CHAPTER IV. —THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS
Section 3.—Clemens Romanus.
proceed to Clemens Romanus, described in after ages as Bishop of Rome, and now commonly known under that designation. Eusebius says that he was the same Clemens who is spoken of by Paul (Phil 4:3) as one of his fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life; and there is no historical ground to doubt the truth of this. Of course we do not believe that he, or any man, was at that early period Bishop of Rome, in the modern sense of the word bishop; but there is no reason to doubt that he occupied a prominent and influential place as a pastor in the Roman Church during the apostolic age, and held it till after the beginning of the second century. Many works have been ascribed to him, such as the Apostolic Canons and Constitutions, besides others of less value and importance, which can be proved to have been fabricated or compiled not earlier than the third, fourth, or perhaps even the fifth century, not to mention the five letters ascribed to him in the decretal epistles of the Popes, forged by the Church of Rome for Popish purposes most probably about the beginning of the ninth century. The only works ascribed to Clement, which have pretty generally been regarded as genuine ever since they were first published, about two centuries ago, from the Alexandrian MS. in the British Museum—the only copy of them known to exist—are an epistle to the Corinthians, and a portion of what has been called a second epistle to the same church, but which seems rather to be a fragment of a sermon. The genuineness of the first epistle has been very generally admitted, while many have doubted of that of the second. There is no distinct internal evidence to lead us to entertain any doubt that the second might have been written by the author of the first, and in the apostolic age. The difference lies almost wholly in the external evidence, and more particularly in this, that whereas we have abundant evidence in declarations, quotations, and references found in the works of subsequent fathers, that Clement did write an epistle to the Corinthians, which was highly esteemed in the early ages, and even for a time read in the churches, and which was in substance the same as we now have under the designation of his first epistle, we have no satisfactory evidence of a similar kind that he wrote a second epistle, such as we have under that name. The question is one of very little practical importance, for the second epistle, as it is called, by itself possesses no historical or theological value, i.e., it gives us no information, directly or indirectly, either as to matters of fact or doctrine, which may not be more fully and obviously deduced from the first.
Clement’s first epistle, then, to the Corinthians, is to be regarded as the earliest of the genuine remains of Christian antiquity, written by one who was a companion and fellow‑worker of the apostles, and who occupied, while some of them were still alive, and probably by their appointment, au eminent station in the church. This, of course, invests it with a large measure of interest. We have no certain means of knowing when this epistle was written, or what circumstances gave occasion to the writing of it, except what are derived from the contents of the epistle itself. It does not contain any very certain notes or marks of time. The most explicit is, that it gives some indication of having been written soon after the church had endured a severe persecution, and this must have been either the persecution under Nero or that under Domitian. If the former, it must have been written soon after the last of Paul’s epistles, and before the destruction of Jerusalem; if the latter, which is much the more probable, it must have been written about the end of the first century, or beginning of the second; and this is the opinion most generally entertained, that it was written soon after the death of John, and the close of the canon of the New Testament.
The genuineness of this epistle as the production of Clement being well established and generally admitted, the next. question concerns its integrity, or its freedom from material corruptions and interpolations. As there is but one MS. of it, and that not in a very good state of preservation, the text is by no means in a very satisfactory condition, though, of course, there are no various readings except what owe their origin to conjecture. But the main question is, whether there have been any intentional depravations or interpolations of the original text. Mosheim suspected that it had been interpolated by some person who wished to make the venerable father appear more learned and ingenious than he was; and who, accordingly, Mosheim thinks, has put in some things alien from the general simplicity of the substance and the style of it. There is no very obvious ground for this suspicion; the allegation is rather vague, and I do not think it can be supported by satisfactory instances. The only plausible instance of this kind is his referring to the well-known fable of the Phoenix, evidently believing the common story concerning it, as an argument or illustration in favor of the resurrection of the body. This may be regarded as a good proof that he was not raised by divine inspiration above ignorance and credulity in ordinary matters; and that, notwithstanding the relation in which he stood to the apostles, he was but a common man. But the credulity thus manifested is accordant enough with the views which Mosheim evidently entertained of Clement’s general character. Mosheim gives in his larger work a statement of the grounds of his opinion as to the interpolations of this epistle, and they are not such as, even if true, warrant his suspicion about the special character and object of the supposed interpolations. He refers, indeed, to Clement’s credulity in adducing the story of the Phoenix; but he rests principally upon this, that the train of thought in the epistle is not very closely or very steadily directed to its leading object; that it is broken by digressions which have no very clear relation to the main subject. There is some truth in this representation, though I think Mosheim somewhat exaggerates the defects; but as the digressions partake much of the general character of the rest of the epistle, they can scarcely be regarded as interpolated by some one who wished, as Mosheim supposes, to make Clement appear more learned and ingenious than he found him.
Neander entertains the same opinion as Mosheim did as to Clement’s epistle being somewhat interpolated by a later hand; but he rests his opinion upon a more definite and plausible, though, I am inclined to think, equally insufficient ground. He says, “This letter, although, on the whole, genuine, is nevertheless not free from important interpolations; e.g., a contradiction is apparent, since throughout the whole Epistle we perceive the simple relations of the earliest forms of a Christian church, as the Bishops and Presbyters are always put upon an equality, and yet in one passage (§ 40 and following) the whole system of the Jewish priesthood is transferred to the Christian church.” Now, there can be no reasonable doubt that the whole scope and spirit and several particular statements of Clement’s epistle, in so far as it throws any light upon the government which the apostles established, and upon the existing condition of the church when he wrote, are unequivocally and decidedly Presbyterian, or at least anti-Prelatic. But I am not satisfied that the passage to which Neander refers is, as he alleges, inconsistent with this. The adduction of such an argument by Neander, and the confidence with which he rests upon it as of itself a conclusive proof of interpolation, affords a strong indication of the deep sense which he entertained of the utter inconsistency between the spirit and government of the apostolic church, and those of a Prelatic or hierarchic one; and it is gratifying to find that this conviction was so deeply impressed upon the mind of one who may be justly regarded as the highest recent authority in church history, as to lead him at once to conclude that the only passage which Prelatists have ever produced from Clement as countenancing their claims, must necessarily, and for that very reason, be an interpolation. If the passage rally required the interpretation, admitting of no other, put upon it by the Prelatists and Neander, —for in this special point of the import and bearing of this particular passage, he, of course, substantially agrees with them, —I think we would be entitled to reject it, as Neander does, upon the ground of its inconsistency with the rest of the epistle, and with the spirit of the apostolic and primitive church. But I am not satisfied that it requires the construction which Neander puts upon it. The matter stands thus: —
The church of Corinth was, it seems, involved at this time in divisions and contentions: a spirit of faction and insubordination had been manifested among them, and had assumed the form of casting off the authority of their pastors or presbyters. Clement, or rather the church of Rome, in whose name the letter runs, wrote this epistle to the church at Corinth, expostulating with them on their divisions, exhorting them to peace and harmony, and urging a return to the respect and submission due to their pastors or presbyters. This naturally led to a setting forth of the authority and claims of the ministerial office, and of those who held it. This, however, is done very briefly and very delicately, and in a spirit the very reverse of hierarchic assumption or insolence; Clement being evidently anxious principally about the state of their hearts and affections, both because this was most important in itself, and because here lay the true root of the evil, the contention and insubordination. He does, however, set forth the necessity of order and arrangement, and of each one keeping his own place, and executing rightly and peaceably his own functions. And in support of these general positions he does refer to the fact that the high priest, the priests, the Levites, and the people, had each their prescribed place and functions under the law, and that regulations were laid down in the Old Testament as to the administration of religious services. This is all he says about the Jewish priesthood, and the only application he makes of it is to inculcate the general obligation of order and subordination; and this affords no adequate ground for asserting, as Neander does, that he “ transferred the whole system of the Jewish priesthood to the Christian church.” The fathers of the third and fourth centuries often referred to the Jewish priesthood as establishing the claim of the Christian ministry in general to a kind and degree of sacredness and of power which the New Testament does not sanction, and came at length to regard the high priest, the priests, and Levites, as types and warrants of the threefold order of bishops, priests, and deacons. Neander evidently viewed all this with the strongest disapprobation; and there can be no doubt that the unwarranted transference of the system of the Jewish priesthood to the Christian church produced unspeakable mischief, —mischief which continually increased until it issued in the establishment of the only feasible antitype of the high priest upon the hierarchic system, —viz., the Pope as the monarch of the universal church. It is not altogether improbable that Clement’s allusion to the Jewish priesthood may have contributed somewhat to introduce and encourage in subsequent times the baneful mode of thinking and arguing to which we have referred; but Clement is not chargeable with it, and should not be held responsible for it, as he merely referred to the arrangements connected with the Jewish priesthood and services, to illustrate the importance and obligation of order in general; just as he also referred with the same view to the discipline of an army. In short, he does not lay down any position, or deduce from the Jewish priesthood any inference, respecting either .the dignity and authority of the Christian ministry in general, or the different orders of which it is composed, in the least inconsistent with the word of God, or in the least resembling or sanctioning the use or application made of this topic by the fathers of the third and fourth centuries. Nay, he expressly lays down, as one ground of the claim which their pastors or presbyters had to respect and obedience, that, in accordance with apostolic arrangements, they had been settled among them with the cordial consent of the whole church, suneudokhsashV pashV thV ; and this, certainly, was not a Jewish and hierarchic, but a scriptural and Presbyterian, principle. The passage in Clement, then, does not, as Neander alleges, sanction the “transference of the whole system of the Jewish priesthood to the Christian church,” and should in fairness really be regarded in no other light than our own Gillespie’s entitling his masterly and valuable book, designed to “vindicate the divine ordinance of church government,” “Aaron’s Rod Blossoming,” by an allusion to the way in which God decided the controversy as to the right of the priesthood. There is no inconsistency, then, between this portion of Clement’s epistle and its general scope and spirit, which are undoubtedly and unequivocally anti-Prelatic; and most certainly no such clear and palpable inconsistency as to warrant us in regarding it as an interpolation of later times.
Upon the whole, I am not convinced by the arguments of Mosheim or Meander that Clement’s epistle is interpolated, and think we have sufficient grounds for regarding it as a genuine and uncorrupted work of a companion of the apostles, and as thus a most valuable and interesting relic of Christian antiquity.
The striking contrast between the writings of the apostles and their immediate successors has been often remarked, and should never be overlooked or forgotten. Neander’s observation upon this subject is this: “A phenomenon singular in its kind, is the striking difference between the writings of the apostles and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, who were so nearly their contemporaries. In other cases, transitions are wont to be gradual; but in this instance we observe a sudden change. There are here no gentle gradations, but all at once an abrupt transition from one style of language to another; a phenomenon which should lead us to acknowledge the fact of a special agency of the divine Spirit in the souls of the apostles.”
Clement’s epistle shows him to have been a man of a thoroughly apostolical spirit, i.e., a man who, understanding and feeling the power of the great doctrines of Christianity, was pervaded by zeal for the glory of God and love to the Lord Jesus Christ, and an earnest desire to promote the spiritual welfare of men; and who subordinated all other desires and ends to the manifestation of these principles, and the accomplishment of these objects. To this praise he is most fully entitled; but there is nothing else about him to call forth any great enthusiasm or admiration. We respect and esteem him as a devoted Christian, a faithful and zealous minister of the Lord; and this is the highest style of man: no higher commendation could be given. But there is nothing about Clement, so far as his epistle makes him known to us, that raises him above many in every age who have been born again of the word of God,‑who have walked with Him, and have served Him faithfully in the gospel of His Son. There is nothing about him that should tempt us to look up to him as an oracle, or to receive implicitly whatever he might inculcate. He was indeed the friend and companion of the inspired apostles, and he might possibly have learned from them much which they knew by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. But whether this were so or not, the fact is unquestionable, that the Lord has not been pleased to employ him in making known to us anything which is not at least as fully and clearly, and of course much more authoritatively, taught us in the canonical Scripture. Neither has God been pleased to give us Through Clement almost any materials fitted to aid us in understanding any of the individual statements of the Bible. It appears froth Clement’s epistle that he held the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and the other fundamental principles of Christian truth; but he has not left us any statements upon any doctrinal points which may not be as easily misinterpreted or perverted as the sacred Scripture, and to which men of different and opposite opinions have not just as confidently appealed in support of their own views as they have to the word of God. He has, neither by his own exposition of Scripture, nor by communicating to us any information which an expositor of Scripture might improve and apply, cast any light upon any portion of the word of God, or afforded to others any materials for doing so. Indeed, his epistle contains plain enough proofs that no great reliance is to be placed upon his accurate interpretation, or correct and judicious application, of scriptural statements. Besides the testimony which, in common with all the rest of the fathers, he bears to the leading facts on which the Christian system is founded, as then known and believed, and to the existence and reception of the books of Scripture (and all this, of course, is invaluable), the only things for the knowledge of which we may be said to be indebted to Clement are these two: First, that the scriptural and apostolic identity of bishops and presbyters continued in the church after the apostles left the world; and, secondly, that pastors continued, as under the apostolic administration; to be settled only with the cordial consent of the church or congregation. These things have been made known to us through the instrumentality of Clement. We receive and value the information, but it is information which most of those who profess the greatest respect for the authority of the fathers, and who are in the habit of charging Presbyterians with disregarding and despising them, seem but little disposed to welcome. I will have occasion to advert to this more fully when I come to consider more formally the government of the early church; but enough has now been said for my present purpose, in so far as Clement is concerned, which is merely to give a very general view of the character and value of the writings of the apostolical fathers.
 Instit. Maj., p. 213.
 Neander, Hist. of Christ. Religion during First Three Centuries; Rose’s translation, vol. 2, pp. 331‑2; vide also vol. 1, p. 199, note.
 Meander’s General Church History, Torrey’s translation, Vol. 2, p. 438.