In our series on the patristic writings, we return to 2 Clement, today’s post covering chapters 16-20. 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 in 12-15), and then to a third and final call to repentance — and then Clement closes the exhortation.
Final salvation and repentance are tied to one another.
2Clem. 16:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, inasmuch as we have received no small opportunity to repent, let us, while we still have time, turn again to God who has called us, while we still have one who accepts us. 2 For if we renounce these pleasures and conquer our soul by refusing to fulfill its evil desires, we will share in Jesus’ mercy. 3 But you know that the day of judgment is already coming as a blazing furnace, and some of the heavens will dissolve, and the whole earth will be like lead melting in a fire, and then everyone’s works, the secret and the public, will be revealed.
In early Christian and Jewish fashion, charity/almsgiving is an alternative/parallel/corollary to repentance and sacrifice. Alms, fasting, repentance — these are love for the author of 2 Clement. For a really fine study of this, see David Downs, Alms.
4 Charitable giving, therefore, is good, as is repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, while charitable giving is better than both, and love covers a multitude of sins, while prayer arising from a good conscience delivers one from death. Blessed is everyone who is found full of these, for charitable giving relieves the burden of sin.
To repent from the sins of rebellion includes exhorting others to turn from that way, too.
2Clem. 17:1 Let us repent, therefore, with our whole heart, lest any of us should perish needlessly. For if we have orders that we should make it our business to tear men away from idols and to instruct them, how much more wrong is it that a soul that already knows God should perish? 2 Therefore let us help one another to restore those who are weak with respect to goodness, so that we may all be saved, and let us admonish and turn back one another. 3 And let us think about paying attention and believing not only now, while we are being admonished by the elders; but let us also remember the Lord’s commands when we have returned home and not allow ourselves to be dragged off the other way by worldly desires.
Where is the “here” in what follows? Church gatherings?
Let us come here more frequently and strive to advance in the commandments of the Lord, in order that all of us, being of one mind, may be gathered together into life.
The final judgment is absolutely central to this author’s concept of repentance. God is judge. Live now to survive divine scrutiny.
4 For the Lord said, “I am coming to gather together all the nations, tribes, and languages.” Now by this he means the day of his appearing, when he will come and redeem each of us according to our deeds. 5 And the unbelievers will see his glory and might, and they will be astonished when they see that the kingdom of the world belongs to Jesus, saying, “Woe to us, because it was you, and we did not realize it, nor did we believe; and we did not obey the elders when they spoke to us about our salvation.” And their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be a spectacle for all flesh. 6 He refers to that day of judgment, when people will see those among us who have lived ungodly lives and perverted the commandments of Jesus Christ. 7 But the righteous, having done well and endured torments and hated the pleasures of the soul, when they see how those who have gone astray and denied Jesus by their words or by their actions are being punished with dreadful torments in unquenchable fire, will give glory to their God as they say, “There will be hope for the one who has served God fully from the heart.”
2Clem. 18:1 Therefore let us too be among those who give thanks, that is, those who have served God, and not among the ungodly who are judged. 2 For I myself am utterly sinful and have not yet escaped from temptation; but even though I am surrounded by the tools of the devil, I make every effort to pursue righteousness, so that I may succeed in at least getting close to it, because I fear the coming judgment.
2Clem. 19:1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, following the God of truth I am reading you an exhortation to pay attention to what is written, in order that you may save both yourselves and your reader. As compensation I ask that you repent with your whole heart, thereby giving salvation and life to yourselves. For by doing this we will set a goal for all the young people who desire to devote themselves to piety and the goodness of God.
A long letter of exhortation, a call to repentance, means having to listen to someone telling you to repent. He jumps ahead of criticism to say…
2 Moreover, let us not be displeased or indignant, unwise as we are, when someone admonishes us and tries to turn us away from unrighteousness to righteousness. For there are times when we do evil things without realizing it because of the double-mindedness and faithlessness that exist within us, and our understanding is darkened by empty desires. 3 Let us, therefore, practice righteousness, so that we may be saved in the end. Blessed are those who obey these injunctions; though they may endure affliction for a little while in the world, they will gather the immortal fruit of the resurrection. 4 So, then, godly persons should not be grieved if they are miserable at the present time; a time of blessedness awaits them. They will live again with the fathers above and will rejoice in an eternity untouched by sorrow.
Don’t worry about those who are successful now, he reminds them, and don’t equate redemption with it and don’t devalue suffering. We are in a battle, a “contest.”
2Clem. 20:1 But do not let it trouble your mind that we see the unrighteous possessing wealth while the servants of God experience hardships. 2 Let us have faith, brothers and sisters! We are competing in the contest of a living God, and are being trained by the present life in order that we may be crowned in the life to come. 3 None of the righteous ever received his reward quickly, but waits for it. 4 For if God paid the wages of the righteous immediately, we would soon be engaged in business, not godliness; though we would appear to be righteous, we would in fact be pursuing not piety but profit. And this is why the divine judgment punishes a spirit that is not righteous, and loads it with chains.
2Clem. 20:5 To the only God, invisible, the Father of truth, who sent to us the Savior and Founder of immortality, through whom he also revealed to us the truth and the heavenly life, to him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.