Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Clement I

"Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity" by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
“Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Going with the recent theme, we’re on to the fourth pope of the Church, Pope St. Clement I, who served as Bishop of Rome from 92 to 99 AD.  He is an Apostolic Father, meaning that he knew St. Peter and St. Paul, well enough to be mentioned by Paul in Philippians 4:3 and to be ordained a bishop by Peter.

Like St. Paul, he was a bit of a writer, but his most important (and most authentic) letter was to the Corinthians.  It’s not part of Scripture by only a few years, but it’s incredibly important!  The letter gives us a glimpse of what the Church was like just 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The people of Corinth were getting in trouble again, this time for starting to think they didn’t really want their bishop or priests.  So St. Clement wrote the community to teach them about what the apostles intended (he knew them, by the way) and what was the right thing to do.

One reason why the letter is so important is that it distinguishes very clearly the different, but important roles of the presbyters (what we call priests today), bishops, deacons, and laity.  Think about that – it’s 96 AD!  Vatican II wouldn’t happen for another 1800+ years!  Sometimes people think that priests, deacons, and bishops were invented later on as the Church got bigger, but as this letter shows us, things got very organized, very quickly.  Clement tells us that it’s because people get into fights (you know…like YOU CORINTHIANS) that the apostles provided for the succession of authority in the Church.

The other interesting thing goes back to why the letter was written.  Clement makes reference that the Corinthians actually sought him out for his attention and teaching.  Now why would the Corinthians, all the way over in Greece, write some guy in Rome?  Because he’s the pope, of course!  The idea and role of the papacy was still very primitive in the 1st century, but already, the Churches all over the world were looking to him as an authority!  That’s pretty cool!

The Church celebrates St. Clement as a martyr, although we’re not really sure how his death came about.  Legends were written about his death, and they’re probably based on at least a little truth, so let’s just go with it.  The legends say that when Trajan came to power in Rome in 98 AD, Clement was imprisoned and sent to work in a rock quarry near present-day Crimea.  When he arrived at the work camp, he found the prisoners starving from lack of water, so he knelt down in prayer, got up, and struck the ground with his pickaxe, releasing a stream of clean water.  I guess the Romans didn’t like that much, because he was martyred by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea (ouch!).  Today, his relics are housed in the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome, named in his honor.

It’s neat and sometimes surprising to see how alive and organized the Church was in these early times.  But wait!  There’s more popes to come!

Saints of the Roman Canon: Pope St. Cletus

saintc48Today we continue the list of the saints mentioned in the Roman Canon, and incidentally, we continue on down the line of the first popes.  Peter, of course, was the first, and St. Linus, who we discussed last week was the second, and that would make St. Cletus the third.  He is also referred to as St. Anacletus, so pick whichever name you prefer.  I’m going to stick with St. Cletus out of respect to our neighbors in St. Charles, for whom he is patron!

By all accounts, which are very, very few, St. Cletus was a Roman, born of Roman parents, and lived in Rome.  We don’t know much about his life prior to (or heck, even during) his papacy, but the fact that he was the third bishop of Rome shows his virtue among all the other disciples of St. Peter.

St. Cletus apparently wanted to do what he could to be more pastoral and take care of the needs of the people of Rome, and since the Roman Church was so large, he needed to harness his skills of organization to do it!  He was the first to establish 25 parishes in Rome, and ordained a number of priests to serve in them.  Incidentally, the 25 highest ranking Cardinals in the Church are still named as honorary pastors to these parishes today!

St. Cletus was martyred under the Emperor Domitian around 92 AD.  Domitian’s persecution was the first of the truly organized persecutions of Christians in the Empire.  Sure, Nero killed a number of Christians in 64 AD, including St. Peter and St. Paul, but for the most part, Nero was just lashing out.  Domitian’s persecution was organized and very harmful.  Those accused of being Christians were brought before a tribunal, and told to take the oath to the Roman Gods and the Emperor.  Not giving homage to these gods was considered unpatriotic and atheistic, so many of the early Christians were ironically tried as atheists.  When Christians refused the oath, they were condemned.  The victims were numerous, including Antipas (mentioned in Revelations 2:13) and members of the Emperor’s own household, which tells you how much Christianity had spread in just 60 years.  St. Cletus was one of those put to death as well, and was buried under St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome next to his predecessor, St. Linus.

Well, two down, and a few more popes to go!  See you next week!