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Wednesday's Address - On St. Clement of Rome

3/8/2007 - 6:00 AM PST

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"The Church Has a Sacramental, Not Political Structure"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 8, 2007 (ZENIT) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at Wednesday's general audience. The Pope is beginning a new cycle of catecheses on the Apostolic Fathers, starting with St. Clement of Rome.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During the past few months we have meditated upon the figures of each individual apostle and the first witnesses of the Christian faith, those mentioned in the New Testament writings. Now, we will turn our attention to the Apostolic Fathers, that is, to the first and second generation of the Church after the apostles. This way we can see how the Church's path started in history.

St. Clement, Bishop of Rome during the last years of the first century, is the third successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimonial of his life is that written by St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon until 202. He asserts that Clement "had seen the apostles had met with them," and "still had their preaching in his ears, and their tradition before his eyes" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3). Later testimonials, between the fourth and sixth centuries, give Clement the title of martyr.

This Bishop of Rome's authority and prestige were such that various writings were attributed to him, but the only certain one is the Letter to the Corinthians.

Eusebius of Caesarea, the great "archivist" of Christian origins, presents it with these words: "One letter by Clement has been sent down to us recognized as authentic, great and admirable. It was written by him on behalf of the Church of Rome to the Church of Corinth. We know that for a long time, and still today, this letter is read publicly during the reunions of the faithful" (Hist. Eccl. 3,16).

An almost canonical characteristic was attributed to this letter. At the beginning of the text, written in Greek, Clement is sorry if "the multiple and calamitous events" (1,1), made for a tardy intervention. These "events" can be identified with the persecution of Domitian; therefore, the date this letter was written goes back to a time directly after the death of the emperor and toward the end of the persecution, that is to say just after 96.

Clement's intervention -- we are still in the first century -- was called upon because of the serious problems the Church of Corinth was undergoing; the priests of the community, in fact, had been deposed by some young upstarts. The painful event is remembered, once again by St. Irenaeus who writes, "Under Clement, having given rise to a rather serious contrast between the Corinthian brothers, the Church of Rome sent the Corinthians a very important letter to reconcile them in peace to renew their faith and to announce the tradition, a tradition they had so newly received from the apostles" (Adv. Haer. 3,3,3).

Therefore, we could say that this letter is a first exercise of a Primate of Rome after the death of St. Peter. Clement's letter touches upon topics dear to St. Paul who had written two great letters to the Corinthians, in particular the theological dialectic, always pertinent, between the indicative of salvation and the imperative of moral commitment.

First, there is the proclamation of saving grace. The Lord foresees us and gives us forgiveness, gives us his love, the grace of being Christians, his brothers and sisters. This is an announcement that fills our life with joy and gives certitude to our actions. The Lord always foresees our acts with his goodness and the goodness of the Lord is always greater than all of our sins.

We must, however, commit ourselves in a coherent way to this gift that we have received and answer the proclamation of salvation with a generous and courageous path toward conversion. Looking at the Pauline model, the novelty is that Clement follows the doctrinal part and the practical part with a "great prayer," which practically concludes the letter.

The immediate occasion of the letter opened to the Bishop of Rome the possibility for vast intervention on the identity of the Church and its mission. If there were abuses in Corinth, Clement notes, the reason should be looked for in the weakening of charity and the necessary Christian virtues. This is why he calls all the faithful to humility and brotherly love, two virtues, truly the basis for being part of the Church. "We are the portion of the Holy One," he says, "let us do all those things which pertain to holiness" (30,1).

In particular, the Bishop of Rome recalls that the Lord himself, "where and by whom he desires these things to be done, he himself has fixed by his own supreme will, in order that all things, being piously done according to his good pleasure, may be acceptable unto him. For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is ...

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