In the time of the first few centuries three cities became to be of great importance for the development of the church and early Christian thought. These three cities were Antioch in the east (now Turkey), Alexandria in the South (Egypt) and Rome in the West (now Italy). The figures and leaders who were based in these three cities have achieved great importance in the establishment of the Christian faith (see my earlier post on the spread of Christianity). In the Roman Empire these cities were centers of trade, commerce and civil governments, it was natural that the organization of this nascent expression of the gospel of grace should spring out of these cultural epicenters.
Clement was one of the early leaders of the church in Rome, possibly soon after Peter the apostle. Rome was certainly the focus of the early New Testament writers as it was the hub of the Roman empire. Paul was held in captivity in Rome, writing several of his epistles in chains there. It is also possible, according to most historians, that Mark, Luke, Acts and 1 Peter were also written from Rome. It is also probable that Paul and Peter were martyred there, likely under Nero, (he was Caesar from 54-68 AD). The church in Rome received even greater persecution from both the Jews and Romans after the fire destroyed half the city in 64, the Christians were blamed for it, even though it was likely Nero so he could rebuild after his own design. Later, under Domitian (81-96 AD), the Christians were persecuted under the auspices of not worshipping the emperor.
It could be that Clement of Rome is the Clement who Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3, a “fellow laborer in Christ,” placing him solidly in the first century. There is also a Clement mention in “the Shepherd of Hemes,” dating to the early second century, this particular Clement is noted as a voice to the other churches. This is likely a better dating for Clement of Rome. Especially as Eusebius and other early historians account he was fourth after Peter to oversee Rome.
There are several letters attributed to Clement, some are questioned as to their genuineness. One is assured to be by him, it is a letter to the Corinthian church. In this letter he writes to correct a dispute after some of the leaders had been ejected from office. He assures the church that church authority and governance comes from the Lord and leaders should be respected and honored. Many view this work as an early teaching for the division of congregations and separate overseers, known as bishops.
Clement became unpopular with the Roman elite and he was banished to Chersonesus in the east, part of the Crimea (now Ukraine). While in chains working in a stone quarry he still continued to convert people to the gospel. For his effect upon the other prisoners he was then sentenced to death, he was bound to an anchor and thrown off a ship into the sea to drown. This was probably around the first part of the second century.
Through their leadership, through their writing, and through their resolved courage facing death, these church fathers helped to create a firm foundation for generations to come. Remember we are not alone in the difficulties we face, also, as we remember Clement, remember his teaching that authority comes from God. Let us therefore respect and honor those whom God has placed to govern the church.