St. Clement of Rome, Pope and Martyr (1st Century)
St. Clement of Rome was a first century pope and martyr who provides a recorded crucial link between the Apostles of Christ and the successors of St. Peter. Unfortunately, like many saints of antiquity, Clement of Rome left behind almost nothing about the life he lived. What we do know about him is from a letter he wrote while acting as the Bishop of Rome. The other sources are from ancient writings by people such as the Church Fathers Tertullian, St. Irenaeus and St. Jerome.
What we know about Clement is that he was a Roman citizen in the first century and was most likely a freed man from the household of the emperor. Tertullian and Irenaeus tell us that Clement knew the Apostles and was baptized and ordained by St. Peter himself and he is recorded as being the fourth pope. Peter was succeeded by Linus and Cletus or Anacletus and then by Clement in the year A.D. 91.
The ancient writers generally agree that Clement was exiled from Rome by the Emperor Trajan and sent to the Crimea which is a republic of present day Ukraine on the northern coast of the Black Sea. The reason for his exile was his conversion of hundreds of people of rank amidst multiple miracles. While in exile he was forced into hard labor in the quarries of Crimea where he discovered a miraculous spring of water to assist the suffering quarry workers. So many conversions were caused by his preaching and miracles that nearly the entire country converted to the Faith and more than 70 churches were built.
This growth of the Church once again attracted the attention of Emperor Trajan who ordered the death of Clement by having him thrown into the Black Sea while tied to an anchor. The death of St. Clement is believed to have occurred in A.D. 99. In the year A.D. 868 St. Cyril, “Apostle to the Slavs,” unearthed human bones with an anchor found in a burial mound. Believing them to be the remains of the fourth pope, Cyril transported them to Rome where they were placed by Pope Adrian II with those of the first century bishop and martyr St. Ignatius of Antioch. The remains of both martyrs have for centuries been venerated in the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. The present day Basilica of St. Clement was probably built sometime during the eleventh or twelfth centuries. However, St. Jerome. living in the fifth century, referred to an extant basilica of St. Clement at the same location, which would have been a significant place of worship even hundreds of years before Clement’s remains were interred there.
Some time after the death of St. Paul, the Church at Corinth was undergoing a great deal of distress due to a revolt against its leaders, and this came to a head during the pontificate of Clement. As Bishop of Rome he dispatched a letter to the Church at Corinth reminding them of their former harmony and obedience. He called the Corinthians to repentance and peace and reminded them of the importance of deference to the authorities for which Christ’s own Apostles established a system of hierarchical governance.
Significantly, the Holy Trinity is first mentioned in this letter, as well as reference to the widespread persecutions that occurred throughout the empire, especially in Rome. The letter is resolute, yet honorable, and provides a sermon on how to live life in Christ. More significantly, the letter’s authoritative tone and unmistakable intervention in the affairs of a Church other than the one in Rome gives us a clear example of the deference paid to the authority of the Bishop of Rome as early as the late first century. Considering that the Apostle John was still alive when the Epistle was written, even more validity is given to the primacy of the papacy from the Church’s very beginnings.
St. Clement of Rome, whose name we hear recalled the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman Canon, was an important figure in the early Church, both as a martyr for the Faith and as the Bishop of Rome. His feast day is November 23 and he often depicted in art with a fish and an anchor.