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Pope Clement I

Clement I, pope, generally known as Clement of Rome, or Clemens Romanus (c. 96), was one of the Apostolic Fathers, and in the lists of bishops of Rome is given the third or fourth place, either before or after Anacletus. There is no ground for identifying him with the Clement of Philippians 4:3. He may have been a freedman of T. Flavius Clemens, who was consul with his cousin, the Emperor Domitian, in 95. A 9th century tradition says he was martyred in the Crimea in 102; earlier authorities say he died a natural death; he is commemorated on November 23.

In The Shepherd of Hermas (Vis. II. 4. 3) mention is made of one Clement whose office it is to communicate with other churches, and this function agrees well with what we find in the letter to the church at Corinth, Greece by which Clement is best known. Whilst being on our guard against reading later ideas into the title bishop as applied to Clement, there is no reason to doubt that he was one of the chief personalities in the Christian community at Rome, where since the time of Paul the separate house congregations (Romans xvi.) had been united into one church officered by presbyters and deacons (1 Clem. 40-42).

This letter, known as 1 Clement, was occasioned by a dispute in the church of Corinth, which had led to the ejection of several presbyters from their office. It does not contain Clement's name, but is addressed by the Church of God which sojourneth in Rome to the Church of God which sojourneth in Corinth. But there is no reason for doubting the universal tradition which ascribes it to Clement, or the generally accepted date, c. 96. No claim is made by the Roman Church to interfere on any ground of superior rank; yet it is noteworthy that in the earliest document outside the canon which we can securely date, the church in the imperial city comes forward as a peacemaker to compose the troubles of a church in Greece. Nothing is known of the cause of the discontent; no moral offence is charged against the presbyters, and their dismissal is regarded by Clement as high-handed and unjustifiable, and as a revolt of the younger members of the community against the elder.

After a laudatory account of the past conduct of the Corinthian Church, he enters upon a denunciation of vices and a praise of virtues, and illustrates his various topics by copious citations from the Old Testament scriptures. Thus he paves the way for his tardy rebuke of present disorders, which he reserves until two-thirds of his epistle is completed. Clement is exceedingly discursive, and his letter reaches twice the length of the Epistle to Hebrews. Many of his general exhortations are but very indirectly connected with the practical issue to which the epistle is directed, and it is very probable that he was drawing largely upon the homiletical material with which he was accustomed to edify his fellow-Christians at Rome.

Clement's familiarity with the Old Testament points to his being a Christian of long standing rather than a recent convert. We learn from his letter (i. 7) that the church at Rome, though suffering persecution, was firmly held together by faith and love, and was exhibiting its unity in an orderly worship. The epistle was publicly read from time to time at Corinth, and by the 4th century this usage had spread to other churches. We even find it attached to the famous Alexandrian manuscript (Codex A) of the New Testament, but this does not imply that it ever reached canonical rank. For the mass of early Christian literature that was gradually attached to his name see Clementine literature.

The epistle was published in 1633 by Patrick Young from Codex Alexandrinus, in which a leaf near the end was missing, so that the great prayer (chapters 55 - 64) remained unknown. In 1875 (six years after JB Lightfoot's first edition) Philotheus Bryennius published a complete text from the MS. in Constantinople (dated 1055), from which in 1883 he gave us the Didach. In 1876 R. L. Bensly found a complete Syriac text in a manuscript obtained by the University library at Cambridge. Lightfoot made use of these new materials in an Appendix in a reprint of his first edition (1877); his second edition, on which he had been at work at the time of his death, came out in 1890. This must remain the standard edition, notwithstanding Dom Morin's most interesting discovery of a Latin version (1894), which was probably made in the 3rd century, and is a valuable addition, to the authorities for the text.

In art, Saint Clement can be recognized as a pope with an anchor and fish. Sometimes there is an addition of a millstone; keys; a fountain that sprung forth at his prayers; or with a book. He might be shown lying in a temple in the sea (Roeder).

Preceded by:
Pope Anacletus I
List of popes Succeeded by:
Pope Evaristus