« PreviousContinue »
The traditional account of the early Church of Rome affords a remarkable instance of this confusion. The first Primacy is assigned to Peter, though a careful examination of all the evidence relating to this question renders it doubtful that he ever visited Rome; perhaps we may put it more positively, and say, that a careful examination of all the evidence, establishes, almost beyond a doubt, that he never did visit Rome. But after him, who next? Here confusion begins, and some four names are arranged in almost every possible order. Here are examples-Peter, Clement, Linus, Cletus, Anacletus-Peter, Linus, Clement, Cletus, Anacletus,Peter, Linus, Cletus, Anacletus, Clement-while Rufinus, in his preface to the Clementine Recognitions, intimates that Linus and Cletus were bishops of Rome during the lifetime of Peter, and that they died before him; that Clement was ordained by Peter himself, and at the decease of the Apostle succeeded to the Primacy in Rome. Epiphanius supposes that Clement, being bishop, resigned his office for awhile, and then resumed his duties again; and that, during his retirement, Linus and Cletus successively managed the affairs of the Episcopate. In these far-back ages Apostolic succession and Episcopacy are attenuated and shadowy. There is so much confusion in the modes adopted to connect a subsequent Episcopacy with the Apostolic, that ingenuous and candid minds have little difficulty in concluding that Episcopacy and Apostolic succession originated in a later ecclesiasticism, and were transferred to the earlier period for the sake of obtaining countenance and sanction. Respecting Clement this much is certain, that he was a member of the Christian community in Rome-that he occupied a leading place in the councils and activities of that community, ranking with its foremost presbyters, and that he conducted the intercourse between that community and the believers in Corinthbeyond this, all respecting his ecclesiastical dignity and position is traditionary and uncertain.
The time and manner of Clement's death are involved in an obscurity as great as that which surrounds his birth and churchstanding. Comparatively recent tradition declares him a martyr. It is possible he may have suffered death for the sake of Christ; but a fifth century tradition can hardly be accepted as satisfactory, when Irenæus, Eusebius, and other earlier writers who refer to Clement appear to know nothing of his martyrdom.
The name of Clement is associated with several writings, as for instance, the Recognitions, the Homilies, the Epitomes, the Apostolical Constitutions, two Epistles to the Corinthians, and the Epistles to the Virgins. With the exception of the first of the Epistles to the Church of Corinth, none of these writings are now considered to be a genuine production of Clement, and even this is not allowed to pass unchallenged. The Recognitions form a sort
of philosophical and theological romance, in which the founder of Christianity and his disciples are introduced as the expounders of certain religious opinions which the writer held and was desirous to propagate. The book probably belongs to the early part of the third century. The Homilies are closely related to the Recognitions, so closely, indeed, that some critics consider them but a variation of the same work. The Epistles to the Virgins were discovered by Wettstein in the first half of the eighteenth century, and published by him in 1752. He regarded them as genuine Clementine productions, founding his opinion upon references to these Epistles which he fancied he detected in early Church writers; and also upon what he considered a similarity in style and sentiment to the acknowledged epistle of Clement. However, it has been shown that the references upon which Wettstein depended are all doubtful; and that instead of bearing the stylic impress of Clement, the whole cast of thought manifest in these Epistles, as well as the morals and practices they develop, point conclusively to a later period. They, perhaps, belong to the latter part of the second century.
In the year 1628, Cyril Lucar, at that time Patriarch of Constantinople, presented to Charles I., of England, a manuscript copy of the Old and New Testaments. This manuscript, which ranks among the most ancient and valuable copies of Scripture, is known as the Codex Alexandrinus. It is written upon thin vellum, and deposited in the British Museum. When this manuscript came to be examined in England, it was found to contain the two letters purporting to have been written by Clement, of Rome, to the Church of Corinth. Up to this time, all that was known respecting these writings of Clement was gathered from references made to them by ancient Christian authors. The fortunate discovery made at the end of the Alexandrian manuscript, placed in the hands of Western scholars copies of the writings themselves. The second of these epistles is a mere fragment, and is now generally considered spurious. The earliest Christian writers knew but one epistle of Clement. Eusebius is about the first who speaks of a second letter, and he does it with considerable hesitation. Still it seems, through some cause or other, the notion of its genuineness rapidly gained ground, so that it was even read in Christian assemblies; and, in the fifth century, was, along with the first epistle appended to the sacred writings by the Alexandrian copyists, by which means it has been preserved to our times. It lacks ancient external testimony; it does not agree in style and dogma with the first epistle; and it is obviously unsuited to the Clementine age. For these and other reasons it is now relegated to a later age.
The first epistle is generally considered to be a genuine Clemen
tine production, though, from its first publication, some have held undecided views, and others have rejected it altogether. The principal grounds of objection amount to some three or four. There is no claim advanced in the epistle itself determining it to be Clement's; and, in the absence of such claim, its Clementine origin must be considered doubtful. Over against this want of direct testimony in the epistle itself, we may place the united testimony of all the early Church fathers who make any reference to it. With an unvarying unanimity, from Polycarp onwards, they attribute it to Clement. There is no document outside the circle of the canonical writings, the alleged authorship of which is sustained by testimonies so ancient and numerous; and this unanimous testimony, reaching up almost to the time when the epistle was written, cannot be set aside merely because the author does not give his own name, or state his own claims. It is further alleged that this epistle contains references to the pastor of Hermas, and that as the shepherd belongs to the post-apostolic age, by consequence the epistle to the Church of Corinth must have been written at a later period than that in which Clement lived. To this it may be answered, that the pastor of Hermas is uncertain. It obtains an early mention among the fathers; it was held in high repute, and publicly read in Christian assemblies, and was even quoted as of Divine authority by Irenæus; but its date cannot be definitely fixed, conjecture ranging somewhat freely over a period of fifty years. This uncertainty of date deprives the objection of much of its force. The references themselves are also open to dispute. The only one of any real importance in the controversy occurs in chap. 23; and it seems more likely that the passage is a fusion of different Scripture texts, than a quotation from any uninspired book. It is also alleged that the epistle itself furnishes evidence that it belongs to a later age than the Clementine. In chap. xlvii. the Corinthian Church is styled an "Ancient Church;" and in chap. xliv. reference is made to the ordination of Presbyters by the Apostles, and subsequently by other eminent men, and it is affirmed that these forms of expression are incompatible with an authorship so early as the time of Clement. But phrases like these cannot be regarded as settling the question. Ancient, as applied to the Church of Corinth, may mean no more, and obviously does mean no more, than that the Christian community in Corinth was among the oldest in Europe. Its age was considered in relation to the age of other and neighbouring churches, and as it had existed as long as any, and longer than the greater part of them, it was not at all inapposite to call it ancient. The reference to ordination is of no force whatever. The epistle simply states that the Apostles had ordained Presbyters, and that subsequently ordination had been administered
by other eminent men; certainly all this is compatible enough with an authorship placed in the last decade of the first century, or even with an authorship placed two or three decades earlier. This chapter is indeed perfectly consistent with what happened while the Apostles lived, and cannot be regarded as requiring the lapse of considerable time for its explanation. It is furthermore affirmed that the epistle supposes the existence of hierarchial institutions in a form that was only developed some time after the Apostolic age. The epistle itself is the best answer to this objection, for there is no stronger evidence of its antiquity than the absence of that hierarchial ecclesiasticism subsequently established in Christendom. The order and discipline it develops, places it in more intimate connection with the Apostolic age than any other patristic writing can be placed. These are the most formidable objections that can be advanced against the genuineness of this epistle, and a careful examination deprives them of all force. The epistle has been preserved to us in a tolerably perfect form, though many slight gaps occur in it, and towards the close a whole leaf is supposed to be wanting. These gaps, however, seldom extend beyond a word, or a syllable, and can easily be filled up; and the want of the supposed lost leaf does not seriously impair the epistle, or diminish its value. The Christian Church in her conflict with Rationalism, and with a bolder unbelief, possesess in this letter a weapon of no ordinary worth.
The date of the epistle cannot be exactly fixed. From chap. i. we learn that it was written shortly after a severe and somewhat general persecution. The choice lies between two dates-a date immediately following the persecution under Nero, or a date closely subsequent to the persecution under Domitian. The first date would fall about the year 68; the second date about thirty years later. The results of modern inquiry preponderate in favour of the later date.
The epistle seems to have been occasioned by a dispute in the Church of Corinth, arising out of the opposition offered by certain individuals to the Presbyters. These persons, acting in a factious and partisan spirit, had introduced disorder into the community, and succeeded in developing so powerful a disaffection that the Presbyters who had faithfully discharged their obligations, and whose lives were unimpeachable, were deposed from office. The adjustment of this disordered state of things was the main aim of the letter. The view that the strife was but the reproduction, under another form and in relation to other persons, of the divisons rebuked by Paul in his epistles to the Corinthians cannot be sustained; for between those earlier divisions and these which rent the community in his day, Clement, in chap. 47, draws an obvious distinction; remarking, that however unbecoming and deplorable were
those rebuked by Paul, these latter were much more disgraceful, and likelier to inflict serious injury upon the Christian cause. the opening chapters he refers to the previous state of the Corinthian Church, which state he highly praises. He contrasts their previous praiseworthy state with their present divided and deplorable condition, and traces this sad consequence to envy and uncharitable feeling. He then refers to the effects developed by these states of mind in past ages in the cases of Cain, Joseph, Moses and others; and, in more recent times, in the cases of many Christian martyrs. Repentance is then enforced, and numerous examples from past ages are introduced, illustrative of its acceptableness to God, and value to man. Then follows a digression on the resurrection; and immediately after, holiness and peace are enforced by a consideration of the Divine perfection, and the relation in which we stand to God through Christ. Then succeeds a series of chapters on Church constitution and discipline, and upon this ground, viz., the true idea and order of the Church, Clement rebukes their strife and exhorts them to peace and brotherhood. Then follows the conclusion, in which he expresses his desire that the benediction of God may richly descend upon the believers in Corinth, and upon all believers, and ventures a hope that he may, through the messengers who convey this epistle, hear that all dispute is amicably adjusted, and peace established among them.
The aim of the epistle, as we have seen, is eminently practical; but, like every other practical Christian aim, it has a dogmatic basis. Christian practice has both its foundation and justification in Christian doctrine. Christian faith and Christian love are the operative principles in Christian life. Hence this letter, written with practical aim, is of very considerable doctrinal importance. We need not expect any definite and formal statement of doctrine, for in this document, as in others of about the same age, doctrine is not logically reasoned, but simply stated as what was commonly received, and is introduced, not so much for its own sake as to justify, as well as give point and force to practical exhortation. Occasion had not arisen for a philosophical discussion of doctrine, the need of scientific and exact formula had not yet been felt. Nevertheless, these early leaders of Christian thought held definite views, and were perfectly aware of the significance and importance of what they taught. In support of this statement, it is sufficient to mention the practical antagonism in which they stood to heathenism and Judaism. Though the necessity for theological speculation, as manifested in the intellectual activity which afterwards produced scientifically formulated statements of Christian truth, had not then arisen it was necessary that these early Church teachers should be perfectly aware of the nature of the facts upon which their faith rested, and the dogma which these