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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Fathers Speak: St. Clement's Letter to the Corinthians

The Fathers Speak:
St. Clement’s
Letter to the Corinthians

St. Clement was the third successor of St. Peter; he was the fourth pope.  He reigned from about A.D. 88-97.  His letter to the Corinthians was sent at some point during that period in order to settle a schism that had arisen there.
          Clement’s letter was well known and was even considered as Scripture by some in the early Church.  When the canon of Scripture was formalized by the Councils of Hippo, Carthage and Rome, ratified by Pope Damasus, in the late fourth century, Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was not included, but it has continued to be highly regarded.
          Corinth is in Greece, quite a distance from Rome, and Clement’s letter is a useful apologetic tool because of its insistence on unity and as a first-century document that demonstrates the primacy of the bishop of Rome (the pope).  The fact that the Corinthians appealed to the bishop of Rome to settle a dispute and were obedient to his ruling demonstrates the authority of the pope from the beginning:
          We must acknowledge that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the matters in dispute among you, beloved; and especially that abominable and unholy sedition, alien and foreign to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-willed persons have inflamed to such madness that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be loved by all men, has been greatly defamed.
          Pope Clement continues by holding up examples of heroic faith given by the Apostles and other early saints.  He encourages the Corinthians regarding the resurrection of the dead and demonstrates how even nature prepares us for this reality:  Let us look, beloved, at the resurrection which is taking place seasonally.  Day and night make known the resurrection to us.  The night sleeps, the day arises…How and in what manner does the sowing take place?...[The seeds] fall to the ground, parched and bare, where they decay.  Then from their decay the greatness of the Master’s providence raises them up, and from the one grain more grow, and bring forth fruit…Do we, then, consider it a great and wonderful thing that the Creator of the universe will bring about the resurrection of those who have served him in holiness and in the confidence of good faith…?
          Clement then moves to a treatment of order in the Church:  Let each of us, brethren, in his own rank, be well-pleasing to God and have a good conscience, not over-stepping the defined rules of his ministration – in dignity.
          Pope Clement concludes his letter with an admonishment to end the schism and heal the community:  Do we not have one God, one Christ, and one Spirit of Grace poured out upon us?  And is there not one calling in Christ?...Shameful, beloved, extremely shameful, and unworthy of your training in Christ, is the report that on account of one or two persons the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is in revolt against the presbyters….There is nothing vulgar in love, nothing haughty.  Love makes no schism; love does not quarrel; love does everything in unity.  In love were all the elect of God perfected; without love nothing is pleasing to God….Accept our counsel and you will have nothing to regret.