Life and Soul

Saint of the week: Pope Clement I (November 23)

Ordained by Peter

In the Eucharistic Prayer, when the priest invokes “Linus, Cletus, Clement …” he is referring to St Peter’s successors as Pope. All the early ones were martyred; apart from that and a famous letter, St Clement I is a mysterious figure.

According to tradition, St Peter ordained him as bishop. According to an early Christian text, he was a kind of nuncio, whose job was communicating with bishops in communion with Rome.

But is he the figure mentioned by St Paul in Philippians (“… Clement and those other fellow labourers of mine, whose names are recorded in the book of life”)?

Is he the Clement whose father Flavius married the emperor’s sister – after which the emperor killed Flavius? The record is too patchy to be sure.

A delayed letter

Several texts once thought to be by Clement are no longer attributed to him. But the First Epistle of Clement is. It is written to the same community at Corinth which St Paul had addressed. Clement says that he wishes he could have written before, but “the sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities” (probably a reference to the persecution under Domitian) had delayed him.

The risks of jealousy

Clement praises the Corinthians for their obedience, penitence, temperance and love of Christ. “Thus a profound and rich peace was given to all, you had an insatiable desire to do good, and the Holy Spirit was poured out in abundance on you all.”

But the community had been disrupted by jealousy. Clement admonishes them with many Old Testament examples of how jealousy leads to bloodshed and disaster, and tells them to fix their eyes on the greatness of God’s providence: “The seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter give place to one another in peace. The stations of the winds fulfil their service without hindrance at the proper time …”

The saint’s supposed relics are in the Basilica of St Clement in Rome.