THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - VOLUME 1 : by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


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We return now to Rome and to the reign of Domitian, and even to the earlier part of his reign, not long after the Neronian persecution. We come back to the western churches of Greece and Italy, which were unaffected as yet by the great spiritual movements from Syria and Asia Minor. These churches looked back to St Peter and St Paul; they cherished the literature which they had received from them or from their pupils; they maintained the church order which they had established. They begin to have an old-fashioned look.


Somewhere on the line which passes from Ephesus, through Corinth, to Rome, the so-called Epistle to the Hebrews was produced in the seventies or eighties, by a writer of high authority whose name has not been preserved. It was not addressed to the Hebrews; that title was given to it in the second century, perhaps in Alexandria. The salutation 'They of Italy salute you' suggests to some minds that it was written from Italy; but it looks more like a salutation from an Italian group, and if so the destination might be Italy; most probably the Roman church. It conveys the information that Timothy has been released or acquitted, presumably from some imprisonment or legal process; though some scholars think that the word means that he was sent off on a journey. This is the last notice we possess of the movements of Timothy, who was last heard of at Ephesus.

A period of persecution lies in the past; it was doubtless the Neronian persecution. The church which it addresses had behaved with exemplary |371 courage. The people had watched the 'departure' or 'exit' of their leaders or rulers, a word by which the author means their tragic deaths. They had endured with joy the insults and robberies to which they had been exposed; but there had been time since then for a change. Slackness had set in, and resistance unto blood was no longer the order of the day. Little progress had been made in the deeper understanding of the faith. So far from producing teachers, they were in need of elementary instruction themselves in the 'Logia of the beginning', those fundamental traditions to which so much of the literature of this period refers. These traditions included the word of salvation which was originally spoken by the Lord, and had been preached locally by men who had heard him. It looks as if actual hearers and pupils of the Lord were no longer available in this branch of the church.

The writer was a theologian, and his 'Epistle' is the only theological treatise which has secured a place in the New Testament, unless indeed we are prepared to regard Romans or Ephesians in this light. St Paul had shown in 1 Corinthians, which was known to this author, how easily and naturally the gospel was expressing itself in terms of Jewish liturgy, and especially in the traditional commemorations from Exodus which were attached to Passover and Pentecost. 1 Peter makes use of the same tradition. The author of Hebrews continued this study by considering the work of the Levitical priesthood and especially the ritual of the great Day of Atonement. He was much concerned with the ideas of sin and forgiveness, and of discipline and suffering. He took a dark view of the ecclesiastical scene. The problem of apostasy loomed large. The rule of chastity was in danger; and he seems to deny that there could be any restoration for such lapses. How could offenders of this kind repeat the experience which he calls illumination, and pass again through the rites of baptism and confirmation, so as to receive for a second time the heavenly gifts and powers?

The old Jewish Law had a machinery of reconciliation in its various sin-offerings, and especially in the great Day of Atonement, when the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, with incense and with blood, to avert the divine indignation. This ancient ritual had come to an end with the destruction of the Temple; but 'The Day' continued to be observed as a solemn fast among the Israelites, and they were assured that if they turned to the Lord with all their heart, they would be forgiven. The author of this Epistle can find no further place for it. The whole |372 paraphernalia of the Temple ceremonial, with its blood of bulls and goats, had been transitory and ineffective. It was rendered irrelevant now, not by the destruction of the Temple (to which he does not allude), but by the death of the Messiah on the cross, which was the true sacrifice offered once and for ever by the eternal high priest.


The most important thing, perhaps, about Hebrews is that it calls for a final break with the Jewish religious system. Historic Judaism, with its priesthood and rituals, had become a thing of the past. Christians must come out of it and leave it behind. They have an altar of their own, from which those who served the 'tabernacle' could not partake.

Was there a hankering after Jewish rituals in the Gentile churches? Was there a demand for ceremonies of absolution, or even for the Day of Atonement itself? Were such things practised? We recollect that the stock-in-trade of Paul's Jewish antagonists had been some form of Jewish myth or ceremony or asceticism. It is sometimes assumed that Gentile Christians were naturally hostile to Jewish teachers and Jewish rituals; it looks very much as if they were sometimes too much attracted by them. And could it have been easy, in any case, to decide which Jewish teachings and ceremonies should be retained? The Passover was retained in its christianized form, so why not the Atonement? Hebrews is an anti-Jewish document, at least in this respect. It antiquates and explodes the Levitical system, considered as an effective and final means of grace and righteousness.

On the other hand, it was impossible for the author to regard it as wrong or meaningless. It was the work of God and had served a certain purpose for a certain time. It had set forth publicly in ritual forms the redemptive religion which was to become real and effective in the life and death of Jesus. It was, so to speak, a shadow of the real revelation which was to be given in due time in the gospel; and when the gospel came, the idea of sacrifice was lifted from the old level of ritual action to that of moral and spiritual devotion. The consecrated will was to be offered to God in service and obedience, and suffering was willingly accepted as a discipline. These sublime thoughts had all been anticipated in the prophets and the psalms.

The old system of worship and sacrifice provided this author with |373 the substance and material of his thinking. He had no theology in the sense of systematic dogma. His thinking about the incarnation and atonement was done in terms of liturgy. The Son of God was bound to share our flesh and blood, in order to become our high priest and offer himself on our behalf, and so bring many sons to glory. No doubt our author's actual knowledge of the Levitical rituals was not always accurate; no doubt, too, he was influenced by current Alexandrian theology; nevertheless his mind moved in the realm of the old liturgical action, which he now desired to transcend and leave behind. The theory which he worked out seems to have been of great assistance to the church in defining its relation to the Hebrew Bible and the Hebrew historic tradition.


There is no New Testament document in which the Petrine and Pauline elements are more perfectly fused than Hebrews. The author seems to know the Marcan story of the Passion, for he visualizes Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross, and again when God brings up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep with the blood of the eternal covenant (Mark xiv. 27 and 24). He makes use of Pauline Epistles, including Romans and Corinthians at any rate. His use of the Old Testament is in line with that of the Christian schools which produced the so-called Books of Testimonies. Clusters of prophetic quotations are a marked feature of his book. He chooses them with a sympathetic feeling for their poetic effect and for their spiritual power. He writes with great skill and ability. He has a profound feeling for the human appeal of the gospel.

Who he was is quite unknown. If we had to choose from among the church leaders known to us, we would pick the learned and literary Apollos. A possible place of writing might be Corinth. We judge from 1 Clement that it was well known both in Rome and Corinth.



A great deal of light is shed on the Corinthian church as it was in the eighties by the Epistle of Clement, which reviews its history, rather idealizing it perhaps. It was a well-ordered community with a dignified |374 worship which was offered by bishops and deacons. Due respect was paid to the elders. The younger generation, which may mean the more recent converts, did not take too much upon themselves. The women were taught to love their own husbands. The 'law of subordination' was observed by all. It is a state of affairs which is fully in accordance with the Pastoral Epistles, which were probably in Clement's mind when he wrote.

The Epistle contains a survey of the history of the local ministry which goes back to the period of apostolic evangelization in the fifties and sixties, when the first bishops and deacons were appointed.

Jesus Christ was sent out from God: so the Christ was from God and the apostles from Christ; both coming in due order from God ... they went out in the full conviction of the Holy Spirit, bringing the gospel that God's kingdom was about to come; so as they made the proclamation in country and town they appointed their first-fruits, after proving them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons for those who should believe.
(1 Clement xlii. 1-4.)

And after some argumentation based on the Old Testament he continues as follows:

Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be contention over the name of the episcopate, so for that reason, since they had received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid, and for the meantime gave a direction by which, if they were to fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.
This could mean 'to succeed to the apostolic ministry'; but this interpretation does not commend itself. If it is adopted the fmen of rank' in the next sentence will of course be these successors of the apostles.

So we do not think it right that those who were appointed by them, or in the meantime by other men of rank, with the consent of the whole church, ... should be cast out of their ministry. Blessed are the elders (or older men) who have trod the road before us, who had a fruitful and perfect release; for none of them are in fear that someone will remove them from their established place.
(Ibid. xliv. 1-5.)

Certain historic facts stand out perfectly clearly in this survey. The first is the belief in the divine mission and authority of the original apostolate. The second is that the appointment of bishops and deacons came as part of this mission from Christ and from God. The third is |375 that the ministry of bishops and deacons in the local church was for life. Clement calls it a 'liturgy'; he speaks of the 'offering of the gifts'; he compares it to the Jewish priesthood. This may be 'theology' of course, but it reveals the facts of the situation to which he was addressing himself. There was a permanent liturgical ministry in the church which had been instituted by the apostles themselves as part of their own God-given ministry in the gospel, and subordinate to it.

The second quotation bears this out. The apostles foresaw that there would be contention over the question of the episcopate (when there was a vacancy, that is), so they made provision for a succession (the word is an interesting one). The vacancy created by the death of a bishop was filled up by the apostles themselves, or else by other men of rank with the concurrence of the whole church. And this had actually taken place before Clement wrote.

What is meant by other men of rank? The word ellogimos means enrolled or registered; and then notable or famous. It appears that there were other men available whose standing was comparable with that of the apostles. We naturally think of apostolic men like Timothy and Titus, Mark and Luke, or possibly Clement himself; but some scholars believe that it is a way of referring to the surviving bishops (or bishops of surrounding cities), and the student must decide for himself whether this is the natural interpretation of the words.
A second controversial point is the question of the elders. There is a theory that bishop and elder were alternative names for the same official in the church. But is such a use of language natural?

It is a fact that Clement refers to the deceased bishops as elders in one of the passages which we have quoted: 'Blessed are the older men or elders who have trod the path before us.' But what does he mean by the word? Grand old stalwarts of the former generation? Venerable clergy? Veterans of the faith? The word is capable of many meanings.

May we infer that the word 'elder' was only used of bishops? Or has Clement a larger body of men in mind? He talks in a general way of the elders or rulers of the church, of respect due to them from the younger, and of responsibility resting upon them. He mentions established or appointed elders. But his way of speaking of the elders is rather different from the precise way in which he delineates the position of the bishop and deacons. It is always so in literature of this kind. Bishops and deacons are executive officers with definite duties; elders |376 are the church authorities in general, or older men, or members of a council, or venerable teachers. The word appears to be used as a blanket designation for the senior ministries of the church. Peter can say that he writes to the elders as a fellow-elder. John was called 'the elder' in Asia Minor. Papias alludes to the disciples of Jesus as elders.

The word 'elder' is an old word inherited from the Jewish synagogue and requires no explanation. The word 'bishop' was the new word taken out of the Gentile world to be used for a new office instituted by the apostles and dependent upon them or other ranking men for its continuance in the church. These bishops are associated with deacons. Bishops and deacons is the expression in Paul, Clement, Ignatius and the Didache; the only exception is the Epistle of Polycarp which speaks of elders and deacons, and special reasons have been suggested for this. These bishops were the apostles' men in their newly formed churches; they could be called elders, but it would be rash indeed to assume that there were no others who could be given this ancient and honourable title.

In considering the function of the elders the simple factor of seniority should not be forgotten. In these western churches we can find no trace of any further influx of apostles, or disciples, or disciples of disciples, such as occurred in Asia, and presumably in points farther east. There was no enrichment or development of the apostolic gospel in reinforced apostolic schools. The responsibility seems to have fallen very heavily on the senior converts, especially upon those who had been appointed to be bishops or elders.

Forum, Rome.


It is reasonable to suppose that a similar church order prevailed in Rome; but the Roman church in the second century preserved a succession-list of single bishops, the first three of which were allotted to this period – Linus, Cletus and Clement. As each of these is allotted an episcopate of twelve years it looks as if no exact record had been preserved; it seems to be an artificial or even a symbolic number. The names must be accepted as those of famous men who exercised leadership in the church at this time; but, in order to harmonize the tradition with the picture which is given by Clement, it has been suggested that they exercised authority concurrently rather than successively; they |377 may have been members of a presbytery, or heads of different 'houses', or indeed apostolic men of the same type as Timothy and Titus, The system of plural bishops required something of the sort. It always seems to depend on some higher or external authority for advice or supervision or direction, or even appointment.

Irenaeus, who wrote about 180, out of a very full knowledge of the Roman tradition, remarks that Clement had seen the blessed apostles, had accompanied them, and had their teaching sounding in his ears, 'and not only he, for there were many still surviving then who had been taught by the apostles'. This perhaps is no more than we would have surmised for ourselves.

A Gallery in the Cemetery of Domitilla, Rome.


The Roman church in the second century looked back to the tyranny of Domitian as the occasion on which John the apostle was banished to the island of Patmos and wrote the Revelation; but there is no good reason for believing that he actually appeared in Rome before the emperor. No confidence can be placed in the legend, first related by Tertullian, that he was condemned to death there by immersion in boiling oil, and' suffered nothing'. We do not know that John was ever in Rome.

On the other hand the appearance of the grandsons of Jude before the emperor must have made a profound impression upon the church; the kind of impression which we can study later in the similar case of Ignatius. It may be that it was in some such way as this that the Epistles of James and Jude came to the knowledge of the Roman church; for Hermas undoubtedly made use of James. The story rests, however, on the single authority of Hegesippus, and it is dismissed as a fiction by some critics, though its realistic and circumstantial character entitles it to respect.

Our most interesting evidence about the persecution comes from pagan authors. In 95 Domitian struck down certain leading members of the patrician and imperial families. One of these was his own first cousin, Titus Flavius Clemens, who held the high office of consul. Another was Manius Acilius Glabrio, who had been consul in 91. This particular Clemens or Clement must be distinguished from the Clement who wrote the Epistle. He was a first cousin of Domitian himself, and |378 his two sons had been designated as next in succession to the throne. The charge on which the consul Clement was condemned, says Dio Cassius, a third-century historian, was 'atheism, under which charge many others were condemned as having been followers of Jewish customs'. Suetonius says that he was guilty of 'contemptible inactivity' which sounds a little like the modern phrase 'refusal to cooperate'. (Or does it mean that he was a person of no importance?)

The charge of atheism was a stock charge against the Jews and the Christians, and meant that they refused to worship the gods of the state or take part in their rituals. Inactivity (inertia) might cover non-appearance at various official functions or ceremonies or games, in which a Christian could not take part. The Jews have naturally claimed that the consul Clement was a convert to their religion, and he appears as such in the pages of the Talmud; but the blood-purge may not have distinguished very clearly between the allied sects of Judaism and Christianity, and there is another line of evidence which makes it practically certain that he was a Christian.

Clement was married to his cousin Domitilla, who was a niece of the emperor. She was banished to an island, but returned safely when Domitian died. She had an estate called the Villa Amaranthiana,which was situated on the Ardeatine Road to the south-east of the city; and here the visitor may still wander along the galleries of the subterranean 'Cemetery of Domitilla' which is one of the oldest Christian burying-places in Rome; so that the archaeological evidence points to Christianity, rather than Judaism, as the ostensible reason for the liquidation of the suspiciously inactive consul.

Another first-century place of burial which was used by Christians was the 'Cemetery of Priscilla', on the Salarian Road to the north-east; and among the burials in this cemetery are several which belonged to the Acilian family, including quite possibly the resting-place of Domi-tian's other illustrious victim, Acilius Glabrio. The names of Prisca or Priscilla, and Acilius or Aquilius, occur frequently as family names in these inscriptions; and it is not unnatural to connect this group of families with the Aquila and Priscilla (or Prisca) who appear in the New Testament as patrons and friends of St Paul. According to the catacomb tradition, the senator Pudens (who was said to be the son of Priscilla) was also buried here: and Paul mentions a Pudens along with Linus, who was remembered as the first bishop.

|379 It must be realized, however, that while these cemeteries were indubitably established in the first century, there are no recognizably Christian inscriptions belonging to the first century or first half of the second century. It is the family connexions that are continuous. The oldest Roman churches of the third or fourth century claimed to have been founded by the Pudens-Priscilla family.

These connexions lead us to revise any romantic notions that we may have had of Christianity as a 'proletarian' movement, spreading solely among slaves and depressed foreign groups. Our survey of its literature has shown that its intellectual and literary standards were of the highest, even if they were not those of the classical schools. The evidence of the cemeteries shows that it was in touch with the noble families, and Hernias has much to say about the influence of the rich in the Roman church. Christianity had made great strides, and it had brought together persons and families of unlike types. It we underestimate the evidence for its phenomenal expansion at this point, we are unable to explain the fear which it created, or the fact that it did eventually overcome the pagan world.

We should like to know a great deal more than we do about the Christian expansion in the city of Rome, and the period of 'tyranny' which came at the end of Domitian's reign. What we have, however, is sufficient to give us some idea of its range; and we may add that it was still talked about sixty or seventy years later. It ended on September 18 of 95, when the 'tyrant' was assassinated by one Stephanas, a servant of the exiled Domitilla, with some help from his own servants and friends. The senate, who profited by his death, appointed one of its own members, an elderly lawyer named Nerva, a man of the highest integrity, to take his place. Jews, Christians, patricians and philosophers could begin to breathe again.


It was during this time of crisis and persecution that a 'foul and unholy revolution' broke out in the peaceable Corinthian church. Clement describes it as a rebellion by the newer or younger against the older and more honourable. He even calls it a revolt of the ecclesia against the elders. It was a mutiny. He describes the leaders of the revolt as wilful and headstrong and precipitate and ambitious and arrogant. There |380 were women among them as well as men; and certain exhortations suggest that they were not without their gifts of intellect and character and possibly of wealth and position.

He does not make the original cause of the dissension clear. If we may make an inference from the doctrinal character of the Epistle, the younger party may have been sceptical about the apocalyptic elements in the faith, the bodily resurrection, the day of the Lord, and the advent in judgement. On the other hand, they did not reject the Old Testament, since Clement appeals to it with great confidence. It is not possible to feel sure that doctrinal differences were at the root of the trouble.

Clement treats the problem as if it were largely personal or possibly constitutional; a clash between two parties, both of which were determined to control the church. In the course of this rivalry the younger group had met with some success. In particular they had succeeded in deposing or retiring from office some of the bishops who had been appointed by the apostles (or other eminent men), and had offered the gifts without criticism for many years; and this was the scandal as Clement saw it. They had no right to do that.

He urges them to submit themselves to the judgement of the whole church with the constituted elders. The bishops had been appointed in the first place with the concurrence of the whole church, and the present unfortunate position must be rectified in the forum of the whole church, in which Clement appears to have the greatest confidence; but the whole church had been guilty of rivalry and party strife; it had need of repentance and humility and Christian charity. The whole blame is not placed on the group of rebels.

The Corinthian dissension was of more than local importance. It had communicated itself to Rome, where it was the talk of the dissentient groups in that city. It had become a danger to the church in whose name Clement wrote. It is unfortunate from our point of view that his very discreet Epistle does not make it possible for us to discover more exactly what had actually occurred.

Naturally the support of the powerful and wealthy Roman church with its strong apostolic tradition would be of great importance to whichever side could obtain it. In all probability it was asked to intervene. Both sides may have sent emissaries to Rome with letters and explanations; and doubtless to other churches too.

The Roman church took a little time to consider the matter, for they |381 had troubles of their own. They resolved finally to send two of their members with a well reasoned letter supporting the Corinthian elders. These envoys were Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Bito. They were no neophytes, but lifelong Christians, who had behaved themselves blamelessly from youth to old age; that is to say, they were veterans who could remember the Neronian persecutions and had seen and heard the apostles. With them went a man named Fortunatus, who is not described as an envoy of the Roman church. He may be the man who had come from Corinth to express the views of the older generation; he may even have been the man who had gone to see Paul at Ephesus on similar business a generation earlier; a contemporary of Clement.

The letter is described as an entreaty on behalf of peace; it was written through the Holy Spirit and should not be disregarded. It had, therefore, we would suppose, the support of a church council or conference in which it was believed that the Spirit had given guidance. Perhaps the prophets had spoken.


The Epistle was written on behalf of the Roman church by Clement. His name does not appear in the text, which is addressed from the church of God sojourning at Rome to the church of God sojourning at Corinth. It is only from ' tradition' that we know that Clement was its actual author; but the word 'tradition' in this case, as so often, is a name which is used to cover explicit statements made by responsible men who could not help knowing all the facts; Hegesippus, for instance, who passed through Corinth about 150 or 160; and Dionysius who was bishop there a few years later and says that the Epistle was still being read on Sundays in his time. It ranked therefore with the apostolic Epistles. It was widely received on this level throughout the Christian church, and almost always as the 'Epistle of Clement'.

The Corinthians had been waiting for a message from Rome; for Clement begins by apologizing for the delay in sending it, which was due, he explains, to the series of accidents and misfortunes which had come so unexpectedly, one on top of another; he is referring, of course, to the events of the last years of Domitian. He takes a strong line, but argues his case with earnestness and moderation. He advises the younger men and women who have promoted rebellion to submit |382 to the elders and to the judgement of the ecclesia. He urges the elders to be prepared to exercise unlimited forgiveness, which is rather at variance perhaps with the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, a book from which he often quotes. He supports his plea by numerous arguments from the holy scriptures of the Old Testament and from the apostolic traditions as they had been received in both churches.

But he goes further than this. He invites the whole church to make a corporate act of repentance for all its folly and strife and discord. 'Let us fall down before our Lord', he says, 'and implore him with lamentations to be merciful to us and be reconciled, and restore us to the holy and sacred paths of brotherly affection. Blessed are we, beloved, if we act according to the commandments of God, and in the unity of love, so that our sins may be forgiven us through love.'

Such a call from a church to a church was the strongest spiritual appeal which could be made under the circumstances, and doubtless the two Roman elders who presented the Epistle to the Corinthian church were prepared to back up this appeal with personal admonitions and advice; they were sent as 'witnesses' between the two churches. In the atmosphere of emotional and spiritual release which would be liberated in such a movement of mass-repentance, it would be possible for individuals to win respect by an outstanding act of apology or submission to the general will; or even, as the Epistle says, for a party-leader to cover himself with glory by making a great act of renunciation and offering to withdraw altogether. 'Is any among you noble?' Clement asks; 'Is any among you touched to the heart? Is any filled with love? Let him say: "If I am the cause of faction and strife and divisions, I depart; I go wherever you will; I do whatever the majority may decide; only let the flock of Christ be in peace with the established elders ". Whoever does this will purchase for himself great renown in Christ; and any place will receive him.'

It was a fair offer. Clement backs it up with examples of heroic renunciation and self-sacrifice from Roman history and Jewish apocryphal literature.


This Epistle is a monument of Christian synagogue Hellenism, the last of its kind. Clement knew the Old Testament in its Greek form, including some books of the Apocrypha. He knew the apostolic |383 catechisms and household rules. He knew the liturgy. He refers to the two great columns or pillars of the church, Peter and Paul, and their departure to the place of glory which was their due. He seems to make use of Mark (e.g. 1 Clement xxiv. 5); but his quotations from the teaching of Jesus look as if they were drawn from an oral tradition.

Remember the words of the Lord Jesus [he says] which he spoke when teaching gentleness and patience:

Show mercy that you may obtain mercy,
Forgive that you may be forgiven,
As you do, so will it be done to you,
As you give, so will it be given to you,
As you show kindness, so will kindness be shown to you;
The measure that you measure with
Is the measure with which it will be measured out to you.
(1 Clement xiii. 2.)

He refers by name to 1 Corinthians, the letter in which Paul had spoken about the party divisions of forty years before. He often quotes from Hebrews. He has echoes of Romans and Ephesians; he writes in the style and vocabulary of 1 Peter and the Pastorals, with which we judge he was familiar. He does not quote them formally, but his Epistle is in the same tradition. It is remarkable that there should be so many traces of the apostolic writings in so short a document, and we would judge that he knew most of the Petro-Pauline epistolary literature; but the evidence for Luke and Acts is quite slight. The Johannine and Matthaean books had not reached him.

The medium in which Clement worked was still the Judaeo-Christian community tradition of the early apostolic period. He handled his material in a masterly manner; but his mind was not that of a theologian or philosopher, or even of an evangelist; it was that of a pastor or shepherd of souls; a statesman and administrator and man of wisdom after the old Hebrew pattern of wisdom; a teacher with a firm hand and a tender heart, but judging and making decisions without respect of persons. It was the supreme sign of his wisdom that he sank his own name and personality and wrote in the name of his church, which he had been able to carry with him. Had he been less self-effacing, we would know more about him. We infer that the spiritual unity and |384 strength of the Roman church must have been due in no small measure to his leadership.

His name suggests that his family had some connexion with the family of the consul Clemens and his wife Domitilla, and consequently with the imperial family. This does not necessarily imply blood-relationship. It could mean for instance that he belonged to a family of Jewish origin which was associated with the family of Flavius Clemens in the dependent position of clients. His attitude to the new imperial government is friendly and respectful, and he follows the traditional Jewish and apostolic teaching in requiring submission to the emperors on the grounds that their authority comes from God. This is the main line of Judaeo-Christian theology, notwithstanding the apocalyptic pictures in which the imperial power is the incarnation of evil when it persecutes. At such times it is possessed by an evil spirit.


As the ministry of Clement ends, the ministry of Hermas begins. Clement belonged to the apostolic period, when the church was still conscious of its family connexions with the synagogue and was under the influence of the synagogue tradition. Hermas belonged to a new generation. He was a well-known type; a slave of parts and character who had won his freedom, and we shall consider his autobiography in the next chapter. The Old Testament, which colours every page of Clement, left few marks on his. His New Testament allusions, such as they are, are accounted for by a knowledge of Mark and the sayings of Jesus, of Hebrews, James, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and possibly 1 Peter. His style and manner is more in line with that of the recent apocalypses, Ezra, and Baruch, and the oracles of the Sibyl. He was familiar with many current Jewish ideas, but they reached him in an acutely Hellenized form which was akin to apocalypse and gnosis. When he first stood up in the ecclesia before the elders and claimed to have received a revelation from heaven, he said that it came to him through an aged woman whom he took to be the Sibyl. He did not correct this opinion for twelve months.

This lady of vision had given him the revelation in the form of a written scroll which he copied out faithfully letter by letter, not even pausing to distinguish the words or meaning as he did this manual |385 work; for in ancient writing there were no spaces between the words. When he had finished, the heavenly original vanished from his hands. It was a case of automatic writing; his conscious mind knew nothing as yet of what he was writing. He read this document in the ecclesia 'with the elders', who were very severely criticized in an appendix to it for their lives of luxury, their unconcern for the poor, their divisions and their personal ambitions. It was not meant only for Rome; it was for 'all the elect'. He was commanded to make two more copies of it, one for Clement, who was to send it to the 'outside cities', since that was his business, and one for a church official named Grapte, whose duty it was to admonish the widows and orphans. We find ourselves on the same ground as in the Epistle of Clement. The church authorizes publication, since the concurrence of the elders seems to be necessary; but it is Clement who has further copies made and sent to other churches.


The document produced by Hermas in this dramatic manner was nothing less than a new revelation for the Christian church as a whole, on a question of policy which had become acute as a result of persecution. What was to be done with the apostates who had denied their Lord and now wished to be restored to communion? The author of Hebrews had stated that there was no way back into the fellowship for those who had departed from it; and he seems to have been thinking of those who relapsed into paganism, either by denial in persecution or by a return to pagan social life. He compares them with Esau, who sold his birthright and found no place of repentance though he sought for it with tears. It would appear that the church of the second generation was threatened by something very like a moral collapse, a state of affairs which had begun to show itself as early as the Pastoral Epistles. The strange teachers were feared more for their lax morals than their peculiar doctrines. Hence the emphasis on church order and Christian ethics which we find in the Pastorals and Clement. Equally necessary now was the provision of a 'place of repentance' or mode of absolution for erring church members who were clamouring for restoration.

Now Clement had urged the rebels in Corinth to repent, and had assured them of forgiveness if they did so. He had affirmed with a solemn oath, invoking the name of the Trinity, that penitents could be |386 enrolled among the number of the saved; and similar affirmations are to be found in Hermas. But Hermas provided a procedure. His heavenly document was to be read aloud, and the penitents were to accept it in faith. It was in effect a prophetic supplement to the gospel. It is important to make no mistake about it. It did not announce that everybody was entitled to one repentance, though Hermas came very near to saying this at a later date. It said that there was repentance for the saints who had sinned before the 'appointed day' ; the day perhaps on which this revelation had been received, or the day on which it was read in the Roman ecclesia, or the day on which the sinner happened to hear it. Those who had denied their Lord are specially mentioned in it; but those who deny in future will not be eligible for pardon. The indulgence did not apply to future sins of future believers; it was only for former sins committed before the 'appointed day' – a phrase which was borrowed from Hebrews itself. (See the fourth 'Commandment' of Hermas in addition to the second Vision.)

The effect of the Hermadic revelation, therefore, was to support the doctrine of no repentance after baptism which was maintained by a number of Roman teachers. Once the existing apostates and backsliders had been restored, the perfectionist ideal of the author of Hebrews could become the directing principle of church administration. Such therefore was the policy adopted by the Roman church, and communicated by it to the rest of the Christian world for their consideration. The two Roman books were received along with the New Testament literature without any great sense of difference; they were read in churches; they were often included in the New Testament when the New Testament began to be formed.


Out of sheer necessity the literature of this kind was bound to emphasize the importance of ethics, repentance, the good life and church order. It could not help bringing to the front the 'Jewish' element which was taken for granted in the old apostolic tradition. In comparison with this the gospel of grace and power, as we see it in the Pauline literature, seems to be very much reduced. But this is an optical illusion, due to the fact that these books are supplementary treatises, handling the emergent problems of their time. They come as |387 postscripts or appendices to the gospel and the epistolary literature, a knowledge of which is taken for granted; they confine themselves to their proper subjects. 'We have written to you', Clement says, 'concerning those matters which pertain to religious worship, and are most profitable for a virtuous life'; he lists faith, repentance, unfeigned love, self-control, soberness of mind and patience or endurance among these topics. It is a treatise on moral theology in its relation to church order or liturgy.

Under the conditions of the time, when the first enthusiasm had passed and ordinary human defects had appeared in the fabric of the church, attention to these grave problems was required. It was necessary to maintain some sort of spiritual discipline in order to preserve the unity of the church and also to deal with lapsed members who desired to return to the fold. On the one hand was the high perfectionist doctrine – that the church was a communion of saints and there was no room in it for the ex-Christian who had sinned against Christ; on the other was the spirit of the gospel itself with its message of mercy and forgiveness. It is interesting to see that it was the Roman church which found a way of building up church order and discipline, and yet leaving a place of forgiveness for the penitent. Hermas found the appropriate mystical language for this kind of work in the imagery of town-building.

Actually the beauty of the gospel is well expressed by Clement in his own style and manner; not only by his emphasis on love, patience, mercy and forgiveness, but also by the way in which he places the figure of Christ, as Son of God and high priest of our oblations, against the background of the supreme majesty and glory of God Almighty as it is given in Hebrew liturgy. He has no theological theory about the person of Christ; he expresses his faith, like the author of Hebrews, in terms of liturgical vision and in words borrowed from the Old Testament prophets and psalmists. The charm of the Roman church at this period may almost be said to be its immaturity. It was still waiting to receive the fullness of the apostolic gospel as it had been more fully interpreted in Antioch and Ephesus. It had made no attempt to explain itself as a new religion distinct from that of the Jews. The gospel had been received from the apostles as the central glory of the old Hebrew religion, and no change had been made in this historical situation. The concept of Law had receded into the background, of course, and the legal system was now no more than a type or shadow |388 of the gospel truth. Faith in God through Christ had taken the place of works, as Clement knew; but the continuity of feeling with Judaism was perfect. Clement draws on the treasures of the Hebrew tradition without reserve. The patriarchs, prophets and priests of Israelite history are the saints, heroes and progenitors of the Christian church. The church has taken possession of them through Christ.

Neither Clement nor Hermas mentions the Jews. They are neither pro-Jewish nor anti-Jewish. This silence of theirs is in marked contrast to the anti-Jewish feeling which we can find in the contemporary traditions of Antioch and Ephesus. It could be explained if relations in Rome were a little more friendly, « The neutrality of Josephus deserves to be considered in this connexion. if the synagogue had not yet accepted the new Rabbinic standards, if the ecclesia had not yet parted company with the synagogue in all respects, and if they had recently shared a persecution together in virtue of a common inheritance. At any rate the Christianity of Clement appears without any apology whatever as a form of the Jewish religion, and there is no evidence of hostility to Judaism proper. He does not refer to it.


There is a special theological note which is found in Clement, to which attention should be drawn, since it is also found in Hermas. It is the vision or sentiment about God which comes from the contemplation of nature; 'I was walking towards Cumae', Hermas says, 'and glorifying the creations of God, how honourable and powerful they are, and as I walked, I passed into a trance.' It is found in the Psalms and in the Gospels; it permeates the Hebrew liturgy; it is magnificently expressed in the Song of the Three Children, from the longer version of Daniel which Clement refers to in his forty-fifth chapter. But there are touches of it in the Greek poets and philosophers, in Plutarch for instance, and in an anonymous treatise mistakenly attributed to Aristotle. Its apologetic possibilities had been cultivated by those Jewish intellectuals who ventured to philosophize. It is voiced by the Sibyl. A train of argument along these lines is to be found in the Acts, in the speeches of St Paul at Lystra and at Athens. It is the opening phase in Christian apologetics, the presentation of Hebrew monotheism to the pagan world.

|389 Clement does not by any means equate the God of Hebrew revelation with the God of Greek philosophy. What he does do is to make us aware of a form of worship of the Hebrew God according to the rites of the Hellenistic synagogue, but adapted in some degree to the Greek intellectual climate. He invites his hearers to contemplate the Father and creator of the universe and to cleave to his excellent and magnificent gifts in peace.

Let us consider how free he is from anger with regard to his whole creation.

The heavens, which are set in motion by his government, are subordinate to him in peace.

Day and night pursue the course that is appointed by him, in no way hindering one another.

Sun and moon and the dances of the stars roll along their appointed courses. ...

Earth that brings multitudes to birth according to his will, in their proper seasons, makes food to spring up both for beasts and for men.

The trackless regions of the abyss ... the mass of the unmeasurable sea ... the ocean uncrossed by man, and the worlds that lie beyond it ... the seasons of spring and summer and autumn and winter ... the stations of the winds ... the ever-flowing fountains ... the smallest of living creatures, making their conventions in peace and unity of mind.

All these things the great Demiurge and Master of the universe commanded to live in peace and unity of mind; doing good in every way, and especially to us, who have fled for refuge to his mercies, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever.
(1 Clement xix, xx.)

The Greek word demiurge was an established word in the Judaeo-Christian tradition; it means workman or craftsman or technician; the gnostic sects who rejected Jewish liturgy and apocalypse would treat it with scorn. It belongs to the poetic or mythopoeic tradition, which is older than Christianity. In another place Clement reproduces very exactly a feature of the Sabbath service called the Kedushah which is reproduced more freely in the Revelation.

Let us be subordinate to his will. Let us consider the whole multitude of his angels, how they stand by to minister to his will; for the Scripture saith, Ten thousand times ten thousand stood by him,

And thousands of thousands ministered unto him: (Daniel vii. 10.)
And they cried Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth:
Full is all creation of thy glory: (Isaiah vi. 3.)

|390 And let us too, in unity of mind, gather in one place, and cry out earnestly to him as from one mouth. ...
(1 Clement xxxiv.)

Clement continues his Epistle along liturgical lines of thought and concludes with a series of formal prayers which we may assume to represent the custom of the Roman church. Many of their phrases are still to be found in the synagogue liturgy.


It would appear, therefore, that the Roman church, like the Antiochene, had achieved a measure of order and harmony in its liturgical traditions and in the ministerial and fraternal relations of its members; Clement called it the canon of subordination.

The church in this generation found that it had a new task which had not seriously confronted the apostles. It was the indoctrination of the Gentile converts into the Hebrew faith in a living God, who was not only the ground of all being (as the philosophers say), but also the supreme factor in human history, and the salvation of the believing soul. It was useless and confusing to impose the Pauline gospel of the Saviour upon a substratum of polytheism which had not been purified, educated and disciplined in Jewish monotheism; indeed, this was the combination which produced the gnostic heresies. The church was actually forced to provide courses in elementary Judaism, and so lay the foundation of faith in the living God.

One way of doing this was to present him to the imagination in the thunders of apocalypse, but Clement does not advise this method; he defends it, but he does not fall back upon it. He has recourse to the method by which Christian people do actually form their idea of God as Lord of creation and Saviour of the lost; it is the way of worship.

'This is the way', he says, 'by which we found the saving power of Jesus Christ, the high priest of our oblations and the patron and support of our weakness; it is through him that we gaze into the height of the heavens.' Clement thinks of prayer and worship and devotion as a kind of vision; and it is to this vision of God and of his Son and of his saints and angels that he so confidently appeals. This literary formulation of the fundamental liturgical tradition explains the widespread appeal of this weighty Epistle and the universal respect in which it was held.
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