I’m going to begin a series of small personal commentaries on the Church fathers, beginning with St. Clement of Rome’s epistle to the Corinthians. I will explain why some quotes stuck out to me. So we shall begin with Chapter 1.
The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, though our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied.
Two major themes stuck out on me in this quote. First it’s ecclesiological in nature. There was no concept of “Roman Church” or “Greek Church” or “Alexandrian Church.” It is the Church of God. And if you want to get technical, it is the Catholic Church of God. And so there were no place where they considered themselves “of the Church”, but “THE Church”. So it is not far-fetched to say where a bishop leads the community, there is THE Catholic Church. Not part of the Church, but the Church of God.
Neither are there two churches. They’re both one Church. They’re both THE Church. One just happens to be in Rome and the other in Corinth. And to make matters more appropriate, they are not claiming Rome and Corinth for themselves. They are “sojourning” in Rome and Corinth. Why is the concept of “sojourning” important? It is to signify that the Church of God is not temporal or geographical, but beyond space and time. The Church of God is eternal, because it is the mystical Body of Christ, who sits at the right hand of God. And so when we are baptized into the Church, we are baptized into Christ, and we take our residence, not in Rome or Corinth, but in the right hand of God with Christ. Our citizenship is not of this world, but of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are guests and strangers of this world, even if we were born here. But in baptism, we received the adoptive birth from on high, through water and spirit, begotten of the Father with Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, a recurring theme I will uphold is that it is ideally incorrect to call ourselves “the Coptic Church” or “the Russian Church” or “the Syriac Church”. Ideally, we are “the Church of God sojourning in Egypt” or “the Church of God sojourning in Russia” or “the Church of God sojourning in Syria.” And furthermore, if we strictly use the sojourning terminology, I belong to “the Church of God sojourning in the US which happens to pray in an ancient Coptic rite”. The Church is not Coptic, but it prays in a Coptic manner. And the Church is not American, but sojourns in America. For in the Kingdom of heaven, I believe there will be a manner of praying eternally better than the Coptic manner, and there will be a space for me that is eternally better than America. With this attitude, this humbling and pious attitude, this can be a first step in solving all ecclesiological anomalies the Orthodox Church of God faces today.
The second theme of this quote is the identity of Jesus Christ, which I will add this next part:
Who did not admire the sobriety and moderation of your godliness in Christ?
So to reiterate, St. Clement uses Christ in the context of God, and he does so three times:
- called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ
- grace…and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ
- your godliness in Christ
I read these passages once a while ago, but I wanted to read them again now searching for certain things that have a lot to do with some controversies that I read about as well as personal benefit or curiosities. One controversy was ecclesiology, and so the first quote stood out to me as something to explain many of our ecclesiological problems among the ancient Apostolic churches. Another controversy that you find among scholars is Christology, particularly pre-Nicene vs. Nicene Christology. I have in mind Arianism and how the Church developed to condemn Arian Christology. Arianism claims that there was a time when Christ was not (or did not exist). God the Father created the Logos, and through the Logos created all things. From what I gather, this is consonant with Platonic philosophy. It is too cumbersome for the Creator to be creating the world directly, and so He has to create a medium, a Demiurge, who will do all the dirty work for Him.
So it could seem perhaps Arius would not disagree with these three parts. But the Orthodox, or pro-Nicene party, would argue how then can they be called “godly” if it is not through someone who is true God from true God? Can someone do the will of God from a mere Demiurge-like figure? Can someone receive grace and peace from the same? And why create an abominable medium, just to agree with philosophers? So the question would then be, is St. Clement of Rome an Arian? As Orthodox, I would say, no! Although I would concede that the formula does not prove Arianism or Orthodoxy, it does prove that you cannot be called get to the Father without Christ. If you want to do the will of God, you must do the will of Christ. If you want the grace and peace of God, you must receive the grace and peace of Christ. If you are Christly, you are Godly. And there is no secret that this is a community that clearly worships Christ, and calls Him “Lord”. If Christianity is continuous from Judaism, remembering the first command, the Shema, “Here Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”, how can you call someone who is created “Lord” and worship Him if He is not truly uncreated Lord, who is One with the Father?
We shall see similar convocations on the Holy Spirit as well later on that reveals the same one divinity with the Father and Christ.
Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever, and to the ages of all ages. Amen!