Clement of Rome

Who was Clement of Rome?

St. Clement of Rome is the fourth pope (Bishop of Rome) if Peter is counted as the first. Clement may have worked with the Apostle Paul, and he wrote his own Epistle to the Corinthians (a.k.a. I Clement), which was once regarded almost as highly as Paul's letter. According to tradition, St. Clement was martyred by being tied to an anchor and cast into the sea (as in the illuminated manuscript, left).

According to common tradition, Clement was one of the first, if not the first, bishop of Rome after the apostles, and certainly a leading member of that church towards the end of the 1st cent.

Life and ministry

(1) Among the most authentic proofs of the connexion of Clement with the Roman church is the mention of his name in its liturgy. The early Christians on the death of a bishop did not discontinue the mention of his name in their public prayers. Now the Roman Canon of the Mass to this day, next after the names of the apostles, recites the names of Linus, Cletus, Clemens; and there is some evidence that the liturgy contained the same names in the same order as early as the 2nd cent; Probably, then, this commemoration dates from Clement's own time.

(2) An independent proof that Clement held high position in the church of Rome is afforded by the Shepherd of Hermas, a work not later than the episcopate of Pius (A.D. 141-156), the writer of which claims to have been contemporary with Clement. He represents himself as commissioned to write for Clement the book of his Visions in order that Clement might send it to foreign cities, that being his function; while Hermas himself was to read the Vision at Rome with the elders who presided over the church. Thus Clement is recognized as the organ by which the church of Rome communicated with foreign churches; but the passage does not decide whether or not Clement was superior to other presbyters in the domestic government of the church.

(3) Next in antiquity among the notices of Clement is the general ascription to him of the Epistle to the Church of Corinth, commonly known as Clement's first epistle. This is written in the name of the church of Rome, and neither in the address nor in the body of the letter contains Clement's name, yet he seems to have been from the first everywhere recognized as its author. We may not unreasonably infer from the passage just cited from Hermas that the letter was even then celebrated.

About A.D. 170 it is expressly mentioned by Dionysius, bp. of Corinth, who, acknowledging another letter written from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth by their then bp. Soter, states that their former letter written by Clement was still read from time to time in their Sunday assemblies. Eusebius (H. E. iii, 16) speaks of this public reading of Clement's epistle as the ancient custom of very many churches down to his own time. In the same place (and in H. E. iv. 22) he reports that Hegesippus, whose historical work was written in the episcopate next after Soter's, and who had previously visited both Rome and Corinth, gives particulars concerning the epistle of Clement, and concerning the dissensions in the Corinthian church which had given rise to it.

The epistle is cited as Clement's by Irenaeus (adv. Haer. iii. 3), several times by Clement of Alex., who in one place gives his namesake the title of Apostle (Strom. i. 7, iv. 17, v. 12, vi. 8); by Origen (de Princip. ii. 3, in Ezech. 8, in Joan. i. 29); and in fact on this subject the testimony of antiquity is unanimous. A letter which did not bear Clement's name, and which merely purported to come from the church of Rome, could scarcely have been generally known as Clement's, if Clement had not been known at the time as holding the chief position in the church of Rome.

(4) Last among those notices of Clement which may be relied on as historical, we place the statement of Irenaeus (l.c.) that Clement was third bp. of Rome after the apostles, his account being that the apostles Peter and Paul, having founded and built up that church, committed the charge of it to Linus; that Linus was succeeded by Anencletus, and he by Clement. This order is adopted by Eusebius, by Jerome in his Chronicle, and by Eastern chronologers generally.

A different order of placing these bishops can also, however, lay claim to high antiquity. The ancient catalogue known as the Liberian, because ending with the episcopate of Liberius, gives the order, and duration of the first Roman episcopates: Peter 25 years, 1 month, 9 days; Linus 12 years, 4 months, 12 days; Clemens 9 years, 11 months, 12 days; Cletus 6 years, 2 months, 10 days; Anacletus 12 years, 10 months, 3 days: thus Anacletus, who in the earlier list comes before Clement, is replaced by two bishops, Cletus and Anacletus, who come after him; and this account is repeated in other derived catalogues.

Irenaeus himself is not consistent in reckoning the Roman bishops. The order Peter, Linus, Clemens, is adopted by Augustine (Ep. 53 ad Generosum) and by Optatus of Milevis (de Schism. Donatist. ii. 2). Tertullian (de Praescrip. c. 32) states that the church of Rome held Clement to have been ordained by Peter; and Jerome (Cat. Scr. Ecc. 15), while adopting the order of Irenaeus, mentions that most Latins then counted Clement to have been second after Peter, and himself seems to adopt this reckoning in his commentary on Isaiah (c. 52).

The Apostolic Constitutions (vii. 46) represent Linus to have been first ordained by Paul, and afterwards, on the death of Linus, Clement by Peter. Epiphanius (Haer. xxvii. 6) suggests that Linus and Cletus held office during the lifetime of Peter and Paul, who, on their necessary absence from Rome for apostolic journeys, commended the charge of the church to others. This solution is adopted by Rufinus in the preface to his translation of the Recognitions.

Epiphanius has an alternative solution, founded on a conjecture which he tries to support by a reference to a passage in Clement's epistle, viz. that Clement, after having been ordained by Peter, withdrew from his office and did not resume it until after the death of Linus and Cletus. A more modern attempt to reconcile these accounts is Cave's hypothesis that Linus and after him Cletus had been appointed by Paul to preside over a Roman church of Gentile Christians; Clement by Peter over a church of Jewish believers, and that ultimately Clement was bishop over the whole Roman church. Still later it has been argued that the uncertainty of order may mean that during the 1st cent. there was no bishop in the church of Rome, and that the names of three of the leading presbyters have been handed down by some in one order, by others in another.

The authorities, however, which differ from the account of Irenaeus, ultimately reduce themselves to two. Perhaps the parent of the rest is the letter of Clement to James giving an account of Clement's ordination by Peter; for it seems to have been plainly the acceptance of this ordination as historical which inspired the desire to correct a list of bishops which placed Clement at a distance of three from Peter.

The other authority is the Chronicle of Hippolytus, pub. A.D. 235, for it has been satisfactorily shewn that the earlier part of the Liberian catalogue is derived from the list of Roman bishops in this work. The confusion of later writers arises from attempts to reconcile conflicting authorities, all of which seemed deserving of confidence: viz. (1) the list of Irenaeus, and probably of Hegesippus, giving merely a succession of Roman bishops; (2) the list of Hippolytus giving a succession in somewhat different order and also the years of the duration of the episcopates; and (3) the letter to James relating the ordination of Clement by Peter.

The main question, then, is, which is more entitled to confidence, the order of Irenaeus or of Hippolytus? and we have no hesitation in accepting the former. First, because it is distinctly the more ancient; secondly, because if the earlier tradition had not placed the undistinguished name Cletus before the well-known Clement, no later writer would have reversed its order; thirdly, because of the testimony of the liturgy. Hippolytus being apparently the first scientific chronologer in the Roman church, his authority there naturally ranked very high, and his order of the succession seems to have been generally accepted in the West for a considerable time. Any commemoration, therefore, introduced into the liturgy after his time would have followed his order, Linus, Clemens, Cletus, or, if of very late introduction, would have left out the obscure name Cletus altogether.

We conclude, then, that the commemoration in the order, Linus, Cletus, Clemens, had been introduced before the time of Hippolytus, and was by then so firmly established that even the contradictory result arrived at by Hippolytus (because he accepted as historically true the ordination of Clement by Peter as related in the Ep. to James) could not alter it.

The Recognitions are cited by Origen, the contemporary of Hippolytus; and the account which their preface gives of Clement's ordination seems to have been fully believed by the Roman church. The death of Clement and the consequent accession of Evaristus is dated by Eusebius in his Chronicle A.D. 95, and in his Church History the third year of Trajan, A.D. 100. According to the chronology of the Liberian Catalogue, the accession of Evaristus is dated A.D. 95. Now no one dates the death of Peter later than the persecution of Nero, A.D. 67. If, therefore, Clement was ordained by Peter, and if we retain the order of Irenaeus, Clement had an episcopate of about 30 years, a length far greater than any tradition suggests.

Hippolytus, probably following the then received account of the length of Clement's episcopate, has placed it A.D. 67-76; and, seeing the above difficulty, has filled the space between Clement and Evaristus by transposing Cletus and, as the gap seemed too large to be filled by one episcopate, by counting as distinct the Cletus of the liturgy and the Anacletus of the earlier catalogue.

Apparently it was Hippolytus who devised the theory stated in the Apostolic Constitutions, that Linus held the bishopric during the lifetime of Peter; for this seems to be the interpretation of the dates assigned in the Liberian Catalogue, Peter 30-55, Linus 55-67. But the whole ground of these speculations is removed if we reject the tale of Clement's ordination by Peter; if for no other reason, on account of the chronological confusion which it causes.

Thus we retain the order of Irenaeus, accounting that of Hippolytus as an arbitrary transposition to meet a chronological difficulty. The time that we are thus led to assign to the activity of Clement, viz. the end of Domitian's reign, coincides with that which Eusebius, apparently on the authority of Hegesippus, assigns to Clement's epistle, and with that which an examination of the letter itself suggests (see below).

The result thus arrived at casts great doubt on the identification of the Roman Clement with the Clement named Phil. iv. 3. This identification is unhesitatingly made by Origen (in Joann. i. 29) and a host of later writers. Irenaeus also may have had this passage in mind when he speaks of Clement as a hearer of the apostles, though probably he was principally influenced by the work which afterwards grew into the Recognitions. But though it is not actually impossible that the Clement who held a leading position in the church of Philippi during Paul's imprisonment might thirty years afterwards have presided over the church of Rome, yet the difference of time and place deprives of all likelihood an identification merely based upon a very common name. Lightfoot has remarked that Tacitus, for instance, mentions five Clements (Ann. i. 23, ii. 39, xv. 73; Hist. i. 86, iv. 68). Far more plausibly it has been proposed to identify the author of the epistle with another Clement, who was almost certainly at the time a distinguished member of the Roman church.

We learn from Suetonius (Domit. 15) and from Dio Cassius, lxvii. 14, that in 95, the very year fixed by some for the death of bp. Clement, death or banishment was inflicted by Domitian on several persons addicted to Jewish customs, and amongst them Flavius Clemens, a relation of his own, whose consulship had but just expired, was put to death on a charge of atheism, while his wife Domitilla, also a member of the emperor's family, was banished. The language is such as heathen writers might naturally use to describe a persecution of Christians; but Eusebius (H. E. iii. 13) expressly claims one Domitilla, a niece of the consul's, as a sufferer for Christ; and (Chron. sub anno 95) cites the heathen historian Bruttius as stating that several Christians suffered martyrdom at this time.

If, then, the consul Clement was a Christian martyr, his rank would give him during his life a foremost position in the Roman church. It is natural to think that the writer of the epistle may have been either the consul or a member of his family. Yet if so, the traditions of the Roman church must have been singularly defective.

No writer before Rufinus speaks of bp. Clement as a martyr; nor does any ancient writer in any way connect him with the consul. In the Recognitions Clement is represented as a relation of the emperor; not, however, of Domitian, but of Tiberius. A fabulous account of Clement's martyrdom, probably of no earlier origin than the 9th cent., tells how Clement was first banished to the Crimea, worked there such miracles as converted the whole district, and was thereupon by Trajan's order cast into the sea with an anchor round his neck, an event followed by new prodigies.

  1. Henri Crouzel, trans. A.S. Worrall, Origen (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 5.
  2. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.5.
  3. Eusebius, 6.2.6.
  4. Eusebius, 6.9.1-5.
  5. Crouzel, 13.
  6. Crouzel, 29.
  7. Crouzel 29.
  8. Eusebius, 6.39.4.
  9. Crouzel, 35.
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External Links on Clement of Rome
  • Pope St. Clement I - Catholic Encyclopedia A thorough, scholarly treatment of Clement's life, works, and thought.
  • St. Clement - Handbook of Patrology Overview of Clement's life, character, works and thought.