forgeries.  Clement’s writing appears rather modest but also accomplished, and he was without a doubt someone who understood the Bible well even if that was not a common matter among the professed believers of his time.  His modesty as well as his knowledge were both something to appreciate.

Suffice it to say that I would very much like to know Clement if and when the opportunity is available in the world to come.  I would like to hear him talk about his experiences in the early Church of God, talk with him about the Bible and how it applied to his own time and to his own writings, see if there were any writings of his that he remembered that did not survive to the present day, and query him about why he chose to write about the phoenix as a symbol of resurrection.  At any rate, at least as far as I am concerned Clement is among the most appealing of the Apostolic Fathers for me to get to know personally, and one of the ones I am the most curious to get to know.  Whether or not that is a good or bad thing depends on whether or not you think someone I would want to get to know is someone worth getting to know, or whether the grounds I choose would seem reasonable to you.

[1] See, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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