Saint Clement I


A bishop of Rome at the end of the first century and the second successor to Peter. A certain number of works are attributed to him in the Greek literary tradition, works whose authenticity has been widely discussed in modern criticism. Of these, there is only one that can be cited as genuine, and this ascription can be made only with great probability, not certainty. This work is the First Epistle of Clement (ad Corinthios), which is addressed in the name of the entire Roman community and which CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA knew as being by Clement of Rome. It deals with many theological and moral problems, and concludes with a long prayer.

However, other works attributed to Clement are spurious, including the so-called Second Epistle of Clement (ad Corinthios). In reality this work is probably a homily, likely contemporaneous with the Shepherd of Hermas, and it can thus be dated to the first half of the second century. There are two other letters of doubtful origin ascribed to Clement, the Epistles on Virginity. These are known in their entirety from a Syriac translation and Greek excerpts compiled by Antiochus of Saint Saba (c. 620). These Epistulae, though separated, actually form one single work that may be dated to the first half of the third century.

The text discusses monastic problems in general and the community life of both monks and nuns in particular. A fourth-century writing, also attributed to Clement of Rome, is the redaction of two collections: the Homilies and the Recognitions, which may be classified among the apocryphal acts of the apostles.

From the above-mentioned works, two have reached us in Coptic: an Akhmimic translation of the First Epistle of Clement and fragments from a Sahidic translation of the Epistle on Virginity. The First Epistle has come to us in a complete manuscript, probably from the White Monastery (Dayr Anba Shinudah) (Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, Or. fol. 3065), and in another, fragmentary manuscript (ed. Rösch, 1910). Carl Schmidt has prepared an edition of this translation along with a broad study that reveals its great importance and antiquity.

In any reconstruction of the Greek texts for this work—in Greek there are only two manuscripts (of which one is the celebrated Alexandrinus in the British Library)—Schmidt’s research should certainly be considered alongside the Latin and Syriac versions. (Such a criterion was used by Diekamp in the second edition of Funk’s Patres Apostolici.)

For the Epistle on Virginity we have only fragments of a Sahidic translation from the White Monastery (ed. Lefort, 1952). This particular manuscript poses a serious problem for any critical evaluation because the attribution concerning its author is in doubt. In all probability (unfortunately we cannot be certain about this), the text was attributed not to Clement but to Athanasius of Alexandria. The situation is complicated by the fact that another fragment, Ad Virgines, doubtlessly assigned to Athanasius, might directly follow this epistle, although there is no way to prove any possible continuity for these two works.

Therefore, the Coptic point of view poses three possible solutions: (1) there might have existed a translation of the first pseudo-Clementine Epistle to Virgins, which was attributed to him directly; (2) this translation was included in a collection of ascetic texts attributed to Athanasius, and consequently was also attributed to Athanasius rather than Clement; (3) the manuscript had been collected with other ascetic texts and compiled into one single work, which as one unit was attributed to Athanasius.

It can readily be seen how any one of these diverse solutions might in turn influence the ultimate solution to the problem of the origin of the pseudo-Clementine Epistle on Virginity (Syriac, or perhaps Egyptian), and further, how such a solution would then affect those problems concerning the origin of other ascetic writings by Athanasius. We may never find a satisfactory solution to the problem.


  • Funk, F. X. Patres Apostolici, 2 vols., 2nd ed. F. Diekamp. Tübingen, 1901-1913.
  • Lefort, L. T. Les Pères apostoliques en copte. CSCO 37-38. Paris, 1907.
  • Rösch, F. Bruchstücke des ersten Clemensbriefes. Strasbourg, 1910.
  • Schmidt, C. Der erste Clemensbrief in altkoptischer Übersetzung. Texte und Untersuchungen 32.1. Leipzig, 1908.


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