November 23, 2021: POPE ST. CLEMENT I
November 23, 2021: ST. CLEMENT I, POPE AND MARTYR
My words, saith the Lord, which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart from thence: and thy offerings shall be pleasing on my altar.
O God who, by the yearly solemnity of blessed Clement, thy Martyr and Bishop, rejoicest the hearts of thy faithful: mercifully grant that we, who celebrate his martyrdom, may enjoy his protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The memory of St. Clement has been surrounded with a peculiar glory from the very beginning of the Roman Church. After the death of the Apostles, he seems to eclipse Linus and Cletus, although these preceded him in the Pontificate. We pass as it were naturally from Peter to Clement; and the East celebrates his memory with no less honor than the West. He was in truth the universal Pontiff, and his acts as well as his writings are renowned throughout the entire Church. This widespread reputation caused numbers of apocryphal writings to be attributed to him, which, however, it is easy to distinguish from his own. But it is remarkable that all the falsifiers who have thought fit to put his name to their own works, or to invent stories concerning him, agree in declaring that he was of imperial descent.
With only one exception, all the documents which attest Clement’s intervention in the affairs of distant churches have perished with time; but the one that remains shows us in full action the monarchical power of the Bishop of Rome at that primitive epoch. The church of Corinth was disturbed with intestine quarrels, caused by jealousy against certain pastors. These divisions, the germ of which had appeared even in St. Paul’s time, had destroyed all peace, and were causing scandal to the very pagans. The Corinthians at last felt the necessity of putting an end to a disorder which might be prejudicial to the extension of the Christian faith; and for this purpose it was requisite to seek assistance from outside. The Apostles had all departed this life, except St. John, who was still the light of the Church. It was no great distance form Corinth to Ephesus, where the Apostle resided: yet it was not to Ephesus but to Rome that the Church of Corinth turned. Clement examined the case referred to his judgment by that Church, and sent to Corinth five commissaries to represent the Apostolic See. They were bearers of a letter, which St. Irenæus calls potentissimas litteras. It was considered at the time so beautiful and so apostolic, that it was long read in many churches as a sort of continuation of the canonical Scriptures. Its tone is dignified but paternal, according to St. Peter’s advice to pastors. There is nothing in it of a domineering spirit; but the grave and solemn language bespeaks the universal pastor, whom none can disobey without disobeying God himself. These words so solemn and so firm wrought the desired effect: peace was reestablished in the church of Corinth, and the messengers of the Roman Pontiff soon brought back the happy news. A century later, St. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, expressed to Pope St. Soter the gratitude still felt by his flock towards St. Clement for the service he had rendered.
Brought up in the school of the Apostles, Clement had retained their style and manner. These are visible in his two Letters to virgins, which are mentioned by St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome, and were found in the eighteenth century translated into Syriac, in a manuscript brought from Aleppo. …The principle of chastity being vowed to God was, from the very beginning, one of the bases of Christianity, and one of the most effectual means for the transformation of the world. Christ himself had praised the superior merit of this sacrifice; and St. Paul, comparing the two states of life, taught that the virgin is wholly taken up with our Lord, while the married woman, whatever her dignity, is divided. Clement had to develop this doctrine, and he did so in these two letters. Anticipating those great doctors of Christian virginity, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustin, he developed the teachings of St. Peter and St. Paul on this important subject. “He or she,” he says, “who aspires to this higher life, must lead like the Angels an existence all divine and heavenly. The virgin cuts herself off from the allurements of the senses; not only does she renounce the right to their even lawful use, but she aspires to that hope which God, who can never deceive, encourages by his promise, and which far surpasses the natural hope of posterity. In return for her generous sacrifice, her portion in heaven is the very happiness of the Angels.”…
Thus spoke the disciple chosen by St. Peter to set his hand to the task of renovating Rome. It needed no less than this strong doctrine, in order to combat the depraved manners of the Empire. Had Christianity been satisfied with inviting men to honor, as the Philosophers had done, its efforts would have been to no purpose. Stoicism, by exciting great pride, could bring some men even to despise death; but it was utterly powerless against sensuality, which we must own to have been the strongest auxiliary to the tyranny of the Cæsars. The ideal of chastity, thrown into the midst of that dissolute society, could alone arrest the ignominious torrent that threatened to submerge all human dignity. Happily for the world, Christian morality succeeded in gaining ground; and, its maxims being followed up by striking examples, it at length forced itself upon the public notice. Roman corruption was amazed to hear of virginity being held in honor and practiced by a great many followers of the new religion; and that at a time when the greatest privileges and the most terrible chastisements could scarcely keep to their duty the six vestals, upon whose fidelity depended the honor and the safety of the city…
The time, however, was at hand, when the emperors, the senate, and all Rome, were to learn from the first Apology of St. Justin the marvels of purity concealed within that Babylon of iniquity. “Among us, in this city,” said the Apologist, “there are many men and women who have reached the age of sixty or seventy years; brought up from infancy under the law of Christ, they have persevered to this day in the state of virginity; and there is not a country where I could not point out many such.” Athenagorus, in a memorial presented a few years later to Marcus Aurelius, was able to say in like manner: “You will find among us a multitude of persons, both men and women, who have passed their life up to old age in the state of virginity, having no ambition but to unite themselves more intimately to God.”
Clement was predestined to the glory of martyrdom; he was banished to the Chersonesus on the Black Sea. The Acts, which relate the details of his sufferings, are of very great antiquity; we shall not here enter into discussions concerning them. They tell us how Clement found in the peninsula a considerable number of Christians already transported there and employed in working the rich and abundant marble quarries. The joy of these Christians on seeing Clement is easily conceived; his zeal in propagating the faith in this far-off country, and the success of his apostolate, are no matter for surprise. The miracle of a fountain springing from the rock at Clement’s word, to quench the thirst of the Confessors, is a fact analogous to hundreds of others related in the most authentic Acts of the Saints. Lastly, the apparition of the mysterious Lamb upon the mountain, marking with his foot the spot whence the water was to flow, carries back the mind to the earliest Christian mosaics, on which may still be seen the symbol of the lamb standing on a green hillock.
In the ninth century St. Cyril, apostle of the Slavs, discovered near Cherson the precious remains of the martyr-pontiff. Clement was brought back to Rome; and the great church which had hitherto, according to St. Jerome, preserved the memory of his name, henceforth possessed a still richer treasure. The very memory, however, was of great value for science no less than for piety: on the testimony of ancient traditions, this church was built on the site of St. Clement’s old home in the region of Monte Cœlio, which we know from other sources to have been the quarter preferred by the Roman aristocracy of the period…
It is time to read the liturgical account of the great Pope of the first century.
Clement was a Roman by birth, son of Faustinus who dwelt in the region of Monte Cœlio. He was a disciple of blessed Peter; and is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians, in these words: I entreat thee also, my sincere companion, help those women who have labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement and the rest of my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the book of life. He divided Rome into seven regions, appointing a notary for each, who was to ascertain and record with the greatest care the acts and sufferings of the martyrs. He wrote many useful and learned works, such as did honor to the Christian name.
He converted many to the faith of Christ by his learning and holiness of life, and was on that account banished by the emperor Trajan to the desert of Cherson beyond the Black Sea. Here he found two thousand Christians, likewise banished by Trajan, who were employed in quarrying marble. Seeing them suffering from want of water, Clement betook himself to prayer, and then ascended a neighboring hill, on the summit of which he saw a Lamb, pointing out with his right foot a spring of sweet water. At this source they all quenched their thirst; and many infidels were converted by the miracle, and began to revere Clement as a Saint.
On hearing this Trajan was enraged, and sent officers with orders to cast Clement into the sea with an anchor tied to his neck. After the execution of this sentence, as the Christians were praying on the shore, the sea began to recede for the distance of three miles; on approaching they found a small building of marble, in the form of a temple wherein lay the martyr’s body in a stone coffin, and beside it the anchor with which he had been drowned. The inhabitants of the country were so astounded at the miracle, that they were led to embrace the Christian faith. The holy body was afterwards translated to Rome, under Pope Nicholas I and deposited in the church of St. Clement. A church was also built and dedicated in his honor on that spot in the island where the miraculous fountain had sprung up. He held the pontificate nine years, six months, and six days. In two ordinations in the month of December, he made ten priests, two deacons, and fifteen bishops for divers places.
Another account of Pope St. Clement I.
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. Jerom 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 Cӕsarea 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 this 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 (St. 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. Irenӕus 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 any thing, 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 commands 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 any thing 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 giveth 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 soul, he lays down as the foundation of a Christian life, 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. Jerom speak 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 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 style 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… When the Emperor Lewis Debonnair founded the great abbey of Cava, in Abruzzo, four miles from Salerno, 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 strait 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.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after
Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Pope St. Clement I, pray for us.