Christ's Faithful People
ca. 91 - 100 AD
St. Clement, according to tradition, was ordained by Peter himself. Some early writers, indeed, thought that Clement was Peter's immediate successor, but modern scholars agree that he is Peter's third successor.
St. Clement has been identified with the Clement mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Philippians; but that Clement seems to have been a Philippian. For a time there were some who identified St. Clement with T. Flavius Clemens, a cousin of the Emperors Titus and Domitian. This is especially appealing because it is highly probable that the noble Roman was a martyr in the persecution of his cousin Domitian. Against this romantic theory is the prosaic fact that the early writers make no mention at all of this. Surely if the fourth pope had been a cousin of the Emperor, it would have been widely heralded. Modern scholars think that St. Clement was a freedman or the son of a freedman of the imperial household. It is doubtful whether he was of Jewish or Gentile origin. Some would argue for Jewish descent because his famous epistle is so steeped in the Old Testament.
St. Clement was a Roman; he was martyred--at some place away from Rome. This is about all that is known for certain of Clement's death. The Greek "Acts of the Martyrs" (written in the fourth century) gives many and interesting details. St. Clement was exiled by the Emperor Trajan to the Chersonese, modern Crimea. There the holy Pope worked with such zeal among the prisoners laboring in the mines that he was condemned to death. He was thrown into the sea with an anchor tied around his neck. This is probable enough, but the story goes on to say that the sea flowed back a mile or so to reveal the body of the saint resting in a beautiful marble shrine.
In the ninth century, St. Cyril, the Apostle of the Slavs, discovered some bones and an anchor in a Crimean mound. He translated these bones to Rome, where Pope Hadrian II placed them in the altar of St. Clement's Basilica.
Whether or not these bones are authentic, St. Clement left us a real relic of the highest value in his famous letter to the Corinthians. This epistle, which modern scholars agree is authentic, rebukes the Corinthians for a schism which had broken out in their church. Written while one of the apostles was still alive, this letter of Clement is the first great non- inspired Christian document. It is interesting indeed that it shows the fourth pope interfering to put another apostolic church in order.
The feast of St. Clement is celebrated on November 23.