Possibly the most detailed insight into the first century successors of the Apostles is to be found in 1st Clement, a pastoral letter written by the eponymous Clement the fourth bishop of Rome around 96 AD to second-generation believers in Corinth where the church was in turmoil with the bishops ejected by the laity (Staniforth & Louth, 1986, pp.19-20). The Clement in question has been forwarded as being the man of Philippians 4:3 but his identity is not known for certain; all that is known is from the text itself which shows a bishop who did not hold a lofty view of his own authority considering his incessant emphasis on the humility of bishop’s, whom he often calls presbyters, and never is there a mention of an archbishop, cardinal, or bishop over bishops as the later Latin and Greek Churches would claim. Aside from that he exhibits an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures and never makes a slight against them, a fact pertinent to our argument that the original believers in Yahshuah did not abrogate the Torah and were betrayed by the mainline Christian Church which sought to get away from Judaism in favour of Greco-Roman philosophy and mysticism, ensuing the numerous splits and confusions which have characterised Christian history.
The Letter is too long for a thorough commentary so we will content ourselves with the portions which concern our investigation of the origins of Christianity. Beginning in ch.5 (p.25) Peter and Paul are lauded equally, contrary to Ebonites who would insist that Paul was a schismatic who hijacked the early congregation, here he and Peter are presented as being on the same side. Clement also states that Paul travelled all the way to Spain as he promised to do in Romans 15:24.
Ch.7 Clements endorses the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, saying “Let us fix our thoughts on the blood of Christ; and reflect how precious that Blood is in God’s eyes, inasmuch as its outpouring for our salvation has opened the grace of repentance to all mankind.”
Ch.20 (p.31) Clement certainly drew on the Stoics for some of his language and emphasis on harmony in a community, yet he rebukes the speculations and hypotheses of the pagan philosophers by affirming the Biblical teaching that the Earth is flat. “The heavens, as they revolve beneath His [God’s] government”. “[The heavenly bodies] none swerving from its appointed orbit”. “Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld. Nor does the illimitable basin of the sea… overflow at any time the barriers encircling it”. “The impassable Ocean and all the worlds that lie beyond it are themselves ruled by the like ordinances of the Lord”. Later in ch.27 (p.34) he cites Psalm 19:1 “The heavens are a proclamation of God’s glory, and the firmament a declaration of his handiwork” in reference to the dome which arches over the Earth’s surface. It may be that this lengthy reference to the shape of the Earth was an attempt to resist the Hellenic globe theory, but it could be as easily argued contrary because Clement is obviously in the habit of digressing on many topics, including his apparent belief in the Phoenix (pp.33-34) and tangling Tanak quotations together to stretch out a point. I am undecided on the matter.
Ch.22 (p.32) He endorses the doctrine of Irresistible Grace: “All these promises find their confirmation when we believe in Christ, for it is He Himself who summons us, through His Holy Spirit”.
Ch.24 (p.33) He supports the doctrine of the resurrection which he holds to be supported by Elohim with “proof after proof”, not a Platonic heaven where souls escape to after death.
Ch.40-41 (pp.39-40) Unlike the Letter to Diognetus of second century vintage Clement in no way criticises the Jewish customs and culture expounded in the Torah, on the contrary he shows a deep and detailed understanding of these things. He does not adhere to the system of sacrifices himself but speaks of Messianic rituals and services being “In the same way” as the Jews ceremonies “when we offer our own Eucharist to God”. He explains further that unlike the Jews “we ourselves have been given so much fuller knowledge”. The message to take away is that the sacrificial offerings of the Jews were for Clement and the early believers abrogated but not to be derided, insulted, or ignored. This clear interest in the Jewish priesthood is expressed again in ch.43 (pp.40-41)
Ch.42 (p.40) In his introduction to the letter Andrew Louth as a professor of theology seeks to find any proof of the Trinity in the early church and calls the following “remarkable Trinitarian utterances ‘Have not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all?’; ‘As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Spirit live also’” (p.21). This is an unfounded leap without evidence, Clement nowhere affirms God to be three in one or anything of the sort, he is naming the most important figures in all creation, God, His Son, and His Spirit (and appears to believe the Holy Ghost to be a person in his own right). It is all opposed by ch.42 where Clement supposes Yahshuah to be subordinate to God “Jesus Christ was sent from God. That is to say, Christ received His commission from God and the Apostles theirs from Christ.” He also makes a point about bishops and deacons which he declares to be “in no way an innovation… there is a text that says, I will confirm their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith” [he is citing the Septuagint Isaiah 60:17]. The whole letter however meandering is dedicated to combating anarchist and libertine tendencies in Corinth, imploring the laity to restore their lawful leadership and to submit to proper authority.
Ch.51 (p.44) Clement does not mention anywhere that the damned will be tortured forever, the most he says of death is in relation to the opponents of Moses “for they went down to the grave alive, and death shall be their shepherd”; he has little else to say of their fate other than that they will die.
Ch.64 (p.49) He both affirms the subordination of Yahshuah to Yahovah, and indicates a belief in Predestination “Lord of all flesh, who has chosen the Lord Jesus Christ, and through Him ourselves to be a people for His possession”.
If one is interested in devotional reading then I recommend Matthew Henry’s commentary or the letters of Samuel Rutherford, 1st Clement’s style is self-indulgent, meandering, and often tedious but it is probably the earliest messianic text written after the New Testament and by a bishop of authority and humility, and tremendous knowledge of Scripture and Jewish tradition. Aside from the curious passage where he talks about the Phoenix he confirms Biblical doctrines on Predestination, the ‘Godhead’ or lack thereof, the shape of the world, and Irresistible Grace, and says little of offence to a Nazarene believer.
Staniforth. Maxwell & Louth. Andrew (ed.) The Apostolic Fathers: Early Christian Writings (2nd ed.) (Penguin Books: London, 1986)