Saint Clement I, Pope, Martyr

November 23

Today is the feast day of Saint Clement.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Clement, the son of Faustinus, a Roman by birth, was of Jewish extraction; for he tells us himself, that he was of the race of Jacob. He was converted to the faith by St. Peter or St. Paul, and was so constant in his attendance on these apostles, and so active in assisting them in their ministry, that St. Jerom and other fathers call him an apostolic man; St. Clement of Alexandria styles him an apostle; and Rufinus almost an apostle. Some authors attribute his conversion to St. Peter, whom he met at Cæsarea with St. Barnabas; but he attended St. Paul at Philippi in 62, and shared in his sufferings there. We are assured by St. Chrysostom that he was a companion of this latter, with SS. Luke and Timothy, in many of his apostolic journeys, labours, and dangers. St. Paul  calls him his fellow-labourer, and ranks him among those whose names are written in the book of life: a privilege and matter of joy far beyond the power of commanding devils. (4)

The memory of St. Clement has been surrounded with a peculiar glory from the very beginning of the Roman Church. After the death of the Apostles, he seems to eclipse Sts. Linus and Cletus, although these preceded him in the Pontificate. We pass, as it were, naturally from St. Peter to St. Clement; and the East celebrates his memory with no less honor than the West. He was in truth the universal Pontiff, and his acts as well as his writings are renowned throughout the entire Church. This widespread reputation caused numbers of apocryphal writings to be attributed to him, which, however, it is easy to distinguish from his own. But it is remarkable that all the falsifiers who have thought fit to put his name to their own works, or to invent stories concerning him, agree in declaring that he was of imperial descent.

With only one exception, all the documents which attest St. Clement’s intervention in the affairs of distant churches has perished with time; but the one that remains shows us in full action the monarchical power of the Bishop of Rome at that primitive epoch. The church of Corinth was disturbed with intestine quarrels caused by jealousy against certain pastors. These divisions, the germ of which had appeared even in St. Paul’s time, had destroyed all peace, and were causing scandal to the very pagans. The Corinthians at last felt the necessity of putting an end to a disorder which might be prejudicial to the extension of the Christian Faith; and for this purpose it was requisite to seek assistance from outside. The Apostles had all departed this life, except St. John, who was still the light of the Church. It was no great distance from Corinth to Ephesus where the Apostle resided; yet it was not to Ephesus but to Rome that the church of Corinth turned. St. Clement examined the case referred to his judgment by that church, and sent to Corinth five commissaries to represent the Apostolic See. They were bearers of a letter, which St. Irenaeus calls most powerful. It was considered at the time so beautiful and so apostolic, that it was long read in many churches as a sort of continuation of the canonical Scriptures. Its tone is dignified but paternal, according to St. Peter’s advice to pastors. There is nothing in it of a domineering spirit; but the grave and solemn language bespeaks the universal Pastor, whom none can disobey without disobeying God Himself. These words so solemn and so firm wrought the desired effect: peace was reestablished in the church of Corinth, and the messengers of the Roman Pontiff soon brought back the happy news. A century later, St. Dinoysius, Bishop of Corinth, expressed to Pope St. Soter the gratitude still felt by his flock towards St. Clement for the service he had rendered.

Brought up in the school of the Apostles, St. Clement had retained their style and manner. These are visible in his two Letters to Virgins, which are mentioned by St. Epiphanius and St. Jerome, and were found in the 18th century translated into Syriac, in a manuscript brought from Aleppo. As St. Cecilia reminded us yesterday, the principle of vowing chastity to God was, from the very beginning, one of the bases of Christianity, and one of the most effectual means for the transformation of the world. Christ Himself had praised the superior merit of this sacrifice; and St. Paul comparing the two states of life, taught that the virgin is wholly taken up with our Lord, while the married woman, whatever her dignity, is divided (I Cor. 7). St. Clement had to develop this doctrine, and he did so in these two letters. Anticipating those great doctors of Christian virginity, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, he developed the teachings of St. Peter and St. Paul on this important subject. “He or she,” he says, “who aspires to this highter life, must lead like the angels an existince all divine and heavenly. The virgin cuts herself off from the allurements of the senses; not only does she renounce the right to their even lawful use, but she aspires to that hope which God, Who can never deceive, encourages by His promise, and which far surpasses the natural hope of posterity. In return for her generous sacrifice, her portion in Heaven is the very happiness of the angels.”

Thus spoke the disciple chosen by St. Peter to set his hand to the task of renovating Rome. It needed no less than this strong doctrine in order to combat the depraved manners of the Empire. Had Christianity been satisfied with inviting men to honor, as the philosophers had done, its efforts would have been to no purpose. Stoicism, by exciting great pride, could bring some men even to despise death; but it was utterly powerless against sensuality, which we must own to have been the strongest auxiliary to the tyranny of the Caesars. The ideal of chastity, thrown into the midst of that dissolute society, could alone arrest the ignominious torrent that threatened to submerge all human dignity. Happily for the world, Christian morality succeeded in gaining ground; and its maxims being followed up by striking examples, it at length forced itself upon the public notice. Roman corruption was amazed to hear of virginity being held in honor and practiced by a great many followers of the new Religion; and that at a time when the greatest privileges and the most terrible chastisements could scarcely keep to their duty the six “vestals virgins” upon whose fidelity supposedly depended the honor and the safety of the city. Vespasian and Titus were aware of the infringements upon their primary duty committed by these guardians of the Palladium; but they considered that the low level at which morals then stood forbade them to inflict the ancient penalties (which included being buried alive) upon these traitresses.

The time, however, was at hand, when the emperors, the senate, and all Rome, were to learn from the first Apologia of St. Justin the marvels of purity concealed within that Babylon of iniquity. “Among us, in this city,” said the apologist, “there are many men and women who have reached the age of sixty or seventy years— brought up from infancy under the law of Christ, they have persevered to this day in the state of virginity; and there is not a country where I could not point out many such.” Athenagoras, in a memorial presented a few years later to Marcus Aurelius, was able to say in like manner: “You will find among us a multitude of persons, both men and women, who have passed their lives up to old age in the state of virginity, having no ambition but to unite themselves more intimately to God.”

St. Clement was predestined to the glory of martyrdom; he was banished to the Chersonesus, on the Black Sea. The Acts, which relate the details of his sufferings are of very great antiquity. They tell us how St. Clement found in the peninsula a considerable number of Christians already transported there, and employed in working the rich and abundant marble quarries. The joy of these Chrisitans on seeing St. Clement is easily conceived; his zeal in propagating the Faith in this far-off country, and the success of his apostolate, are no matter for surprise. The miracle of a fountain springing from the rock at St. Clement’s word, to quench the thirst of the confessors, is a fact analogous to hundreds of others related in the most authentic Acts of the Saints. Lastly, the apparition of the mysterious Lamb upon the mountain, marking with his foot the spot whence the water was to flow, carries back the mind to the earliest Christian mosaics, on which may still be seen the symbol of the Lamb standing on a green hill.

In the ninth century St. Cyril, apostle of the Slavs, discovered near Cherson the precious remains of the Martyr-Pontiff. St. Clement was brought back to Rome; and the great church which had hitherto, according to St. Jerome, “preserved the memory of his name,” henceforth possessed a still richer treasure. The very memory, however, was of great value for science no less than for piety: on the testimony of ancient traditions, this church was built on the site of St. Clement’s old home in the region of Monte Coelio, which we know from other sources to have been the quarter preferred by the Roman aristocracy of the period. Archaeological investigations have discovered beneath the apse of the primitive basilica, and forming a sort of underground confession or crypt, the rooms of a private dwelling, the style and ornaments of which are of the Flavian period.

The liturgical account of the great Pope of the first century:

St. Clement was a Roman by birth, son of Faustinus who dwelt in the region of Mont Coelio. He was a disciple of Blessed Peter; and is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians, in these words: I entreat thee also, my sincere companion, help those women who have labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement and the rest of my fellow-laborers, whose names are in the book of life. He divided Rome into seven regions, appointing a notary for each, who was to ascertain and record with the greatest care the acts and sufferings of the martyrs. He wrote many useful and learend works, such as did honor to the Christian name.

He converted many to the Faith of Christ by his learning and holiness of life, and was on that account banished by the emperor Trajan to the desert of Cherson beyond the Black Sea. Here he found two thousand Christians, likewise banished by Trajan, who were employed in quarrying marble. Seeing them suffering from want of water, Clement betook himself to prayer, and then ascended a neighboring hill, on the summit of which he saw a Lamb, pointing out with his right foot a spring of sweet water. At this source they all quenched their thirst; and many infidels were converted by the miracle, and began to revere Clement as a Saint.

On hearing this Trajan was enraged, and sent officers with orders to cast St. Clement into the sea with an anchor tied to his neck. After the execution of this sentence, as the Christians were praying on the shore, the sea began to recede for the distance of three miles; on approaching they found a small building of marble, in the form of a temple, wherein lay the Martyr’s body in a stone coffin, and beside it the anchor with which he had been drowned. The inhabitants of the country were so astounded at the miracle, that they were led to embrace the Christian Faith. The holy body was afterwards translated to Rome, under Pope Nicholas I, and deposited in the church of St. Clement. A church was also built and dedicated in his honor, on that spot in the island where the miraculous fountain had sprung up. He held the Pontificate nine years, six months, and six days. In two ordinations in the month of December, he made ten priests, two deacons, and fifteen bishops for divers places.

“The Lord saith: My words which I have put in thy mouth shall not depart out of thy mouth: and thy gifts shall be accepted upon My altar” (Introit of the Feast, from Isaias). Thus does the Church open the chants of the great Sacrifice in honor of the Holy Pope, St. Clement! It was indeed a joy and supreme consolation to Her to experience that, after the departure of the Apostles, the word did not fail; for of all the gifts left Her by Her divine Spouse at His Ascension into Heaven, this was the most indispensable. In his writings, the word continued to traverse the world, authoritative and respected, directing, pacifying, sanctifying the people, as fully and as surely as in the days of the Apostles or of Our Lord Himself. Clear and manifest, thanks to this Saint, was the proof that Jesus, according to His promise, remains with His disciples till the end of the world. Be thou blessed, O Holy Pontiff, for having thus, in the earliest times, consoled our Mother the Church. (1)

The Basilica of San Clemente in Rome, near the Colossium has been in the custody of the Irish Dominicans for some centuries. It is a major historical and archaeological site. Also among the letters sub-apostolic (just after the apostles) times is a letter addressed to the Christians in the city of Corinth which is attributed to St Clement. Not much is known of the saint himself.

Patron: Boatmen; marble workers; mariners; sailors; sick children; stonecutters; watermen.

Symbols: Double or triple cross; tiara; fountain; anchor; maniple; marble temple in the sea; cross and anchor; nimbed lamb.

A Universal Prayer

Pope Saint Clement, the third successor of Saint Peter, intervened in the affairs of the Church at Corinth, which had been led by a few men into sedition against its rulers. The intervention was in the form of a letter, written about 96 A.D., which contains a prayer, of which the following is a part. This is the oldest non-scriptural prayer and it enables us to pray in the words of a first century saint.

May the Artisan of the Universe preserve inviolate upon the earth the number of His elect, through His well-beloved Child, Jesus Christ. Through Him He has called us from the darkness to the light, from ignorance to knowledge of the glory of His name.

We place our trust in Thee, Principle of all creation. Thou hast opened the eyes of our hearts, that they may know Thee, Thou who alone art Most-High, in the heavens, The Holy One who dwellest with the saints. Thou humblest the proud in their insolence, Thou bringest to naught the plans of nations, Thou dost exalt the lowly and put down the mighty; Thou enrichest and Thou dost impoverish, Thou takest and Thou givest life. Sole benefactor of the spirit, and God of all flesh; Thou scannest the depths, Thou watchest over the works of men; Refuge in danger, Savior of those in despair!

Creator and Guardian of every spirit! Thou dost multiply the peoples of the earth, Amongst all these, Thou hast chosen those who love Thee, through Jesus Christ, Thy well-beloved Child, Thou dost teach, sanctify, and ennoble them.

We pray Thee, Almighty One, be our refuge and our defender. Save the oppressed, take pity on the humble, raise those who have fallen, manifest Thyself to those in need, heal the sick, bring back those who have strayed from Thy people, give food to those who are hungry, give freedom to our prisoners; strengthen the weak, comfort the timid; and let all nations acknowledge that Thou alone art God, that Jesus Christ is Thy Child, that we are Thy people, the lambs of Thy fold. (9)

Image: Visione di papa Clemente I, (10)

Research by REGINA Staff


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