Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Feast of St. Clement of Rome, Bishop and Martyr

Almighty God, you chose your servant Clement of Rome to recall the Church in Corinth to obedience and stability: Grant that your Church may be grounded and settled in your truth by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; reveal to it what is not yet known; fill up what is lacking; confirm what
has already been revealed; and keep it blameless in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As is often the case with these first-century saints, we do not know much about the life of Clement. Some of the ancient sources claim that he was a member of the family of T. Flavius Clemens, cousin of the Emperor Domatian, but most scholars in our time believe that he was actually an ex-slave of that household. Some sources, including Origen, believed that he is the person mentioned by St. Paul in Philippians 4:3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Clement's name does appear on the different lists of the Bishops of Rome, so it is safe to call him one of the Popes. Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Jerome all list him as third after St. Peter, while Hippolytus and Augustine list him as second after St. Peter. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote that Clement saw the blessed Apostles and conversed with them, and had yet ringing in his ears the preaching of the Apostles and had their tradition before his eyes, and not he only for many were then surviving who had been taught by the Apostles. St. Epiphanius repeated a story about Clement being ordained by St. Peter and refusing the office of bishop at first: Whether he received episcopal ordination from Peter inthe life-time o the Apostles, and declined the office, for he says in one of his epistles, "I retire, I depart, let the people of God be in peace," (for we have found this set down in certain Memoirs), or whether he was appointed by the Bishop Cletus after he had succeeded the Apostles, we do not clearly know.

When we call Clement the Bishop of Rome, we must realize that the office was quite different than it is now. As far as we can tell, bishops who were sole rulers of the local congregation were not yet known in Rome; in fact, in his epistle,Clement seems to speak of bishops and presbyters, or priests, as if these were identical terms. There is another book written about the same time as his epistle, The Shepherd, by Hermas, which says that, of two copies of a certain vision One is to be sent to Clement and the other to Grapte; and Clement shall then send it to the cities abroad, for that is his business. It is possible that Clement was one of several leaders of the Church in Rome, and that he was in charge of relations with churches in other cities.

Most of what we know about Clement comes from an epistle he wrote to the Christians in Corinth around the year 96. There are some other writings attributed to him, but most sources, including Eusebius, do not believe that he wrote anything other than the one epistle. If Clement was in charge of relations with churches in other cities, it makes sense that he would write to the Christians in Corinth. The reason for his letter was that the feuds and dissensions which had threatened the unity of the Christian community in Corinth during Paul's time had reappeared a generation later. Some of the younger hot-heads had risen up against their lawfully appointed presbyters and ran them out of office! According to others, the deposed ministers had always performed their duties without reproach and were good leaders of their communities, but I guess they were not doing things the way these younger men thought things should be done. It is quite possible that the dispute was more personal than doctrinal and it may have been the action of an insubordinate minority who resent the authority of their seniors. Clement denounced the handful of individuals as the troublemakers, but he included the entire Corinthian church in his criticism. He asserted that, as a result of their material prosperity, the Corinthian Church had become swollen with pride, and that this had given rise to the present jealousy, strife and disorder. In the epistle, Clement gives an account of salvation history and he also speaks of the importance of authority and respect for those whom God has put in authority. He explains the authority of bishops. and he also explains the importance of a clergy who serve both God and God's people, the Church. It was Clement's great hope that his epistle would induce the erring sheep of Corinth to repent of their pride, learn the grace of humility and find their way back to the peace and unity of Christian brotherhood. He quotes the Hebrew scriptures (which were the only scriptures of the Church at that time) throughout the epistle, although it can be confusing since he strings quotations from different books together so that it seems as if the come from the same source. The Epistle of Clement was widely known and held in very great esteem by those of the early Church. It was publicly read in numerous churches and regarded as scripture in some communities.

There is an apocryphal Acts of St. Clement in Greek. It relates how Clement converted Theodora, wife of Sisinnius, a courtier of Nerva, and after performing numerous miracles, he converted Sisinnius and four hundred and twenty-three other persons of high and noble rank. The Emperor Trajan heard of the conversions and banished Clement to the Crimea, where he quenched the thirst of two thousand Christians with a water miracle. The entire country was converted and seventy-five churches were built. This upset Trajan so much that he ordered Clement to be arrested. Clement was chained to an iron anchor and thrown into the sea, where he received the Crown of Martyrdom. Yet every year, the tide receded two miles, revealing a shrine built by angels which housed Clement's bones. In the year 868, St. Cyril (of Cyril and Methodius fame) passed through Crimea, and he dug up some bones from a mound, where he also found an anchor; he believed that these were the relics of St. Clement. These relics are now in the altar of St. Clement's Church in Rome.

The following is a prayer from Clement's epistle: Teach us, O Lord, to hope in your Name, which is the source and fount of all creation. Open the eyes of our hearts to know you, who alone are Highest amid the highest, and ever abides Holy amidst the holy. You bring down the haughtiness of the proud, and scatter the devices of the people. You set up the lowly on high, and you cast down the lofty. Riches and poverty, death and life, are in your hand; you alone are the discerner of every spirit and the God of all flesh. Your eyes behold the depths and survey the works of humanity, you are the aid of those in peril the Savour of those who despair, the creator and overseer of everything that has breath. By you the nations of the earth are increased; and from humanity you have chose out such as love you through your dear child Jesus Christ, by whom you have taught us and raise us to sanctification and honor. Grant us, O Lord, your help and protection. Deliver the afflicted, pity the lowly, raise the fallen, reveal yourself to the needy, heal the sick and bring home your wandering people. Feed the hungry, ransom the captive, support the weak, comfort the faint-hearted. Let all the nations of the earth know that you are God alone, that Jesus Christ is your child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. . .

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