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The first Church Father that we’ll examine here in the Bell Tower Chapel is Pope St. Clement I of Rome. Of course with any person of antiquity, often what we know about the individual is pieced together from various sources, some of which may occur a generation or two after an individual has died.

Clement of Rome “Probably wrote in early 70,” as Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin wrote in his book The Father’s Know Best, and that “Various ancient sources place him as the first, second, or third successor of St. Peter. (Most commonly, he is held to be the third, after Linus and Cletus.) He was the author of a single surviving Letter to the Corinthians, which is often dated around 95 A.D,” but Akin believes “this is too late a date.[1]

Pope Benedict XVI gave several audiences on the topic of the Church Fathers and specifically on March 7th, 2007 he spoke on Clement of Rome in which he said, “St Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement “had seen the blessed Apostles,” Irenaeus had been conversant with them,” and “might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes” (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).[2]

A magnificent introduction to the Father that we’ll spend this evening getting to know more about. One point that we can take from Pope Benedict’s reference Irenaeus’ words is that the early Church viewed Clement of Rome with the utmost respect, as well as, because his relationship with the Apostles, Clement was viewed with a special authority in their community. Pope Benedict explains, “The authority and prestige of this Bishop of Rome were such that various writings were attributed to him.”[3] As we learn more tonight, let us keep that in mind when reviewing some of the content of his Letter to the Corinthians.
The letter from Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth, in which he didn’t sign, is also called by scholars The First Epistle of Clement to Corinthians. The reason that we know today who authored this letter is from various sources in the 2nd century A.D. who attributed him to the work. The letter written by Clement is a response to an uprising of young Christians who sought to remove and replace established leaders in the church of Corinth in response to the Roman persecutions under Emperor Domitian.[4] At this point, in regards to the historical record, we find a disagreement between Mr. Akin and Pope Benedict. As mentioned before, Akin believes that the Letter to the Corinthians’ dating at 95 A.D. is too late. He mentions in his book, “William Jurgens (American Catholic historian) points to internal evidence that places it no later than 80 or so (the date he favors) and possibly up to ten years earlier. John A. T. Robinson (New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop) shows internal evidence that places it in the first part of the year 70. Specifically, Clement refers to sacrifices still being offered at the temple in Jerusalem, which was destroyed in July of 70. Clement also refers to the repeated crises that have prevented him from writing to the Corinthians until now, which is a likely reference to the violent “year of four emperors” in 69.[5]

Pope Benedict writes that the “These “calamitous events” can be identified with Domitian’s persecution: therefore, the Letter must have been written just after the Emperor’s death and at the end of the persecution, that is, immediately after the year 96.”[6]

Who’s right? Well to be fair, Pope Benedict doesn’t present any evidence with his assertion, this makes Akin’s point appear more convincing. However, Pope Benedict’s view is the historical consensus as conceded by Akin.

I say it’s fair game to speculate a bit. If you’re still reading up to this point, you may have mentally asked yourself, “Does twenty years matter with dating?” If the dating by scholars to 95 A.D. continues to hold true, this letter could be one of the first historically documented records of the doctrine of Petrine Primacy prior to its more solid conception under Pope Leo the Great. In this regard, we see a reversal of Galatians 2 where the successor of Peter corrects and takes “it upon himself to speak to the members of a Church founded by the Apostle Paul…that they needed to restore the properly authorized leaders of the church.”[1]

[1] D’Ambrosio, 7.

[1] Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 56.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2008), 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers (Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 5.

[5] Akin, 57.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, 8.

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