Now, with Clement of Rome, we start talking of the so called “Apostolic Fathers.” They were immediate successors of the apostles or had direct relationship with those in contact with the apostles.
We start with Clement of Rome, as we have said. He was a Pope, but there are controversies on the issue if he was the second Pope, direct successor to Saint Peter, or the fourth Pope, after Linus and Anacletus. According to some scholars, he is the one referred to by Saint Paul in the letter to the Philippians (4, 3): “Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” The identification of Clement with the man of the same name mentioned above by Saint Paul is confirmed by Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, Saint Jerome. Even then, some modern scholars infer that this Clement may not be the same person we refer as “Clement of Rome.”
He was a disciple of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. We know almost nothing about his life. According to some historical sources, the Roman emperor Trajan sent him into exile in Crimea, where he converted many people and built new churches. Upset by this, Trajan order his execution. He was thrown into the sea. His bones, according the tradition, were taken back to Rome by Saint Cyril and then deposited in the altar of the Basilica of Saint Clement.
We have only one writing from him, a letter to the Corinthians. It is so described: “There is little intentional dogmatic teaching in the Epistle, for it is almost wholly hortatory. A passage on the Holy Trinity is important. Clement uses the Old Testament affirmation “The Lord liveth,” substituting the Trinity thus: “As God liveth, and the Lord Jesus Christ liveth and the Holy Spirit — the faith and hope of the elect, so surely he that performeth,” etc. (58). Christ is frequently represented as the High-Priest, and redemption is often referred to” (Chapman, J. (1908). Pope St. Clement I. In The Catholic Encyclopedia). Other writings, referred as pseudo Clement’s writings were referred to him, but most probably they are not authentic.
The letter to the Corinthians is the first document that witnesses the recognition of the Roman primacy over the other churches. In it we read: “My brothers, do let us have a little humility; let us forget our self-assertion and braggadocio and stupid quarreling, and do what the Bible tells us instead. The Holy Spirit says, ‘The wise man is not to brag of his wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his wealth; if a man must boast, he should boast of the Lord, seeking him out and acting with justice and uprightness.’ More particularly, let us remember what the Lord Jesus Christ said in one of his lessons on mildness and forbearance. ‘Be merciful,’ he told us, ‘that you may obtain mercy; forgive; that you may be forgiven. What you do yourself, will be done to you; what you give, will be given to you; as, you judge, so you will be judged; as you show kindness; so it will be shown to you. Your portion will be weighed out for you in your own scales.’ May this precept, and these commands, strengthen our resolve to live in obedience to his sacred words, and in humility of mind; for the holy word says, Whom shall I look upon, but him that is gentle and peaceable, and trembles at my sayings? Thus there exists a vast heritage of glorious achievements for us to share in. Let us then make haste and get back to the state of tranquility which was set before us in the beginning as the mark for us to aim at. Let us turn our eyes to the Father and Creator of the universe, and when we consider how precious and peerless are his gifts of peace, let us embrace them eagerly for ourselves”. He was addressing certainly some turmoil happening in that Church, with the authority of his apostolic power. This invitation to humility, to forget about their strong quarrels and reconcile with each other in the name of Jesus, it is something that we can really feel also appropriate to our own day. The Church in Corinth, threatened by a schism, was reassured from the words of the successor of Peter that we need to put everything in perspective, and to see through the higher purpose that we aim to achieve. These words may be very good also for today.