Church History, Lesson 7: The Beginning of the Rise of Rome


Clement of Rome (615x356)Introduction

History teaches us the Apostle Peter was the first recognized Bishop of Rome, though Paul did precede him as acting bishop while under house arrest.  The sources are silent, however, about Peter’s years in Rome, since he only served a short time before being martyred in 64 AD.

The first leader to come into view in Rome is Clement, who lived at the end of the first century and wrote a letter of admonition and encouragement to the church in Corinth.  The question is why, since Corinth had a bishop(s).  All we have is this:

Because of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses we have faced [persecution in Rome under Emperor Domitian], we admit we have been too slow to turn our attention to the sources of strife among you.  We refer to this unholy and profane schism so foreign and alien to God’s elect. [Clement 1:1]

Clement would have written earlier, but the conditions in Rome prevented him.

In Paul’s letter to Philippi (4:3), he mentions Clement, whom Church tradition tells us Peter ordained, who later became the Bishop of Rome from 88-97 AD.  Like his mentor, the Apostle Paul, Clement is trying to carry out a peacemaking mission.  Paul did the same more than a generation earlier, detailed in the two New-Testament letters to the Corinthians.  Motivated by pride and jealousy, younger men in Clement’s day had expelled older, more faithful bishops from their leadership posts (Clement 3:3, 44:6).

The question is, “Why would the bishop of Rome have (or presume) authority to deal with problems in Corinth?”  We’ll get to this later.


Understanding Vocation

Let us realize how near [the Spirit of the Lord] is, and that none of our thoughts or plans escape his notice.  It is right, therefore, that we should not desert the post, which He assigned us.  Let us, instead, offend the foolish and senseless who exalt themselves and boast in their arrogant words, not God.  Let us fear the Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was given for us.  Let us respect those who rule over us.  Let us honor our elders.  Let us train up the young men in the fear of God and direct our women to what is good. [Clement 21:3-6]

  • According to Clement, how is one to view the work he does to service his neighbor?


  • What is Clement alluding to concerning how some in Corinth removed others from their “post”?


Romans 13:1-2:

Let everyone be subject to the higher [often translated as “governing”] authorities, for no authority exists except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.  So, whoever resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.

A proper understanding of vocation teaches the Christian faith is lived out where we serve others in our everyday lives.  In the workplace, family, culture, and church, God is present, and Christians exercise their faith in those areas and relationships into which God places them.  Vocation is where sanctification takes place.


The Ministry in the Church

For us, the Apostles received the gospel from our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent forth.  So Christ is from God and the Apostles are from Christ.  So both these, in proper arrangement, came by the will of God.  Once they received their orders, convinced by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted with God’s word, they went out proclaiming with the confidence of the Holy Spirit that the kingdom of God would come.  Preaching in both country and city, they appointed men from their first converts, whom they tested by the Spirit, to become bishops and deacons for the future believers.  This was no innovation because, for a long time before, Scripture mentioned bishops and deacons.  For somewhere it says, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith” (Isaiah 60:17, LXX). [Clement 42]

  • How does Clement view the New-Covenant Church’s use of deacons?


  • How does a man become the pastor (bishop) of a congregation?


Though speaking from authority, Clement, like Paul, assumed a servant-leadership role.  “We write these words, dear friends, not only to reprimand you, but also to remind ourselves.  For we are in the same arena and involved in the same struggle” (Clement 7:1).  But, he still wrote this admonition to follow.

Our Apostles understood by our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be conflict over the title of bishop.  Aware of this, they went on to appoint the ministers mentioned earlier, and they went on to add an instruction: when these men die, other approved men should succeed them in their office.  Given this, we consider it an injustice for you to remove these men from their ministry.  After being appointed by the Apostles (or, later on, by other reputable men), with the consent of the whole Church [Greek, ecclesia], they have been serving Christ’s flock in humility, peace, and fairness, earning the esteem of all over an extended period.  It will be no small sin for us if we depose men from the bishop’s office who have offered the gifts without blame and in holiness.  [Clement 44:1-4]

  • Though Clement tells the Apostles first appointed bishops, who else consented to their appointment?


  • What does this say about who first does what relating to a man being a congregation’s pastor?


  • What does this say about an Apostle or higher-ranking bishop appointing a pastor [lower-ranking bishop] against the greater will of the Church/congregation?


  • According to Clement, what role does the pastor have?


  • What are those “gifts”?


Even some 20th Century confessional Lutheran theologians recognized the truth of Clement’s teaching.  Bo Giertz (1905-1998) argued the chain of ministry is clear-cut:

Christ sent out His apostles, who installed the first bishops and deacons.  They in their turn gave the office to a new generation, all this as commanded by the Apostles according to the commission of Jesus.  One can see the beginning of this development in our New Testament. Besides the apostolate, there are a number of offices that gradually emerge. [Giertz, Bo; Christ’s Church, slightly revised translation from Giertz, Kristi Kyrka; pg. 153]


Music during Worship

The music sung in the early Christian worship was chant, carried over from the Temple and synagogue.  The early Church didn’t sing or chant in harmony, opting instead for the entire congregation to sing in unison.  “We, too, gather in one place in the unity of conscience, chanting wholeheartedly to him with one mouth [meaning in unison], so that we may come to share in his great and glorious promises.” [Clement 34:7]

  • According to Clement, what does the worshiper receive during the service?


God is Triune

Matthew 28:19: “Therefore, after you go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit …”

2 Corinthians 13:13: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Do we not have one God, one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out on us? [Clement 46:6]

For God lives and our Lord Jesus Christ lives and the Holy Spirit [lives], the faith and hope of the elect … [Clement 58:2]

  • How does Clement teach the doctrine of the Trinity in the same way Scripture does?


The Value of Scripture

Brothers, be striving and zealous for those things that lead toward salvation.  Look into the holy Scriptures, the true voice of the Holy Spirit.  You know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them.  [Clement 45:1-3]

  • How does Clement View Scripture?


  • Who is the author behind the words of Scripture?


Meaning of “Justification”

When we read James and Romans in the New Testament, we may think they contradict.  Here, Clement helps us.

Clement wrote, encouraging the Corinthian Christians to be humble and not boastful, letting someone’s praise come from God and others, not himself.  When Clement said not to boast, the context wasn’t how someone became righteous, but how he lived out or showed his righteousness.  In that context, he wrote: “Let us be justified by works and not by words” (Clement 30:3).  Here, Clement used “justify” to mean “show to be righteous”: Show your righteousness by your deeds, not your words.

Clement, however, also wrote a few paragraphs later how someone became righteous before God.  In that context, he wrote: “We, having been called through God’s will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves or through our own wisdom, understanding, virtue, or works that we do in holiness of heart, but through faith” (Clement 32:4).  Here, Clement used “justify” to show how someone is righteous before God: We are not righteous by what we do but through faith.

7, Meaning of Dikiaoo

What he does is show us the range of meanings for “justify” in the Greek language, which English doesn’t carry.  Clement uses “justify” to mean “show to be righteous” and “made righteous” or “declared righteous.”  Those same two meanings of “justify” also appear in the New Testament.

In Romans, Paul used “justify” to mean to be “made and/or declared righteous.”  “We consider that a person is justified [made righteous before God] by faith apart from the works of the Law” (Romans 3:28).

James used “justify” to mean “show to be righteous.”  “You see that a person is justified [shows that he is righteous] by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

So, Paul and James don’t contradict but use “justify” with different meanings.


Clement’s Influence on What the Church Will Later Affirm to be Scripture

Clement directly quoted of referenced from many books in the New Testament, including 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Hebrews.  From the Old Testament, he did so from Psalms, Isaiah, Job, Jeremiah, Wisdom, and Judith.  We should not discount the significance.  Clement’s use of these books in a letter, which also circulated throughout the Church, revealed what books were beginning to be viewed as Scripture and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Many contested the book of Hebrews, not because of the content, but authorship.  Clement cited it with authority, helping set a precedent in the Church for the book to be accepted.


Prayers for Earthly Authorities

1 Timothy 2:1-2:

First, I urge you to offer petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanks for everyone, for kings and all in authority, so we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity.

Clement of Rome provides the first written prayer in the Church for earthly authorities.

You, O Master, have given the authority of the kingdom to them through your majestic and inexpressible might.  This is so we would recognize the glory and honor you have given them, submit to them, and do nothing to oppose your will.

Lord, grant them health, peace, concord, and stability so they may exercise, without blame, the leadership given by you.  Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and authority to human beings over the things of earth.  Direct their decisions by what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so they may exercise the authority you give them in godliness, peace, and gentleness so they may experience your mercy.  [Clement 61:1-2]

  • What conclusion does Clement draw when an earthly authority wields much power?


  • The governmental authorities in Clement’s day could be cruel. Does that seem the change the content of Clement’s prayer?


  • To whom does Clement imply these earthly authorities will answer if they do what is not pleasing and acceptable to God?


Clement’s Authority to Intercede

Clement 63:2-4:

You will give us joy and gladness if you obey what we have written through the Holy Spirit.  Root out the unlawful anger of your jealousy according to our appeal for peace and unity in this letter.  We also send faithful and wise men, who from their youth to old age have lived blameless lives.  They will act as witnesses between you and us.  We did this, so you will know that our only concern has been, and still is, to bring peace to you without delay.

  • Does Clement believe he has the authority to intercede in Corinth’s affairs? Discuss why.


  • What does he do to ensure they make the changes he wrote in his letter?


So, how did the church of Corinth later fare?  Hegesippus, a traveling Christian scholar, who stopped briefly at Corinth around 170 AD, wrote:

The Church of the Corinthians has continued in the correct doctrine to the time of Primus, who has become the bishop in Corinth, and with whom I conversed at length on my way to Rome, when I spent some days with the Corinthians, during which time we were mutually refreshed in the correct doctrine….  In each succession and each city, there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord. [Hegesippus, “Fragment in Eusebius, History of the Church,” Book. 4, Chapter 22]


Clement’s View of the Church

For Clement, the Church is more than a collection of believers or loosely organized congregations.  She has a definite structure and order.  His fullest and clearest statement is in chapter 44, where Clement wrote the Apostles first appointed bishops in congregations—with the consent of the entire church [Ekklesia could also be translated as “congregation”].

Clement understands he can tell the congregation in Corinth what to do, not based on being the Bishop of Rome but because he received instruction from two Apostles.  Other pastors (bishops) whom the Apostles directly taught also functioned with such a world view.  We’ll explore this with Polycarp and Ignatius, both taught by the Apostle John.  With the mantle of two Apostles, Clement has a rare authority, rapidly disappearing in his day.

When all those directly taught by the Apostles die, this authority transfers to the churches where the Apostles served as bishop.  Among all the churches with apostolic leadership, only Rome had two Apostles, which earlier led them, Paul and Peter.  Later, this will begin to become institutionalized by Irenaeus’ writings, the Bishop of Lyons.


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