Pope Clement the Presbyterian


On another thread there was some little discussion about 1 Clement, the epistle of the first century from Rome to Corinth, a church once again in a mess. Paul had gotten in the habit of writing them when there was a problem, and, Paul being gone, someone had to take up the slack.

This epistle has been offered recently as a proof-text for an early papacy.

Let’s look at the text.

For one thing, it is from the Church sojourning in Rome to that in Coirinth. Not from Pope Clement. He isn’t even mentioned. Not from the elders. Not pointing out, as later Roman churches would most certainly have, their dominance and supremacy and rights and sitting in the chair of Peter. I’m not sure that is even brought up in the epistle. It seems kind of humble and down-home in tone: one church helping another out, being neighborly, not bullying or swaggering over an inferior episcopate. Compare it sometime to the tone of some of the later papal documents.

For another thing, in discussing the derivation of the next generation of elders, they are presented “with the consent of the whole church” - not simple appointment.

Does the epistle suggest more of a papal or a Presbyterian governance? Let’s try to limit the thread to what 1 Clement says. Of course other material will creep in.


When considering the primacy of Peter, what Clement wrote supports that.

“Through envy and jealousy, the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the Church] have been persecuted and put to death. Let us set before our eyes the illustrious apostles. Peter, through unrighteous envy, endured not one or two, but numerous labours and when he had at length suffered martyrdom, departed to the place of glory due to him.” Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement, 5 (c. A.D. 96).


Here is the paragraph from Schatz’s Papal Primacy just before the one I quoted in the other thread:

The letter of Clement, then, is an admonitory letter from the Roman community to its sister church in Corinth, where the leaders of the community had been expelled in a kind of internal church revolution. In its content the letter is a unified instruction about order, humility, and subordination to those in office, and against the ambition and arrogance of some individuals, the latter being regarded as the worst of sins. The letter takes an authoritative tone throughout, even speaking in the name of God:

“But if some be disobedient to the words which have been spoken by him * through us [the Roman community!], let them know that they will entangle themselves in transgression and no little danger . . . you will give us joy and gladness, if you are obedient to the things which we have written through the Holy Spirit . . .”*


Since reference is made to multiple presbyters being expelled from their episcopate, I find it difficult to see the later monarchical episcopate of St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107) present in the Church of Corinth at the time St. Clement of Rome wrote his letter, let alone a fully-developed papacy. This would be consistent with Philippians 1:1, where multiple bishops at the Church of Philippi are mentioned. There is no indication that the Church of Rome at the time was governed any differently from the Church of Corinth. However, that doesn’t mean that those later developments (monarchical episcopate and papacy) were wrong.

With respect to the appointment of presbyters, the whole community may have selected worthy presbyter-candidates who were then ordained into the Apostolic Succession by the Apostles or presbyterium, like when the Jerusalem community presented the seven deacon-candidates to the Apostles for ordination in Acts 6. It makes sense to ordain someone from the community they will be serving, if possible.


Since reference is made to multiple presbyters being expelled from their episcopate, I find it difficult to see the later monarchical episcopate of St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107) present in the Church of Corinth at the time St. Clement of Rome wrote his letter,

**We need to remember that “primitive Christianity” is just that: PRIMITIVE.

Nobody wishes to see a return to primitive abdominal surgery. Why should primitive Christianity be any different–unless you take it as axiomatic that the Holy Spirit stopped guiding the Church into all truth.

If you really wanted to live as did the “primitive church and Christians” you would do the following (among other things):

• get rid of all church buildings.
• be ready to face martyrdom at the drop of a hat
• put your Bible up on the shelf and never look at it again, because you didn’t have it. (That leaves your only option to listen to your Bishop and Presbyteroi.)

Primitive Christianity, anyone?**


Truthstalker: But who heads the church of Rome? Moot.

…prelacy then was not an affair of dignity, but of provident care for the governed. - John Chrysostom commenting on Acts


Does it work equally the other way, i.e. with other churches writing letters to the church in Rome, admonishing it, and so forth.


Other churches also wrote letters. What is unique about the Roman church is that the letters to it contained no admonition but only praise.


That is correct. Also, note that the Corinthians went TO Rome (Clement chapt. 1) for counsel at a time when there were no living apostles there. The Apostle John was still alive at that time in Ephesus, which was much closer than Rome (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.4) yet they opted to consult Rome’s successors.

Also,St. Dionysius of Corinth verified continued submission to Rome in his letter to Pope Soter (ca 170 AD): *“Today, therefore, we have kept the holy Lord’s day, on which we have read your letter, which we shall always have to read and be admonished, even as the former letter which was written to us by the ministry of Clement.” *


This is both a fair and honest view of the epistle.
anyone seeing more in this epistle than what you’ve outlined is not being intellectually honest with themselves, bravo to you todd for taking the road less traveled in favor of historical accuracy.

FWIW Clements epistle is a weak tool in defense of the papacy in my opinion.


While there is little evidence in the 1st letter of St. Clement that it is authored by St. Clement, we do have the evidence from St. Dionysius of Corinth refered to by Marco that specifically states that the letter was from St. Clement, and we also have a list from St. Irenaeus stating that St. Clement was the bishop of Rome in a line of succession of monarchical bishops. This information is about 70 yo 80 years after Clement, but the source if trustworthy. St. Ireneaus was ordained in Rome and was in direct correspondence with Soter and then Victor after him (both bishops of Rome).

So for me, the question becomes, if Clement had no special authority to write this letter, and he was one out of many elders in the church of Rome, then how should we take this information from St. Irenaeus and Dyonisius? Why does Dyonisius specifically attribute the letter to Clement when discussing the matter with the unarguably monarchical bishop of Rome, Soter? Why does St. Irenaeus list only him when he lists the succession of the bishops of Rome up until his day? Why doesn’t St. Irenaeus mention the plurality of bishops in existence in Rome at the time?

God bless,


I agree with this to an extent. Taken by itself, it is challenging to see a “Papacy” in there. It is a great tool, however, when you view backwards and forwards in time from when the letter was written. The Petrine office seen in Scripture, and the stronger ECFs on Roman primacy following Clement’s letter makes more sense of it.


Mostly the epistle is used to demonstrate that Rome exercised authority in the early Church period. Clement makes “bold” statements such as those cited above and the Churches accept “Romes” authority.

Now as far as having more than one bishop/presbyter, I submit the letter does not specifically state that there is only a single elder in the Church of Rome, but there are many explanations as to why. There have been threads similar as well as various links such as:



Whether Clement was an auxiliary bishop speaking for Rome at the time or whether he was actually Pope doesn’t seem to be a matter of concern for Irenaeus or Dyonisius. I don’t see why a letter from Irenaeus would mention other bishops. Why would it? Also, Irenaeus mentions more than just Clement…I’m not sure what you mean.


Sorry if I was unclear. :slight_smile:

My point is Irenaeus does not mention any plurality of bishops in Rome when listing the succession of bishops of Rome. So for Irenaeus at least, Clement was the only bishop of Rome at that time. Clement was the only one whom he considered to be in the line of succession.

We also know that in Irenaeus’ time, the bishop of Rome was monarchical, which means if St. Clement was part of a group of presbyters with no special authority, there had to be a pretty big change in command structure within the 70 or 80 years between Clement and Victor, and also Soter. I find this unlikely since we have no record of this change.

My point about Dyonisius is that he specifically mentions St. Clement as the author of the 1st letter of Clement.

On another point, Ignatius of Antioch who was monarchical wrote most of his letters from Smyrna, where Polycarp was bishop. Polycarp forwarded copies of his letters to Phillipi, with only words of praise for their content. Polycarp also appeared in Rome before Soter concerning the Easter controversy, and he does not mention anything regarding a plurality of bishops in Rome.

God bless,


This is an interesting take. St. Clement, all recognize, wrote this letter. And he is speaking for “The Church sojourning in Rome”. That sounds like he speaks with a lot of authority.


Had John been to Corinth? Not to our knowledge. Paul had close friends there, and the lines of communication were with the Roman church rather than the Ephesian, as Paul had been to Rome and had written them before. You cannot prove a hierarchial recognition from this. The Romans may have presumed one from this, however.


If he wrote it, he went to pains to make sure his name did not appear. He did not say that he, the successor of Peter, infallibly declared anything or ordered them to do anything. Later popes would have totally ignored the church and spoken in their own name as the successor to Peter. Those papal concepts are utterly lacking from the epistle as far as I have been able to determine. You read a lot into it if you think he is speaking solely. You deny his own words by saying he, rather than the church, is speaking, and you deny his wishes by insisting on it, if he was the speaker. He was certainly in the background of the letter by not even naming himself.

The church was speaking, not Clement. Read the letter and take it on its own terms.


You could make the same claims about any of the Gospel authorships.


There are many places on earth where the church has no buildings, as in Saudi Arabia.

Do you not know that more Christians died for the name of Christ in the 20th century than in all other centuries, and Christians are being killed even as I write this? If one is not willing to suffer martyrdom at the drop of a hat one is not taking his cross and following Christ. You seem to advocate spiritual sloth. I pray that I would be worthy of being a martyr for Christ.

We, the church, had the revelation of Christ in the first century. We had the Holy Spirit. We had the Bible. It is a lie from the pit of hell that God needed the church to make known what He wrote. He, the Word, is big enough to make it clear to us what His word is through the Spirit, to the church.

I would rather live in the day of miracles than in the day of spiritual sloth. I would rather live among the martyrs, or die among them, than among many who mouth Christ but live like the devil. I would rather abandon all and have Christ, than have all except Him. He alone is sufficient.

I find your argument that the epistle was so primitive that there was no pope amusing. I think you need to think through what you posted.

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