Pope Clement, Papal Exhortation & Authority, and Catholic Doctrines (1st c. AD!)
Posted by Tony Listi on April 11, 2010
Pope St. Clement I (d. ca. 100 AD) wrote a letter to the Church at Corinth, which had fallen into grave sin and disarray (not heresy specifically), despite its original planting and cultivation by St. Paul.
Though it is mostly an exhortatory letter, one must keep in mind that no specific doctrinal issue is being disputed. It was not an occasion for doctrinal correction and denunciation of heresy. Rather, Pope Clement fulfills the duty that he received from St. Peter and that St. Peter received from Our Lord: “Strengthen your brothers” and “Feed and tend my sheep” (Lk 22:32; Jn 21:15-17). Nevertheless, the letter has an overall tone of authority, especially toward the end.
Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us….
Notice that the Church at Corinth went to the Roman Church for help to address its problems.
… For you did all things without respect of persons, and walked in the commandments of God, being obedient to those who had the rule over you, and giving all fitting honour to the presbyters among you….
Pope Clement praises the church for its previous obedience to God, to its earthly rulers, and to its presbyters (priests).
… Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. You mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours: their deficiencies you deemed your own…. Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, you did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon the tablets of your hearts….
Pope Clement continues his praise for the previous beliefs and practices of the Corinthian Christians. Notice the implicit denunciation of “every kind of faction and schism.” Notice there’s a common sense of transgression when one person sins, with the implication of a common work of penance and salvation. Also, fear of God was expected even among the baptized, for salvation was not assured with certainty in the sense that many Protestants today erroneously have.
… For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and has become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world….
Pope Clement then turns to criticize the then current sins of the Christians at Corinth. He says they abandoned the “fear of God,” became “blind” to the faith they had, disobeyed the “ordinances” of God, acted like a non-Christian, followed their “own wicked lusts,” and generally resumed their former ungodly and envious practices that claimed them for death instead of eternal life.
… Let us take the noble examples furnished in our own generation. Through envy and jealousy the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. 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. Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned….
After having related the various instances of envy in the Old Testament, Pope Clement turns to the evil that envy unleashed upon St. Peter and St. Paul, who were martyred in Rome and of whom Clement is heir in authority as the bishop of Rome.
… Through envy, those women, the Danaids and Dircæ, being persecuted, after they had suffered terrible and unspeakable torments, finished the course of their faith with steadfastness, and though weak in body, received a noble reward….
Pope Clement goes on to praise other martyrs, victims of envy. Salvation comes from steadfastness in the faith, running “the course” to the end with perseverance.
… These things, beloved, we write unto you, not merely to admonish you of your duty, but also to remind ourselves. For we are struggling on the same arena, and the same conflict is assigned to both of us. Wherefore let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our holy calling. Let us attend to what is good, pleasing, and acceptable in the sight of Him who formed us. Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God 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….
Pope Clement establishes an equality between the Church of Rome and Corinth only in the sense that both are in “the same arena” and thus subject to the struggle with the prince of this fallen world, Satan. He thus appeals to the common struggle both churches face and exhorts a common, unified response of continual repentance and conversion to the Lord.
… Let us therefore, brethren, be of humble mind, laying aside all haughtiness, and pride, and foolishness, and angry feelings…. By this precept and by these rules let us establish ourselves, that we walk with all humility in obedience to His holy words….
More common exhortation to obedience.
… For Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves over His flock. Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him…. You see, beloved, what is the example which has been given us; for if the Lord thus humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace?…
Pope Clement presents Jesus Christ as the supreme example of humility which all Christians, including the Corinthians, should follow.
… Thus the humility and godly submission of so great and illustrious men have rendered not only us, but also all the generations before us, better; even as many as have received His oracles in fear and truth. Wherefore, having so many great and glorious examples set before us, let us turn again to the practice of that peace which from the beginning was the mark set before us; and let us look steadfastly to the Father and Creator of the universe, and cleave to His mighty and surpassingly great gifts and benefactions of peace. Let us contemplate Him with our understanding, and look with the eyes of our soul to His long-suffering will. Let us reflect how free from the wrath He is towards all His creation….
Having held up King David also as an example of humility, Pope Clement ends his list of examples and continues his exhortation to good practices.
…Take heed, beloved, lest His many kindnesses lead to the condemnation of us all. [For thus it must be] unless we walk worthy of Him, and with one mind do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight….
Pope Clement warns the Corinthians to listen to him. For condemnation is inevitable for “us all” unless we “do those things which are good” and “worthy of Him.” Faith without works is dead (Jam 2:26). Moreover, all this must be done “with one mind,” in the unity of the Church.
… Let us reflect how near He is, and that none of the thoughts or reasonings in which we engage are hid from Him. It is right, therefore, that we should not leave the post which His will has assigned us. Let us rather offend those men who are foolish, and inconsiderate, and lifted up, and who glory in the pride of their speech, than [offend] God. 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….
More exhortation. Notice that it is very possible for a Christian to “leave the post which His will has assigned us” and lose salvation.
… 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….
More direct instruction for children. Notice that the fear of God “saves all” who have it.
… Now the faith which is in Christ confirms all these [admonitions]. For He Himself by the Holy Ghost thus addresses us: “Come, you children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desires life, and loves to see good days? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears are [open] unto their prayers. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cried, and the Lord heard him, and delivered him out of all his troubles.” “Many are the stripes [appointed for] the wicked; but mercy shall compass those about who hope in the Lord.” The all-merciful and beneficent Father has bowels [of compassion] towards those that fear Him, and kindly and lovingly bestows His favours upon those who come to Him with a simple mind. Wherefore let us not be double-minded; neither let our soul be lifted up on account of His exceedingly great and glorious gifts….
There is only one “faith which is in Christ.” More exhortation to obedience lest the Corinthians lose the mercy offered to them. To act contrary to the faith in one’s behavior is to be “double-minded.”
… Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise?…
Pope Clement says that nature in general and the phoenix in particular foreshadow our own resurrection. “Good faith” assures salvation and resurrection.
… Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to Him who is faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments. He who has commanded us not to lie, shall much more Himself not lie; for nothing is impossible with God, except to lie. Let His faith therefore be stirred up again within us, and let us consider that all things are near unto Him. By the word of His might He established all things, and by His word He can overthrow them….
Pope Clement says that “our souls” must “be bound to Him.” Faith can wither and die. Clement prays that the faith of the Corinthians “be stirred up again” to new life.
… Since then all things are seen and heard [by God], let us fear Him, and forsake those wicked works which proceed from evil desires; so that, through His mercy, we may be protected from the judgments to come. For whither can any of us flee from His mighty hand? Or what world will receive any of those who run away from Him?…
More exhortation to fear and obedience. Mercy is only assured for those who have this fear and obedience. Mercy is conditional (“may”).
… Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride….
More exhortation to obedience.
… Let us cleave then to His blessing, and consider what are the means of possessing it. Let us think over the things which have taken place from the beginning. For what reason was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? (Jam 2:21)…
Pope Clement, drawing upon St. James, identifies the work of faith that blessed Abraham with salvation.
… All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own 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….
Good works in themselves do not save. However, good works for the benefit of others are not equivalent to obedience to God. Obedience often entails NOT doing something. It is faith that reflects obedience to God (as with Abraham, Isaac, and others) which justifies and saves men.
… What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works…. We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength. The good servant receives the bread of his labour with confidence; the lazy and slothful cannot look his employer in the face. It is requisite, therefore, that we be prompt in the practice of well-doing; for of Him are all things. And thus He forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord [comes], and His reward is before His face, to render to every man according to his work.” He exhorts us, therefore, with our whole heart to attend to this, that we be not lazy or slothful in any good work. Let our boasting and our confidence be in Him. Let us submit ourselves to His will. Let us consider the whole multitude of His angels, how they stand ever ready to minister to His will….
Exhortation to good works, nonetheless. Though good works do not save, yet “all righteous men have been adorned with” them. Though they do not metaphysically/spiritually effect salvation, they are “requisite” to a living and saving faith.
… Let us therefore earnestly strive to be found in the number of those that wait for Him, in order that we may share in His promised gifts. But how, beloved, shall this be done? If our understanding be fixed by faith towards God; if we earnestly seek the things which are pleasing and acceptable to Him; if we do the things which are in harmony with His blameless will; and if we follow the way of truth, casting away from us all unrighteousness and iniquity, along with all covetousness, strife, evil practices, deceit, whispering, and evil-speaking, all hatred of God, pride and haughtiness, vain glory and ambition.
Notice that we cannot place ourselves among the saved with certainty; we are “to be found in the number” of those who are saved, found by God alone who will judge. Notice that a “share in His promised gifts” is conditional upon certain beliefs and practices (“if”s and “may”).
For they that do such things are hateful to God; and not only they that do them, but also those that take pleasure in them that do them. (Romans 1:32) For the Scripture says, “But to the sinner God said, Wherefore do you declare my statutes, and take my covenant into your mouth, seeing you hate instruction, and castest my words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, and made your portion with adulterers. Your mouth has abounded with wickedness, and your tongue contrived deceit. You sit, and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I kept silence; you thought, wicked one, that I should be like to yourself. But I will reprove you, and set yourself before you. Consider now these things, you that forget God, lest He tear you in pieces, like a lion, and there be none to deliver. The sacrifice of praise will glorify me, and a way is there by which I will show him the salvation of God.”
Notice that the sinner (one who is not saved) may indeed “declare” the “statutes” of the Lord and give lip-service to the new covenant (“my covenant in your mouth”) but such statutes and the covenant are not in the heart of the damned sinner. Mere words don’t count.
This is the way, beloved, in which we find our Saviour, even Jesus Christ, the High Priest of all our offerings, the defender and helper of our infirmity. By Him we look up to the heights of heaven. By Him we behold, as in a glass, His immaculate and most excellent visage. By Him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By Him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards His marvellous light….
One Protestant friend of mine has rationalized fallibilism (i.e. doctrinal certainty is not possible; it’s all guesswork ultimately) in regard to the Christian faith by pointing to St. Paul’s comment that “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12). Pope Clement clearly demonstrates that St. Paul is referring to full knowledge of Jesus in the Beatific Vision, NOT to knowledge of doctrines of the faith.
… Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.
Right after yet another exhortation to obedience to God’s commandments, Pope Clement compares the Church to an army and urges Christians to the same “order, obedience, and submissiveness.” The Church has a hierarchy similar to an army.
Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him….
Following St. Paul’s teachings, Clement then compares the Church to a body which is “under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.” Unity and harmony within hierarchy is the ordained order of the Church.
… These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behooves 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. 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….
The “order, which the Lord has commanded” involves “offerings” by “priests.” The priesthood did not end with Jesus Christ. There is an established order for ministry.
… The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith” (Isa 60:17)….
Jesus appointed the apostles; the apostles appointed bishops and deacons. Thus Pope Clement confirms the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. The bishops and deacons are governors and rulers over the Church.
… Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that 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. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world]; for they have no fear lest any one deprive them of the place now appointed them. But we see that you have removed some men of excellent behaviour from the ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honour….
After having described the strife over the selection of the priesthood that Moses faced, Pope Clement explains how a person receives the office of bishop, i.e. through appointment by those who had themselves been appointed by the apostles. Again, Clement confirms apostolic succession. St. Paul says the same thing to Timothy in Scripture. Moreover, these bishops cannot be dismissed arbitrarily and unjustly from their office.
… Let us cleave, therefore, to the innocent and righteous, since these are the elect of God. Why are there strifes, and tumults, and divisions, and schisms, and wars among you? Have we not [all] one God and one Christ? Is there not one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And have we not one calling in Christ? (Ephesians 4:4-6) Why do we divide and tear in pieces the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and have reached such a height of madness as to forget that “we are members one of another?” (Romans 12:5) Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He said, “Woe to that man [by whom offenses come]! It were better for him that he had never been born, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my elect. Yea, it were better for him that a millstone should be hung about [his neck], and he should be sunk in the depths of the sea, than that he should cast a stumbling-block before one of my little ones.” Your schism has subverted [the faith of] many, has discouraged many, has given rise to doubt in many, and has caused grief to us all. And still your sedition continues.
Pope Clement denounces the divisions and schisms in the Corinthian Church and affirms the unity of the Body of Christ, the catholic Church. Schisms destroy faith.
Take up the epistle of the blessed Apostle Paul. What did he write to you at the time when the gospel first began to be preached? Truly, under the inspiration of the Spirit, he wrote to you concerning himself, and Cephas, and Apollos, because even then parties had been formed among you. But that inclination for one above another entailed less guilt upon you, inasmuch as your partialities were then shown towards apostles, already of high reputation, and towards a man whom they had approved. But now reflect who those are that have perverted you, and lessened the renown of your far-famed brotherly love. 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 steadfast and ancient church of the Corinthians should, on account of one or two persons, engage in sedition against its presbyters. And this rumour has reached not only us, but those also who are unconnected with us; so that, through your infatuation, the name of the Lord is blasphemed, while danger is also brought upon yourselves.
Pope Clement here commands and chastises the Corinthians rather than exhorts them. This is a hint of the real authority he possesses. He tells them that their guilt is greater now than when St. Paul wrote to them before about such divisions. He is indignant. There is no talk of “we” and “our” in common bond with the Corinthians in this passage; it’s “you,” “you,” “you” and “your,” “your,” “your.”
Let us therefore, with all haste, put an end to this [state of things]; and let us fall down before the Lord, and beseech Him with tears, that He would mercifully be reconciled to us, and restore us to our former seemly and holy practice of brotherly love. For [such conduct] is the gate of righteousness, which is set open for the attainment of life, as it is written, “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go in by them, and will praise the Lord: this is the gate of the Lord: the righteous shall enter in by it.” Although, therefore, many gates have been set open, yet this gate of righteousness is that gate in Christ by which blessed are all they that have entered in and have directed their way in holiness and righteousness, doing all things without disorder. Let a man be faithful….
Pope Clement returns to exhortation, urging repentance and reconciliation. The gate to eternal life is only for the righteous.
Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ. Who can describe the [blessed] bond of the love of God? What man is able to tell the excellence of its beauty, as it ought to be told? The height to which love exalts is unspeakable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love bears 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. By love have all the elect of God been made perfect; without love nothing is well-pleasing to God. In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls…. Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; that so through love our sins may be forgiven us. For it is written, Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile….
Love requires obedience. Love obtains forgiveness. Love heals all divisions. Very reminiscent of St. Paul’s praise of the primacy of love (1 Cor 13). Pope Clement seems to be drawing from St. Paul’s previous letters to the Corinthians.
… Let us therefore implore forgiveness for all those transgressions which through any [suggestion] of the adversary we have committed. And these who have been the leaders of sedition and disagreement ought to have respect to the common hope. For such as live in fear and love would rather that they themselves than their neighbours should be involved in suffering. And they prefer to bear blame themselves, rather than that the concord which has been well and piously handed down to us should suffer. For it is better that a man should acknowledge his transgressions than that he should harden his heart, as the hearts of those were hardened who stirred up sedition against Moses the servant of God, and whose condemnation was made manifest [unto all]. For they went down alive into Hades, and death swallowed them up…. The Lord, brethren, stands in need of nothing; and He desires nothing of any one except that confession be made to Him. For, says the elect David, “I will confess unto the Lord; and that will please Him more than a young bullock that has horns and hoofs. Let the poor see it, and be glad.”…
Throughout life, every Christian must implore forgiveness for the sins he commits. He must acknowledge and confess his sins rather than harden his heart in pride and rebellion against God. Otherwise, he stands condemned and damned.
… You understand, beloved, you understand well the sacred Scriptures, and you have looked very earnestly into the oracles of God. Call then these things to your remembrance…. Who then among you is noble-minded? Who compassionate? Who full of love? Let him declare, “If on my account sedition and disagreement and schisms have arisen, I will depart, I will go away wherever ye desire, and I will do whatever the majority commands; only let the flock of Christ live on terms of peace with the presbyters set over it.” He that acts thus shall procure to himself great glory in the Lord; and every place will welcome him. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” These things they who live a godly life that is never to be repented of, both have done and always will do….
Pope Clement commands the Corinthians to remember what they already know. Again, hierarchy: the presbyters are “set over” the “flock of Christ.”
… Let us then also pray for those who have fallen into any sin, that meekness and humility may be given to them, so that they may submit, not unto us, but to the will of God. For in this way they shall secure a fruitful and perfect remembrance from us, with sympathy for them, both in our prayers to God, and our mention of them to the saints.
Pope Clement exhorts Christians to pray for fellow Christians “who have fallen into any sin” that they may “submit” once again “to the will of God.” Moreover, notice that he confirms the Catholic practice of prayers “to the saints”!
Let us receive correction, beloved, on account of which no one should feel displeased. Those exhortations by which we admonish one another are both good [in themselves], and highly profitable, for they tend to unite us to the will of God….
This entire letter itself has been mostly a demonstration of “exhortations by which we admonish one another.” Clement practices what he preaches.
… You therefore, who laid the foundation of this sedition, submit yourselves to the presbyters, and receive correction so as to repent, bending the knees of your hearts. Learn to be subject, laying aside the proud and arrogant self-confidence of your tongue. For it is better for you that you should occupy a humble but honourable place in the flock of Christ, than that, being highly exalted, you should be cast out from the hope of His people….
Pope Clement again assumes a commanding tone toward the schismatics, demanding their submission and subjection to the legitimate authority of the presbyters. If they do not, they may be “cast out from the hope” of the Church.
… Let us, therefore, flee from the warning threats pronounced by Wisdom on the disobedient, and yield submission to His all-holy and glorious name, that we may stay our trust upon the most hallowed name of His majesty. Receive our counsel, and you shall be without repentance [regret]. For, as God lives, and as the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost live—both the faith and hope of the elect, he who in lowliness of mind, with instant gentleness, and without repentance [regret] has observed the ordinances and appointments given by God— the same shall obtain a place and name in the number of those who are being saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is glory to Him for ever and ever. Amen.
Submission must come before salvation. Pope Clement commands them to receive his counsel. If the present progressive tense is correctly translated, then this confirms the Catholic teaching that Christians “are being saved,” not already saved.
If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; but we shall be innocent of this sin, and, instant in prayer and supplication, shall desire that the Creator of all preserve unbroken the computed number of His elect in the whole world through His beloved Son Jesus Christ….
Notice that Pope Clement identifies his own words with those of God. He is clearly exercising authority here, not merely exhorting. Disobeying the Church of Rome “will involve…transgression and serious danger,” a sin for which the Church will not be culpable.
… You, who is faithful in all generations, just in judgments, wonderful in strength and majesty, with wisdom creating and with understanding fixing the things which were made, who art good among them that are being saved and faithful among them whose trust is in You;
Again, if the present progressive tense is correctly translated, then this confirms the Catholic teaching that Christians “are being saved,” not already saved.
O merciful and Compassionate One, forgive us our iniquities and offenses and transgressions and trespasses. Reckon not every sin of Your servants and handmaids, but You will purify us with the purification of Your truth; and direct our steps that we may walk in holiness of heart and do what is good and well-pleasing in Your sight and in the sight of our rulers. Yea, Lord, make Your face to shine upon us for good in peace, that we may be shielded by Your mighty hand and delivered from every sin by Your uplifted arm, and deliver us from those who hate us wrongfully….
After warning the schismatics against stubbornness in their disobedience, Pope Clement begins to pray to God. Clement prays for forgiveness for the sins of the Church that its members “may” be “delivered from every sin.” Deliverance is not automatic and assured.
… To our rulers and governors on the earth— to them You, Lord, gavest the power of the kingdom by Your glorious and ineffable might, to the end that we may know the glory and honour given to them by You and be subject to them, in nought resisting Your will; to them, Lord, give health, peace, concord, stability, that they may exercise the authority given to them without offense. For You, O heavenly Lord and King eternal, givest to the sons of men glory and honour and power over the things that are on the earth; do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Your sight, that, devoutly in peace and meekness exercising the power given them by You, they may find You propitious….
Continuing his prayer, Pope Clement prays for the rulers of the earth that they “exercise the authority given to them [by God] without offense.” They are given power to enact the will of God, as far as it is possible for them to do that prudently. They are to do only that which is “good and well-pleasing” in the sight of God.
… we have written to you, men and brethren, at sufficient length. For concerning faith and repentance and true love and continence and soberness and patience, we have touched upon every passage, putting you in mind that you ought in righteousness and truth and long-suffering to be well-pleasing to Almighty God with holiness, being of one mind— not remembering evil— in love and peace with instant gentleness…. And of these things we put you in mind with the greater pleasure, since we were well assured that we were writing to men who were faithful and of highest repute and had peered into the oracles of the instruction of God.
Pope Clement seeks to remind the Corinthians so that they may be of “one mind” with the Church.
Right is it, therefore, to approach examples so good and so many, and submit the neck and fulfil the part of obedience, in order that, undisturbed by vain sedition, we may attain unto the goal set before us in truth wholly free from blame. Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. We have sent men faithful and discreet, whose conversation from youth to old age has been blameless among us—the same shall be witnesses between you and us. This we have done, that you may know that our whole concern has been and is that you may be speedily at peace.
Pope Clement gently tells the Corinthians to submit in obedience to the words he has written, which he calls an “intercession.” He has also sent from Rome “men faithful and discreet” to ensure that peace is established at the Church in Corinth.
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