Included in the letters of Clement (Klēmentos, Pros Korinthious A, Pros Korinthious B) are two works, known as 1 and 2 Clement, from the broader collection of Clementine literature. Though once held in great esteem within the early church, and included with New Testament texts in the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, neither was ultimately accepted into the Christian canon. Instead, scholars now number them among the writings of the so-called “Apostolic Fathers” based upon the ancient supposition that they were written by the earliest followers of the original apostles. This assumption is widely debated by scholars today.

Authorship and Context.

By tradition, each of these works is attributed to Pope Clement I, one of the earliest bishops of the church at Rome. Patristic sources disagree on the chronology of the appointment of Clement as bishop, either listing him as an immediate successor to the apostle Peter, together with Linus and (Ana-)cletus (cf. Tertullian, Praescr. 32; Liber Pontificalis 2) in various offices, or as fourth bishop in succession after the tenure of the other two (cf. Irenaeus, Haer. 3.3.3; Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.4.10; Jerome, Vir. ill. 15). Few reliable details are available about Clement's life (cf. Lightfoot 1889–1890), though it is clear that he was one of the leading members of the church in Rome and died sometime toward the end of the first century.

Modern scholars continue to be largely predisposed toward crediting Clement with the authorship of 1 Clement. Typically scholars date this text to the last decade of the first century (perhaps 96 C.E.), since these were likely to have been the most productive years of the bishop's administration in Rome. At the same time, good arguments can be made for an earlier date in the late 60s or early 70s, based upon the antiquity of themes and images that appear in the text (Herron 1989; cf. Gregory 2005). For example, 1 Clement relies heavily upon Old Testament heroes as models of Christian leadership, alludes to the practice of sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple (41.2), a structure that was destroyed in 70 C.E., claims that presbyters remain in Corinth who were appointed by the apostles (42.1—43.6), and indicates no knowledge of the Gospels or Acts. The work itself gives no indication of Clement's participation in the actual composition of the letter beyond the title that appears at the end as an incipit, which itself is surely secondary. Nevertheless, the assumption of Clementine authorship remains strong within the literary tradition and few scholars attribute the composition to a date beyond the end of the century.

The situation is quite different with respect to 2 Clement. This is no true letter, but is more likely the oldest surviving Christian homily. In the fourth century, Eusebius himself recognized only a single epistle from the hand of Clement (Hist. eccl. 3.16), and the themes that are addressed here, finding no parallel in 1 Clement, suggest instead a later, mid-second century context. Scholars are greatly divided over authorship, place of composition (possibly Rome, Corinth, or Alexandria), and context for writing. No clear resolution to these questions is at hand. At the same time and in contrast to 1 Clement, however, most modern researchers reject Clementine authorship for 2 Clement, finding too many differences of detail to attribute the two works to the same hand.

Literary Structure and Contents.

The text of 1 Clement is one of the longest letters from the early church setting, revealing common epistolary elements of typical ancient correspondence: greeting (proem); body (1.1—39.9); paraenesis (40.1—61.3); and closing (64.1—65.2). 1 Clement does not include a “thanksgiving” section as found in many traditional, ancient letters including most of the Pauline correspondence. The configuration of 2 Clement, on the other hand, is more typical of a tractate or, as scholars usually suggest in this case, of a homily. No specific audience is addressed at the beginning of the text, which does not help scholars to know whether it was composed for a limited setting or for a more general reading within a wider spectrum of churches. The text concludes with a simple but triumphant doxology. Although the work has subsequently been divided into twenty chapters, it is unmistakably constructed as a single, rhetorical argument.

Contents of 1 Clement.

After an opening greeting from the church at Rome to the church in Corinth (proem), the author indicates the distinguished history of the Corinthian heritage of faith and raises the problem of the internal dissension that has occurred there in recent days (1.1—3.4). A virtual panegyric of the Christian lifestyle follows in which the writer notes the dangers that are inherent in jealousy and division, the importance of repentance, the virtues of obedience, faith, piety, hospitality, humility, and peace, and the promises of salvation that God offers for those who live a holy lifestyle (4.1—39.9). In response, specific attention is directed toward the need for divine regulation and universal love within the church, with a call for repentance and obedience to God, and the encouragement of an extended prayer (40.1—61.3; prayer in 59.3—61.3). In conclusion, the author raises a final prayer for the hopeful restoration of the Corinthians that they might regain their unity and harmony, requesting finally the return of those few Christians who have carried the missive to its recipients (64.1—65.2).

There is a broad usage of Old Testament scripture and imagery throughout the letter, indicating the author's familiarity with Jewish literature and its importance for the early Christian background. Almost a quarter of the text contains such quotations and allusions. The letter also holds parallels to the book of Hebrews, including specific references to Jesus Christ as the high priest of salvation (36.1; 61.3). And some modern authors find a similarity between the author's theology and that of the book of James. In many respects, it is clear that 1 Clement is consistent with many late first-century Christian views, but does not yet quote broadly from a variety of New Testament authors and perspectives.

Contents of 2 Clement.

The author's focal premise appears in the opening statement: Christians should think of Jesus Christ as they do God, “judge of the living and the dead.” A brief description of Christ's role in human salvation explains this theme for the listener (1.1—2.7). The bulk of the homily is then directed toward the need for believers to respond to Christ's sacrifice and the struggles that Christians endure while in the world. There is an appeal for an obedient lifestyle and a description of the church as the body of Christ (3.1—14.5). Thereafter, the author observes the need for urgency in making an appropriate response to the salvific role of Christ's sacrifice, appealing to righteousness, holiness, and repentance (15.1—18.2). Finally, a brief charge to be faithful and patient, followed by a doxology, concludes the work (20.1–5).

Although it is not mentioned specifically by name, the author appears to hold a special concern to refute Gnosticism and its theological speculation. Thus, the listener is counseled to understand the “true knowledge” of Christ and through him alone to know the Father of truth (3.1–5). As such, this knowledge is less of a prize to be obtained than a motivation to achieve good works (4.1—15.5). It seems that 2 Clement arose early enough within the development of Christian orthodoxy to make use of Gnostic terminology without concern for being identified as part of some evolving Gnostic school. At the same time, however, the author has a clear perception that the focus of solid Christian thought must recognize and divert itself from such egregious conjectures as equating knowledge with salvation and endorsing a particular “secret teaching” as the correct path for Christian living.

Interpretation.

Key elements within each work tell us much about the writings themselves and about the character of the church community out of which each text was spawned. As such, 1–2 Clement provide valuable views into the evolution of the early patristic setting.

Keys to 1 Clement.

The author of 1 Clement reflects a community in Rome that is still influenced by Jewish tradition and literature. Though the Corinthians are reminded of the righteous suffering of the apostles Peter and Paul (5.1–7) in a way that suggests that the two were the central heroes of early faith (also reflected in Acts), the primary imagery of leadership from which the author draws is taken from Old Testament lore. Thus, Abraham, Job, David, Moses, and others figures of Israel's history offer the key to godly leadership within the church rather than more contemporary New Testament images (Jefford 2008). Such respect for Jewish tradition and heritage suggests that, while the first-century Roman church setting may have been varied in its origins, the community that 1 Clement represents was markedly Jewish in perspective, and does not reflect any decisive break between the synagogue and ecclesiastical politics.

At the same time, however, 1 Clement incorporates elements of non-Jewish faith that place the letter in an exceptional position within early Christian literature. Reminiscent of Pauline thought (see Eph 2:19; more broadly, Lindemann 2005, pp. 9–16), for example, the author speaks of a citizenship that is worthy of Christ (3.4), a theme that finds parallels in Polycarp's letter to Philippi, the Shepherd of Hermas (also most likely from Rome), and the later Epistle to Diognetus. So too, we have a reference to the persecution of the Danaids and Dircae as witnesses of holy faith (6.2), and find the Egyptian legend of the phoenix incorporated into the text as a metaphor for new life in Christ through resurrection (25.1—26.3). It is clear that the author feels free to borrow elements of various faith traditions as illustrations of how Christian thought and theology should be interpreted.

Keys to 2 Clement.

The text of 2 Clement also includes several important thematic elements, among which is an evolving Christology and ecclesiology. The influence of these views on later theological speculation is unknown since the work was not widely quoted by successive patristic literature. Clearly, the writer was steeped in the widely known “two ways” mentality that was so typical of early Christianity (see e.g. Didache 1–6; Barnabas 18–20). Christians are charged to be obedient to the call of God's eternal world and not to the demands of the temporal age. Mingled with this perspective is a concern for the end times (15.1—20.5), which requires that each believer be in constant prayer (15.3–5; 16.4), give attention to the “commands of the LORD” (17.3), and avoid those who are unrighteous. Divine rewards wait in the world to come for those who remain righteous until the end (20.1–4).

The author incorporates several particular images to make this argument especially vivid. Much like the apostle Paul (see 1 Cor 9:24–27), 2 Clement taps into the imagery of athletic competition and the struggles of faith (7.1–6; 20.1). Thus the days of a Christian demand that each believer pay careful attention to a proper lifestyle. In addition and also reflective of both Paul (Rom 9:20ff) and Jeremiah (18:1FF), the author envisions the maturing Christian as potter's clay that is shaped by God (8.1–4). In both of these images, the athletic contest and shaped clay, the believer must be willing to participate in the process of transformation. Finally, 2 Clement is perhaps the oldest text to speak of the “preexistent Church” (14.1–5) as an element of early Christian theology. Such speculation predates similar discussions of ecclesiology among later patristic authors.

Reception History.

The degree to which 1–2 Clement have been employed by Christians over the centuries varies extensively. It is clear that both writings were widely respected around the fifth century, having been recorded together with the canonical works of the New Testament. At the same time, there is little to suggest that 2 Clement itself received much specific attention, since reference to it never appears in known patristic literature or within subsequent ecclesiastical literature. The reason for this omission is unclear. The nature of the text as a homily may quite possibly have limited its usage to more regional considerations. Otherwise, it simply may not have circulated to any great extent or held themes that patristic authors considered of value to cite.

The case of 1 Clement is somewhat different, however. It remains uncertain how the Corinthians received the text and its instructions, but it must have circulated quickly, since both Polycarp and Ignatius seem to have known of it. More significantly, the bishop Irenaeus of Lyons in Gaul makes reference to it as “scripture” (as he also does to Hermas in 4.20.2), thus acknowledging the authority that the letter held for early church communities. Irenaeus writes: “Those who wish can learn from this writing…and thus recognize the apostolic tradition of the church, since this epistle is older than those false teachers who make up lies.…” (Haer. 3.3.3). Perhaps the greatest use of 1 Clement was made within the Alexandrian church, where it is widely quoted by Clement of Alexandria, and was considered a text of some authority by Didymus the Blind and the bishop Athanasius. Undoubtedly, the primary value of the letter for early Christians resided in its focus upon the need for unity and harmony as central witnesses to God's divine blessing upon early faith communities. After the general, institutional stabilization of the church toward the end of the patristic period, such concerns gave way to more contentious theological speculation and, no doubt, 1 Clement subsequently lost its place of honor.

[See also CANON, subentry NEW TESTAMENT and LETTERS.]

Bibliography

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  • Gregory, Andrew. “Disturbing Trajectories: 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas and the Development of Roman Christianity.” In The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew F. Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett, pp. 129–157. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Comparison of contemporary views on the dating of 1 Clement.
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Clayton N. Jefford