The First Epistle of Clement is an early Christian document that was commonly circulated in the early church before being rejected as part of the New Testament canon. There is a passage in it that addresses faith and works that sounds rather reminiscent of Martin Luther's theology 1500 years later (emphasis mine):

All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, 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; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

It then goes on to talk about the value of works, but doesn't say that there is justification from it.

Is Martin Luther known to have read the First Epistle of Clement? And if so, did he comment on what he thought about it?

  • Related article. This quotes Clement saying 'being justified by our works'.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 15, 2018 at 12:34
  • @NigelJ Is there something I should change about my question to better reflect that? Aug 15, 2018 at 16:09
  • The article seems to have evidence that Clement was not entirely consistent in his teaching. I say 'seems' - the evidence would need sifting, I think.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 15, 2018 at 18:24
  • It appears Clement Chapter 30 is simply contrasting the hypocrite who says only versus those who believe and do. It's not about justification by our works. It's about doing works that flow from justification rather than merely speaking.
    – SLM
    Aug 17, 2018 at 1:07
  • @SLM Which is reminiscent of Luther’s theology, and that’s why I’m asking about it. Aug 17, 2018 at 1:16

1 Answer 1


No. Luther is not known to have read the First Epistle of Clement. In fact it is certain that he did not read it.

Luther was, in general, very well read in the Church Fathers; and he would have known, from Eusebius and others, that such an epistle had once existed. However it had long since disappeared, and no copies were known to exist. It was only in 1628, more than 70 years after Luther's death, that Western scholars were able to read it. This happened when Patriarch Cyril I, of Constantinople, presented King Charles I of England etc. with a copy of the Bible containing, separately at the back, a copy of Clement's Epistle. This became known as the Codex Alexandrinus, because it had been found, a few years earlier, in Alexandria. The Patriarch had intended it to go to King James, but he died before it arrived. It was published by Patrick Young, the Royal Librarian.

Doctor Bell in his translation of the Familiar Discourses of Luther lists some, though not all, of the Early (and later) Fathers Luther was familiar with including a date when they were thought to have been active.

Athanasius of Alexandria (387) 
Basilius Magnus and Gregorius (380)
Ambrose of Milan (380)
Aurelius Prudentius (380)
Austin of Hippo (430)
Beda, a Benedict in England (737)
Cyprian of Carthage (259)
Cyril of Alexandria
Chrysostom of Constantinople (420)
Gregory I, Pope (511)
Hierem, eldest of Striden (522)
Irenaeus of Lyon (175)
Polycarpus, tutor  to Irenaeus (1&5)
Nicolas de Lyra (330)
Origen of Adomantz (261)
Philo the Jew (50)
Josephus (100)
Ignatius of Antioch (111)
Prosperus of Rogen (460)
Sedulius (430)
Tatianus the Heretic (170)
Thomas Aquinas  (1274)
Bonifacius of Mentz (755)
Bernard of Cistern (1140)
Hugo Parisiensis (1130)
Anselmus (1110).

Further detail is included in Staniforth Maxwell's Early Christian Writings and the Apostolic Fathers. This link is to a preview. The pages are not numbered but it is on the twelfth page.

  • 1
    It would be helpful to add to this fine answer a reference to the lost-then-found nature of I Clement. Wiki's reference, which I didn't verify, is: "Staniforth, Maxwell. Early Christian writings: the Apostolic Fathers. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968. p. 14. ISBN 0-14-044197-2."
    – Bit Chaser
    Aug 23, 2018 at 19:18
  • Thanks @disciple - I can't seem to find a link displaying the reference you mention, but have added a different link, to a document of the British Library which mentions that Clement's Epistle first became known through its discovery.
    – davidlol
    Aug 24, 2018 at 8:24
  • I looked on google books. It's there, and discusses the epistle, but I can't find the claim that the epistle was lost. Ref: books.google.com/… .
    – Bit Chaser
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:06
  • I'm not sure of best practices here, but consider marking your link as (pdf). You could give credit to wikipedia, include the book link, and add (claim not verified). Someone who has the book could later improve the answer by including a quote.
    – Bit Chaser
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:07
  • books.google.co.uk/…
    – davidlol
    Aug 26, 2018 at 6:59

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