January 23, 2021

Friday with the Fathers (1)

The Church Fathers, Kievan Miniature (11th c)

By Chaplain Mike

During Lent, we will contemplate excerpts from the Apostolic Fathers. These are the earliest Christian writings known to us outside the pages of the New Testament itself. Their works come from the latter half of the first century and the first part of the second.

The traditional list of the Fathers includes:

  • Clement of Rome
  • Ignatius of Antioch
  • Polycarp of Smyrna
  • The Didache
  • The Epistle of Barnabas
  • The Shepherd of Hermas
  • Papias

Today, we take a brief look at Clement of Rome.

Clement was a leader in the Roman church in the late first century. Early church tradition says that he was the second or third bishop of Rome after St. Peter. Some identify him with Paul’s coworker, named in Philippians 4:3. The only writing we have from him is a letter that was sent from Rome to the church in Corinth. Its traditional date is 96 AD, though it could have been penned any time in the last two decades of the first century.

This epistle, occasioned by a revolt in the Corinthian church against its leaders, was highly esteemed in the early church. In his early ecclesiastical history, Eusebius describes it:

There is one acknowledged Epistle of this Clement, great and admirable, which he wrote in the name of the Church of Rome to the Church at Corinth, sedition having then arisen in the latter Church. We are aware that this Epistle has been publicly read in very many churches both in old times, and also in our own day.

• The History of the Church, iii. 16

The letter of 1Clement is an “appeal for peace and concord” to a church that found itself in a situation of strife and contention. Clement makes constant use of Scripture along with Jewish sources, rhetorical illustrations, and NT letters, citing many exemplary characters who turned from jealousy and arrogance and humbled themselves in faith, obedience, and the practice of love and hospitality toward others.

Therefore it is right for us, having studied so many and such great examples, to bow the neck and, adopting the attitude of obedience, to submit to those who are the leaders of our souls, so that by ceasing from this futile dissension we may attain the goal that is truly set before us, free from all blame. For you will give us great joy and gladness if you obey what we have written through the Holy Spirit and root out the unlawful anger of your jealousy, in accordance with the appeal for peace and harmony that we have made in this letter.

• 1Clement 63:1-2

Today, in keeping with the spirit of Lent, we quote Clement’s “earnest prayer and supplication” that God would forgive his people’s sins and grant them divine harmony and peace.

“You, Lord, created the earth. You are faithful throughout all generations, righteous in your judgments, marvelous in strength and majesty, wise in creating and prudent in establishing what exists, good in all that is observed and faithful to those who trust in you, merciful and compassionate: forgive us our sins and our injustices, our transgressions and our shortcomings. Do not take into account every sin of your servants and slaves, but cleanse us with the cleansing of your truth, and direct our steps to walk in holiness and righteousness and purity of heart, and to do what is good and pleasing in your sight and in the sight of our rulers. Yes, Lord, let your face shine upon us in peace for our good, so that we may be sheltered by your mighty hand and delivered from every sin by your uplifted arm; deliver us as well from those who hate us unjustly. Give harmony and peace to us and to all who dwell on the earth, just as you did to our ancestors when they reverently called upon you in faith and truth, that we may be saved, while we render obedience to your almighty and most excellent name, and to our rulers and governors on earth.”

• 1 Clement 60:1-4

Text cited from:
The Apostolic Fathers, by Michael W. Holmes


  1. .

    I live in a town named after St. Clement. San Clemente, CA

    I didn’t know those things about this Church father. Thanks for sharing!

    • Steve, could be Clement of Alexandria too, who was a later Church Father. I’m not familiar with San Clemente’s history.

      • Wikipedia enlightens me, as usual. Looks like it’s Pope St. Clement I:

        “Property rights to the land exchanged hands several times, but few ventured to build on it until 1925, when former Mayor of Seattle, Ole Hanson, with the financial help of a syndicate headed by Hamilton Cotton, purchased and designed a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) community. Hanson believed that the area’s pleasant climate, beautiful beaches and fertile soil would serve as a haven to Californians who were tired of “the big city”. He named the city after San Clemente Island, which in turn was named by the explorer Vizcaino in 1602 after Saint Clement, whose feast day occurs on November 23, the day of Vizcaino’s arrival on the island.”

        Clement of Rome’s feast day is 23rd November, Clement of Alexandria’s feast day is 4th December. The Spanish had a habit of naming geographical features in the New World after the saint of the day they landed there, or built the town, or came over the mountain, or whatever 🙂

        • After I thought about it awhile I thought surely it must be Clement of Rome, since he was considered one of the first known “popes” after Peter. You are correct, Martha. I found the same info on a site that tells the history of San Clemente.

          Martha, what has been your exposure, as a Roman Catholic, to 1 Clement?

          • Not much, I have to say, Chaplain Mike.

            However, I must remind you (1) I come from a small Irish town that is not quite in the backend of nowhere, but not that far from such status either, and that basically people skated by on a Minimum Adult Daily Requirement when it came to deepening their knowledge of the faith and (2) that the state of catechesis in Catholicism for the past thirty years has been abysmal. So busy chucking out the bathtub, never mind the baby, with the bathwater.

            Also, Catholics do have a dreadful habit of leaving This Kind of Thing up to the clergy and the male and female religious. So this series of yours is definitely one of the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy (instructing the ignorant).


    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      My grandmother lived on San Clemente street for most of her adult life. My mom and all her siblings were raised there. My cousin now lives there. I can’t believe this, but I hadn’t really thought about the fact that San Clemente is St. Clement.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      From someone who lives 40 miles and works 10 miles north of San Clemente, I have to burst your bubbles.

      San Clemente IS named after St Clement, but not intentionally. Part of local history — grandiose-sounding housing tracts are nothing new in SoCal, and San Clemente was named by a Roaring Twenties land developer who wanted a “Spanish-sounding” name.

      But it could have been worse. La Cienaga (major street and neighborhood on the West Side of Los Angeles) actually means “The Swamp” because the pre-development area was originally a salt marsh. El Segundo (The Second) was named because its refineries were the second major landmark visible from offshore, and Coalinga in the Central Valley was named after “Coaling Station A” on the Southern Pacific RR. And there’s got to be some “Spanish” or “Indian”-sounding name that’s actually off-color in the native tongue; it’s too obvious a joke NOT to have happened. Several times.

  2. Not sure, Chaplain Mike.

    I’m am not too informed on the brief history of our town. I’ll check it out.

    Pray for the folks in Japan this morning, HUGE earthquake.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And first guy to go all End Time Prophecy and ONLY End Time Prophecy about what happened to Japan this morning (remember Pat Robertson after Haiti?) gets punched in the junk.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And merging the two comment cascades here (Japan quake/tsunami and San Clemente), the tsunami should be coming in at San Clemente as I’m writing this. Two-foot surge; about a third of the height at Crescent City near the Oregon border. Cops cleared the beaches up and down the coast; including surfers who were figuring to ride the tsunami in. (What a town, huh?)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      More tsunami news: Five feet at Midway, 12 feet on Hawaii’s Kona Coast. No word as to how high it came in at Honolulu, but being in the lee of Oahu probably more like Midway than the Kona Coast. They’d evacuated the lower two-three floors of the beachfront hotels at Waikiki as a precaution. (The first two floors are very open, intended to let a tsunami just blow through without hitting any resistance, and being next to the beach the wave has no opportunity to pick up debris.)

  3. Looking forward to more of this series. Can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say about The Didache. There would be soooo much less strife in churches, and in the culture today if Christians would abide by the principles it contains.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve heard of the Didache. Dates to the second century AD, and according to my informants a full third of the book is about how to spot a fake preacher/con man.

      • Ha! It definitely does lay out some ideals for Christian behavior…don’t steal or lie, be kind to each other…really radical stuff!

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Aye, HUG. Chapters 6 and 11-15 of a 16-chapter book are about spotting the cons. Good stuff, that!

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Aye, HUG. Chapters 6 and 11-15 of a 16-chapter book are about spotting the cons. Good stuff, that!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          When I first heard of that, I got a BIG kick out of it.

          Even when years AD were barely into three digits, there were con men going around posing as Apostles and Preachers, attempting to fleece the sheep. Something a lot of Televangelist/Megachurch fanboys need to be reminded of.

          Years ago, a friend in PA gave me a book titled “Anti Christ”, tracing the history of the idea of The Antichrist and the speculations about same. Something I noticed was a common thread of Antichrist as a Slick Deceiver pretending to be Christ (“Anti-” in the sense of “Imitiation of”) as well as Antichrist as Fanatic Persecutor (“Anti-” in the sense of “Against”). Sometimes the two concepts worked as a tag-team, where in fleeing the Fanatic Persecutor you take the Mark of the Slick Deceiver. These days, only the Fanatic Persecutor is acknowledged while the Slick Deceiver gets a free ride.

  4. Growing up Protestant, and then spending most of my adult life in Pentecostalism, I didn’t get to hear much about the Apostolic Fathers (though I did read the Didache a few years ago.) Looking forward to the rest this series and learning more.

  5. For what it’s worth, personally, I’d date Clement’s letter earlier than the date you give. William Jurgens gives it a date no later than 80 AD and John A. T. Robinson gives an earlier date of around 70 AD. I personally think an early date is appropriate:

    (1) He refers to sacrifice being offered in the temple (which was destroyed in 70 AD)
    (2) He opens his letter talking about the series of calamities which have recently affected the Church in Rome, which is most likely “year of four emperors” in 69 AD.
    (3) The journey from Rome to Corinth would have been quite an undertaking – those carrying the letter would need to be *reasonably* youthful.

    My favourite bit of Clement’s letter is when he talks about praying for those in Government 🙂

    • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      I’m reading a short book by a late-19th/early-20th Century Episcopal bishop that is pastoral advise for seminarians, young priests, and deacons in his flock. Specifically, it’s advise on how to use the BCP pastorally. In a bit I just read he emphasizes not shirking the BCP’s prayers for the President and Congress and uses Paul’s admonishions to drive his point home. It made me smile 🙂

  6. I’m glad to see you doing this series, Chaplain Mike. I started reading Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI, but I put it aside when I started reading other books. I will get back to it though.

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