Brandon's Notepad

January 7, 2014

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > First Clement


Synopsis

This letter was sent from the Bishop of Rome to the Christian faithful in Corinth in response to a schism in that community, wherein he asserts the authority of the priests who had been appointed by Apostolic Succession.

Authorship

This is the only authentic epistle written by Saint Clement of Rome (Pope Clement I) who served as Bishop of Rome from A.D. 92 to A.D. 99. He was either the second or third Pope following Peter depending on the source.

Summary

I chose to summarize this text by rewriting it in condensed and simplified language. The bracketed numbers indicate the transition between chapters as defined in the English Translation found at New Advent.

[1] From the Church in Rome to the Church in Corinth, greetings and may God bless you. We apologize that our circumstances here have delayed us from addressing the problems caused by the troublemakers amongst you. We know that you are a faithful and obedient people, [2] humble and eager to do good works, concerned with one another, and quick to forgive. Though you detested schism, [3] envy has led to rebellion, division, and unrest among you. Though some call themselves Christian, they do not practice their faith.

[4] Envy such as this is an ancient problem, well-known in the stories of Cain, Jacob, Moses, and David. [5] Too, in our own times, for both Peter and Paul have been martyred and sent to Heaven by men striken with unrighteous envy, [6] as have many other members of the elect. Indeed, envy and strife have overthrown great cities and nations. [7] We write this letter to encourage you in your duty, for we too face the same conflict here. Let us do what is good and pleasing to God for the sake of Christ’s precious blood that was shed for the world, recalling that in every age, God has aided those who repented. [8] The Lord has always called for repentance by the Holy Spirit and through the voices of men. [9] Let us, therefore, bend to his will and beg for mercy and love, avoiding deadly sins. Let us obey after the examples of Enoch, Noah, [10] Abraham, [11] Lot, [12] and Rahab. [13] In humility, let us set aside such things as pride and anger, but living instead as instructed by Jesus, showing mercy and forgiveness in such measure as we wish to receive ourselves. [14] It is right to obey God and show kindness, not to follow the example of rebellious men [15] or those who do not truly desire peace. [16] Follow instead the example of Jesus himself who was not exalted by others, but suffered instead at their hands. In humility, he was led quietly to the slaughter as a lamb offered up for the sins of all. [17] Look too to the example of the Prophets, to Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel, to Abraham, Job and Moses, [18] and of course to David in his confession. [19] With so many examples of humility and holy obedience, let us return then to peace for the love and fear of God. [20] Even nature and the universe obey his laws in peace.

[21] Strive to live in purity, encourage those around you to do the same (especially your wives and children), and honor the elderly and those in authority, for God graces those who please him. [22] This is the Christian faith revealed by the Holy Ghost in Sacred Scripture. [23] Stay humble and do not expect his reward or take his gifts for granted.

[24] God has revealed the reality of the resurrection in nature, in the passing from night to day, and in the seasons. [25] It is even symbolized in the rebirth of the phœnix. [26] How much more, then, would God want to raise those who remained faithful to him? Scripture testifies to the same. [27] Therefore, bind yourselves in hope and faith to he who is perfectly faithful and just, and all-powerful. [28] Fear the Lord and his judgments and avoid sin, for he sees and knows all of the deeds of men, [29] living instead in purity. [30] Strive for holiness by avoiding evil speech, lust and adultery, drunkenness, and pride. [30] Instead, be humble and exercise self-control. Do not boast, but let your deeds speak for you.

[31] It was through faith that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were blessed by God. [32] From them descended priests and Levites, kings, princes, and rulers, and even the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This was not a product of their works, but the will of God. Likewise, neither are we justified by our works or wisdom or godliness. [33] Does this mean we can stop practicing acts of Love? God forbid! He rejoices in his works that are wrought through his creation, man in his image, so we should bend to his will and do the work of righteousness without hesitation. [34] Just as a good servant receives a just reward for his labor, so too must we do the work of our master and only then pray that he reward us in accordance with his promises. Look to the example of the angels, his faithful and obedient servants.

[35] Wonderful are the gifts of God that we can now understand: life eternal, splendor, truth, faith, and holiness. How much more will his gifts be that we cannot now perceive, which have been promised to those who live out their lives in faithful anticipation. Understand God through faith, seek that which pleases him, act in accordance with his will, follow the way of truth and reject evil, and do not cooperate with those who hate God. [36] In this way alone will you find Jesus through whom all blessings flow.

[37] Just as soldiers submit to the wills of their commanders and generals, each carrying out his orders to fulfill the will of the king, so too should the members of Christ’s Body cooperate in harmony, for we are under common rule. [38] The rich should give thanks for God’s blessings by sharing them with the poor; likewise, the poor should give thanks to God for the beneficence. Conceit is foolishness, as all things come from God.

[40] God established an order to all things, including the timing of celebrations and offerings and the responsibility on whom the performance of these things rest, [41] and he executed capital punishment upon those who acted beyond his will in these matters. Take care, therefore, to not exceed the ministry to which you are called. [42] Just as God sent Jesus to deliver the Good News to the world, so Jesus sent his Apostles to do the same. They, in turn, appointed bishops and deacons, men who had been proven by the Holy Ghost. [43] To eliminate sedition, God revealed in the budding of Aaron’s rod that his People should be subject to a single governing body in the world, an authority appointed by God himself. [44] Learning from Christ that the office of bishop would see great strife, the Apostles established lines of succession, and it would be a great sin to remove from ministry a faithful servant who was appointed by such as these. The same is true for good priests, though we see that you have done just that within your own community.

[45] Search the Scriptures, words spoken to us by the Holy Spirit, and find that the righteous were never cast off by other holy men, but by the wicked. [46] You are the company you keep. Do not allow these divisions among you for we all serve one Lord. Your schism is a stumbling block for others in the faith, [47] has caused scandal with those who are not, is a disgrace to you and to the Lord, and has brought danger to your doorstep. Indeed, your sedition is worse than that which Paul addressed in his first letter to you. [48] End this now and repent! Seek reconciliation with the Lord and the Church, and love one another as brothers. [49] Read again Paul’s words regarding love. Love does not permit schism or sedition, but harmony, for by love all the elect will be made perfect and please God. It was in love that Christ died for us. Love the Lord by keeping his commandments [50] and pray for his mercy so that through love our sins may be forgiven.

[51] It is best that the leaders of the sedition acknowledge their wrongdoing, preferring that they themselves suffer the blame rather than the whole community, [52] for such a confession is a sacrifice acceptable to God. [53] See the example of Moses who pled for his people even if it meant his own destruction. [54] He who truly loves will put himself away for the sake of the Church, [55] just as many have suffered great loss to feed and protect their beloved. [56] In turn, we should pray for them in kindness and sympathy to God and through the Saints that they may submit to God’s will. By admonishing one another we are united with God.

[57] To you who have led the sedition, submit yourselves to the priests, repent, receive correction, replacing your pride with humility, [58] and escape the fate of the disobedient forewarned in the Wisdom of Scripture. [59] May God be merciful to they who choose not to obey.

In prayer we ask that God preserve all of his elect through Jesus Christ in whose name all have been called; that he lift up those especially who are afflicted, needy, sick, lost in spirit, hungry, weak, or in need of comfort; that he reveal to the world that he is God, Jesus is his son, and we are his people; [60] that he look not upon our sins, but purify us in truth, direct us on a path of holiness, and grant us his peace; [61] that he give to the rulers of the earth glory and wisdom to rule that his light may shine through them; to the only one with the power to do all these things we pray, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

[62] We have written previously concerning the religious observance of those who choose to pursue righteousness, conveying their mind that you may imitate them, for we were assured that you were men of faith and integrity who fear God. [63] Obey, therefore, and abandon your jealousy and wrath in favor of peace and unity. The couriers of this letter are faithful witnesses so that you may know that our concern for you is genuine. [64] May God’s blessings be upon you, through Jesus Christ. Amen. [65] Send these witnesses back to us soon with the good news that order has been restored. And may the grace of Jesus Christ be with you and with all who are called through him whose kingdom shall not end. Amen.

Observations

  • This is, of course, the same community of Christians in Corinth to whom Saint Paul wrote at least two epistles.
  • The lines of prayer in this letter sound very similar to various prayers used today, especially in the Mass. This may be a result of translation into English (and certainly accentuated in my own choice of words).
  • Intercessory prayer is referenced in paragraph 56.
  • The wording regarding the preservation of the elect in paragraph 59 connotes predestination, but in the Catholic and not the Calvinist understanding of the word.
  • I’m curious about the use of the word witness in paragraph 63. Were the messengers supposed to attest to the authenticity of the letter and vouch for the intentions of the sender, or were they to hear the repentance of the instigators and observe the reform within the Corinthian community?
  • The transition between chapters 3 & 4 is easily misread. To paraphrase chapter 3, All good things were given to you (Israel, c.f. Dt 32:15), but you took them for granted and evil things flowed out of you. After that, the greater was conquered by the lesser. You do not have righteousness and peace, because you (like everyone else) do not fear God or walk in his ways, or even act like a Christian, but instead seek after your own desires in the same envy (of Satan, c.f. Wis 2:24) by which death entered the world. Clement then continues in chapter 4 to tell how Cain rose up against Abel, as an example of the greater (or older) being conquered by the lesser (or younger). I learned in an online discussion that, due to the flow of ideas from one chapter to the next, one might interpret that death entered the world, because (for thus it is written) Cain murdered Abel. In context, however, it is obvious that Clement’s message to the Corinthians is that the envy that is causing the schism within their community is a product of their own departure from God’s will in favor of their own interests, and that it is not unlike the fallout from the original sin as evidenced by the first murder and the way in which the people of Israel lived their lives in their own day.

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