The feast day of St Clement is 23 November, the same day as the saint that we shall look at in next week’s newsletter, St Columban.
Clement appears third on the traditional list of Bishops of Rome: Linus, Cletus, Clement…. St Irenaeus of Lyon suggests that he was Pope from 92 to 101. We know practically nothing about Clement. There is a letter which goes under his name written to the Church in Corinth in about 95. This document is one of the earliest Christian documents that we have. Over many centuries it had been lost – apart from a few snippets – and a full copy was only re-discovered in 1875.
The letter was a response to a letter from the Church in Corinth of which we know nothing, save what is said in Clements’s reply. This letter concerned troubles that were taking place in Corinth. There seems to have been something of an attempted coup there against the leaders of the Church. They appealed to Rome to help sort out these problems. The letter seems to have been successful in doing that but we know nothing about how it all worked out.
The fact that this letter from Clement is so early makes it a very precious part of our tradition.
One of my favourite Churches in Rome is San Clemente (Basilica of St Clement) which is only a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. It is the first place I would take new visitors to Rome. It is on three levels: at street level (more or less) is a very beautiful twelfth century basilica, below that is a fourth century basilica which has been excavated and below that again is a small Roman street, a Mithraic temple, some shops and an aqueduct which still brings in water. The whole complex gives us a slice through the history of Rome.
In those early centuries when the Church’s place in Roman society was not recognised and they were sometimes subject to persecution, Christians met in the homes of wealthier Christians because their houses were larger. The tradition is that the place where this Church now is was originally the house of Clement. There is no sign of it in the excavations but that is what has been handed down. Excavations continue there.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin