Clement of Rome

This post is part of a series of explanations of my Second Century Timeline of Christian history. Not every point well get its own post, but I am at least going to do a post on Clement of Rome and Ignatius.

Clement of Rome is famous for two things:

  • Writing 1 Clement, which is addressed from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, the only certain first century Christian document outside of those contained in our Bible.
  • Being the third bishop of Rome after Linus and Anacletus. To the Roman Catholics, this means that he was the fourth pope, though this is an anachronism.

It is possible that Clement of Rome is the same Clement that is mentioned by Paul as a “fellow worker” in Philippians 4:3.

1 Clement

First Clement is so named because it was originally found with a 2 Clement attached to it. Scholars no longer believe that 2 Clement was written by him. It is now generally called An Early Christian Sermon. It is anonymous, and no one has any idea who the author is.

1 Clement is also anonymous, but there are several references to his authorship in the early Christian writings. No one really doubts the authorship.

The letter exhorts the church at Corinth to repent the way they did when Paul wrote them some 40 years earlier. This provides some fascinating information. The church at Corinth did repent after Paul wrote then. Clement tells us they were noted for their humility, hospitality, and holiness. Now, however, nearing the end of the first century, they had fallen back into division by fighting over the postion of overseer (bishop), which Clement still uses interchangeably with elder like Paul and Peter did (chs. 40-44; Acts 20:17,28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).

The letter is interesting, simple, and easy to read. The church at Rome reminds Corinth of the need to avoid envy and to practice humility, citing one story after another from patriarchs, prophets, Jesus, and the apostles.

For those of us who are evangelicals, it is the first introduction to the fact that the early churches heavily exhorted one another to continue in the faith, warning of the consequences if they did not. 2 Clement (more correctly, An Early Christian Sermon) does this even more so, emphasizing the importance of continuing to the end to be saved as thoroughly as the canonical letter to the Hebrews.

Clement as Bishop of Rome

As I pointed out, Clement uses overseer (bishop) and elder interchangeably. I also mentioned that Paul and Peter did the same.

Fifty years later almost all churches distinguished the overseer from the elders, including Rome. The term for this is “monarchial bishop,” meaning that only one bishop ruled the church.

How this happened is unknown. My theory is that the apostle John instituted the monarchial bishop. Eventually, probably because it is simply the nature of group leadership that one leader always rises to the top, that practice spread to all the churches. My evidence for this will be discussed in the next post when we discuss Ignatius.

The Angels of the Churches

In the 180’s, Irenaeus wrote a book—five books, actually—against the gnostics. In it, he listed Rome’s “roll of bishops” all the way back to Linus. (It’s worth noting that he does not list Peter as the first bishop, and he attributes the founding of the Roman church to Peter and Paul, not Peter alone.)

Why did he do that if Rome had no monarchial bishop in Clement’s time?My theory is that while Rome did not have a monarchial bishop, they did have a messenger.

I have a couple reasons for that theory.

1. Jesus possibly talks about the messenger of each church in Revelation 2-3.

Our word “angel” is a transliteration (a non-translation, if you will) of the Greek word angellos. If we were to actually translate angellos, we would write “messenger” because that is what the word means. Most references to messengers in the Bible are heavenly messengers, but not all of them. For example, John’s sent men to Jesus to ask him if he was really “he that should come.” Luke calls them angelloi in his Gospel (7:24). John the Baptist is refered to as on angellos in the prophecy of his coming (Matt. 11:10; Mark 1:2). James calls the spies who went to Rahab angelloi (2:25).

It is very unlikely that Jesus was using “angel” in a symbolic way when he wrote to the “angel” of each of the seven churches. The “angels” were already symbolized by seven stars which Jesus held in his hand (Rev. 1:20). Were those stars symbolizing a symbol that symbolized something else?

I don’t think so. I think those stars symbolized the messenger of each of the seven churches.

What was the messenger, and what was his job?

You will write two books, and you will send one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Clement will send his to foreign countries for permission has been granted to him to do so. Grapte will admonish the widows and the orphans.” (Shepherd of Hermas Visions II:4)

It is very unlikely that The Shepherd of Hermas was written in Clement’s time, but it does give us a hint of the idea that the churches had a messenger in charge of receiving and sending letters for the church. This would explain why a letter addressed from the church of Rome would be known as First Clement rather than “The Epistle from the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth.”

That would also explain why Jesus directed John to send the letters to the messengers of the churches.

That’s my theory, anyway.

If you want to know more about Clement (not to be confused with Clement of Alexandria a century later), you should read his letter because that covers most of what we know about him. Well, no, you should read his letter because …

  • This is a guy that almost certainly knew apostles!
  • The letter is interesting and informative and gives a window right into late first century Christianity. Why wouldn’t we jump on that opportunity?

Why Don’t Christians Read the Writings of the Apostolic Fathers?

Permit me, please, to say something rude here. One reason that many don’t jump on the opportunity to read Clement is the same reason they don’t jump on the opportunity read the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles. They’re lazy and have been caught up in the affairs of civilian life.


Don’t die. Finish reading everything you haven’t read from Jesus and the apostles, then read 1 Clement. Show a little interest in knowing the teachings of King Jesus himself. The rewards are great.

For those of you who for some reason can’t read, you also can’t be insulted by what I just said because you wouldn’t be able to read this post, either. If you have time for my posts, you better have time for the apostles’ “posts” and the posts written by those who met the apostles and were members of their churches.

Don’t you think?

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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