St Clement, the son of Faustinus, a Roman by birth, was of Jewish extraction; for he tells us himself that he was of the race of Jacob. He was converted to the faith by St. Peter or St. Paul, and was so constant in his attendance on these apostles, and so active in assisting them in their ministry, that St. Jerome and other fathers call him an apostolic man; St. Clement of Alexandria styles him an apostle; and Rufinus, almost an apostle. Some authors attribute his conversion to St. Peter, whom he met at Cesarea with St. Barnabas; but he attended St. Paul at Philippi in 62, and shared in his sufferings there. We are assured by St. Chrysostom that he was a companion of the latter, with SS. Luke and Timothy, in many of his apostolic journeys, labours, and dangers. St. Paul (Phil. iv, 3) calls him his fellow-labourer, and ranks him among those whose names are written in the book of life; a privilege and matter of joy far beyond the power of commanding devils. (Luke x. 17) St. Clement followed St. Paul to Rome, where he also heard St. Peter preach, and was instructed in his school, as St. Irenaeus and Pope Zosimus testify. Tertullian tells us that St. Peter ordained him bishop, by which some understand that he made him a bishop of nations, to preach the gospel in many countries; others, with Epiphanius, that he made him his vicar at Rome, with an episcopal character to govern that church during his absence in his frequent missions. Others suppose he might at first be made bishop of the Jewish church in that city. After the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul, St. Linus was appointed Bishop of Rome, and after eleven years, succeeded by St. Cletus. Upon his demise in 89, or rather in 91, St. Clement was placed in the apostolic chair. According to the Liberian Calendar he sat nine years, eleven months, and twenty days.
At Corinth, an impious and detestable division, as our saint called it, happened amongst the faithful, like that which St. Paul had appeased in the same church; and a party rebelled against holy and irreproachable priests and presumed to depose them. It seems to have been soon after the death of Domitian in 96, that St. Clement, in the name of the church of Rome, wrote to them his excellent epistle, a piece highly extolled and esteemed in the primitive church as an admirable work, as Eusebius calls it. It was placed in rank next to the canonical books of the holy scriptures, and with them read in the churches. Whence it was found in the very ancient Alexandrian manuscript copy of the Bible, which Cyril Lucaris sent to our King James I, from which Patrick Young, the learned keeper of that king’s library, published it at Oxford in 1633. St. Clement begins his letter by conciliating the benevolence of those who were at variance, tenderly putting them in mind how edifying their behaviour was when they were all humble-minded, not boasting of anything, desiring rather to be subject than to govern, to give than to receive, content with the portion God had dispensed to them, listening diligently to his word, having an insatiable desire of doing good, and a plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost upon all of them. At that time they were sincere, without offence, not mindful of injuries, and all sedition and schism was an abomination to them. The saint laments that they had then forsaken the fear of the Lord, and were fallen into pride, envy, strife, and sedition; and pathetically exhorts them to lay aside all pride and anger, for Christ is theirs who are humble and not theirs who exalt themselves. The sceptre of the majesty of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, came not in the show of pride, though he could have done so; but with humility. He bids them look up to the Creator of the world, and think how gentle and patient he is towards his whole creation; also with what peace it all obeys his will, and the heavens, earth, impassable ocean, and worlds beyond it, are governed by the commends of this great master. Considering how near God is to us, and that none of our thoughts are hid from him, how ought we never to do anything contrary to his will, and honour them who are set over us! showing with a sincere affection of meekness, and manifesting the government of our tongues by a love of silence. “Let your children,” says the saint, “be bred up in the instruction of the Lord, and learn how great a power humility has with God, how much a pure and holy charity avails with him, and how excellent and great his fear is.”
It appears by what follows, that some at Corinth boggled at the belief of a resurrection of the flesh, which the saint beautifully shows to be easy to the Almighty power, and illustrates by the vine which sheds its leaves, then buds, spreads its leaves, flowers, and afterwards produces first sour grapes, then ripe fruit; by the morning rising from night; and corn brought forth from seed. The saint adds a strong exhortation to shake off all sluggishness and laziness, for it is only the good workman who receives the bread of his labour. “We must hasten,” says he, “with all earnestness and readiness of mind, to perfect every good work, labouring with cheerfulness; for even the Creator and Lord of all things rejoices in his own works.” The latter part of this epistle is a pathetic recommendation of humility, peace, and charity. “Let every one,” says the saint, “be subject to another, according to the order in which he is placed by the gift of God. Let not the strong man neglect the care of the weak; let the weak see that he reverence the strong. Let the rich man distribute to the necessity of the poor, and let the poor bless God who give :h him one to supply his want. Let the wise man show forth his wisdom, not in words, but in good works. Let him that is humble, never speak of himself, or make show of his actions. Let him that is pure in the flesh, not grow proud of it, knowing that it was another who gave him the gift of continence. They who are great cannot yet subsist without those that are little; nor the little without the great. In our body, the head without the feet is nothing; neither the feet without the head. And the smallest members of our body are yet both necessary and useful to the whole.” Thus the saint teaches that the lowest in the church may be the greatest before God, if they are most faithful in the discharge of their respective duties. St. Clement puts pastors and superiors in mind that, with trembling and humility, they should have nothing but the fear of God in view, and take no pleasure in their own power and authority. “Let us,” says he, “pray for all such as fall into any trouble or distress; that being endued with humility and moderation, they may submit, not to us, but to the will of God.” Fortunatus, who is mentioned by St. Paul, was come from the church of Corinth to Rome, to inform that holy see of their unhappy schism. St. Clement says, he had dispatched four messengers to Corinth with him, and adds, “Send them back to us again with all speed in peace and joy, that they may the sooner acquaint us with your peace and concord, so much prayed for and desired by us; and that we may rejoice in your good order.”
We have a large fragment of a second epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians, found in the same Alexandrian manuscript of the Bible; from which circumstance it appears to have been also read like the former in many churches, which St. Dionysius of Corinth expressly testifies of that church, though it was not so celebrated among the ancients as the other. In it our saint exhorts the faithful to despise this world and its false enjoyments, and to have those which are promised us always before our eyes; to pursue virtue with all our strength, and its peace will follow us with the inexpressible delights of the promise of what is to come. The necessity of perfectly subduing both the irascible and concupiscible passions of our souls, he lays down as the foundation of a Christian life, in words which St. Clement of Alexandria enforces and illustrates. Besides these letters of St. Clement to the Corinthians, two others have been lately discovered, which are addressed to spiritual eunuchs or virgins. Of these St. Jerome speaks, when he says of certain epistles of St. Clement, “In the epistles which Clement, the successor of the Apostle Peter, wrote to them, that is, to such eunuchs, almost his whole discourse turns upon the excellence of virginity.” These two letters were found in a manuscript copy of a Syriac New Testament, by John James Westein, in 1752, and printed by him with a Latin translation at Amsterdam in 1752, and again in 1757. A French translation of them has been published, with short critical notes. These letters are not unworthy this great disciple of St. Peter; and in them the counsels of St. Paul concerning celibacy and virginity are explained, that state is pathetically recommended, without prejudice to the honour due to the holy state of marriage; and the necessity of shunning all familiarity with persons of a different sex, and the like occasions of incontinence is set in a true light.
St. Clement with patience and prudence got through the persecution of Domitian. Nerva’s peaceable reign being very short, the tempest increased under Trajan, who, even from the beginning of his reign, never allowed the Christian assemblies. It was in the year 100 that the third general persecution was raised by him, which was the more afflicting, as this reign was in other respects generally famed for justice and moderation. Rufin, Pope Zosimus, and the council of Bazas in 452, expressly styles St. Clement a martyr. In the ancient canon of the Roman mass, he is ranked among the martyrs. Eusebius tells us, that St. Clement departed this life in the third year of Trajan, of Christ 100. From this expression some will have it that he died a natural death; but St. Clement says of St. Paul, who certainly died a martyr, that “he departed out of the world.” It is also objected, that St. Irenaeus gives the title of martyr only to St. Telesphorus among the popes before St. Eleutherius. But it is certain that some others were martyrs, whatever was the cause of his omission. St. Irenaeus mentions the epistle of St. Clement yet omits those of St. Ignatius, though in some places he quotes him. Shall we hence argue, that St. Ignatius wrote none? When the Emperor Lewis Debonnair founded the great abbey of Cava, in Abruzzo, four miles from Slaerno, in 872, he enriched it with the relics of St. Clement, pope and martyr, which Pope Adrian sent him, as is related at length in the chronicle of that abbey, with a history of many miracles. These relics remain there to this day. The ancient Church of St. Clement in Rome, in which St. Gregory the Great preached several of his homilies, still retains part of his relics. It was repaired by Clement XI, but still shows entire the old structure of Christian churches, divided into three parts: the narthex, the ambo, and the sanctuary.
St. Clement inculcates, that the spirit of Christianity is a spirit of perfect disengagement from the things of this world. “We must,” says he, “look upon all the things of this world, as none of ours, and not desire them. This world and that to come are two enemies. We cannot, therefore, be friends to both; but we must resolve which we would forsake, and which we would enjoy. And we think, that it is better to hate the present things, as little, short-lived, and corruptible; and to love those which are to come, which are truly good and incorruptible. Let us contend with all earnestness, knowing that we are now called to the combat. Let us run in the straight road, the race that is incorruptible. This is what Christ saith: keep your bodies pure and your souls without spot, that ye may receive eternal life.”