When the Apostle Paul was put to death in Rome, sometime during the later part of the reign of Nero (between AD66-68), a long list of well-known church leaders had been heavily under his influence. Many of these names are familiar to most Christians: Barnabas, Mark, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos. There are many other names included in Paul’s biography and letters about whom little is known. Many of these men and women clearly played important roles in the earliest Judeo-Christian and Gentile-Christian churches of the first century.
One name that often goes unnoticed in the New Testament, however, is quite possibly a reference to none other than the seminal leader of the Apostolic church and the era referred to as the Patristics. (The Patristics, by the way, just happen to be my favorite period of recorded church history. Their stories and literature are full of rich pieces of the Judeo-Christian story which, because of their popularity among Catholics, have almost been completely forgotten or forsaken by Evangelicals.)
In Philippians 4, Paul mentions both men and women who were his companions in ministry and approved by God as leaders of the church. In 4:3, Paul uses a very recognizable name:
Philippians 4:3: Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Census records from the first century make it clear that the name Clement was a common name in the Roman Empire. In other words, this could have been anyone. On the other hand, the location, time, and context of the reference make it very likely that Paul was referring to THE Clement – Clement I of Rome (AD30-c. 100). From the letter referred to below, it seems clear that Clement ministered along with Paul in Corinth, which sat on the Achaean peninsula and was just a few days journey to Philippi. It is more than plausible to surmise that Clement might also have been a part of the ministry in Philippi.
HE IMITATED PAUL AS PAUL IMITATED CHRIST
As one reads through the first letter of Clement to the Corinthians, it is nearly impossible to miss the influence of the Apostle Paul. Clement uses phrases like, “grace and peace to you,” “let us be imitators,” “let us make every effort,” “may it never be,” “spiritual fruit,” “dear friends,” “dear brothers and sisters,” and he blesses those who receive his letter with a Paul-style blessing,
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and with all people everywhere who have been called by God through him, through whom be glory, honor, power, majesty, and eternal dominion to God, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.
Clement would go on to become arguably the most important Church Father after the ministry of the Apostles ended. He is generally considered to have been the fourth Pope (although that title was not yet used), following Peter, Linus, and Anacletus. In many ways, the Apostolic Church, or the church that was built and left by the Apostles who saw Jesus, lacked any significant formal organization. What was clear, however, was that their were important men and women who had been called to positions of leadership including bishops, elders, pastor/teachers, and deacons/deaconesses. Clement rose to the top once the Apostles had been killed or gone into exile. The church was facing some the most severe persecution it had ever known, and Clement was charged with bringing order, peace, and endurance to the Body of Christ even under the threat of death. Tradition holds that Clement was martyred; drowned by being tossed into the sea with an anchor around his neck.
A CHALLENGE TO US TO MAKE DISCIPLES
My question is: Did Paul, before his death, ever realize the level of impact he had on Clement? Did he know Clement would eventually fill his shoes and those of Peter as well? I’d say, probably not. Paul’s ministry in Corinth and Philippi took place sometime in the mid to late AD50′s. Paul was executed around 15 years later. While it is possible, and even probable, that Clement rose among the ranks of leaders in the Church, his role as a lead bishop would not have been solidified while most of the Apostles still lived. Here is a leader in whom Paul invested . . . planted the seeds of faith and discipleship . . . and died long before seeing the ripest of results.
This is a reminder to me, and hopefully to you, that you never know how, when, or in whom the investment of mission will pay off. Think about it, Paul never mentions Clement as having been drug around the Mediterranean on the great missionary journeys. He never mentions having used Clement to deliver a letter or commends him to any great position of authority. Paul never describes any churches that met in Clement’s home and yet, when it was all said and done, Clement clearly bore the marks of Paul’s influence on his life and modeled his high level of leadership in some of the most difficult days of the Church’s existence.
Who has the Lord placed within reach of my influence? May I never pretend to know the outcome of that person’s journey. The end of their story, and mine, has been written but has yet to be told.
MORE ABOUT CLEMENT OF ROME
Clement is the first of those who are often called the “Apostolic Fathers,” which is a term that simply refers to those early church fathers who were connected to or discipled by the original apostles. Ignatius (AD35-117) and Polycarp (AD69-155) were disciples of the Apostle John. Clement is believed to have been a disciple or colleague to both Paul and Peter.
It is hard to discern whether or not Clement was from a Roman/Jewish background like Paul or a Gentile who held Roman citizenship. He displayed a deep understanding of the Old Testament along with an appreciation for the popular philosophy of his day. Either way, he was clearly committed to the God of the Old Testament, the Jesus of the New Testament, and the Roman state. Much like Paul, Clement encouraged the believers to respect and pray for their elected officials He endured the persecutions of Nero (AD54-68), and most likely wrote his letter to the Corinthians during the persecutions of Domitian (AD81-96). Evidence suggests that the Corinthian believers read Clement’s letter alongside of Paul’s letters at least until AD170. Scholars are divided as to whether or not the second letter to the Corinthians which bears Clement’s names should actually have been attributed to him. This is, in part, because it was commonplace for many in the second century AD to write epistles and attach the names of church leaders pseudonymously. Clement was one of the more popular names to be added to such epistles.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Clement displays authority – both his personal authority in the Church at Rome and the Church at Rome’s authority over the other churches associated with the Way – and he attributes that leadership to the Holy Spirit. In fact, his letter was probably written more on behalf of the entire church at Rome as opposed to being simply his words to the Corinthians. Clement’s letter is an excellent companion to Paul’s Corinthian letters, pleading with the church to seek peace among its ranks and with the culture surrounding it. Several church leaders of later centuries advocated for Clement’s letter to be included in the New Testament, but it was not included in the earliest approve canons.
MORE ABOUT THE PAPACY AND LINE OF SUCCESSION
From where did the idea of having a Pope come? After Paul and Peter completed their ministries and lives in Rome, the office of bishop in Rome became the most recognizable role in the Church. The title of “pope” was not ascribed to the Bishop of Rome until the late fourth century AD. After the council of Nicea (AD325), rival Church leaders began to emerge in places like Constantinople and Western Europe.
For more on the council of Nicea, see my earlier post on Athanasius by clicking here.
Even though the office of Pope was not recognized in the fourth century, this selection from Clement I gives some indication as to how the office of Rome recognized the authority of its Bishop and leaders. You will notice that Clement argues that the office of bishop is appointed by God, permanent, and should only be terminated by death.
The apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. For this reason, therefore, having received the complete foreknowledge, they appointed the leaders mentioned earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character. That is, other approved men should succeed to their ministry when they die. It would unjust to remove these approved men from their ministry, therefore, because they were appointed by the apostles or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and are those who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well-spoken of by all. For it will be no small sin for us if we depose those from the bishop’s office who have offered the gifts blameless and in holiness. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone on ahead, who took their departure at a mature and fruitful age, for they need no longer fear that someone may remove them from their established place. For we see that you have removed certain people, their good conduct notwithstanding, from the ministry that had been held in honor by them blamelessly. (1 Clement 44:1-6)
Clement of Rome is an interesting case. The vatican list of the Popes does not include Clement in the early ranks, most likely because his remains are not buried beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Both Irenaeus of Lyons (died AD202) and Tertullian of Carthage (AD160-220) list Clement as the fourth Bishop of Rome, or “Pope.” Tertullian recorded that Clement had been consecrated as bishop by the Apostle Peter, although the date of Peter’s death (probably around the time of the Apostle Paul before AD69) makes this somewhat unlikely. If Peter did in fact consecrate Clement, the actually bestowment of the role of Bishop of Rome was delayed until close to AD92.