One of the tough questions to ask about the Saints and Church History is who are the “most important” people to know about. It is perhaps obvious that the “most important” figures in the history of Christianity are those who knew Jesus personally and continued his ministry throughout the known world after his ascension. These people comprise the bulk of the Major Feast Days in the Prayer Book, averaging 2 or 3 such commemorations each month.
It is the second generation of church leaders, however, where we transition from “biblical history” to regular history. How the teaching of the Apostles was understood and transmitted through the rest of the 1st century not only gives us key insight into the course of Church History ever since, but also clues for the right interpretation of the New Testament itself – how the Apostles’ best students understood the teaching of the Apostles can be very informative for how we interpret the Apostles’ writings! This generation of leaders, through the late 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd, is known as “The Apostolic Fathers”, and one of their most prominent members is Saint Clement of Rome.
Clement was a bishop in Rome, serving as the chief overseer there (or diocesan bishop, or Pope, depending upon whom you ask) for about 10 years until his martyrdom with a year of 100AD. He was reportedly consecrated by the Apostle St. Peter, along with the two bishops who served between Peter’s and Clement’s episcopacy. It is further theorized that this Clement may be the one mentioned in Philippians 4:3.
About his life, little is known for sure. But one of his writings, an epistle to the church in Corinth, survives as a monumental resource. Like St. Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians, Clement’s letter also addresses a division going on in Corinth, exhorting them to unity. And since Clement can’t appeal to his own role in their past like Paul did, Clement instead reminds them of their call to unity by following (or listening to) their clergymen. He reminds them of various other doctrines along the way, making his epistle read very much like one of the New Testament epistles. In fact, the antiquity of this epistle, 1 Clement, is such that it actually was treated as part of the New Testament by a few early Christians and congregations before the full New Testament canon was agreed upon.
Even though it was eventually not included in the canon, 1 Clement is massively useful to this day. Its many quotes and references to the Old and New Testaments reveal a Christian community already steeped in a variety of texts that we now know as the Bible. This serves as evidence against those who argue that the New Testament was written later in the name of the Apostles. This epistle also demonstrates the accessibility of the New Testament writings, serving as evidence against those who argue that the New Testament did not functionally exist until the 3rd or 4th century.
There are other writings traditionally attributed to St. Clement, such as the excellent sermon labeled 2 Clement, but recent scholarship has strongly indicated that they belong to other authors slightly later than Clement’s time.
Even with only one surviving letter to his name, Clement’s contribution to drawing the link between “the church of the New Testament” and “the church of history” is vital. Catholics and Protestants alike find great value in Clement’s legacy. Saint Clement died within a year of 100AD, and is commemorated on November 23rd.