Clement has much to teach us. However, if you want the Cliff Notes (or Spark Notes!) version of it, here is my synopsis:
Clement begins with praise of the Corinthian church for their humility and peacefulness. This is to be used as a foil against what he accuses the new Corinthian leaders of trying to do.
1 Clem 1:3 got my attention, because it reiterated roles for Christians found in Ephesians 5 to 6 (which implicitly shows that Ephesians is a genuine Pauline Epistle). Women are to cherish their husbands and their role seems to be in the household, which is honorable for women.
Clement reminds the Corinthians that schisms and divisions used to be “abominable” to them (2:6) and that the commandments were written on their hearts as Jeremiah promised (2:8), which supports a non-legalistic view of the OT law, which is misunderstood by the Adventist Church today.
What made the Corinthians fall away? Apparently they got fat, lazy, and spoiled (3:1) which reminds me of the Proverbs 30:8-9:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
An interesting view that Clement takes in 3:4, applying it to jealousy in the Corinthian Church leading people to cause divisions, is how jealousy/covetousness was the sin in which Adam made “death enter into the world.” After all, just like breaking the first commandment in essence is breaking all of them, breaking the tenth commandment leads men to kill, cheat, steal, and ultimately want to be their own God.
In Clement’s eyes, Adam was jealous of God. Coveting is the polar opposite of love and reading this gives me a fuller appreciation of that.
Clement then gives OT examples of the danger of coveting and follows up to “our generation,” the then present day in (5:1, 2). The Apostles are then named, implying not a long period of time between their passing and the writing of the Epistle. Familiarity with Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is seen in 5:5 when the “prize of patient endurance” for the faithful is invoked. As a lesson for today, I would say that all teachings of God wanting to give material prosperity as opposed to discipline (whether physical, spiritual, or financial) is the Biblical example as it was interpreted by Clement.
As a historical side note, Clement reports that Paul got to take his missionary trip to Spain (5:6) as mentioned in Romans. Contemporary women and their sufferings, not from the Bible but probably from the second generation of believers as indicated by their Greek names, also implies an early date for the Epistle. Martyrs from a date decades before would probably not be remembered.
He asks the Corinthians to defer to leadership that is of apostolic origin for the first time in 7:2. Implying that the new leadership taught heretical opinions, Clement immediately goes into essential doctrine.
“Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious in the sight of God is his blood, which having been poured out for our salvation, brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.” (1 Clem 7:4)
When Clement speaks of grace, he is not talking in general terms. In Clement’s Scriptural worldview, grace precedes faith. People do not attain knowledge of Christ by their own power of reason and wisdom. It’s a knowledge that is a gift from God given to those He elected to save. Even repentance is a gracious gift, not something man can will himself to do on his own. Clement (as so does Romans and Ephesians) says this, not me, which we will get into.
In countering the heresy he finds the adversarial Corinthian leaders teaching, Clement then speaks for chapters on repentance, making it clear that it is available to the Corinthians. He quotes the Old Testament (Ezekiel 33) in 8:3 “As I live says the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, so much as his repentance.”
Then in chapter 10, Clement begins a chapters long discussion on obedient faith, faith that is not merely words. He quotes the famous “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned onto him as righteousness” (10:6). The examples of Lot and Rahab follow. The crimson thread that Rahab hung from her window as a sign of her working with the Israelites is interpreted as prophecy, “showing beforehand…the blood of the Lord brings redemption onto all men that believe and hope on God.” (12:7) Again, a justification by faith and not works is preached.
In chapter 13, Clement invokes the earliest recorded words of Christ not in Scripture, and they are essentially sayings from the sermon on the mount regarding reciprocal forgiveness and generosity.
Being that Christ showed humility and bore the sins of many, we are exhorted to be “imitators” (17:1) of this. The Corinthians are asked to repent like David did after his affair with Bathsheba.
In 21:7, women are exhorted to stop gossiping and be silent, as they are taking sides in the factions, if not encouraging the schisms to grow, as it is something to gossip about. I think we should be less apologetic of the Bible’s teachings about women showing silence and submission in Church, as 1 Corinthians and Clement attest to this as being necessary. They certainly should not be pastors if they are forbidden even to ask questions during a worship service.
23:3 interestingly quotes 2 Peter 3:4: “They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” Many doubt that Peter really wrote 2 Peter, but a quotation from Clement (who is from Rome) pretty much confirms the earlier Roman origin and date of the letter.
Clement even refers to the letter as “Scripture” in the same verse, which he conflates with “wretched are the double-minded,” a quotation of uncertain source. In all likelihood, he’s referring to 2 Peter, and the former part was not meant to be taken as Scripture but rather his opinion (those who doubt the second coming are wretched, as Peter not long ago addressed the issue.)
It appears that the Corinthian heretics doubted the second coming of Christ, because Clement takes his time to explain that there is a good reason that the second coming did not occur yet. This also is evidence against the over allegorical interpretation of Revelation and 2 Thessalonians that is common in some liberal Protestant circles.
The second coming was always considered a literal event that had not yet occurred, which is why people even began doubting it mere decades after Christ. In 28:2 Clement quotes Job 19:26 (“Thou shall raise this my flesh hath endured all these things”) to substantiate that literal resurrection is being taught. Perhaps, Docetists or heretics of the ilk of 2 Thes are theologically where the Corinthian heretics are coming from. They may be proto-gnostics, though they are never accused of sexual immorality, which is common of the gnostics.
However, maybe their morality is implicitly questioned. In 30:3 it says “Let us clothe ourselves in peace … being justified by works and not by words.” Even here, the accusation against his adversaries is gossiping and “intemperance,” whatever that may be (whether anger, sexual, alcohol, who knows.)
Just so we do not get confused with the notion that Clement is preaching works, he is not. Chapters 31 and 32 detail that this is not the case. To summarize:
“Wherefore was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith?” (31:2)
Righteousness comes by a substantial faith, not a faith of mere words.
”They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will.” (32:3)
This faith is a gift of God’s grace. Clement does not ascribe to the “humans are totally free on their own to figure out that Jesus really is God and that He really saves everyone from their sins who trust Him to” line of reasoning. This is made explicit in 32:4—
“And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
This should add insight to our readings of Romans and Ephesians (which actually uses the word “predestines”). This early Bishop taught the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith. Christians are called by God, we do not call to him. An individual’s “wisdom” or “understanding” is nothing, but faith is everything, and NO ONE for all time was justified apart from faith.
This is a teaching of Clement that I am 100% in agreement with. So, I would not consider myself a Calvinist, as I cannot bear to read his books very long, but a “Clemerntarian” or something to that effect, if I must be called something. Because what Christ taught is what Paul taught. What we are confused about these days, twisting Paul’s words against each other, seem to be easily understood by Clement, an early associate of Paul, and taught by him.
Just like Paul anticipates people saying, “given this teaching, shall we sin so grace may abound,” Clement anticipates the identical question in 33:1 and responds, “May the Master never allow this to befall us.” “The righteous are adorned in good works.” (33:7) So, we’re not saved by them, but people should definitely see them. As summarized in 34:4 “He exhorteth us therefore to believe on Him with our whole heart, and to be not idle nor careless unto every good work.”
There are exhortations to good works such as the rich ministering to the poor, and the poor being grateful (38:2).
Then, Clement addresses the issue of total depravity. Sorry people, he ascribes to a doctrine of universal impurity of man before God: “Shall a mortal be clean in the sight of the Lord; or shall a man be unblamable for his works?…Nay, heaven is not even clean in His sight.” (39:4,5; see also Job 15:15 which he appears to be quoting from memory)
This helps us more clearly understand the Gospel. If all men for all time were saved by God’s grace through faith (32:4) then no one is saved by works outside of Christ, because all men (including babies and righteous pagans) are at least as unclean as heaven itself, that Clement does not consider clean in God’s eyes.
Again, Clement is not Scripture, but as among one of the earliest interpreters of Scripture, he adheres both to total depravity and predestination, which adds a lot of credibility to those that adhere to those aforesaid doctrines, increasing the likelihood that they have a more correct interpretation of true Religion than those that disagree, and that any church that teaches otherwise is more likely in error.
Finally, after all of this discussion of doctrine (which implicitly the Corinthian heretics reject) Clement begins discussing the real reason for the letter: stick with your original Bishops and Deacons! He quotes Is 60:17 in 42:5 to that effect, has a historical discussion which I already covered in the previous post about how these leaders were chosen, and makes clear that such a system is equal to God appointing these men for this work (43:1).
The reason for the apostles appointing presbyters (Greek for “Elders”) was that they “knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office.” (44:1)
“They appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered unblamably to the flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all these men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration.” (44:2)
44:2 not only implies a date where most church leaders were appointed by the Apostles previously (second generation Christians) or the subsequent generation, it also shows that it was generally agreed upon that this was the way it ought to be done. 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Acts 6 and 15, and the Pastoral Epistles make clear that the Church was not to be divided and have leadership replaced unless outright heresy was taught.
Christians were used to this, even over crucial doctrinal matters. Paul did not start a new denomination when he had to correct Peter publicly in Antioch. Instead, we see in the Scripture an attempt is always made to correct doctrinal disputes before schisms (as seen in Acts 15 and then Paul’s warning in Galatians not to listen to teachers preaching a Gospel of works of the Law). This is completely ignored by many Protestants, who make divisions out of divisions, and individuals just start movements with their own ideas without any blessing or commission from the Church.
This knowledge should humble those of us that are schismatics (not Catholics or Orthodox).
The whole letter appeals to Scripture, and not tradition. Even when tradition is invoked (the choosing of Bishops), it finds its background in Isaiah 60:17. Why? The early church was a Bible-believing, Sola Scriptura, Church. Clement makes this clear not only in the way he argues with the Corinthians, but also in 45:2, 3:
“Ye have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given through the Holy Ghost; and ye know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them.”
Also, the early church was clearly Trinitarian. There are two such mentions:
“Have we not one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace that was shed upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ?” (46:6)
“For as God liveth, and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, who are the faith and the hope of the elect, so surely shall he, who with lowliness of mind and instant in gentleness hath without regretfulness performed the ordinances and commandments that are given by God, be enrolled and have a name among the number of them that are saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is the glory unto Him for ever and ever.” (58:2)
Clearly the Trinity is three Persons and one God! I don’t know Greek, because if I did, I really wonder if the words “who are the faith” actually has the word “are” as opposed to is, or maybe the translator took the clear listing of 3 Persons and used “are” as the verb in accordance with that. Nonetheless, it proves that in Clement’s time there were not any Jehovahs Witnesses or anti-trinitarians of any sort. The Trinity was taken for granted.
Clement then warns the schismatics that Jesus said it is better not to be born than try to offend one of His elect (46:8) and even forces the Corinthians to read 1 Corinthians, and read what it has to say! He exhorts the “leaders” to “seek the common advantage of all, not” their “own.” (48:6) He reminds the readers that in love there are no divisions or schisms (49:5).
He then returns to the doctrine of grace:
“Who is sufficient to be found therein, save those to whom God shall vouchsafe it? Let us therefore entreat and ask of His mercy, that we may be found blameless in love.” (50:2)
“This declaration of blessedness was pronounced upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be the glory for ever and ever.” (50:6)
“We shall be guiltless of this sin. And we will ask, with instancy of prayer and supplication, that the Creator of the universe may guard intact unto the end the number that hath been numbered of His elect throughout the whole world, through His beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom He called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to the full knowledge of the glory of His Name.” (59:2)
Salvation here is a matter of God’s election, not man’s effort so that he’d have reason to boast (Eph 2:8). The next few chapters again entreat the schismatics to repent and then they would be in like flint and that pretty much wraps up the Epistle.
What an excellent commentary on Clement’s epistle! Engagement with early Christian writings is such an important project for the Reformed Christians of today. I hope to see more of this in the future.
You are very welcome. I always like to read the Fathers and probably will do more when I am done with my commentary on Job. We will see what God has in store (if anything)!