Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Clement And Pope Francis

In light of the selection of a new Pope, this would be a good time for those who don't know much about church history to do some research. One step to take would be to read First Clement. It's one of the earliest extra-Biblical Christian documents we have, and it represents early Christianity in the city of Rome. It has a lot of relevance to the claims of Roman Catholicism.

I've written about some of the inconsistencies between First Clement and Catholicism in the past. See here, here, and the quotations below regarding the papacy, for example. On justification, see here. Or here on Purgatory. Other examples can be found in my collection of articles on Catholicism here or by searching the Triablogue archives in general.

"Some scholars anachronistically saw in the epistle [First Clement] an assertion of Roman primacy, but nowadays a hermeneutic of collegiality is more widely accepted." (Thomas Halton, Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity, Everett Ferguson, ed. [New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999], 253)

"This [the literary genre of First Clement] is a form of address that is identified in rhetorical handbooks and found in other texts that are contemporary with 1 Clement. It is used by those who wish to persuade others to reach for themselves a successful resolution to difficulties that they face, not to force them to submit to those who offer them this counsel….He [Clement] hopes to persuade because he cannot compel or command, and he knows that he cannot take it for granted that those whom he addresses will welcome and act on the counsel that he gives. He avoids the use of the imperative, and speaks instead in the second person plural….The second corollary is confirmation that this letter [First Clement] offers no evidence for the primacy of Rome at the time of its composition. The church at Rome writes to the church at Corinth of its own free will, but the form in which it does so makes clear that it could not take for granted that its counsel would be either welcome or in any way binding at Corinth. Nowhere does the Roman church demand obedience to its own authority, but only to that of God, as revealed in the Greek Bible and in certain Christian texts and traditions." (Andrew Gregory, in Paul Foster, ed., The Writings Of The Apostolic Fathers [New York, New York: T&T Clark, 2007], 26-28)


  1. The following videos are the 2 Boston College Debates between Catholic apologists Scott Butler & Robert Sungenis versus Protestant apologists James White & Robert Zins (which I believe occurred in the summer of 1995).

    Debate 1 deals with the BIBLICAL evidence for or against the Papacy

    Debate 2 deals with the HISTORICAL evidence for or against the Papacy

    Together, both debates are over 4 hours long. But, in my opinion, definitely worth listening to.

    1. Does Robert Zins still do debates? He seems to be so unknown.

  2. Thank you so much for this. I am currectly taking one Church father after another to show that they where not aware of the primancy of Rome.

    Origen Contra Rome:

    Cyprian Contra Rome:

    I am going through Tertullian at the moment. Thank once again.

    - Prayson

  3. Clement represents a letter from the Roman Church to the Corinthian Church. Would you agree that at the very least, this is evidence of the Roman Church having a pastoral role in the Corinthian Church?

    Clement opens up with lamenting a tardy response to the issues which the Corinthian Church had consulted the Roman Church. Is their evidence of the Roman Church similarly consulting any other Church on doctrinal issues?

    Are there any contemporary or earlier letters of the same nature from the Church in Corinth to the Church in Rome? In other words, a vice/versa of the letter of Clement? Or the do we have letters from say the Church in Greece to the Church in Carthage of the same nature?

    Further, even today it is not common for the Roman Bishop to send letters to Catholic Churches around the world that 'command' with 'imperatives.' You would find very few in the pontificate of Benedict the 16th, for instance. Therefore, that Clement lacks language sufficiently 'commanding' enough is immaterial.

    1st Clement also writes of the apostles appoint successors, bishops and deacons, who could continue in the ministry of the church. (Chap. XLII and XLIV)

    “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.”

    So, while ‘nowadays a hermeneutic of collegiality is more widely accepted’, it remains that at the very least 1st Clement testifies to the fact that the Roman Church had a pastoral role in the Corinthian Church and also testifies to an early belief in the succession of the apostles.

    1. Andre Carver,

      You're using some ambiguous language in a context in which it's important to be precise. In what sense is First Clement "pastoral"? In the sense of reflecting jurisdictional primacy? No. It's pastoral in the sense of giving counsel, rebuking wrong behavior, etc. But that sort of pastoral activity is common in contexts in which neither party has jurisdictional authority over the other. TurretinFan has given the example of Ignatius' letters. In one of my articles linked above, I gave the example of Polycarp's letter to the Philippian church. Paul taught the Roman church. He also rebuked and corrected Peter (Galatians 2:11-14). In our day, members of a congregation often write a letter to their pastor that's critical of him in some way. Or citizens under the authority of a politician write a letter criticizing him. Christians write posts to each other on blogs, often giving advice, rebuking one another, etc., even if neither one has jurisdictional authority over the other.

      Furthermore, even if Rome had been writing to Corinth from a position of superior authority, it wouldn't follow that papal authority was being exercised. A church isn't equivalent to a bishop, and authority (or perceived authority) can come from a lot of different sources. The churches in Antioch, Ephesus, Alexandria, and Constantinople, for instance, were often more prominent than other churches without having received that prominence by any sort of Divine institution akin to the alleged Divine institution of the papacy. If the church in Constantinople is more prominent than other churches, we don't assume that Jesus and the apostles must have given Constantinople that position. The church's prominence could have been attained from the political influence of the city where it resides. Or it could have been attained from the church's reputation for moral and doctrinal correctness. And so on.

      As I explained in my initial post, there are some attributes of First Clement that are better explained if there wasn't a papacy than if there was one (the letter's genre, the writing of the letter in the name of the church of Rome rather than the bishop of Rome, the absence of any appeal to papal authority in a letter that explicitly and frequently appeals to other forms of authority). You haven't offered a better explanation of any of those attributes.

      You cite sections 42 and 44 of the letter. I've addressed those sections here. See, also, the remainder of my series on apostolic succession. Most likely, there wasn't even a monepiscopate in Rome at the time of First Clement. The sections of the letter you've cited, which seem to equate bishops and presbyters, undermine your argument rather than supporting it.

  4. Andrew Carver:

    Ignatius (bishop of Antioch) wrote letters that look pastoral to a bunch of churches, including the Romans. There are plenty of imperatives.

    Clearly the papacy is the bishopric of Antioch, assuming the logic of the appeal to 1 Clement is correct.