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Commentary on Clement of Rome: Chapter 16

from St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church

This is quite an amazing chapter, and it is very important to consider the whole chapter in this instance.  I personally split the Chapter into five parts:

1. Introductory theme

2. Explanation and Trinitarian declaration

3. Quote from Isaiah 53 LXX

4. Quote from Psalm 22

5.  Conclusive Exhortation

So to begin:

For Christ is of those who are humble-minded, and not of those who exalt themselves over His flock.

This is profound.  The virtue of humility is huge for many Church fathers, first of all St. Clement.  It is very important to note that being humble, while it is an act of will, it is not an act of self-deprecation or an act of despairingly low self-esteem.  Rather it is first and foremost an act of being real, getting yourself back to reality, back to knowing what and who you truly are.  In this sense, I am reminded of the words of the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in his book “Beginning to Pray” where he describes us essentially as “nothing.”  He demonstrates this scary and dangerous reality by asking some questions.  Who are you?  Are you a mere name?  Are you your interests?  Are you your skills?  Are you your body?  Take all that away.  Try to find who and what you ESSENTIALLY are.  What if you lost your arms or legs where you depend on your skills?  What about your interests?  What if those are not available for you to be interested in?  If you like politics, does not it require a certain political atmosphere?  Metropolitan Anthony Bloom continues to challenge the reader how he/she identifies him/herself.  It seems the way we describe who or what we are is by the things around us and not by our true selves deep inside.  So he continues to challenge the reader to remove such idols of self-description, these “distractions” from your “true self”.  What are you left with?  Absolutely nothing!

And that is essentially what you are:  NOTHING!  Once you realize this, you have one of two choices:  despair or joy.  The good Metropolitan thus exhorts the reader to rejoice in finding that true identity because now you know the next step of your purpose in life.  Search out for the one who is truly “something”, and pray to Him.  Only in Him does He remove from you the stigma of nothingness into His level of dignity and existence.  And here we come to another interesting reality.  God is not interested in pomp and vain glory.  He is interested in you being real with yourself and being real with Him.  That is humility.  To be realistic is to know how much you are nothing and mean nothing, but that you do not despair in such reality, but rejoice in the reality that God Himself also reduces Himself to nothing for you.

Did not Christ say “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart”?  God truly is vast and infinite and wondrous, and yet chose the reality of our created selves, partaking of our essential nothingness.  And here is where the Holy Trinity comes to light in accomplishing and witnessing the acknowledgement of our true reality and the reality we wish to accomplish in Christ:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sceptre of the majesty of God, did not come in the pomp of pride or arrogance, although He might have done so, but in a lowly condition, as the Holy Spirit had declared regarding Him.

The reality is that Jesus is the “Sceptre of the majesty of God”.  Consider this analogy for a second to understand what St. Clement is saying about Jesus.  A King holds a sceptre, and it is this sceptre that declares His sovereign rule over all his subjects.  The King is not a ruler by nature without the sceptre.  He depends on this sceptre.  If he does not hold this sceptre, the subjects do not recognize his kingship.  Imagine this now with the description of Jesus as “the Sceptre of the majesty of God”.  You cannot know God “as God” without Christ.  He declares His authority.  One asks a very simple question after that.  Was there a time when a King is without His Sceptre?  In real life, a King is no King without His Sceptre.  In fact, it can be argued that the Sceptre came before the King in created life.  But in the uncreated realm, God and His Sceptre are co-equal, co-existent.  A mere creation cannot be a “sceptre” of the uncreated Godhead.  Anyone who argues otherwise can only show that Jesus is not really a “sceptre”, but “at best” an abstract “sceptre”.

Furthermore, if there was only a “Monad”, it is sufficient that God can be His very own Sceptre because He does not not “need” anyone else to declare Him.  He is “self-declarative” and “self-sufficient” in and of Himself.  But the truth is that the Trinity shows how much they declare to each other the truth of their co-eternal nature.  Theoretically speaking, a King may not need a sceptre and create another one, but the fact is that there needs to always be some sort of image of this human being as a King over all subjects.  Strip the King of his clothes, his sceptre, or even a mere paper of his authority, and the king is nothing more than his subjects, no different from others.  In the divinity, God does not need to “create” sceptres; His Son, Jesus the Christ is this eternal Sceptre that establishes the Godhead firmly and truly before all creation.  Therefore, the Father is God, the Son is the Sceptre of the Godhead, being equally God, and the Holy Spirit confirms this and influences others of the Godhead of the Father and the Son, showing that only He who “knows God”, and influences others to know Him “is God”, since the Spirit, writes the word of God, as was attested earlier by St. Clement.

So now we know the identity of Christ, let us also consider that He did not show up the fact He is THE Sceptre.  He had every right to do so.  Instead, becoming like us in all things except sin, He became “real”.  He became as we are in our own essential nothingness.  Strip the created king from his created clothes and created sceptre and he is like his subjects, EXACTLY, physically, physiologically, biochemically, etc.  Strip Christ of His real humanity, and you find the truly glorious, wonderous, infinite, Godhead.  Christ therefore represents two realities:  the Sceptre of Godhead and the nothingness of our lowly created selves.  He preserves the integrity of both, and reveals Himself as this real human being, teaching us to be real in Him, that we may also be dignified in His “Sceptre-hood”, and through Him reveal to others the majesty of God.

Great therefore is the mystery of Godliness!  For divinity is revealed through humility in such an ironic and paradoxical fashion.  Yet this is the most praiseworthy we can think of Christ.  For if He simply came as a King with idols of gold and the pomp of richly sewn garments, we would have a God who merely tries to conquer other Kings by their own arrogance and self-delusions.  God is the “true real” God, and as “real”, He becomes a “true real” human, and shows us the divinity by the excellent virtues of His humanity, through which we should imitate and into which we should mingle with.

St. Clement then tells us this is what the Holy Spirit declared of Christ:

For He [the Holy Spirit] says, “Lord, who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

We have declared [our message] in His presence: He is, as it were, a child, and like a root in thirsty ground; He has no form nor glory, yea, we saw Him, and He had no form nor comeliness; but His form was without eminence, yea, deficient in comparison with the [ordinary] form of men.

He is a man exposed to stripes and suffering, and acquainted with the endurance of grief: for His countenance was turned away; He was despised, and not esteemed.

He bears our iniquities, and is in sorrow for our sakes; yet we supposed that [on His own account] He was exposed to labour, and stripes, and affliction.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we were healed.

All we, like sheep, have gone astray; [every] man has wandered in his own way; and the Lord has delivered Him up for our sins,

while He in the midst of His sufferings openeth not His mouth. He was brought as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before her shearer is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.

In His humiliation His judgment was taken away; who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken from the earth. For the transgressions of my people was He brought down to death.

And I will give the wicked for His sepulchre, and the rich for His death, because He did no iniquity, neither was guile found in His mouth.

And the Lord is pleased to purify Him by stripes. If ye make an offering for sin, your soul shall see a long-lived seed.

And the Lord is pleased to relieve Him of the affliction of His soul, to show Him light, and to form Him with understanding, to justify the Just One who ministereth well to many; and He Himself shall carry their sins.

On this account He shall inherit many, and shall divide the spoil of the strong; because His soul was delivered to death, and He was reckoned among the transgressors, and He bare the sins of many, and for their sins was He delivered.”

This is the famous passage of Isaiah 53.  It is important to compare this to the KJV version of this passage:

1Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

12 Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

There is so much to discuss, but for the sake of brevity, one major difference is the 10th verse of this chapter.  In the LXX, it is not “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him”, but “it pleased the Lord to relieve Him from His affliction” because He who is sinless carried the sins of all.  The humility of Christ does not end with His incarnation, but even with His humiliating beatings, insults, “stripes”, and finally death, even to the point of being crucified with actual criminals who deserve death.  But the Father, seeing the “righteous One” taking upon Himself the chastisement of all the sinners, being punished as a sinner even though He was no sinner, humbling Himself even to the point of death, it pleased the Lord that the stripes come as a means of purification, that those who believe in the sacrifice of Christ will live long, and that it will further please and move God to relieve you once and for all from afflictions, since you are partaking of the righteous afflictions of Christ Himself.  The depth of humility therefore, the extreme humility of Christ, not just as a humble pauper of a human being, but even a humiliated image of a criminal sinner, even though innocent and “without guile”, shows us the “infinite power” of God in “infinite humility”.  True divinity is not found in pomp, but in true and deep humility in Christ.

The Holy Spirit writes another passage about the humility of Christ in the Psalms:

And again He saith, “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All that see Me have derided Me; they have spoken with their lips; they have wagged their head, [saying] He hoped in God, let Him deliver Him, let Him save Him, since He delighteth in Him.”

This passage bears little difference with the KJV on this instance.  Nevertheless, it is the famous Psalm 22 of Christ’s proclamation on the Cross: “Eloi! Eloi! Lama Sabacthani!”  Once again, highlighting the extreme humility of Christ’s suffering and derision of His suffering.  In the gospels, it is even verbatim mentioned, “Let Him save Himself!”  And others responded with derision, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.”  The people around the crucified Christ seem to be blind to the divine humility and vainly search for a certain pomposity and haughtiness of divinity.  The Pharisee is looking for a divinity that is like him, who “gives thanks” for not being like the sinners, but being “something”.  God therefore fulfills the commandment that you shall only worship the Lord your God and nothing else, for those who think highly of themselves worship themselves and blind themselves from the reality of themselves and of the True God.  The publican got it right.  He was real about Himself as if he was not even a man, but a worm, and asked, nay BEGGED, for forgiveness and salvation.  Christ is seeking those who are true to themselves as Christ was true to Himself, both in His humanity and divinity.  Without Christ, then we would all despair and lose hope.  Without God, suicide would be our mercy.  However, GOD EXISTS, and He loves the broken-hearted, the ones who are true to themselves in true humility.  Therefore, scream:  Lord have mercy!  Only then, God will visit your heart, raise you up higher than yourself and even into unreachable heights.  Be true to yourselves for you are nothing, but have hope in the True Hope of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

And as the Holy Spirit has declared Christ in writing, so let the Holy Spirit declare Christ in your heart, that in your nothingness, you are brought to infinite dignity.  Therefore, if you want be open to the infinite glory of Christ, be humble in Him.  As St. Clement exhorts:

Ye see, beloved, what is the example which has been given us; for if the Lord thus humbled Himself, what shall we do who have through Him come under the yoke of His grace?

St. Dismas, the Good Thief, late 20th century Russian icon, from skete.com

If Christ had such infinite humility, what are we waiting for?  Why can we not start to become just a little bit more realistic about ourselves before Him?  Remove from your life the distractions that delude the descriptions of what you truly are, and you will not only find yourself, but even find God in Christ, the co-eternal Word!  The bad thief was distracted and joined with others the derision of Christ, but the good thief became real, and asked for mercy from the crucified and humble and Infinite God.

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of all ages.  Amen!

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