The Pope Who Helped Anchor the Early Church…Literally!

"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.

saintc48The 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!

Pope St. Linus…and his blanket

220px-Pope_Linus_IllustrationJust kidding.  There’s no blanket.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve gone through the early apostles and learned a little about their lives and the greater traditions surrounding them. The apostles were genuinely fantastic figures, from all we’ve been able to learn from them! But our first Eucharistic Prayer is a unique gift in that it also throws out there a lot of names that we don’t usually hear about: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, and on. The theory is that these names were mentioned in the prayer because they meant so much to the faithful of the Church in Rome. Members of the Church there would have personally known these individuals and would have heard their preaching. The prayer comes from ancient times, so these names were their contemporaries.

So following the list, our first saint is St. Linus. No, he wasn’t famous for holding his security blanket and waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. Everybody knows that St. Peter was the first pope, but do you know the second? That’s right! Pope St. Linus! Many of the early Fathers of the Church attest to this as well, and he is even mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy. How appropriate, because he was an associate of St. Paul, and most likely ordained a bishop by the Great Apostle himself. St. Linus, therefore, might be considered one of the “Apostlolic Fathers,” that generation of saints who weren’t apostles themselves, but who knew and learned from the apostles and succeeded them in their ministry. We will continue to hear about the Apostolic Fathers in the near future.

Statue of St. Linus Portico Ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Statue of St. Linus
Portico Ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Typically, the Church celebrates St. Linus as a martyr, as we do most of the other first popes, but it’s unclear how true that is. Certainly St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in Rome under the Emperor Nero, and it might be possible that St. Linus was caught up in the aftermath of that, but after Nero, there were very few open persecutions until the Emperor Domitian, who reigned 13 years later. Still, St. Linus could have suffered what the Early Church called a “white martyrdom” in his sufferings for the faith. After his death on September 23, St. Linus was buried on the Vatican Hill in Rome, next to St. Peter. Today, his remains are believed to be in a tomb near the apostle under the great St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tune in next week for another pope!

Saints of the Roman Canon: St. Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius_of_Antioch_2Today’s saint, St. Ignatius of Antioch, is incredibly important for our Church.  He converted to Christianity at an early age, and became a disciple of St. John the Apostle.  After learning from John the ways of the Gospel, he became the third bishop of Antioch in Syria, which meant that he was also the second successor to St. Peter from his time in Antioch.  Between St. John and St. Peter, talk about big sandals to fill!  Still, St. Ignatius did well, and was a good and holy pastor, preparing his people well for the persecutions by inspiring them to devotion, prayer, and fasting.

Now, when you’re the bishop of an important place like Antioch, you’re going to attract a lot of attention, some of it unwanted.  After helping his people through the persecutions of Domitian, Ignatius himself was arrested under the next wave of persecutions under Trajan.  But it was during his time travelling to Rome for trial that he provided some of his most important work.

St. Ignatius spent the time in transit to Rome writing letters to the various Churches, and provides a number of important themes.  The first notable contribution was that St. Ignatius was one of the first to use the term “Catholic” with reference to the Church.  He used it to describe the Church as “universal” in two ways.  First, the Church is universal in that it embraces people of all cultures and backgrounds.  When we are Catholic, we extend the love of neighbor to all, just as Christ teaches us.  But Ignatius also says the Church is universal in that it embraces all that Christ has revealed to us in our Scripture and Tradition.  We can’t pick and choose what elements of Christianity we want to accept.  If that were the case, we would be Gnostics, one of the very groups St. Ignatius fought so hard to defend the Church against!

The second notable contribution from St. Ignatius’s letters was his understanding of the Eucharist.  Sometimes we can think that our belief of the Eucharist as the Body of Christ was some later development, and that early Christians didn’t think this way.  But even in the 1st century, Ignatius was displaying a very strong belief of the Real Presence of Jesus in the host – not as a symbol or an idea, but the belief that Jesus truly is present in the Eucharist.  Even this early, St. Ignatius understood that the Eucharist was a sacrifice connected to the Cross.  This might not seem like a big deal, but it really is!  Even 60 years after Jesus, Christians already believed and professed many of the same things we do today!

St. Ignatius took that belief of the Eucharist to his martyrdom.  He saw his life as a sacrifice – his way of living out the Eucharist for the good of the Church.  Even as he was marched into the Coliseum to be eaten by wild beasts for the pleasure of the crowds, those words from his letter to the church in Rome returned: “I am God’s wheat, and I must be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”

His followers brought his body back to Antioch, where they buried him in a tomb outside the city.  In the 600’s, Islam began to dominate the region culturally and in some cases, militarily, and so the relics of St. Ignatius were brought back to the Basilica San Clemente in Rome, which stands only about a mile from the spot of his martyrdom in the Coliseum.  His relics are still present for veneration today, and serve as a reminder that all of us are called to live out the Eucharist each day!

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. Linus

220px-Pope_Linus_IllustrationOver the past few weeks, we’ve gone through the early apostles and learned a little about their lives and the greater traditions surrounding them.  The apostles were genuinely fantastic figures, from all we’ve been able to learn from them!  But Eucharistic Prayer I is unique in that it also throws out there a lot of names that we don’t usually hear about as much: Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, and on.  The theory is that these names were mentioned in the prayer because they meant so much to the faithful of the Church in Rome.  Members of the Church there would have known these individuals and would have heard their preaching.  The prayer comes from ancient times, so these names were their contemporaries.

So following the list, our first saint is St. Linus.  No, he wasn’t famous for holding his security blanket and waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  Everybody knows that St. Peter was the first pope, but do you know the second?  That’s right!  Pope St. Linus!  Many of the early Fathers of the Church attest to this as well, and he is even mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to Timothy.  How appropriate, because he was an associate of St. Paul, and most likely ordained a bishop by the Apostle himself.  St. Linus, therefore, might be considered one of the “Apostlolic Fathers,” that generation of saints who weren’t apostles themselves, but who knew the apostles and succeeded them in their ministry.  We will continue to hear about the Apostolic Fathers in the near future.

Statue of St. Linus Portico Ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Statue of St. Linus
Portico Ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Typically, the Church celebrates St. Linus as a martyr, as we do most of the other first popes, but it’s unclear how true that is.  Certainly St. Peter and St. Paul were martyred in Rome under the Emperor Nero, and it might be possible that St. Linus was caught up in the aftermath of that, but after Nero, there were very few open persecutions until Domitian, who reigned 13 years later.  Still, St. Linus could have suffered what the Early Church called a “white martyrdom” in his sufferings for the faith.  After his death on September 23 (his feast day is coming up!), St. Linus was buried on the Vatican Hill in Rome, next to St. Peter.  Today, his remains are believed to be in a tomb near the apostle under the great St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tune in next week for another pope!