Reflections from the Church Fathers-St. Clement of Rome (c. 96)

How we see the Trinity in the writings of St. Clement

St. Clement’s writings to the Corinthians are a hybrid form that is mostly epistle and Greek argumentation. His writing is full of praise and worship to God. As noted by Bettenson’s summary of Clement’s writings, the Holy Spirit does not receive as much reference as does God the Father or Christ. Clement writes in an era predating any ecumenical councils dealing with Christological debates or other heresies denying the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, in Clement’s writings doxologies to God have a very Pauline style, as can be seen in the introductory blessing: “Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ be multiplied…”

God in His Providence is later praised for His care of all creation, when Clement writes,

“The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassion through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen…” 1 Clem 20:10-12

There are, however, some references which point to a Trinitarian blessing, where the action of three persons is written as One. For example, we read in 1Clem 58:2:

“Receive our counsel, and ye shall have no occasion of regret. For as God liveth, and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth, and the Holy Spirit, who are the faith and the hope of the elect, so surely shall he, who with lowliness of mind and instant in gentleness hath without regretfulness performed the ordinances and commandments that are given by God, be enrolled and have a name among the number of them that are saved through Jesus Christ, through whom is the glory unto
Him for ever and ever. Amen.”

Therefore, there is clearly a seed of Trinitarian worship and praise that underlies St. Clement’s writings.

St. Clement on the Incarnation

St. Clement writes of Christ God our Redeemer in His Incarnation with the wonder and awe befitting it. Despite being God, Our Lord did not disdain to become man, and St. Clement uses this truth to instill fear and humility, which is needed of his Corinthian readers.

He writes:

“For Christ is with them that are lowly of mind, not with them that exalt themselves over the flock. The scepter of the majesty of God, even our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the pomp of arrogance or of pride, though He might have done so, but in lowliness of mind, according as the Holy Spirit spake concerning Him.” 1 Clem 16:1-2

After citing the prophecies of the Old Testament which contain this life of humility through the Incarnation concealed, St. Clement emphasizes that this is revealed in Christ both as the way that we are saved by God, and as a way for us to follow, when he writes:

“Ye see, dearly beloved, what is the pattern that hath been given unto us; for, if the Lord was thus lowly of mind, what should we do, who through Him have been brought under the yoke of His grace?” 1 Clem 16:17

Therefore, the Incarnation is both the means of our salvation, and the path on which we must walk if we are to be saved by the “yoke of His grace.”

St. Clement on the Church and the Holy Mysteries

Much of what St. Clement has to say about the identity, life, and mission of the Church comes by way of his exhortations to the Corinthians. Because of their strife and turmoil, he needed to speak to them words of rebuke, reminding them that we have a calling to be one mystical body in Christ. For example he writes,

“With this commandment and these precepts let us confirm ourselves, that we may walk in obedience to His hallowed words, with lowliness of mind. For the holy word saith, Upon whom shall I look, save upon him that is gentle and quiet and feareth Mine oracles? Therefore it is right and proper, brethren that we should be obedient unto God, rather than follow those who in arrogance and unruliness have set themselves up as leaders in abominable jealousy.” 1 Clem 13:3-14:4

This emphasis on a life of humility is stressed repeatedly in his Epistle to the Corinthians, as they as a body had broken fellowship with one another through dissensions. Therefore, he later writes:

“The great without the small cannot exist, neither the small without the great. There is a certain mixture in all things, and therein is utility. Let us take our body as an example. The head without the feet is nothing; so likewise the feet without the head are nothing: even the smallest limbs of our body are necessary and useful for the whole body: but all the members conspire and unite in subjection, that the whole body maybe saved. So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let
each man be subject unto his neighbor, according as also he was appointed with his special grace.” 1 Clem 37:4-38:1

This imagery of a body hearkens back to St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, with perhaps more emphasis on the importance of unity and respect for the diversity of the Church.
Additionally, the mystical and sacramental life of the Church is praised by Clement, not so much in the explicit statement of the mysteries, which may be reflective of the disciplina arcana. But as he writes of the life of the Church, we read of the extent to which our life in the Christians consists in receiving great gifts from God. He states:

“How blessed and marvelous are the gifts of God, dearly beloved!! Life in immortality, splendor in righteousness, truth in boldness, faith in confidence, temperance in sanctification! And all these things fall under our apprehension.
What then, think ye, are the things preparing for them that patiently await Him? The Creator and Father of the ages, the All holy One Himself knoweth their number and their beauty.
Let us therefore contend, that we may be found in the number of those that patiently await Him, to the end that we may be partakers of His promised gifts.” 1 Clem 35:1-4

Given these reflections, we see in this Apostolic father a wealth of appreciation for the Body of Christ and the gifts which flow from it.

St. Clement on Salvation in Christ

In addition to the above-mentioned examples of Christ’s Incarnation, which show how it is we are to be saved, the wonders of humility that flow from our call to walk in a life of obedience and the blessing of immortality which flows from the Church, Clement writes elsewhere of our salvation in Christ. One important message that we learn from his writings is that salvation is an ongoing journey.

“Seeing then that we are the special portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness, forsaking evil speakings, abominable and impure embraces, drunkennesses and tumults and hateful lusts, abominable adultery, hateful pride. For God, He saith, resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the lowly. Let us therefore cleave unto those to whom grace is given from God. Let us clothe ourselves in concord, being lowlyminded and temperate, holding ourselves aloof from all back biting and evil speaking, being justified by works and not by words.” 1 Clem 30:1-3

This work of salvation is a walk of holiness that is ongoing, and yet it is no mere legalistic following of decrees. For the same saint is able to write a little later:

“They all therefore were glorified and magnified, not through
themselves or their own works or the righteous doing which they wrought, but through His will. And so we, having been called through His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom or understanding or piety or works which we wrought in holiness of heart, but through faith, whereby the Almighty God justified all men
that have been from the beginning; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Clem 32:3-4

To reconcile the false dichotomy of faith vs. works, St. Clement and all of Tradition with Him understands that the faith and glorification comes through the will of God, who walks with us in the path of synergy. This gives a sense of St. Clement’s view of salvation in Christ, as it relates to growth in virtue and the life in Christ.

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