In his second letter to the Corinthians (16:3), the anonymous church father, believed to be Clement of Rome, wrote:

"Fasting is better than prayer, and charity than both".

What did he mean by that?

The line in question is from the below passage, which in turn comes from this link

So, brothers, since we have been given no small opportunity to repent, let us take the occasion to turn to God who has called us, while we still have One to accept us. For if we renounce these pleasures and master our souls by avoiding their evil lusts, we shall share in Jesus’ mercy. Understand that "the day" of judgment is already "on its way like a furnace ablaze," and "the powers of heaven will dissolve" and the whole earth will be like lead melting in fire. Then men's secret and overt actions will be made clear. Charity, then, like repentance from sin, is a good thing. But fasting is better than prayer, and charity than both. “Love covers a multitude of sins," and prayer, arising from a good conscience, "rescues from death." Blessed is everyone who abounds in these things, for charity lightens sin.

  • Faith, hope, love; but the greatest of these is love. That doesn't look like a coincidence to me.
    – user3961
    Mar 23, 2020 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


I believe this is the full quote:

So, then, brethren, having received no small occasion to repent, while we have opportunity, let us turn to God who called us, while yet we have One to receive us. For if we renounce these indulgences and conquer the soul by not fulfilling its wicked desires, we shall be partakers of the mercy of Jesus. Know that the day of judgment draws near like a burning oven, and certain of the heavens and all the earth will melt, like lead melting in fire; and then will appear the hidden and manifest deeds of men. Good, then, is alms as repentance from sin; better is fasting than prayer, and alms than both; "charity covers a multitude of sins", and prayer out of a good conscience delivers from death. Blessed is every one that shall be found complete in these; for alms lightens the burden of sin.

2nd letter of Clement to the Cornthians

In the letter, "charity covers a multitude of sins" is quoted and that is a reference to the first letter of St. Peter

Charity covers a multitude of sins

1 Peter 4:4

There's a similar passage in Sirach that goes

Store up almsgiving in your treasury, and it will save you from every evil.

Sir 29:12

But, even though Ben Sirach was seemingly referring to temporal salvation (i.e. in time of distress or need), there's a clear anagogical reading of that which echos Jesus saying to store up your treasures in Heaven where neither moth nor worm can eat them.

There's an even clearer mandate in the Book of Tobit

For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.

Tobit 12:9

Combined, it doesn't make the quote from Clements letter (which is a spurious attribution, according to New Advent), contrary to scripture. It is interesting that both of the scripture passages I quoth are deuterocanonical, and maybe all the more interesting if you came from a Sola Fide background and were thinking that Clement was off his rocker because you never saw this kind of talk in your Bible.

That fasting is better than prayer, should be no surprise, when the disciples attempts to drive out demons failed Jesus said

He said to them, "This kind can only come out through prayer."

Mark 9:29 NAB

Well what were they doing? So some manuscripts also tack on "And fasting" (without saying who is doing the fasting)

Anyway, it's semi-clear that fasting + prayer is better than prayer alone. And in a way, almsgiving is better than both. But it's the combination of them that sets you on the right path.

  • "Good, then, is alms as repentance from sin; better is fasting than prayer, and alms than both; "charity covers a multitude of sins", and prayer out of a good conscience delivers from death." - You should also add the reference to Tobit 12:9: "For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting." This, at least, doesn't only refer to temporal salvation. (Also, you omitted, "and fasting" in your quotation of Mark 9:29) Mar 23, 2020 at 18:13
  • @SolaGratia I was surprised that "and fasting" was omitted from the NAB (and I wasn't going to go Bible shopping just to post a version that had it), there's a footnote for it . AFAIK, they didn't change the translation on the New Testament recently, only the OT - so I wonder why I always remember hearing "prayer and fasting" if it wasn't at Mass..
    – Peter Turner
    Mar 23, 2020 at 19:40

What did Clement mean when he said: “Fasting is better than prayer, and charity than both”?

Before we can understand what St. Clement of Rome meant when he said, “Fasting is better than prayer, and charity than both”, we must understand what context he was talking about.

First of all, Scriptures does speak about fasting and prayer. The Catholic Encyclopedia speaks about prayer and fasting in regards to exorcisms.

Christ also empowered the Apostles and Disciples to cast out demons in His name while He Himself was still on earth (Matthew 10:1 and 8; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1; 10:17), and to believers generally He promised the same power (Mark 16:17). But the efficacy of this delegated power was conditional, as we see from the fact that the Apostles themselves were not always successful in their exorcisms: certain kinds of spirits, as Christ explained, could only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Matthew 17:15, 20; Mark 9:27-28; Luke 9:40). In other words the success of exorcism by Christians, in Christ's name, is subject to the same general conditions on which both the efficacy of prayer and the use of charismatic power depend. Yet conspicuous success was promised (Mark 16:17). St. Paul (Acts 16:18; 19:12), and, no doubt, the other Apostles and Disciples, made use of regularly, as occasion arose, of their exorcising power, and the Church has continued to do so uninterruptedly to the present day.

It is obvious that fasting adds an element of purification and interior strength within the soul when combined with prayer.

Fasting and Spiritual Health

How can we, who are the body of Christ, more fully surrender to fasting? Bringing to mind that the Catechism of the Council of Trent gave us three remedies to ensure our continued movement towards our Father; prayer, fasting and almsdeeds, it is important that we utilize all three on our faith journey. Each correspond to the three types of goods we receive from God; those of the soul, those of the body and those that we call external gifts.

Baltimore Catechism: “The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.”

Many of our great saints and early church fathers practiced frequent fasting. Fasting tends to be the golden thread woven through our Judeo-Christian history. Additionally, many of our early Christian leaders practiced a bread and water fast every Wednesday and Friday – a form of fasting not uncommon prior to the 20th century. Even some Eastern Churches still practice this type of bread and water fasting today. It should be no surprise that many of the greatest mystics in the Church had stomach illnesses that prevented them from keeping down food (Padre Pio, Saint Jean Vianney, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, Saint Faustina, Blessed Alexandrina De Costa, etc.) Here are a few of our saints that we can look toward as we seek to better use fasting to deepen our relationship with God. - The Power Fasting.

Of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, the greatest of these is charity.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul places the greater emphasis on Charity (Love). "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." First, because it informs the other two: "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." According to Augustine of Hippo, from a temporal perspective, love lasts, while "Hope isn't hope if its object is seen", and faith gives way to possession. This view is shared by Gregory of Nyssa. - Theological virtues

It is in light of all of the above, is why St. Clement of Rome stated that ”fasting is better than prayer, and charity than both."

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