Imagine being tied to an anchor and cast into the sea. According to legend, that was the fate that befell Clement of Rome under the emperor Domitian. This is probably incorrect, however, since Domitian died before the turn of the first century and church historian Eusebius of Caesarea tells us Clement was martyred on this day, November 23, 101, which would put his death in the reign of Trajan.
Clement was only the fourth bishop of Rome, the first possibly being Peter. Did he know Peter and Paul? It is completely possible that those two Spirit-filled men taught him. Clement even wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that echoed the teachings of the apostles. We know next to nothing about the two bishops between Peter and Clement. But Clement's letter made him stand out among the early leaders of the Roman church.
The Roman church claims that Clement's letter proves that the popes (although they weren't called by that name for many centuries to come) were already seen as the heads of the whole Christian church. Protestant and Orthodox scholars disagree, saying it was natural for Corinth to turn to one of the largest and most prestigious churches of the day for advice and arbitration.
However that may be, the 65 short chapters of Clement's letter to Corinth were even considered scripture by some Christians up until the 5th century! Corinth was still having the same kinds of trouble with sexual immorality and infighting that Paul had dealt with in letters written years before. Clement's letter was written because a number of Corinthians had banded together against their church leaders and thrown them out of office. Clement reproved this behavior and suggested a better way:
"...God wanted all his beloved ones to have the opportunity to repent and he confirmed this desire by his own almighty will. That is why we should obey his sovereign and glorious will and prayerfully entreat his mercy and kindness. We should be suppliant before him and turn to his compassion, rejecting empty works and quarreling and jealousy which only lead to death."
Clement may have written a sermon that bears his name and he was said to have gathered together a large collection of church law called the Apostolic Constitutions. Scholars aren't able to verify either claim.
We don't know why Domitian (or Trajan) executed Clement. Many of the early bishops of Rome suffered death at the hands of the secular authorities, however; so it is a good guess that Clement stood up for truth in the corrupt capitol of the empire and paid for it with his life.
- Aland, Kurt. Saints and Sinners; men and ideas in the early church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.
- Chapman, John. "Pope St. Clement I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Clement of Rome. First Letter to the Corinthians. Pocket Classics. Worcester, Pennsylvania: Christian History Institute.
- Clement of Rome. New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.
- "Clement of Rome, St." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Edmundson, George. The Church in Rome in the First Century, an examination of various controverted questions relating to its history, chronology, literature and traditions; eight lectures preached before the University of Oxford in the year 1913 on the foundation of the late Rev. John Bampton, by George Edmundson. London, New York: Longmans, Green, 1913.
- Various encyclopedia articles and histories of the church.
Last updated April, 2007.