Monday, November 16, 2009

Patristic Soteriology: Clement of Rome

One apostolic father who I believe does give us a clear understanding of his soteriology is Clement of Rome. Being written probably around 98 AD, his letter to the Corinthians gives us one of the earliest interpretations of New Testament theology. As Polycarp does, Clement often uses the term “elect” for believers. “…that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience.” His theology is greatly focused on the work of Christ, “Let us look steadfastly to the blood of Christ, and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance toward the whole world.” While a complete theology of the atonement is not found here, certainly it’s importance for our salvation is. In a discussion of the story of Rahab, Clement states that, “on account of her faith and hospitality, Rahab was saved.” This may seem that faith and works are both necessary for salvation, however, it is not clear that Clement here is talking about eternal salvation, rather that Rahab was saved from the slaughter at Jericho. The only time Clement in his letter speaks directly about justification is just about as clear as Paul himself that it is received by faith alone.
"All these, therefore were highly honored and made great, not for their own sake, or for their works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of his will. And we too, being called by his will in Jesus Christ, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men."
Notice that in Clement’s treatment of works he does not refer to those which are only outwardly good, as he includes holiness of heart as well. Any interpretation of Paul which would limit “works” to either only the ceremonial aspects of the Jewish law or of Jewish boundary markers is excluded. The next statement Clement makes after his treatment of justification is crucial to a correct interpretation of his words as well. Whenever the doctrine of justification by faith alone is taught, the question comes up, “why should we do good works?” As Paul answers this question in Romans 6 , so also does Clement. “What shall we do brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us!” If Clement did not mean by his above statement that justification was indeed by faith alone but faith and works, he most likely would not answer this objection. No one would have raised it. And if he did answer this objection he would have answered it very differently. Would he not have said, “You misunderstand me! We are justified by faith but works also justify!” His reply is very different. Why should we not cease from the practice of love? “For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works.”
There is one final evidence from Clements epistle that he anticipates the future reformation teaching of grace. “For it is written ‘Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not impute to him, and in whose mouth there is no guile.’ This blessedness cometh upon those who have been chosen by God through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” For Clement, all blessings of God are because of His will, His choosing, and His grace alone.

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