Who was Clement of Rome?Question: "Who was Clement of Rome?"
Answer: Clement of Rome was an early church father who lived and ministered at the close of the apostolic era near the end of the first century. He was a bishop of the church in Rome and is primarily known for a letter that he wrote from Rome to the church at Corinth. This letter is referred to as 1 Clement or the First Epistle of Clement and is typically dated to about AD 96, probably before the death of the apostle John. It is most likely Clement’s only authentic extant writing. A second letter said to be from Clement to the Corinthian church is still extant, but many have questioned its authenticity.
Origen of Alexandria (AD 185—284) and Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 260—340) maintained that Clement of Rome was the same Clement mentioned by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:3, although their claims cannot be positively confirmed. Persuasive evidence does exist that Clement had personal contact with Simon Peter and studied under the apostles. Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 130—200) informs us that “this man [Clement of Rome], as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Against Heresies 3:3).
The motivation for Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was an internal dispute within the Corinthian church regarding church leadership. Clement encourages them to practice humility and to look to Jesus and His apostles as examples. The letter includes a call to repentance and an encouragement to pursue holiness. Clement’s letter makes reference to several canonical books including Genesis, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, and Philippians. Gospel citations from both Matthew and Luke are present as well.
Moreover, in 1 Clement we possibly find one of the earliest patristic references to the biblical doctrine of justification through faith alone: “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Clement, 32).
A study of the church fathers can be informative and edifying, and Clement of Rome is certainly worthy of our attention. Like Clement, our minds should be saturated in Scripture, and our opinions should be informed by the teaching of the apostles.
Recommended Resource: The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation by Justo Gonzalez
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