Full First Clement

That was a real pleasure. I’ve posted a page with the complete text of my translation on my website Bombaxo, here. For now, the text is identical to the serial installments I’ve posted here on the blog. Eventually I’ll break it down into paragraphs, changing the numbering to something less obtrusive, and insert the references and maybe a very few notes. I’ll also write a short introduction at some point. Right now I want to keep the translation momentum going.

For those who are too busy to read that very long letter, here’s the scoop. The Roman church was requested to intervene by some people in the Corinthian church. It took some time for the Roman church to respond, because there was an intervening period of persecution. This letter is the response. The situation in Corinth appears to be that some innovating younger men who were probably good talkers managed to convince the church that they should be running things at Corinth instead of the elders who succeeded those appointed by the apostles. These young men apparently had very high opinions of themselves. In this letter, constant reference is made to “humble-mindedness” (ταπεινοφροσυνη), the character trait that the author particularly wants these young men to attain. Even so, however, the author suggests the solution is for the young men to leave the Corinthian church for other churches, where they would (supposedly) be welcome, and, it is inferred, without the support base that made them such a problem in the first place, Corinth being apparently prone to factionalism, as was historically known from even the Paul/Kephas/Apollos factions mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, referenced even by the author here. One of the most striking things about this reference is that when the author tells the Corinthians to “take up Paul’s letter,” he is referring, of course, to the original letter itself, not to one of the copies. Wow. This letter, 1 Clement, was apparently successful, as we don’t hear any more about factionalism in the Corinthian church. It seems they’d learned their lesson.

The timing of the letter is an interesting subject. Although I’d always remained an agnostic on whether the letter was written sometime before 70 AD or around 96 AD, I am no longer. Throughout the letter, there is a logical consistency in the usage of verb tenses, quite modern, probably in keeping with a Roman familiarity with the usage of tenses in classical Latin (comparing, say, Caesar or Cicero with Tertullian or Jerome and you’ll see the difference; the latter were affected by the somewhat looser particularity of tenses represented in Greek as opposed to Latin, which English usage follows to a large degree, as well). This aspect plays a role in understanding the timing of the letter when, in 41.2, sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple are described in the present tense. This is really the clincher, rather than being equivocal, as the references to “elders” in both Corinth and Rome are, and the reference late in the letter, at 63.3, describing some who’d been believer “from youth to old age” — “old age” being relative, the period covered by such aging could be a mere twenty to thirty years. Very importantly, while we do know about a very intense persecution of Christians in Rome during Nero’s reign, we’re finding that there isn’t much evidence at all for persecution of Christians in Rome or abroad during the reign of Domitian. It is a general persecution of Christians in Rome during the reign of Domitian which has been the lynchpin for a late date for First Clement. Anyhow, I seem to be in quite good company in preferring the earlier date. As Mike Aquilina noted, the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is of the same opinion (see particularly note 27), as was John A. T. Robinson.

Why is the letter associated with Clement, who is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4.3), written sometime during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome in 60-62 (see here on the dates)? The answer is, as a Jewish man famously sang, “Tradition!”


  1. I just got through reading Michael Holmes’ translation of First Clement for the second time, and as I was reading through your translation these differences caught my attention.

    You translate: “And our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife about the name of the office of bishop.” (44:1)

    Dr. Holmes translates: “Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office.” (44:1)

    You translate: “So, for this reason, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed the aforementioned, and afterward set a rule, that whenever they may have fallen asleep, other approved men would receive their ministry.” (44:2)

    Dr. Holmes: “For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the officials appointed earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.” (44:2)

    You translate: “Therefore, those having been appointed by them, or afterward by other reputable men, are approved by the whole Church.” (44:3)

    Dr. Holmes translates: “Those, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well spoken of by all – these men we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry.” (44:3)

    Isn’t Dr. Holmes translation of verse two as “afterwards [the Apostles] gave the offices a permanent character” much stronger? There is also a potential significant difference of interpretation when one reads Dr. Holmes’ translation of verse three (“with the consent of the whole church”) as opposed to yours (“are approved by the whole church”). As for verse one, doesn’t Dr. Holmes just make more sense?

  2. Thanks for the comments. Most of the differences you mention are easily explained as due to translational style choices, not really to any textual differences. I tried to avoid interpolations that would clarify the sense; it seems Holmes didn’t.

    In 44.1, the text I have (the Lightfoot/old Loeb included in BibleWorks 7) clearly includes the “name of” (οτι ερις εσται επι του ονοματος της επισκοπης), while Holmes didn’t include it for whatever reason. It’s obviously kind of an obscure sentence, but I think that looking at “name” as “reputation” may clarify it a bit, “that there would be strife over the reputation of the episcopate” perhaps. But, since it’s unclear, I chose to maintain, honestly, the ambiguity of the original.

    In 44.2, yes, Holmes’ rendition of “afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character” is much stronger, but it’s not in the text, which reads: και μεταξυ επινομην δεδωκασιν. He reads επιμονην, which was only a suggested emendation by Lightfoot. I habitually eschew emendations, preferring textual support, which επινομην clearly has and which επιμονην has not.

    The 44.3 difference is simply one of translational style, in how to deal with the phrase συνευδοκησασης της εκκλησιας πασης. I chose to preserve the verbal representation, while Holmes rendered this aorist participle as a noun. The phrase is, quite literally, “the whole church having approved,” but that’s a little odd in English at that point in the sentence. I don’t really see the potential significant difference you mention. Could you perhaps elaborate?

    I hope that helps. Thanks for writing.

  3. In my experience, there is a lot of strife everywhere over the name of offices. Many people want to say, “I’m the head of such and such committee!” or “I’m the president!” but not do the work associated with it. They just want the name, and to hear people calling them by it. In fact, some want the name even more than the power.

    So it doesn’t seem all that strange to me. 🙂

  4. Your response was very helpful. Regarding the potential (significant) difference of interpretation, I’m referring to 44:3 which you translate as, “Therefore, those having been appointed by them, or afterward by other reputable men, are approved by the whole Church.” To me this means that the bishops ordain new bishops with the rest of the Church passively acknowledging this. Like today, if the pope ordains a new bishop we passively acknowledge him.

    Dr. Holmes translates, and this may just be his Baptist biases, “Those, therefore, who were appointed by them or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well spoken of by all – these men we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry.” This indicates to me that bishops (“other reputable men”) appointed other bishops “with the consent of the whole church”. The role of “the whole church” is active.

  5. Maureen, I think you may be right about that. After all, the issue is that some young men took over the office illegitimately, presumably desiring the name/title of bishop. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

  6. St_Pio, Thanks, yes, I see what you mean now. The phrase is somewhat ambiguous. As I noted before, it’s sort of a situationally general statement: “(with/by) the whole Church having approved.” The case is genitive for both the “reputable men” phrase and the “Church’s approval” phrase, which might indicate the latter is subordinate to the former, but I think not. A more likely choice would have been a passive participle linking it to the “reputable men.” That’s why I preferred the rendering I gave.

    But I don’t want to imply that this approval of the Church is a passive process. In its context, that approval is explicitly tied to the actions of the appointments, making the legitimate chain of the appointers/appointees equivalent to the “approval of the whole Church.” It is certainly the case that other bishops/appointees are doing the appointing of new bishops/appointees. I don’t know how to make that more explicit, though, in the translation. I want to keep this more of a literal translation than a commentary. But if I do add commentary later, I’ll certainly keep your excellent points in mind to make sure that this passage is clear. Thanks again for such a close reading. I really do appreciate it.

  7. Thanks for the explanation! What series of the Early Church Fathers would you recommend for studying?

  8. You’re very welcome!

    These days, I think the best series of translations are coming from Paulist Press with their Ancient Christian Writers series (though a number of these are quite old translations and somewhat stilted in language to a modern ear, the notes are very helpful, and their selection is wide and varied), Catholic University of America (go here select “The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Patristic Series)” and click submit to get the full list; these are all quite new and excellent, usually well-annotated), Cistercian Publications (look through their various subject categories, where all the Patristic titles are scattered; their translations are generally just translations, with very few notes), and the Popular Patristics volumes from a href=”http://www.svspress.com/”>St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (also just translations, but very good and fresh ones, and of a perfect size to slip into a pocket!).

    For books about Patristic subjects, I’d recommend John Chryssavgis’ The Way of the Fathers (there’s a new edition out, but I’ll have to find that link for you later). Also, Mike Aquilina, a friend of this blog, has a number books available and linked to on his site. He’s a very nice guy, and I’m sure he’ll have some great recommendations for you if you ask him.

    First and foremost, though, just read the Fathers. Read them, then read them again, and then read them again. This is the best way to learn about any subject, of course, but it is especially important in this case. The Fathers (and Mothers) of the Church all wrote as part of a community, not solely as individual shining stars of intellect (which many of them certainly are), but as parts of the constellation of stars which makes up the Body of Christ, the Church. That communal, as opposed to individual, approach is something you must keep in mind in approaching them. Constant reference to the Apostles, Scriptures, and Tradition are all a part of that approach. With that in mind, understanding that they are writing as part of a Tradition, you’ll be able to understand them all better, as individual voices in the choir, so to speak. Some may be a little off (none of the Fathers is a perfect voice for the Church; only the God-inspired Scriptures possess this quality), but none is singing solo.


  9. Do the Ancient Christian Writers series and The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation series publish the same works from the same Fathers?

  10. I’m not sure, since I’ve never sat down to actually compare the lists, though that sounds like a helpful thing to do. I think the ACW series has existed for a longer time, so they have more titles. I really wouldn’t be surprised if there was some little bit of overlap, but it’s not obvious, if there is some.

  11. There is some overlap. Certain titles are necessary in any series that’s representative of Christian antiquity. But there is enough difference in the editions to make the “duplication” very useful. I have both series. My wife bought me one set for my birthday one very happy year, and I am holding the other set in trust for a friend. ACW’s notes and introductions are, in most instances, superior to CUA’s, which is not to say that CUA’s are bad. CUA’s books look dignified, inside and out, and are well bound. Some of the ACW volumes, on the other hand, have 1970s written all over their spines. If I had a lava lamp, I’d keep it burning before them.

  12. How can we say it’s been written before 70AD, when St Clement did not become Pope until after 70AD ?

  13. Well, just think about even our own days. Did the current Pope Benedict XVI write nothing before his election?

    That’s usually what people think is the case here, that Clement wrote not as a bishop, but perhaps as presbyter or even deacon, as it was so much earlier in his career and life. Aside from this, he’s writing not in his own name, but in the name of the Church at Rome, and his name is nowhere mentioned in the letter itself, though it is universally held that he wrote it. Had he been the chief bishop at the time he wrote it, we could expect a more clearcut reference to that, especially in the section on succession of bishops.

  14. Hello. Thanks for the reply.
    But it doesn’t make sense if he was not the bishop of Rome, since he is speaking with such authority in addressing the Corinthian church:
    (1.1) … Dearest brethren, because of the recent and many disastrous events which have happened
    to us, we feel we have been somewhat tardy in shifting our attention to the points regarding
    which you consulted us.

    (59.1) But if anyone disobeys those things spoken by Him through us, let them know that
    they involve themselves in falling away, and not a little danger.

  15. Notice the first person plural. This is not the “royal we,” as we call it now, otherwise the “many disastrous events” would have to be taken as applying only to the writer. Instead, we have to understand that Clement, as part of the Church at Rome, is in a role in which his obvious talents in composition have been put to use in the service of the Church at Rome in writing this letter to the Church at Corinth. It is, after all, clearly stated that it is the Church at Rome, not just her bishop or any other single person, who is the authority behind this letter. The first person plural, all the “we” and “our” throughout the letter, reinforce this.

  16. I don’t know much about Greek, so I don’t know the difference between the regular “we” and the royal “we”, can you please elaborate on this ?

    So then we must assume that this letter has been written under the reign of St Linus, which started in 67AD, so the date of writing was between 67 and 70 AD, correct ?

    One more question please, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05114b.htm talks about persecutions under the Domitian reign, which contradicts your post that says “we

  17. Jacque, the “royal we” is a colloquial English term describing the use of first person plural by monarchs, especially, rather than first person singular, “we” instead of “I.” The phenomenon, as far as I’m aware, is not Greek.

    Since Nero was apparently persecuting Christian’s up to the end of his reign (9 June 68 A.D.), the date would more likely be only between late 68 and autumn 70, roughly a two year span.

    Also, that particular edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia online is from 1921, I think. More people have been looking into the subject since then, and have found that Domitian didn’t instigate as widespread or brutal a persecution of Christians as Nero did, or as several later emperors did. For details, have a look at David Aune’s Revelation commentary in the Word Biblical Commentary series.

    The tense could be an “historical present,” which is particularly used in Greek in relating stories. Here, however, it is not a story, but an incidental reference to an active cult, which is also required by the context.

    This letter is certainly important for a discussion Apostolic Succession as this is clearly described in detail. But its not necessarily germane to discussion of Roman primacy. As the help was requested by the Corinthians of the Romans, in what appears to be more of a case of arbitration, this is hardly a case of an administrative superior bringing underlings to task.

    You’re welcome!

  18. Thanks for the answers !

    Not to start a debate or the like, but why would the Corinthians request the arbirtation of the Romans, when they still had St John ? and why does Rome here order the Corinthians to obey her, even though they weren’t obeying their own leaders ?

  19. Why would the Corinthians not choose the Roman Church for arbitration? Corinth was a Roman colony, and Rome was the closest of the major churches to it. We know from the presence of Aquila and Pricilla that ties to Rome in Corinth were strong, as they fled there, undoubtedly with many others, early on after expulsion by Claudius from Rome (Acts 18.1-2). The Corinthians didn’t “still have” have St. John. He was either in Judea or in Ephesus (no one knows when exactly he moved to Ephesus), quite far away, and Peter and Paul were apparently still alive when the Corinthians will first have written asking for help, remember, since the persecution intervened between request and response. Resorting to two apostles nearby in a city with which you already have strong ties goes further than to one apostle far distant in a city with which you have nothing to do.

    The advice given in the letter is all according to tradition, not based on a particular understanding of Roman authority. The recommendations/commands of the Roman Church are those of any orthodox group correcting any others who have gone astray, with God as the ultimate authority and master, as stated throughout the letter. Appealing to the apostolically transmitted tradition of how the Church is to behave is the entire thrust of the letter, and the Corinthians had better get in line with that, or face rejection by the Master. The orders come not simply from Rome, which is only the incidental origin in this particular case, but would similarly also have come from any other church which was orthodox in its behavior and beliefs.

  20. In your dialogue with Jacques, I think you did a supurb job of showing that 1 Clement was the response of the Roman church, not the Roman bishop. But I would like to suggest that you consider alternatives to two small details of your answer. First, 1 Clement does not state, and in my opinion doesn’t imply, that the Corinthians had ASKED for help. Although I can’t develop the idea further here, I think it is very possible that the dissident group in Corinth wrote to likeminded individuals in Rome. If so, the Romans had both eternal and internal reasons for addressing the issue in Corinth.

    My second comment concerns your response to Jacques’ question about St. John. Let me begin by pointing out that George Edmundson was the first to show a convincing case for dating 1 Clement in the early months of 70; and in his view, this was about the same time that St.John was arrested and sent to Patmos. I think there is much to commend Edmundson’s view. But to resolve either of these questions will require a complete reconstruction of NT history.

  21. Hi Bob, and thanks. I think you’re likely on track there with the dissident group having written as well. Such arbitration as we see in the letter would have to have occurred only after a point at which the Romans had enough input from both sides to be able to make a judgment in the matter. That the response was in favor of a certain party, and that it was sent via a representative of Rome in company with the return of members of that particular party, would have been perceived as a completely unambiguous approval of that party among the Corinthians. And while we know that the Corinthian church existed for some time, the particular fallout from this arbitration, particularly the reaction of the “innovators,” is unknown. Did they submit, or, as recommended in the letter, did they leave?

    While I do accept the earlier dating of 1 Clement, of course, I would initially, at least, tend to doubt that St John would have been banished so early as 70 (by Vespasian?), and remain in banishment through the course of several emperors’ reigns. Typically, the banished were permitted to return after the death of an emperor. If he were banished so early, however, it would certainly explain some unusual aspects of the Apocalypse: the apostle writing in his own idiom, without a scribe to clean up his “barbarous” Greek; the strange duality of seeming to be before the Temple’s destruction but also Domitian’s reign (as a second Nero), which has led to those who view the components in isolation (like Aune in his Word Biblical Commentary on Revelation) to posit two editions of the Apocalypse, though it could rather have been composed continually throughout the twenty-some years of his exile. It’s an interesting idea that I’ll have to look into more sometime. I’ll look for Edmundson’s work.

    Thank you for writing!

  22. “This aspect plays a role in understanding the timing of the letter when, in 41.2, sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple are described in the present tense.”

    Far from being the clincher, that proves nothing, because it is part of an argument from scripture. St. Clement’s reference to what the Law of Moses commands regarding the proper place of sacrificial offering tells us nothing about whether or not the Temple was still standing at the time St. Clement wrote, any more than his reference to Aaronite priests in the present tense means he believed the Aaronic priesthood was not obsolete for the Church.

  23. Read some of the other comments, above, Jordan.

    1 Clement is very particular in tense usage, and your objection is not acceptable. Not simply the tense, but the very content of 41.2 requires a reading of the contemporary situation, not an “argument from scripture,” wherein Jerusalem is not mentioned in the appointment of the priests, etc, in the Law. The priesthood was actually functioning up until the last months of the Temple’s existence, and this reference to them and their perpetual duties is present tense, something that would be blatantly foolish after 70 AD, when all Rome knew the priesthood had ended and that Temple was in ruins.

    Modern recognition of a lack of evidence for a Domitianic general persecution which could have affected the writer’s community is to be taken into account. This and the other evidence above point to an earlier, rather than later date, and thus to the authorship of Clement before his episcopacy, writing on behalf of the community at Rome which had been appealed to for arbitration.

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