St Clement of Rome, pope, martyr (Feast: November 23)

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St Clement of Rome, pope, martyr (Feast: November 23)

A disciple of Saints Peter and Paul, St Jerome identifies Clement as the one Apostle Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3. According to Tertullian (c. 199AD), Clement was ordained by St Peter and succeeded him as Bishop of Rome immediately. However, Irenaeus and Eusebius rank him third after Linus and Cletus. Some speculate that this confusion results from the early Church at Rome having at first two successions, one Petrine, the other Pauline. Clement likely Petrine, and Cletus Pauline, one ruling the converted Jews and the latter the converted Gentiles.

In the ancient canon of the Roman Mass, Clement is ranked among the martyrs. Eusebius tells us, that “St Clement departed this life in the third year of Trajan, of Christ 100.” Martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea, in sacred art, he is frequently depicted with an anchor at his side or tied to his neck, wearing papal vestments. The Anchored Cross is often referred to as St Clément’s Cross.

In an epistle considered the earliest authentic Christian document outside of the New Testament, Clement writes to the troubled congregation in Corinth (1 Clement). The letter offers valuable insight into Church ministry at that time and into the history of the Roman Church. Indeed, Clement makes the first use of the word ‘layman’ in Christian literature: “To the high priest, indeed, proper ministrations are allotted, to the priests a proper place is appointed, and upon the Levites their proper services are imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.”

The lengthy epistle entreats repentance and reinstatement of those who have been deposed, such as to restore order and obedience to Church authority as established by the Apostles. Ranked next to the canonical books of the Holy Scriptures, the epistle was read in Corinth and other churches - a copy found in the very ancient Alexandrian manuscript copy of the Bible c. 170.

Clement instructs that the spirit of Christianity is a spirit of perfect disengagement from the things of this world: "We must look upon all the things of this world, as none of ours, and not desire them… love those which are to come, which are truly good and incorruptible." In today’s confused world where the teaching authority of the Church is often contested we do well to reflect on the wisdom of the early Church Fathers in counselling troubled congregations to repentance, obedience to Christ’s Church and renewal in the Gospel.