Home » Bible » Commentary on Clement of Rome: Chapters 21 and 22

Commentary on Clement of Rome: Chapters 21 and 22

Take heed, beloved, lest His many kindnesses lead to the condemnation of us all. [For thus it must be] unless we walk worthy of Him, and with one mind do those things which are good and well-pleasing in His sight.

The essential meaning is perhaps straightforward.  Concentrate however on how the text says “His many kindnesses”.  Can kindness lead to our condemnation?  This leads to various traditions among the Church, mostly in two ways of looking at it.  One way to look at this is to describe God as a seemingly motionless or static Love who burns people who are unable to love Him back.  This has been a belief among those who hope for the salvation of all.  It is an enticing belief.  However, it also seems like we need to consider another tradition, a more dynamic understanding of God, where God does indeed get angry or joyful, rather than describe them as relative human experiences of a static divinity.  In this case, “His many kindnesses” can allude to the fact that we are abusing His kindness for not being diligent in doing His will.

So the question becomes how can an infinite God sound so human?  Well, it has a lot to do with our assumptions.  In some instances, the argument is made that many descriptions of God in the Old Testament is man’s limitations in describing God, and therefore, these are “anthropomorphisms”.  However, other people tend to frown upon this idea and say that a true Semitic principle is that man is made in the image of God.  Therefore, these are real divine descriptions where we emulate in our “theomorphic” realities.  That does not mean they believe God is flesh and bones like us, but they tend to look at it from a spiritual perspective and try to show that it would be unfair to describe such emotions as “anthropomorphisms” as if these are “fake” or “relative”.

Sistine Chapel, Source

This debate is very fascinating, and it has a lot to do between Semitic and Hellenic thought.  Sometimes, I use the word “Judaic” interchangeably with “Semitic”, but in reality, the ancient Judaic tradition does also have both “Semitic” and “Hellenic” schools of thought, which Christianity has naturally adopted.  The ancient Christian tradition was very diverse in its theological traditions.  For the longest time, scholars have studied ancient Christianity within a Roman/Byzantine imperial structure, with further divisions in Latin, Alexandrian, and Cappadocian schools of thought.  However, there was also the Semitic/Aramaic Christian world that seem to have spread to as far east as Persia, India, and China.  Then you also have Sub-Saharan African expressions (particularly Ethiopic) as well as the boarder line of the Roman and Persian empires, the Armenian tradition of theology.  It would be a great endeavor to find within these diverse traditions the ancient “Mere Christianity”, or as we Copts would like to boast with other Eastern Christians, “Orthodox Christianity,” the true “Apostolic faith” handed down from the very first century to now, and not from the sixteenth century to now (this is a reference to Protestants).

So this is a taste in a discussion that will lead to a future evolution in Christian theological teaching as the Church spreads and grows.  Is God statically “kindnesses”, or is God dynamic in His “kindnesses”?  I think the answer lies more in the realm of mystery, and it would not be far-fetched, I think, to accept both explanations as part of the infinite beauty of the divine paradox.

For [the Scripture] saith in a certain place, “The Spirit of the Lord is a candle searching the secret parts of the belly.” (Prov. 20:27) Let us reflect how near He is, and that none of the thoughts or reasonings in which we engage are hid from Him.

For He is a Searcher of the thoughts and desires [of the heart]: His breath is in us; and when He pleases, He will take it away.

Three things I like to talk about here:

1. The will and fear of God–>Christology–>Ecclesiology (this is where I explain the “…” in the middle of this quote)

2. Scriptural Reference

3. Pneumatology

1.  The moral conclusion is obvious.  There is nothing in us we can hide from God.  He is kind, but He is not a fool, not knowing what is in the depths of our heart.  Therefore, It is right that we should not leave the post which His will has assigned us.  In other words, we should behave as if we are not hiding anything from God, but openly following His will, or as St. Clement puts it, “not leaving the post” which “His will has assigned us”, making us sound like soldiers to God.  Like a soldier, if you leave your post, it is disastrous, and could mean death.  God is our commander, and we must be serious in the face of war.  And in war, prepare for offenses you will make, even if inadvertently: Let us rather offend those men who are foolish, and inconsiderate, and lifted up, and who glory in the pride of their speech, than [offend] God.  This is not to mean as directly offending men, but as following strictly the will of God, and sticking with the will of God even if other men by their pride try to pull us or push away from our post.  And as a soldier in his/her post, remember your place in the chain of command:

a. The first in the chain of command is Christ:  Let us reverence the Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood was given for us; An argument can be made by Arian theology that because Christ is the highest chain of command, He is created like all of us.  However, the uniqueness of Christ as the first chain of command shows that it is He who carries the perfection of the will of God, a true human embodiment of the divine will of God, and through Him, we all follow.  The perfection of the will of God is only from the Father, who alone is perfect.  Nevertheless, Christ teaches us in His humanity how to achieve divine perfection.  Based on previous blog posts regarding St. Clement’s ideas of the divinity of Christ, it is safe to say, not only can we derive from the highest chain of command true divine will, since He too is fully divine, but also true source of deification, since by the shedding of human blood, we are made into the perfection of the Father.  Our reverence to Christ, the highest chain of command, is a result of Christ making Himself a chain of command for us that we may ascend to the Father Himself!

b. The next in the chain of command is the bishop, or the “overseer”, the “rulers over us” as implied by the words:  let us esteem those who have the rule over us;

c. The next in the chain of command is the presbyter, or literally the “elder” or “aged”:  let us honour the aged among us;

d. The next in the chain of command is the deacon, who is trained at a young age in the service of God:  let us train up the young men in the fear of God;

e.  The next in the chain of command are the women.  While St. Clement talks about “the wives”, it does not exclude “the widows and the virgins”, two orders of the Church that will develop from this: let us direct our wives to that which is good. Let them exhibit the lovely habit of purity [in all their conduct]; let them show forth the sincere disposition of meekness; let them make manifest the command which they have of their tongue, by their manner of speaking; let them display their love, not by preferring one to another, but by showing equal affection to all that piously fear God.  It is interesting to note women are described as having a “disposition of meekness”.  Also, the “manner of speaking” is seen translated elsewhere as “manner of silence”.  Now, if you notice the command of a woman here, while it may seem that he is not clear talking about women, the pronoun here is “let them” instead of “let us”.  “Let us” would be a new train of thought, while “let them” discusses a continuation of a train of thought in this letter.  Therefore, this whole part is for “the wives”.  Nevertheless, it does not exclude the fact that these are good virtues any Christian, male or female, must obtain.  In fact, these are requirements before a man be chosen for the higher orders, well-pleasing in the sight of women who are well disposed in meekness.  It seems also, according to the ancient stereotype, women are well disposed in a sincere way to these virtues, as opposed to the idea that this is some chauvinistic command.  Doing so, watching their manner of speaking and their impartial love towards one another is actually a sign of pure and incorruptible femininity.  In a way, this is supposed to be our disposition in relation to everyone around us and to God.  Even males need to learn that their relationship to God is a cosmic femininity, and the wives are icons of these virtues.  Those males who perfected these virtues “naturally” belonging to women are then chosen for the deaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy, since they have learned true and perfected submission to the will of God, and their leadership in the Church must reflect those virtues, and not, as some may cynically think, a reflection of tyranny over women and all laity.

Coptic Cathedral in Stevenage; Notice the chain of command:  Bishop Angelos at the podium in the presence of a presbyter, subdeacons and lower orders, and the laity from the women’s side.

f.  The final chain of command are the young:  Let your children be partakers of true Christian training; let them learn of how great avail humility is with God—how much the spirit of pure affection can prevail with Him—how excellent and great His fear is, and how it saves all those who walk in it (or turn to Him) with a pure mind.  Again, notice how these virtues is something every Christian possesses, but not merely possesses, but learns.  For these things which children are trained in are a foundation for our all virtues, humility, fear of God, pure affection, pure mind.  I am almost tempted to think that “the Spirit of pure affection” is not a human spirit, but the Holy Spirit Himself, dwelling in the children, helping them “prevail with God,” learning to work with God.  The implication of this is that children are not exempt from the baptismal grace, that these words can be used as a justification of baptizing toddlers.

Notice, how the will and fear of God the Father is connected to reverence and worship of Christ, which is then connected to our ecclesiology in the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit.  We cannot follow the will of the Father without Christ, and we cannot become the body and assembly of Christ without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to build up for us our bishops, presbyters, deacons, and families.  The “chain of command” occurs in a liturgical setting, and in this chain of command, we receive the body and blood of Christ, which is, as St. Clement teaches, “given for us,” and this is through the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons.  This will be emphasized again and again by various Church fathers, most famously St. Ignatius of Antioch, who like St. Clement, had a relationship with at least one of the Apostles of Christ directly.

2.  The Scripture reference of Proverbs 20:27 is a very intriguing one.  If you go through and search for the exact reference, it says, “The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly” (KJV).  However, St. Clement says “the Spirit of the Lord is a candle”, not “the spirit of man”.  This shows he is commenting on and cross referencing from Proverbs, not quoting it verbatim.  It is only logical that one would investigate this further to see the Hebrew and Septuagint (1, 2, 3 references) occurrences of the word for “Spirit” used here and what lead him to interpret this as “the Spirit of the Lord”.  The Hebrew uses the word “nismat”, whereas the Greek uses the word “pnoh” (interestingly enough, the LXX is Proverbs 20:22, not verse 27).  The instances for these words, particularly the former Hebrew seems to have rarer instances than the latter Greek, seems to indicate an action, the inbreathing of God into man (like that of Genesis 2:7), not man’s own human spirit itself, but the Spirit of God, being the lamp (or the candle) inside man’s most inner depths, typified as “the belly”, the darkest corners of man’s human nature, his deepest part of his soul, which is not hidden away from God, particularly God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  “His breath is in us” says St. Clement.  God’s own divine and eternal Breath is in us.  Therefore:

3.  Being that God and the Holy Spirit is used interchangeably, since we cannot hide anything from God, that God can search our hearts, we cannot also hide anything from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is used to search our hearts, like a candle or a lamp.  He is the Lamp of God Himself.  By the Holy Spirit, He becomes a “searcher” of our thoughts and our desires.  He gives our souls life, and He can take it away from us.  It is very clear, implicatively, the Holy Spirit is fully God.  This is confirmed in the following Chapter as well, when St. Clement repeats how the Holy Spirit teaches us what is written from the Psalms on the admonition in the faith in Christ:

Now the faith which is in Christ confirms all these [admonitions]. For He Himself by the Holy Ghost thus addresses us…

And then St. Clement quotes Psalm 34:11-17 and Psalm 32:10 (based on the non-LXX numbering).  I have already addressed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the Scriptures on the commentary from Chapter 13, and how it is as if He wrote it and addressing us as God because He is fully God as the Father.

Finally, another Christological point.  Besides Christ being the highest in command (putting Him in equal command with the Father, by which we receive the command of the Father Himself), we also place our faith in Him.  We learn from Christ Himself that we should have faith in God (Mark 11:22).  We also know St. Paul teaches us that we do not have faith in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Cor. 2:5).  The word “faith” is much more complicated than any simple meaning we attach to the word.  It goes beyond the idea of “trust” or “belief”.  It seems to have a realm beyond transcendence.  This word is used in diverse ways, and is a very powerful word.  If the word is misused, it can lead us to learn from the epistle of St. James, setting right that the true faith is with works.  Right now, for simplicity’s sake so that I do not write much, true faith is in God, who is said in many instances to be “Faithful”.  There is nothing that exists in the cosmos that is truly “Faithful” as God.  Therefore, true faith is divine and it is in God.  This seems to be the train of thought throughout the Scriptures, to attain that faith in God.  If therefore, true faith is in God, to say to have “faith in Christ” is also to equate Christ with God, adding to our list of pre-Nicene theological thoughts that lead inevitably to the idea of the full divinity of Christ.  I hope to explain in full detail some day, God willing, on the theology of “faith”.

11th Century Fresco of St. Clement Celebrating the Mass, in an underground Church in Rome

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

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1 Comment

  1. […] one of my previous blog commentaries on St. Clement of Rome, I touched upon St. Clement’s use of Proverbs 20:27.  The Spirit of God is a lamp that […]

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