Clement is counted as the third bishop of Rome (after the apostles). His predecessors are Linus and Cletus (or Anacletus, or Anencletus), about whom almost nothing is known. They are simply names on a list. Clement is a little more than this, chiefly because he wrote a letter to the Corinthians, which was highly valued by the early church, and has been preserved to the present day. The letter itself does not carry his name, but is merely addressed from the congregation at Rome to the congregation at Corinth. However, a letter from Corinth to Rome a few decades later refers to "the letter we received from your bishop Clement, which we still read regularly." Other early writers are unanimous in attributing the letter to Clement. Perhaps because this letter made his name familiar, he has had an early anonymous sermon (commonly called II Clement) attributed to him, and is a character in some early religious romances (e.g. the Clementine Recognitions).
One story about Clement is that he was put to death by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea. Accordingly, he is often depicted with an anchor, and many churches in port towns intended to minister chiefly to mariners are named for him.
The Epistle of Clement To the Corinthians (also called I Clement) can be found in collections of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, such as the Penguin Paperback Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth. The letter is commonly dated around 96 Ad, but recently an earlier date has been suggested.
The letter is occasioned by the fact that a group of Christians at Corinth had banded together against their leaders and had deposed them from office. Clement writes to tell them that they have behaved badly, and to remind them of the importance of Christian unity and love. He speaks at length of the way in which each kind of official in the church has his own function for the good of the whole. The letter is an important witness to the early Christian understanding of Church government, but an ambiguous witness in that we are never told precisely why the Corinthians had deposed their leaders, and therefore the letter can be read as saying that presbyters ought not to be deposed without reasonable grounds, or as saying that they cannot be deposed on any grounds at all.
The letter refers only to the presbyters of Corinth, and makes no reference to the bishop of Corinth. Moreover, there is no mention of a bishop at Rome--the letter is sent as from the Church at Rome collectively, and Clement's name does not appear. From this, some have inferred that the office of bishop had not yet developed at either Rome or Corinth, and that in both congregations the office of presbyter was the highest office known. A probable alternate explanation, however, is that the troubles in Corinth had arisen when the bishop of that congregation had died, and the congregation had split into factions, none containing both a majority of the presbyters and a majority of the congregation.
The letter makes no apology for intervening in what might be thought an internal affair of the congregation at Corinth. On the contrary, the writer apologizes for the delay in commenting, as if an earlier intervention might have been expected. From this, some have inferred that, even at this early date (96 AD or, some think, earlier), when the Apostle John was perhaps still alive, the authority and jurisdiction of the Roman congregation over every other congregation of the Christian Church was already universally conceded. However, a perfectly reasonable alternative explanation is that the congregation at Corinth, torn by division, had agreed to settle their disputes by inviting another congregation, or the head of another congregation, to act as arbitrator. This would be a reasonable thing to do, and the choice of Rome as that congregation was natural, partly because of the prestige of the city, and the prestige of one of the largest congregations in the Church, and because the Corinth of Clement's day had been built as a Roman colony, with a special dependence directly on the city of Rome (a civil relation that might affect the habits of thought of the Corinthians on matters ecclestiastical as well), but also because Rome was far enough away so that it could be assumed to be impartial and not affected by local personalities.
From Clement's Letter to the Corinthians:
Let the one truly possessed by the love of Christ keep his commandments. Who can express the binding power of divine love? Who can find words for the splendor of its beauty? Beyond all description are the heights to which it lifts us. Love unites us to God; "it cancels innumerable sins," has no limits to its endurance, bears everything patiently. Love is neither servile nor arrogant. It does not provoke schisms or form cliques, but always acts in harmony with others. By it all God's chosen ones have been sanctified; without it, it is impossible to please him. Out of love the Lord took us to himself; because he loved us and it was God's will, our Lord Jesus Christ gave his life's blood for us -- he gave his body for our body, his soul for our soul.
See then, beloved, what a great and wonderful thing love is, and how inexpressible its perfection. Who are worthy to possess it unless God makes them so? To him therefore we must turn, begging of his mercy that there may be found in us a love free from human partiality and beyond reproach. Every generation from Adam's time to ours has passed away; but those who by God's grace were made perfect in love and have a dwelling now among the saints, and when at last the kingdom of Christ appears, they will be revealed. "Take shelter in your rooms for a little while," says Scripture, "until my wrath subsides. Then I will remember the good days, and will raise you from your graves."
Happy are we, beloved, if love enables us to live in harmony and in the observance of God's commandments, for then it will also gain for us the remission of our sins. Scripture pronounces "happy those whose transgressions are pardoned, whose sins are forgiven. Happy the one," it says, "to whom the Lord imputes no fault, on whose lips there is no guile." This is the blessing given those whom God has chosen through Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever.
Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.
If we review the various ages of history, we will see that in every generation the Lord has "offered the opportunity of repentance" to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached God's message of repentance, all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, but when they repented, their prayers gained God's forgiveness for their sins, and they were saved, even though they were not of God's people.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ministers of God's grace have spoken of repentance; indeed, the Master of the whole universe himself spoke of repentance with an oath: "As I live," says the Lord, "I do not wish the death of the sinner but the sinner's repentance." He added this evidence of his goodness: "House of Israel, repent of your wickedness. Tell my people: If their sins should reach from earth to heaven, if they are brighter than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, you need only turn to me with your whole heart and say, `Father,' and I will listen to you as to a holy people."
In other words, God wanted all his beloved ones to have the opportunity to repent and he confirmed this desire by his own almighty will. That is why we should obey his sovereign and glorious will and prayerfully entreat his mercy and kindness. We should be suppliant before him and turn to his compassion, rejecting empty works and quarreling and jealousy which only lead to death.
We should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride, and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: "The wise must not glory in wisdom nor the strong in strength nor the rich in riches. Rather, let the one who glories glory in the Lord, by seeking him and doing what is right and just." Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. "Be merciful," he said, "so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving."
Let these commandments and precepts strengthen us to live in humble obedience to his sacred words. As Scripture asks: "Whom shall I look upon with favor except the humble, peaceful one who trembles at my words?"
Sharing then in the heritage of so many vast and glorious achievements, let us hasten toward the goal of peace, set before us from the beginning. Let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Father and Creator of the whole universe, and hold fast to his splendid and transcendent gifts of peace and all his blessings.