In our series on the patristic writings, we return to 2 Clement, today’s post covering chapters 12-15. 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. It reads like a sermon, and it is relentlessly a call to Christian behavior.
After his first summons to repentance in chps 8-11, we turn to kingdom repentance (his second summons to repent). Here kingdom is entirely future, or at least it appears to be in the future, and it is ushered in at “the day of God’s appearing” (12.1).
2Clem. 12:1 Let us wait, therefore, hour by hour for the kingdom of God with love and righteousness, since we do not know the day of God’s appearing.
What to make of how Clement explains the future kingdom? Is this from Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of the Egyptians? Total transformation is the big idea, and that means sex-lessness or the total absence of sexual temptation, and it means bodily existence is controlled by soul-ed existence.
2 For the Lord himself, when he was asked by someone when his kingdom was going to come, said: “When the two shall be one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” 3 Now “the two are one” when we speak the truth among ourselves and there is one soul in two bodies without deception. 4 And by “the outside like the inside” he means this: “the inside” signifies the soul, while “the outside” signifies the body. Therefore just as your body is visible, so also let your soul be evident in good works. 5 And by “the male with the female, neither male nor female” he means this: that when a brother sees a sister, he should not think of her as female, nor should she think of him as male. 6 When you do these things, he says, the kingdom of my Father will come.
Since that is not now, it’s time to repent.
2Clem. 13:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us repent immediately. Let us be clear-headed regarding the good, for we are full of much stupidity and wickedness. Let us wipe off from ourselves our former sins and be saved, repenting from the very souls of our being. And let us not seek to please humans, nor let us desire to please only ourselves with our righteousness, but also those who are outsiders, so that the Name may not be blasphemed on our account.
What the world thinks of Christians matters to Clement, and what he says is that when words don’t match deeds or when deeds don’t match words, the words are undone by the evil deeds.
2 For the Lord says, “My name is continually blasphemed among all the nations,” and again, “Woe to him on whose account my name is blasphemed.” Why is it blasphemed? Because you do not do what I desire. 3 For when the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness. But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion. 4 For when they hear from us that God says, “It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but it is a credit to you if you love your enemies and those who hate you,” when they hear these things, they marvel at such extraordinary goodness. But when they see that we not only do not love those who hate us but do not even love those who love us, they scornfully laugh at us, and the Name is blasphemed.
2Clem. 14:1 So then, brothers and sisters, if we do the will of God our Father we will belong to the first church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and moon. But if we do not do the will of the Lord, we will belong to those of whom the scripture says, “My house has become a robbers’ den.” So let us choose, therefore, to belong to the church of life, in order that we may be saved.
The church is the body of Christ: Christ is the male, the church is the female. He develops his flesh-ecclesiology here.
2 Now I do not suppose that you are ignorant of the fact that the living church is the body of Christ, for the scripture says, “God created humankind male and female.” The male is Christ; the female is the church. Moreover, the books and the apostles declare that the church not only exists now but has been in existence from the beginning. For she was spiritual, as was also our Jesus, but was revealed in the last days in order that she might save us. 3 Now the church, being spiritual, was revealed in the flesh of Christ, thereby showing us that any of us who guard her in the flesh and do not corrupt her will receive her back again in the Holy Spirit. For this flesh is a copy of the Spirit. No one, therefore, who corrupts the copy will share in the original. This, therefore, is what he means, brothers and sisters: guard the flesh, in order that you may receive the Spirit. 4 Now if we say that the flesh is the church and the Spirit is Christ, then the one who abuses the flesh abuses the church. Consequently such a person will not receive the Spirit, which is Christ. 5 So great is the life and immortality that this flesh is able to receive, if the Holy Spirit is closely joined with it, so that no one is able to proclaim or to tell what things the Lord has prepared for his chosen ones.
He calls himself an “adviser” and calls them to live right.
2Clem. 15:1 Now I do not think that the advice I have given about self-control is unimportant; in fact, those who follow this advice will not regret it, but will save both themselves and me as their adviser. For it is no small reward to redirect an errant and perishing soul, so that it may be saved. 2 For this is the return that we are able to repay to God who created us: if the one who speaks and hears both speaks and hears with faith and love. 3 Let us, therefore, in righteousness and holiness remain true to the things we have believed, in order that we may boldly ask of God, who says, “While you are still speaking, I will say, ‘Behold, I am here.’?” 4 For this word is the sign of a great promise, for the Lord says that he is more ready to give than the one asking is to ask. 5 So then, since we share in such great kindness, let us not begrudge each other the gaining of such great blessings. For these words bring as much pleasure to those who do them as they bring condemnation to those who disobey.