Repentance In The Patristics

Repentance In The Patristics October 19, 2018

In our series on the patristic writings, we return to 2 Clement 8-9. Our series uses for its text Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers.

What’s 2 Clement about? It’s an exhortation to faithfulness to the way of Christ in the face of threats like gnosticism, false teachers and rebellion against leaders. I reads like a sermon, and our passage today is about repentance.

He begins with the problem of time: it is time now to repent because once the time is up there’s no longer a chance to repent. Repentance and salvation are integrated (8:2). While post mortem opportunities are found at times in the history of the church, and has become popular among some progressives today, Clement is not with them (8:3). Notice in 8:4 that there is no salvation without transformation, and his concern here is the “flesh.”

2Clem. 8:1    So, then, while we are yet on earth, let us repent.  2 For we are clay in the craftsman’s hand. For example: while a potter is making a vessel, if it becomes misshapen or breaks in his hands, he simply reshapes it; but if he has already put it into the kiln, he is no longer able to repair it. So it is with us: as long as we are in this world, let us repent with our whole heart of the evil things that we have done in the flesh, in order that we may be saved by the Lord while we still have time for repentance.  3 For after we have left the world, we are no longer able there either to confess or to repent any more.  4 So, brothers and sisters, if we have done the will of the Father and have kept the flesh pure and have observed the commandments of the Lord, we will receive eternal life.  5 For the Lord says in the Gospel: “If you did not guard something small, who will give you something great? For I say to you, whoever is faithful with very little is also faithful with much.”  6 Now what he means is this: keep the flesh pure and the seal unstained, in order that we may receive life.

The Flesh is an issue in the early church, due mostly to forms of Platonism and Neo Platonism and dualism and valuing soul/spirit over body/flesh. If one is saved while in the state of flesh, one will be resurrection similarly. This is a doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, and here flesh is bodily existence not unredeemed flesh as is found in Pauline theology.

2Clem. 9:1    And let none of you say that this flesh is not judged and does not rise again.  2 Think about this: In what state were you saved? In what state did you recover your sight, if it was not while you were in this flesh?  3 We must, therefore, guard the flesh as a temple of God.  4 For just as you were called in the flesh, so you will come in the flesh.  5 If Christ, the Lord who saved us, became flesh (even though he was originally spirit) and in that state called us, so also we will receive our reward in this flesh. 

Back to repentance: here transformation is reduced to love. Time to repent.

6 Therefore let us love one another, so that we all may enter into the kingdom of God.  7 While we still have time to be healed, let us place ourselves in the hands of God the physician, and pay him what is due.  8 What is that? Sincere, heartfelt repentance.  9 For he is the one who knows everything beforehand, and knows what is in our heart.  10 Therefore let us give him eternal praise, not from the mouth only but also from the heart, in order that he may welcome us as sons and daughters.

Unlike the gracist teachers of our day, 2 Clement connects final redemption with behavior.

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