Saturday, July 14, 2018

Clement of Rome and the Holy Rule Handed Down

While reading through 1 Clement in Greek, I came across an interesting phrase,
"Therefore let us abandon empty and futile thoughts, and let us conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 37)
"διὸ ἀπολίπωμεν τὰς κενὰς καὶ ματαίας φροντίδας, καὶ ἔλθωμεν ἐπὶ τὸν εὐκλεῆ καὶ σεμνὸν τῆς παραδόσεως ἡμῶν κανόνα." (1 Clement 7.2; Holmes, 36)
The author (traditionally thought to be Clement of Rome, ca. 96 CE), appears to be referring to the "rule of faith" or the "rule of truth." This was commonly appealed to as a standard of doctrine, Christology, and belief that separated the orthodox from the heterodox. For example, Eusebius, in his history, recounts that Dionysius (ca. 170) wrote a letter to the Nicomedians "in which he combats the heresy of Marcion and compares it with the rule of the truth (τῷ τῆς ἀληθείας παρίσταται κανόνι)" (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.23.4; LCL, 379).

The "rule of faith" appears to have governed the manner in which the scriptures were interpreted as well. Irenaeus (ca. 180 CE) wrote that
"he also who retains unchangeable in his heart the rule (κανόνα) of the truth which he received by means of baptism, will doubtless recognize the names, the expressions, and the parables taken from the Scriptures" (Haer. 1.9.4; ANF 1:303).
Some early Christian writers use the phrase in a way that seems to include, not only the basic theology of the church, but also an accepted body of scripture handed down from the Apostles. Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 200 CE), in his "On the Prescription of Heretics," wrote that,
"For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions." (Praescr. 19; ANF 3:251–252)
Tertullian is here including a received body of Scripture as an integral element of the "rule of faith." Returning to 1 Clement, it may be that the author (Clement) had a received body of scriptures in mind (along with "true" theology) when he wrote of the "glorious and holy rule of our traditions." There are a few clues in the context of 1 Clement they may support such a reading of 7.2.

Immediately following the author's admonition to "conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition" (7.2), is a long series of examples drawn from the Hebrew Bible. The author writes,
"Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn from him." (1 Clement 7.5; Holmes, 37)
From this point, Clement lists, in the fashion of Hebrews 11, Noah (7.6), Jonah (7.7), Enoch (9.3), Abraham (10.1), Lot (11.1), and Rahab (12.1). Previously, the author brought to mind, Abel (4.1), Jacob and Esau (4.8), Joseph (4.9), Moses (4.10), and David (4.13).
After an exhaustive quotation from Isaiah 53, and a brief line taken from Psalms 22 (a Psalm commonly quoted as a prophecy concerning Christ's crucifixion), Clement applies these passages to Christ's incarnation and death on the cross and then writes,
"You see, dear friends, the kind of pattern (ὑπογραμμὸς) that has been given to us; for if the Lord so humbled himself, what should we do, who through him have come under the yoke of grace?" (1 Clement 16.17; Holmes, 47-49)
The noun ὑπογραμμὸς, of course, can mean simply "pattern," but it is interesting that in its basic meaning refers specifically to a "written pattern" that students used to copy texts as they were learning to write (LSJ references Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 5.8.49,48). Because the phrasing follows extensive quotations from Isaiah 53, it suggest to me that Clement is referring to the example of Christ "written" in the Scriptures he referenced. Because of these citations and allusions to Old Testament themes, it is hard not to see that the author is referencing written sources here, the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, as part of these traditions handed down mentioned in 7.2.

The idea that Christian communities in the first century accepted some type of Greek translation of the Jewish writings as scripture is not very controversial. However, it seems that Clement has a collection of received Christian "New Testament" scriptures in view here as well. In the preceding context of 1 Clement 5, the author is speaking of the saints who gave the ultimate testimony in sacrificing for the name of Jesus through martyrdom, namely the Apostles Peter and Paul. He then uses the same noun as in 16.17,
"Finally, when he had given his testimony before rulers, he thus departed this world and went to the holy place, having become an outstanding example (ὑπογραμμὸς) of patient endurance." (1 Clement 5.7; Holmes, 35)
Of course, one should be careful not to take too much from the use of this word. But coupled with the extensive quotations from the Septuagint discussed above, it seems that Clement is also here referring to a "written" example of Paul.

This view is strengthened by the explicit reference to the letter of 1 Corinthians made in 47.1, "Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle" (Holmes, 83). The gospels are alluded to and loosely quoted in several places as well (13.2-7; 15.2; 24.5; 43.6; 46.7-8; 49.1), as well as Hebrews (36.2-5) along with other New Testament writings (Gregory, 129-157).

The view that I am entertaining here, that the "holy rule of our tradition" in 1 Clement 7.2 includes a body of scriptures, Septuagint and some "New Testament" writings, does not seem to be widely held in the academy. Concerning this 1 Clement 7.2, Lee Martin McDonald wrote,
"Later, Clement of Rome (ca. 90 CE) used "canon" in reference to the church's revealed truth when he encourages the Christians at Corinth to "put aside empty and vain cares, and let us come to the glorious and venerable rule of our tradition." (McDonald, 50)
McDonald does not entertain the possibility that this "rule" that was handed included a core body of scriptures, at least at this early date. Yet, I think that it may be necessary to rethink this understanding of Clement's "holy rule of our tradition." That the statements of Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, that the "rule of faith" included a received body of scriptures, may date at least from the time Clement took up the pen to admonish the Church at Corinth in the 90s CE.

Finally, in further support of understanding 1 Clement 7.2 as including some kind of received body of scriptures, Paul (if you accept traditional Pauline authorship) in 2Thessalonians 2:15, uses the same word as Clement of Rome to refer to the teaching likely transmitted by word of mouth and to teaching contained within a letter sent from Paul.
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (παραδόσεις) which you were taught, whether by word of mouth (λόγου) or by letter (ἐπιστολῆς) from us." (NASB)
Here Paul is including both oral teaching and a written text with received traditions taught to the Thessalonian Church.

I am not attempting to anachronistically back load later meanings of "canon" (κανών) into 1 Clement 7.2. I do not think 1 Clement is using "canon" here to refer to an authoritative list of books. Rather, I am proposing that, in 1 Clement 7.2, "canon" includes not only a body of received apostolic teaching, but a group of scriptural works that convey this apostolic teaching. This likely would have included the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, and Christian writings such as some of Paul's letters and a gospel, though the exact contours of this collection is unkown.

Bokedal, Thomas, "The Rule of Faith: Tracing its Origins." Journal of Theological Interpretation 7.2 (2013): 233-255.

Eusebius. Ecclesiastical History, Volume I: Books 1-5. Translated by Kirsopp Lake. Loeb Classical Library 153. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Gregory, Andrew. "1 Clement and the Writings That Later Formed the New Testament," pages 129-157 in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hagner, D.A. The Use of the Old and New Testaments in Clement of Rome. NovTSup 34. Leiden: Brill, 1973

Holmes, Michael W., ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Vol. 1. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds. Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian. Vol. 3. The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885.

An image of Papyrus 6. Containing fragments of 1st Clement (Coptic), the Epistle of James (Coptic), and the Gospel of John (Coptic and Greek).

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