Clement is traditionally placed by the earliest succession lists as the 3rd leader of the Church of Rome after St. Peter (c.91-101).  Tertullian and St. Jerome, however, make him the immediate successor to St. Peter.  We know little of the organization of the Roman Church in the 1st century, so it is anachronistic to call him “Bishop of Rome” or still more “Pope”, since that is originally a term of endearment, “Little Father” that only later came into use and was used by more churches than Rome.  It is still used by the Head of the Coptic Church, for instance.  That being said, he early on was seen as the leader of the “elders” of Rome and has almost always been acknowledged as the author of the Epistle called “1st Clement” that was an epistle sent by “the Church of God which is a stranger at Rome to the Church of God which is a stranger at Corinth”.  There had been a “coup” by some members of the Corinthian church to oust some presbyters there and install their own.  The Epistle takes it as a given that Rome had the right and duty to intervene and expect that its intervention would be followed without demure.  A letter from Bishop Dionysius of Corinth, who wrote to Pope Soter around 170, indicates that this letter was still being read in the church assemblies.  It was often included in early lists of Scripture.  It was so important a document that it spurred two other letters claiming his authorship that most certainly were not by the same hand.

Clement is traditionally held to to have been ordained by St. Peter himself and at some time became head of the Roman presbytery.  He is not listed in the early pontifical lists as a martyr, but later legend has him arrested and sent off to the Crimea where he was tied to an anchor and drowned in the sea.  Further legends identify him with Titus Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperor Domitian (81-96) who was executed around 95 or 96 for “atheism”.  This usually was taken to mean he adopted Jewish or Christian customs, rejecting the Roman Gods.  It is possible that he was a freedman in the household of the consul.

His symbol is an Anchor and his Feast in the West is Nov. 24 and Nov. 25 in the East.

Whatever the facts of his shrouded life, his authorship of 1st Clement makes him one of the most important sub-apostolic fathers, giving us one of the few glimpses into the organization, authority and life of the early Christian communities.

Categories: Heroes of Christ | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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