September 07, 2016


Stephen Nichols


When you want to talk about Clement, the question is, which Clement? There were a number of Clements in the early church. The Clement we want to talk about is the first one, and he goes all the way back to the first century. This is Clement of Rome.

Clement was bishop of Rome from 88 to 99. We actually know very little about him. We know that he was bishop over Rome at an intense time of persecution. We have one piece of writing that comes down to us from the hand of Clement. It's often called the First Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement, or sometimes it's called the Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. The letter begins, "The church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the church of God sojourning at Corinth." We also read in these opening lines of this epistle, "Of the sudden and successive calamitous events." What Clement is referring to here is likely the persecution under Emperor Domitian.

Domitian was emperor from 81 to 96. The Roman historian Pliny calls him "the beast from hell." One of the things that Domitian did was institute emperor worship; he considered himself the almighty god and the very presence of all of the gods on earth and he demanded that all his loyal subjects of Rome actually worship him. Of course, this was difficult for Christians to do—it was also difficult for Jews to do—and under Domitian there was an intense time of persecution of both Jews and Christians. When Clement writes of the sudden and successive calamitous events, it very likely has to do with Domitian's persecution.

Domitian was not the first emperor to go after Christians. In fact, in chapter three of his epistle, Clement informs us of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. This is one of the earliest extrabiblical references to the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul in Rome under Nero. Nero was another emperor who hated Christians and persecuted them viciously and violently, just as Domitian did.

As we read further along in Clement's epistle, we come to chapter 32, where Clement affirms that wonderful doctrine of Paul and of the Reformers: the doctrine of justification by faith. Clement writes, "And we too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, not 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 forever and ever, amen." Then he quickly asks, "What shall we do then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But, rather, let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work." He goes on to say, "Above all, with His holy and undefiled hands, God formed man—the most excellent of His creatures and truly great, through the understanding given him, the express likeness of His own image. For thus says God, 'Let us make man in our own image and after our likeness.' Having thus finished all these things He approved them and blessed them and said, 'Increase and multiply.' We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having, therefore, such an example, let us without delay accede to His will and do His work, the work of righteousness, with our whole strength."

And there we have it, the doctrine of justification by faith and a sincere and zealous call to live as Christians in this world from Clement.