Our series on the Friday With Our Fathers (FWOF), using Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers.
The format of the letter of 1 Clement is both distinctively early Christian but more specifically distinctively Pauline.
“The church of God that sojourns in Rome to the church of God that sojourns in Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. May grace and peace from almighty God through Jesus Christ be yours in abundance.”
So the Salutation. That is Christian, and its wording comes from Pauline salutations.
From this point on we are in a letter that is early, evoking apostolic letters but much much much longer than NT letters, and dealing with 1st Century church issues in Corinth. We see how some Roman church leaders see the Corinthian church situation; it reminds of the problems Paul had with Corinth decades earlier. Problems in the church again!
Yes, it is noticeable that for some reason the leaders in Rome felt it needful for them to address the Corinthian church. This may not indicate that Rome was already seen as “first among equals” in locations but it surely indicates that these leaders sensed their obligation to admonish the Corinthians.
The presenting issue at Corinth for the Roman concern is an “unholy schism” (1:1).
1Clem. 1:1 Because of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses that have happened to us, brothers, we acknowledge that we have been somewhat slow in giving attention to the matters in dispute among you, dear friends, especially the detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God, which a few reckless and arrogant persons have kindled to such a pitch of insanity that your good name, once so renowned and loved by all, has been greatly reviled.
Corinth has a good name due to its faithfulness, piety, hospitality, and knowledge.
2 For has anyone ever visited you who did not approve your most excellent and steadfast faith? Who did not admire your sober and magnanimous piety in Christ? Who did not proclaim the magnificent character of your hospitality? Who did not congratulate you on your complete and sound knowledge?
The Corinthian church has lived according to the “laws of God” and have lived orderly with respect to its leadership and stations in life.
3 For you did everything without partiality, and you lived in accordance with the laws of God, submitting yourselves to your leaders and giving to the older men [or, elders] among you the honor due them. You instructed the young people to think temperate and proper thoughts;
Women are commended for their “blameless, reverent, and pure conscience;” further, they have cherished their husbands; they have lived according to the “rule of obedience” and managed their households well.
you charged the women to perform all their duties with a blameless, reverent, and pure conscience, cherishing their own husbands, as is right; and you taught them to abide by the rule of obedience, and to manage the affairs of their household with dignity and all discretion.
1Clem. 2:1 Moreover, you were all humble and free from arrogance, submitting rather than demanding submission, more glad to give than to receive, and content with the provisions that God supplies. And giving heed to his words, you stored them up diligently in your hearts, and kept his sufferings before your eyes. 2 Thus a profound and rich peace was given to all, together with an insatiable desire to do good, and an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit fell upon everyone as well. 3 Being full of holy counsel, with excellent zeal and a devout confidence you stretched out your hands to almighty God, imploring him to be merciful if you had inadvertently committed any sin. 4 You struggled day and night on behalf of all the family of believers, that through fear and conscientiousness the number of his elect might be saved. 5 You were sincere and innocent and free from malice one toward another. 6 Every faction and every schism was abominable to you. You mourned for the transgressions of your neighbors: you considered their shortcomings to be your own. 7 You never once regretted doing good, but were ready for every good work. 8 Being adorned with a virtuous and honorable manner of life, you performed all your duties in the fear of him. The commandments and the ordinances of the Lord were written on the tablets of your hearts.
Boom! They were blessed and out of their blessings and fatness came “jealousy and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and anarchy, war and captivity” (3:2).
1Clem. 3:1 All glory and growth were given to you, and then that which is written was fulfilled: “My beloved ate and drank and was enlarged and grew fat and kicked.” 2 From this came jealousy and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and anarchy, war and captivity.
The language Clement uses next draws on the social status of people:
3 So people were stirred up: those without honor against the honored, those of no repute against the highly reputed, the foolish against the wise, the young against the old.
Disrespect for status, which is understood positively by Clement, leads to distance from “righteousness and peace” (3:4). It’s prompting blindness and an inability to walk according to the ways of Jesus. The fundamental sin at work for him is jealousy generating schisms.
4 For this reason righteousness and peace stand at a distance, while each one has abandoned the fear of God and become nearly blind with respect to faith in him, neither walking according to the laws of his commandments nor living in accordance with his duty toward Christ. Instead, all follow the lusts of their evil heart, inasmuch as they have assumed that attitude of unrighteous and ungodly jealousy through which, in fact, death entered into the world.