Tag Archives: Early Church

Ad Fontes! #1: The Apostolic Fathers – 1 Clement

When we come to ch.18 of the Acts of the Apostles, we read these words, “After this (that is, after Paul’s brief stint in Athens) Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.” (Acts 18:1). Luke records:

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:5-11).

Paul’s eighteen months in Corinth would end with the Apostle being brought before the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio (the brother of the famed Stoic philosopher, Seneca) who refused to hear the case; a few days later, Paul returned to Antioch.

But this would not be the Apostle’s final dealing with the Corinthian believers. Two of our New Testament epistles are addressed to the saints of God at Corinth. From the first of these epistles we gather that whatever might have been the state of the church when Paul was present, it had certainly devolved; I will not here relate an exhaustive list of their troubles, but instead point you to 1 Corinthians with the exhortation tolle lege! Take up and read for yourself!

One of the issues that plagued the Corinthian church was factionalism. Paul writes, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” (1 Cor. 1:10-12). Clearly, the Corinthian church didn’t understand that the Apostles and Apollos were not garnering for their loyalty to themselves; rather, they were representatives of Jesus, preaching the same gospel message, and calling on every man and woman to submit to the rule of Christ! Instead, the Corinthians had fallen into a petty tribalism, dividing themselves in the names of the Apostles, though not with the apostolic blessing. Paul upbraids them, saying, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving in only a human way?” (1 Cor. 3:2-3). There is a division in the work of the pastors who have touched Corinth. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it is God Who gives the growth. Paul reasons, “He who plants and he who waters are one.” (1 Cor. 3:8). Paul and Apollos are not divided, but are united in the work of Christ. How, then, can the Corinthians justify their factionalism? They must be united by the one Foundation of the church – Christ Jesus our Lord!

By the time Paul writes his second epistle to the Corinthians (at least, the second epistle that has come to us in God’s providence), the division that we see addressed in the first epistle has seemingly subsided, as it doesn’t come up in the same way. But the church of Corinth, with all of its issues, didn’t simply disappear after 1-2 Corinthians.

Enter the writings we refer to as The Apostolic Fathers. Who were the “Apostolic Fathers”? We should be clear what we mean by “Fathers”. When we consider the history of the church, the men who had a formative role at the beginning of the church’s history were the Early Church Fathers. The Patristic age of the church – the time in which the Fathers were writing their theological works and commentaries on Scripture – is measured differently by different theologians and church historians. Though there is not a defined consensus as to when the Patristic period ends, its beginning is clearly delineated. The Patristic period begins with the works of those theologians and bishops who wrote in the generation that followed the passing of the Apostolic age – the time in which the Apostles were alive and ministering, the surviving writings of which make up our New Testament. The “Apostolic Fathers” were those Church Fathers whose works were written in the time immediately after the Apostles (though some writings, like The Didache, might even overlap historically with the writings of the New Testament). Indeed, some even knew the Apostles – for instance, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, is said to have been a disciple of the Apostle John.[1] To put it another way, The Apostolic Fathers is the collection of writings of the Church Fathers writing from the late first century to the middle of the second. Though their writings are not inspired in the way Holy Scripture is, they are valuable in showing us how the apostolic teachings and practices carried on in the early church immediately after their passing.

Though it is likely not the first chronologically, the first work from The Apostolic Fathers we will examine is 1 Clement. It was written around the end of the first century. A couple of points must be made clear about the work itself. First, nowhere in 1 Clement are we told that Clement wrote the epistle; instead, what is made clear from the outset is that it is a letter from “The church of God that sojourns in Rome”.[2] Clement of Rome, however, is widely attested by early Christian writers to be the author, he being an elder among a group of elders at Rome who put into writing the agreed response to troubling happenings in the addressed church – namely, in “the church of God that sojourns in Corinth.”[3] This brings us to our second point. Though we are perhaps correct in recognizing Clement’s authorship of this epistle, it is not First Clement; that is to say, though we call 2 Clement Second Clement, it was likely not written by Clement of Rome, but merely attributed to him. Thus, First Clement might better be titled The Epistle of the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth with the understanding that it was Clement who put to paper the overall concerns of the elders in the Roman church. But, for brevity and for history’s sake, I will continue to refer to it as 1 Clement.

One thing to note about this epistle, and something that will be true about a very many writings of the Church Fathers, is that it is an occasional work. What I mean by this is that it was, like the epistles of the New Testament, written to a particular audience for a particular purpose; however, like the writings of the New Testament, its particularity does not prevent a wider application. Hopefully, this will become clear as we progress.

The question then arises: “What was the occasion that necessitated the writing of this epistle?” Perhaps another way of asking this question is: “What happened to the church at Corinth after 2 Corinthians?” It would seem that, at least at first, the church at Corinth had repented of the things concerning which Paul had written them. Clement writes, “For you did everything without partiality, and you lived in accordance with the laws of God, submitting yourselves to your leaders and giving to the elders among you due honor.”[4] This is a far cry from the Corinthian church we read about in 1 Corinthians.

But note that Clement speaks in the past tense. This is because trouble had arisen at Corinth once again. Yet again the church had been broken by division, what Clement calls a “detestable and unholy schism”.[5] Apparently, though we’re not given the precise details as to why it happened, a faction of “reckless and arrogant persons”[6] had arisen and deposed the elders of the church. Jealousy had led to the stirring up of “those without honor against the honored, those of no repute against the highly reputed, the foolish against the wise, the young against the old.”[7] This description is telling. Unlike the earlier schism that we read about in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, the present division isn’t a division between followers of different godly teachers; rather, what is present in Corinth at the writing of 1 Clement is a full-scale revolt of the young, foolish, and arrogant against their older, godlier, and wiser leadership. This was such an outrage that news of it had traveled from Corinth to Rome, and Corinth’s sister church felt obliged to write to them, exhorting them to repent.

Clement, in his expertly crafted epistle, relates what amounts to a two ways scenario – the rebels and those who follow them can continue on in arrogant jealousy, or they can submit in love and humility to the authorities that God Himself has placed over them in His providence, particularly to the elders and to the bishop, who at this time would have similar to what today is the pastor of the local congregation, the elder tasked with overseeing and teaching the church. Later on in church history we see the bishop take on a different role than that which he held in the Apostolic period and that of the Apostolic Fathers. Even here, though, Clement points out the wickedness of revolting against God’s ordained church government. He writes, “Our apostles likewise knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife over the bishop’s office. For this reason, therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the leaders mentioned earlier and afterwards they gave the offices a permanent character; that is, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry.”[8]

It was the Apostles who had founded the churches who had, in the authority Christ had given them, laid down the method of preserving and passing down the offices of elder and bishop – and that method was not through the revolt of people who thought they could do better than their pastor and elders. Thus, writes Clement, “These, therefore, who were appointed by [the Apostles] or, later on, by other reputable men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ blamelessly, humbly, peaceably, and unselfishly, and for a long time have been well-spoken of by all – these we consider to be unjustly removed from their ministry. For it will be no small sin for us if we depose from the bishop’s office those who have offered the gifts blamelessly and in holiness.”[9]

Clearly, there are good, biblical reasons to remove a pastor or elder from office – a lifestyle marked by unrepentant sin or a shameless and willful heresy, for example. But the elders who had been deposed by the rebels were deposed to assuage the arrogant jealousy of sinners; in other words, the rebels thought they were more deserving and could do a better job than their elders who had been lawfully placed in office, either by the Apostles themselves, or through the means of ordination passed down from them. The Corinthians, then, stood in defiance not only of the elders and their bishop, not only of the Apostles, but of God Himself, for they were shunning the apostolic order that had been put in place by apostolic authority, the authority of the reigning Christ through His Apostles.

Clement pleads, “Why is there strife and angry outbursts and dissension and schisms and conflict among you? Do we not have one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace that was poured out upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ? Why do we tear and rip apart the members of Christ, and rebel against our own body, and reach such a level of insanity that we forget that we are members of one another?”[10] Though, as we said before, the division in Corinth during the time of Clement is slightly different than what we read of in 1 Corinthians, the antidote proffered by Clement is the same as that of Paul – namely, it is theological. Our unity as a church is directly related to the unity of Christ. Paul rhetorically asks, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). Our unity arises in being united to the undivided Christ; united to Him, we are united to each other – He as our Head, and we as His Body. (1 Cor. 12:12-26). As we are one body in Him, then to tear at each other is to tear apart our own members, as though the arm were to revolt against the leg, hacking it to pieces. No wonder Clement calls it insanity!

Paul, in reminding the Corinthians that they are one body in Christ, also points out that though they are one body, God has appointed different offices variously gifted in the church for the building up of the whole. (1 Cor. 12:27-28). This is precisely what Clement seeks to remind the Corinthians. Everyone is gifted, but not everyone is gifted by God for the work of being an elder, and those who are must be confirmed as such by the church through the process of ordination rather than through arrogant conquest as the rebels had done. An ordered church that honors the God of order is one in which the offices God has placed over the church to serve them for their good are recognized through humble submission to their authority and love for one another. Division in a church is a sin, a shame, and a sorrow to every member of that congregation; but it is also a sorrow to the church as a whole, for we are all one in Christ. This is why Clement’s plea to the Corinthians is so earnest. The church at Rome weeps for the division of the church at Corinth… and the wider world looks on and mocks! Clement writes, “And this report has reached not only us but also those who differ from us, with the result that you heap blasphemies upon the name of the Lord because of your folly, and create danger for yourselves as well.”[11]

Instead of continuing in this mad revolt, the church at Rome calls upon the church at Corinth to repent, and to united in Christian love. Clement, plainly inspired by the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, pens this beautiful call to love one another:

Who can describe the bond of God’s love? Who is able to explain the majesty of its beauty? The height to which love leads is indescribable. Love unites us with God; love covers a multitude of sins; love endures all things, is patient in all things. There is nothing coarse, nothing arrogant in love. Love knows nothing of schisms, love leads no rebellions, love does everything in harmony. In love all the elect of God were made perfect; without love nothing is pleasing to God. In love the Master received us. Because of the love that he had for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, in accordance with God’s will, gave his blood for us, and his flesh for our flesh, and his life for our lives. You see, dear friends, how great and wonderful love is; its perfection is beyond description. Who is worthy to be found in it, except those whom God considers worthy? Let us therefore ask and petition his mercy, so that we may be found blameless in love, standing apart from any human factiousness.[12]


I have not sought to summarize the whole of 1 Clement, but merely to introduce you to the work through a broad meditation; this will be my goal in all of these articles. This relatively brief epistle was written at the turn of the first century, but it speaks volumes to the church today that is so keen to divide at the drop of a hat and whose elders and pastors are often deposed on less than biblical grounds. The rebels at Corinth, rather than submitting in love and humility to God’s ordained authority structure in the church, acted in malice and arrogance in removing the lawfully-ordained elders and unjustly replacing them with leaders who would bow to the will of the revolt. Sadly, this continues to happen in our day as well. I’ve actually been at a service before where the people of the church stood up and unjustly shouted their pastor down, and that while he was beginning to preach God’s Word. The thought that went through my mind during this godless display of chaos was the same that Clement points out, “This isn’t love. This isn’t humility. This is an embarrassment to the church, and the community will blaspheme God because of the actions of these rebels.”

Note that Clement, writing on behalf of the church at Rome, doesn’t shy from telling the truth, and yet throughout his tone is not pompous, but irenic. He truly seeks the repentance of the rebels and the greater glory of God! He calls upon them as a brother to brothers to give up their warring madness, as the hymn-writer says, and return to Christian love and unity in humble submission to those God has placed over them for their good. Clement’s simultaneously gentle but firm plea to the church at Corinth is inspiring; such a Christlike attitude should be emulated by all who truly seek the unity of God’s people, even when they’re interacting with those who are biblically in the wrong.

1 Clement, as well as the rest of The Apostolic Fathers might be read for free online; my recommended edition of the text, however, is the third edition of Michael W. Holmes translation; it can be found here.

[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.3.; Irenaeus’ account of Polycarp, whom he met when but a child, will be quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, IV.14.

[2] 1 Clement, salutation.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 1.3.

[5] Ibid., 1.1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 3.3.

[8] Ibid., 44.1-2.

[9] Ibid., 44.3-4.

[10] Ibid., 46.5-7.

[11] Ibid., 47.7.

[12] Ibid., 49.2-50.2.

Learning from Then for Now and Tomorrow

“The teachings of our godly fathers are scorned. What the apostles have handed down is vilified. The inventions of modernizers are fashionable in the churches. Instead of being theologians, men are now fabricators of devious new systems of belief. The glory of the cross has been rejected, and the wisdom of this world wins the top prizes. The shepherds are driven away, and in their place dreadful wolves come in, hounding the sheep of Christ. The houses of prayer stand empty; mourning crowds have retreated into the desert. The older folk weep when they compare the present with the past. The younger folk are to be pitied all the more, for they don’t even know what they’ve lost.”

How descriptive of the church of our time! Someone who recognizes and states so plainly the straits in which the modern church finds herself is surely someone worthy of a hearing! But, if you read this thinking it to be a Keller or a Ferguson or a Trueman, you are mistaken.

It’s Basil of Caesarea… and it was written in the fourth century.

Truly, we have much to learn from our past for the sake of our present… and our future!

“Your Valentine”

Asterius, the Roman judge, a man respected by all who knew him, even more by those who knew only his reputation, sat weeping in the dark like a lost child.

This was not the first time. During the day he played the part expected of him – honorable, grave, and firm. To his servants he was a fair master. To his wife he was a loving husband. And to his little daughter…

The tears flowed freely as he sobbed alone. “My little girl… what will become of you, my sweet Camilla?” The child had reached her sixth year and had only ever known darkness from her entrance into this world. Though she could not see, she was not unhappy; she played with the other children, had learned to navigate the home and its surroundings, and her smile brightened her father’s darkness. But at night, while Camilla lay sleeping in her bed, and his wife in hers, Asterius would mourn his daughter’s blindness and weep for her future.

“Why do you weep, Asterius?” A voice pierced the surrounding night.

It was Valentinus the Christian. As Asterius turned toward the voice, he could make out by what little light there was the man’s long, flowing white hair. Valentinus was not an old man, but his hair was white as snow; indeed, something about his eyes seemed ancient. For his crimes against the Emperor, crimes which included being a leader in the movement he called The Way, and performing marriages in the name of the Jew, Jesus, Valentinus had been arrested and imprisoned. Because he was a citizen of Rome, he avoided the executioner’s block and the common pits where they generally threw the undesirables. Instead, Asterius had put him under house arrest… and that in his own house. Something about the man…

“I weep for my daughter’s blindness,” he replied. “I weep because the gods have cursed her with this fate… have cursed her, my flower, my sunshine!” At this he dropped to the ground, weeping uncontrollably.

“I weep… every night I weep… because no matter how many offerings I offer, how many prayers I raise to them, she is still blind!” He looked deeply into the ancient eyes of Valentinus. “How can one bright as she live in such darkness? The gods are cruel!”

The bishop sat on the ground beside Asterius and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“I once had a child, a son. His name was Gaius, but my wife and I called him ‘little cub.’ I loved him dearly; I loved her… My fondest memory is of them. I can see him playing at her feet. I can see the sun shining through her golden hair.” Valentinus smiled.

“What happened to them?” Asterius asked.

“My Lord took them to Himself,” he replied. “But I will see them again!”

“How do you know? How do you know that this life is not all there is? that the gods are not just stones?”

“Your gods are stones, Asterius,” Valentinus answered. “Nothing more. They do not hear you because they cannot hear you. I know I will see my wife again because my God lives; because the Christ has risen, my wife and my son will rise also unto a new and everlasting life, as will all who have trusted in Jesus.”

Asterius’ mind, always reaching for a hope, began to calculate upon the words of his prisoner. Valentinus was here in his home for espousing this atheism, this denial of the Roman gods. But, Valentinus’ faith was stronger than his own. True, the bishop might have denied the gods, but he did so because he believed his God was true and living. Perhaps this God would hear the prayers that had so long gone unheard by stone; perhaps He would answer the prayers of His white-haired servant.

“Valentinus, can your Jesus heal my daughter? You say He hears you; will you pray that my Camilla will see? I am a wealthy man. Ask whatever you wish, and if I can do it, I will. But please, beseech your God to heal my sweet girl! Please!” Asterius grasped Valentinus’ hand, the judge begging the prisoner for his help.

“I will pray for your daughter,” said Valentinus. “And all I ask of you is that when my Jesus has given your daughter sight, you and your household turn from these dead stones to the living God in faith, and that you be baptized and taught The Way.”

Asterius consented. Perhaps he knew that becoming a Christian meant becoming an outsider, a persecuted and hated thing in the eyes of all Romans. But he didn’t care about “the eyes of all Romans”; he only wanted his little girl to see. Gently, he woke his wife and told her what Valentinus had said. She rose from bed and went with him to wake Camilla. Within a few moments, he was again on the terrace before the white-haired bishop.

The girl was not frightened or in the least alarmed by everything that was transpiring. Rather, she seemed to see more clearly than those around her that all would be well as her father placed her in Valentinus’ arms.

He looked upon the girl with a deep love, the love of a father for his child, and then, closing his eyes, he prayed: “Father, hear my prayer for the sake of Your Son, Jesus the Christ! You Who make the seeing and the blind, Who sent Your Son to open the eyes of those who could not see, open her eyes. Be glorified this night, my Lord!”

There was no lightning bolt that split the sky. There was no earthquake that sent the surrounding columns tumbling to the earth. No, that night, a little girl smiled and laughed when she looked with her own opened eyes into those of the white-haired man who held her. And Asterius and his wife fell to their knees, weeping tears of joy and thanking again and again the God Who lives!

The coming days would see the breaking of Asterius’ household gods, the deaf idols of stone in which he had once trusted. He and his wife and his servants would all be catechized and baptized by Valentinus over the following weeks, as would little Camilla, to whom Valentinus became a second father. After his release, the bishop and Camilla would often write to one another, maintaining their friendship through their correspondence.

Eventually, Valentinus would be arrested again for following Christ and for performing Christian marriages for believers who loved one another. This time, however, he would be brought before the Emperor Claudius II, and when Valentinus attempted to convert the Emperor to Christianity, Claudius ordered his execution.

Before he died, Valentinus wrote a final letter to his daughter in Christ:

My sweet girl,

I go now to our Lord, to await the resurrection of the dead. This is not the end. Just as my beloved wife and son have gone before me, so now I am going before you. But we will meet again. One day our eyes that see so dimly here will look upon the glorious face of our Lord Jesus and we will live forever with Him in His Kingdom. Remain steadfast, dear one, and walk in the Way of Christ our Savior. My love for you and for your family does not die with my body; love goes on, and I will carry it with me to heaven. Even when all else fades, love endures.

Grace and Peace to You,

Your Valentine


Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of St. Valentine, will soon be upon us. Valentine (Latin, Valentinus) is a difficult personage to nail down historically; Valentinus was a common name between the 2nd and 8th centuries, and there are numerous martyrs who bore this moniker. What I have presented here is my own take on the tale most commonly told about THE Valentine after whom the day is named; that is, he was a bishop near Rome who was martyred at some point around 270 AD for his faith and for performing Christian marriages. Tradition gives us the tale of his healing the judge’s blind daughter. Little else is known about this particular historical Valentine; of course, my account is fictionalized and I took artistic and historical license, but I hope the message gets through. Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.” William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” Revelation 19:6-8

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:25-33