Clement: Did he have authority over the Apostle John? Was he a pope?

View in Vatican City (photo by Joyce Thiel)


November 23rd is the day Catholics have declared as the day for “Saint Clement I.”

There is an individual named Clement in the Bible. He is mentioned one time. Here is the only passage that mentions him:

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:2-3).

The above was written by the Apostle Paul, but historians are divided on where it was written from (Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and Caesarea have all been speculated).

This shows that Paul knew someone named Clement. Clement, therefore knew Paul, and was with Paul when he wrote this letter. It can reasonably be implied that Clement probably knew others in Philippi. And based on Paul’s writings, it can be concluded that Paul, at that time, considered that particular Clement to be a Christian. It is probably logical to conclude that Clement met with Paul on multiple occasions and probably, like the others, assisted him to some degree.

What it does not show is that Clement was to be the leader of those in Rome or ordained by Peter. Clement simply was one of many who knew and probably assisted the Apostle Paul. The lack of emphasis/preeminence in Paul’s writings would seem to suggest that Clement could not have been the one to become the “bishop of Rome” and the successor of Peter and Paul in 67 A.D. or perhaps later–there are different lists for Clement. It should also be noted that if Paul did write his Epistle to the Philippians in Rome (as many Roman Catholic scholars maintain), one would think that Clement would be mentioned in other writings from Paul if Clement was to have preeminence–but instead he is not mentioned anywhere else in any New Testament writing.

Whether or not this is the same individual named Clement that many Roman Catholics consider to succeed Peter cannot be determined from the passages in Philippians. Roman Catholic scholars seem divided on this matter, though the general consensus seems to be that the Clement of Rome is not the same one that Paul referred to. Here are some statements from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

Origen identifies Pope Clement with St. Paul’s fellow-labourer, Phil., iv, 3, and 80 do Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome — but this Clement was probably a Philippian. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was the custom to identity the pope with the consul of 95, T. Flavius Clemens, who was martyred by his first cousin, the Emperor Domitian, at the end of his consulship. But the ancients never suggest this, and the pope is said to have lived on till the reign of Trajan (Chapman J. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. Pope St. Clement I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus, the Clement mentioned in the Bible is probably not the Clement of Rome. But again, this is not certain.

If Clement was the ruler of all Christendom during the time he was claimed to be, then it seems odd that the Apostle John failed to mention him or his leadership in any of the books that he wrote after the beginning of Clement’s alleged pontificate (1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the Book of Revelation). Since John encouraged Christians to be faithful, it would seem that he would have somehow suggested that there would be a succession of faithful leaders to follow in Rome. Instead, he focused on the leadership of the church in the region of Asia Minor (Revelation 1-3).

John was the last of the original apostles to die and should have known who the leaders of the true church were around the time of his death (around 100 A.D.). And there is no reason to believe that he would have been at a lower status than Clement who was not ordained directly by Christ nor was Clement called a pope and we do not have proof he was even a bishop.

Some Significant Roman Catholic Teachings About Clement

Here is some of what is claimed about Clement:

4. CLEMENT I, ST. (88-97)…He was among the first baptized by St. Peter…Clement was the one to introduce the liturgical vestments into the sacred functions and the use of the word Amen. He appointed seven notaries, one for each ecclesiastical area of Rome, to edit and file all information regarding martyred Christians…He can be considered the first pope to have abdicated (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 2).

It seems impossible that Clement could have appointed seven notaries as the church in Rome then was not large and it did not have a major staff. Neither the Bible nor any of the earliest historical writings give any hint that Peter baptized Clement—thus that claim appears to have been a later fabrication. Furthermore, if there were seven notaries with Clement, then at a  minimum one would think that they would have preserved at least who the original “bishops of Rome” were, however they apparently did not (as there are no writings from any of these seven preserved and they allegedly would have been appointed to make writings that were to have been preserved).

The first list was apparently composed by Hegesippus around 155 A.D., and we have no copy of that preserved until Epiphanius claimed to have cited Hegesippus. The actual first known list was actually from Irenaeus around 180 A.D. and it contains no details about the early bishops.

The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches this about Clement:

Now Linus and Cletus had each twelve years attributed to them in the list. If Hippolytus found Cletus doubled by an error (Cletus XII, Anacletus XII), the accession of Clement would appear to be thirty-six years after the death of the Apostles. As this would make it almost impossible for Clement to have been their contemporary, it may have caused Hippolytus to shift him to an earlier position. Further, St. Epiphanius says (loc. cit. ): “Whether he received episcopal ordination from Peter in the life-time of the Apostles, and declined the office, for he says in one of his epistles ‘I retire, I depart, let the people of God be in peace’, (for we have found this set down in certain Memoirs), or whether he was appointed by the Bishop Cletus after he had succeeded the Apostles, we do not clearly know.” The “Memoirs” were certainly those of Hegesippus. It seems unlikely that he is appealed to only for the quotation from the Epistle, c. liv; probably Epiphanius means that Hegesippus stated that Clement had been ordained by Peter and declined to be bishop, but twenty-four years later really exercised the office for nine years. Epiphanius could not reconcile these two facts; Hippolytus seems to have rejected the latter…The Church of Corinth had been led by a few violent spirits into a sedition against its rulers. No appeal seems to have been made to Rome, but a letter was sent in the name of the Church of Rome by St. Clement to restore peace and unity. He begins by explaining that his delay in writing has been caused by the sudden calamities which, one after another, had just been falling upon the Roman Church. The reference is clearly to the persecution of Domitian…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…The Epistle is in the name of the Church of Rome but the early authorities always ascribe it to Clement. Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, wrote c. 170 to the Romans in Pope Soter’s time: “To-day we kept the holy day, the Lord’s day, and on it we read your letter- and we shall ever have it to give us instruction, even as the former one written through Clement” (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., IV, xxx) (Chapman J. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. Pope St. Clement I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus, Catholic scholars admit that some felt that Clement succeeded Peter, while others do not believe that. There is simply no proof of this matter.

Clement could not have come with liturgical vestments as they did not exist that early. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits this, regarding the time of Stephen 1 (254-257):

In his days the vestments worn by the clergy at Mass and other church services did not differ in shape or material from those ordinarily worn by the laity (Mann H. Transcribed by Kenneth M. Caldwell. Pope St. Stephen I. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Hence the statements above regarding Clement’s rules on these matters is also false. Clement is actually both a problem and a key-link for the Roman Church and its claims to supremacy over all of Christendom. He is a problem, specifically, because he is considered the key-link establishing the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. And this key-link is very, very tenuous (he is also a problem as his statement about God and the Lord living suggests that the Holy Spirit is somehow different, and that is not a trinitarian view–please see the article Binitarian View: One God, Two Beings from Before the Beginning).

Furthermore, most scholars believe that there were no bishops of Rome at the time of Clement’s alleged reign. Notice this admission from a Roman Catholic scholar:

Admittedly the Catholic position, that bishops are the successors of the apostles by divine institution, remains far from easy to establish…The first problem has to do with the notion that Christ ordained apostles as bishops…The apostles were missionaries and founders of churches; there is no evidence, nor is it at all likely, that any one of them ever took up permanent residence in a particular church as its bishop…The letter of the Romans to the Corinthians, known as I Clement, which dates to about the year 96, provides good evidence that about 30 years after the death of St. Paul the church of Corinth was being led by a group of presbyters, with no indication of a bishop with authority over the whole local church…Most scholars are of the opinion that the church of Rome would most probably have also been led at that time by a group of presbyters…There exists a broad consensus among scholars, including most Catholic ones, that such churches as Alexandria, Philippi, Corinth and Rome most probably continued to be led for some time by a college of presbyters, and that only in the second century did the threefold structure of become generally the rule, with a bishop, assisted by presbyters, presiding over each local church (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, pp. 13,14,15).

Clement’s Letter?

Essentially, many Roman Catholics believe that a late 1st century letter to the Corinthians shows that Clement felt that he had the authority over all other Christian churches. And thus, this is the earliest proof that in fact, the cathedra went to the bishops of Rome and therefore (according to this line of reasoning) is still there today.

The first problem is that the letter never says any individual sent it. So even if it was from Clement, he apparently did not feel he himself had what Catholics now call the cathedra (the ecclesiastical chair or authority), for it was unsigned. The second problem is that there is no indication that the Corinthians were in any way writing to Clement. And the third is that recent Catholic scholarship admits that “I Clement” does not establish the primacy of the Roman Church:

In the past, Catholic writers have interpreted this intervention as an early exercise of Roman primacy, but now it is generally recognized as the kind of exhortation one church could address another without any claim to authority over it…I Clement certainly does not support the theory that before the apostles died, they appointed one man as bishop in each of the churches they founded. This letter witnesses rather to the fact that in the last decade of the first century, the collegial ministry of a group of presbyters…was still maintained in the Pauline church of Corinth. This was most likely also the case in the church in Rome at this period (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, pp. 91,101).

During the time that Clement was allegedly bishop of Rome, Catholic historians reported that John was taken to Rome from Ephesus, then suddenly exiled to Patmos, by Emperor Domitian (Tertullian. The Prescription Against Heretics. Chapter 36. Translated by Peter Holmes. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight), and, “after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus” (Eusebius. Church History. Book III, Chapter 23). About this time, a schism occurred in Corinth and someone apparently decided to contact the Christians in Rome for assistance (possibly because John may have been in Rome then or possibly since one of that congregation happened to have been traveling in that direction). The letter response that was sent said it was delayed:

[b]ecause of the sudden and repeated misfortunes and reverses which have happened to us (The Letter of the Romans to the Corinthians commonly known as First Clement. Verse 1. Holmes MW, ed. As translated in The Apostolic Fathers Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 3rd printing 2004, pp. 28-29).

It is logical to conclude that these misfortunes probably included John’s exile. Although many Catholics suggest the response sent is definitive proof that Rome was the ruling Church, the letter actually refers to its contents only as “our advice”, does not list any author, and does not otherwise prove anything about Roman authority. Regarding this letter one Catholic scholar has written:

Most scholars are of the opinion that the church of Rome would most probably be have also been led at that time by a group of presbyters (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 15).

If this letter from the Corinthians was sent to Rome because John and others were there, it simply shows that some in Corinth were trying to contact the leadership of the Church. Also, it seems logical that those in the Church at Rome may have decided that since John had been exiled, they should simply respond with their opinion.

Anyway, Clement of Rome would not have had authority over the Apostle John.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

“Pope” Clement I (88-97) He is claimed to have turned down the successor role from Peter, and is claimed to be the first Roman leader to abdicate. There was a Clement mentioned in the Bible. While today’s post has about the first half of what is in this article, there is another half here.
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view?  Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches?  Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter! Here is a link to a sermon: Claims of Apostolic Succession. Here is a related articlein the Spanish language La sucesión apostólica. ¿Ocurrió en Roma, Alejandría, Constantinopla, Antioquía, Jerusalén o Asia Menor?
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups that Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups? A related sermon is also available Christianity: Two groups.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. Is telling the truth about the early church citing Catholic accepted sources anti-Catholic? This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church. There is also a YouTube sermon on the subject titled Church of God or Church of Rome: What Do Catholic Scholars Admit About Early Church History?
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Who were the Nazarene Christians? What did they believe? Should 21st century Christians be modern Nazarenes? Is there a group that exists now that traces its history through the Nazarenes and holds the same beliefs today? Here is a link to a related video sermon Nazarene Christians: Were the early Christians “Nazarenes”?
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui? Here is a link to a short animation: Which Church would Jesus Choose?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 to the 21st century. Related sermon links include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries and Continuing History of the Church of God: 17th-20th Centuries. The booklet is available in Spanish: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios, German: Kontinuierliche Geschichte der Kirche Gottes, French: L Histoire Continue de l Église de Dieu and Ekegusii Omogano Bw’ekanisa Ya Nyasae Egendererete.

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