Meaning of Pope Clement's Letter to Corinthians (Chapter 40)

Can someone please help break down the meaning of this paragraph from Pope Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, particularly the last two sentences?

Who is the high priest? Who are the priests? Devolve on the Levites? Laws that pertain to laymen?

Pope Clement’s Letter to Corinthians (Chapter 40)

These things therefore being manifest to us, and since we look into the depths of the divine knowledge, it behoves us to do all things in [their proper] order, which the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times. He has enjoined offerings [to be presented] and service to be performed [to Him], and that not thoughtlessly or irregularly, but at the appointed times and hours. Where and by whom He desires these things to be done, He Himself has fixed by His own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to His good pleasure, may be acceptable unto Him. Those, therefore, who present their offerings at the appointed times, are accepted and blessed; for inasmuch as they follow the laws of the Lord, they sin not. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen.

If you have time, here is Chapter 41 too:

Continuation of the Same Subject.

Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. You see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed.


The triggering event for Pope Clement’s letter to the Corinthians was the Corinthians’ expulsion of their bishop and priests. The Pope in these passages lays the groundwork for his directive that the laiety cannot expel or appoint priests and bishops.

Sounds to me like St. Clement is talking about the order of worship (the ordained ministries and the assigned place of worship) established by God for the Church (Israel) before Christ, as a prefigurement of the order of worship established for the Church by Christ.


Thanks for the response.

Ok, it’s a little confusing the way he talks about the “Church (Israel) before Christ” in the present tense.

Also, it’s still not clear how the order he describes, “offerings acceptable in Jerusalem only”, services of the “high priest” and what is prescribed to the “priests”, specifically translates into the order established by Christ. Why didn’t he explain or does he?

I don’t know if this will help but St. Clement seems to follow this general plan:

Old Covenant appointed offices (high priest, priests, Levites) are described in chapter 40 & 41.
New Covenant appointed offices (bishops, deacons) are described in chapter 42.

Old Covenant strife (the rebellion of Korah) over appointed offices is described in chapter 43.
New Covenant strife (the current rebellion of the Corinthians) over appointed offices is described in chapter 44.

You might want to read about the rebellion of Korah in the Book of Numbers (chapters 16-17) as background before reading chapter 43 of St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians.

Thanks Todd - This does help. I guess it is fairly straightforward when you read the next few chapters. I just thought I might be missing something.

How did the Corinthians respond to Pope Clement’s letter?
Did they obey his directive not to expel or appoint priests and bishops?

They obeyed him.

Well, I was actually curious if there are any other letters that talk about this? How did you come to this conclusion? Thanks!

Saint Clement’s epistles and many others are what we call “Sacred Tradition.” We know a great deal about what early Catholics did and believed because many early writers wrote about it.

Saint Ignatius and Saint Irenaeus are both good sources for this time frame.

Hi Scalco,

To follow up on what Vern said… The Epistle of St. Clement was read by churches across the Roman Empire, even in Egypt, and put into codices and collections. This includes Corinth and other Greek cities.

In Him,

Vern & Anthony,

I have read St. Clement’s letter and now I would like to read their “reply” or reaction. Are there any specific writings to show that Corinth obeyed or is it implied in other writings?


Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, wrote c. 170 to the Romans in Pope Soter’s time: “To-day we kept the holy day, the Lord’s day, and on it we read your letter- and we shall ever have it to give us instruction, even as the former one written through Clement”

Clearly, if the Corinthians were reading it some three generations after it was written, they didn’t reject it!!

This is exactly the kind of information I had been thinking about and I will read into it. This gives a fuller picture other than the letter alone. Thanks!

Yes, exactly … :thumbsup: Good Post … you beat me to it!

there is a good site to read early writers it is

opps! wrong adress try this one its right.

Interesting that the bishop of Corinth was receiving instruction from the bishop of Rome. It might seem to indicate that the word that came from Rome was taken quite seriously.

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