Who was Clement of Rome?
Clement was the overseer of the Assembly at Rome in the late 1st century CE. It is believe that this same Clement was known by Paul, being referenced in Philippians 4:3 as “one who labored in the Besorah,” and as “one whose name is written in the Book of Life.” If it is truly this Clement of Rome who is inferred here, then clearly, the Apostle Paul held him in high esteem.
In church tradition, Clement is understood as having been Peter’s traveling companion, and as one who recorded many of Peter’s preachings. In support of this tradition is a rather large volume of narratives from the 3rd century CE known as the Recognitions Clement. 1 From these traditions, many within the early church concluded that Clement was in the same line of Apostolic Succession as Peter, being the fourth overseer (or “bishop”) of the Assembly at Rome. Because of this, the Roman Catholic Church has dubbed him the “fourth Pope.” We know, however, that the true authority of the Assembly was never transferred to Rome, or Peter for that matter, but remained within Jerusalem with James the Just. (Acts 15) Nevertheless, this association between Clement and Peter is noteworthy.
Textual support for the Letters of Clement of Rome
Although there have been a small handful of Latin, Syriac, and Coptic manuscripts containing Clementine literature, the letters attributed to Clement of Rome presented here are known primarily from two Greek manuscripts: Codex Alexandrinus (4th century CE) and Codex Hierosolymitanus. (11th century CE) The later of the two, Codex Hierosolymitanus, also contained the Didache and the Letter of Barnabas.
Authorship of the Letters of Clement of Rome
There is little doubt that Clement of Rome genuinely wrote the first letter to the Assembly at Corinth. The authorship of the second letter that is attributed to him, however, has been suspicious to many, both within the early church, and amongst scholarly circles today. The earliest manuscript containing this letter (Codex Alexandrinus) does not contain any title or attribution to Clement of Rome; however, it is placed alongside the first letter, which does bear the title in attribution to Clement’s authorship. The title “Second Clement” is derived from the later of the two manuscripts containing Clement’s writings. (Codex Hierosolymitanus)
Based on the fact that Eusebius, in the 4th century CE, records that Clement “has left us one recognized epistle,” 2 and the apparent stylistic differences in the writing styles of the two letters, many scholars doubt if the second letter was genuinely written by Clement of Rome. Some attribute it to an unknown author from the early 2nd century, while others claim that it was never meant to be a letter at all, but rather a sermon. Now if it is true that Clement’s second letter was intended to be a sermon, then this could explain the writing differences between the first and the second letters, and maintain Clement’s authorship. (No one writes a letter in the same style as they take sermon notes, and scholars have been using this line of reasoning for many years to justify the traditional position that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews.)
Since this objection has been duly noted, Clement’s authorship of this second letter will be assumed for the duration of this text, with slight reservation.
1 See also a similar work from the same era, the Clementine Homilies.
2 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History Book 3, Chapter 16.
- The First Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
- The Second Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
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