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1 Clement is the only extant uncontested writing of Pope Clement I. It is generally dated to the 1st Century. Along with the Didache and Old Roman Creed, it is an early Christian 'dog that didn't bark' in that there is no mention of Jesus being God.

1 Clement not only does not mention that Jesus is God, it clearly and consistently distinguishes between God and Jesus. Perhaps the strongest instance of this is 1 Clement 59:4.

"Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son."

This sounds quite similar to John 17:3, which is

"Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent."

which in turn is often referred to by Biblical Unitarians as evidence that John was not making an argument that Jesus is God.

How would Trinitarians (or others who hold that Jesus is God) paraphrase 1 Clement 59:4 such as to make sense with Trinitarian (or other positions that hold Jesus is God) thought? How would 'thou', 'God', 'thy', and so on be spelled out in Trinitarian terms so as to make the sentence make sense?

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  • 2
    This may be a question of personal opinion.
    – Ken Graham
    May 29 at 19:21
  • Did you mean to tag this as a Unitarianism point of view about the Trinitarians thought? A tag is a word or phrase that describes the topic of the question. Tags are a means of connecting experts with questions they will be able to answer by sorting questions into specific, well-defined categories.
    – Ken Graham
    May 30 at 6:21
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    The deity of Jesus Christ is not asserted in every single text of scripture in which he is mentioned, nor in every single line of prose by spiritual authors. Nor need it be. I fail to perceive any point whatsoever to this question.
    – Nigel J
    May 30 at 8:58
  • Link.
    – Lucian
    May 30 at 17:08
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    @Lucian Can you summarize the relevance of the link you posted? May 30 at 18:45
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The first thing to remember is that the writings of the Apostolic Fathers are not primarily, and sometimes not at all, theological treatises. They are most often exhortations to godly living in the world and orderly living within the Church.

As such, I wouldn't think 1 Clement 59:4 needs a Trinitarian paraphrase. There is indeed one God. Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God. This God is referred to as Father and Creator in 19:2 and what might be seen as an early trinitarian invocation is in 58:2. He, Christ, calls to us through the Holy Spirit 22:1. The angels and ministers are distinguished from the begotten Son 36:3-4. Christ was sent out from God 42:2. There is one God, one Christ, one Spirit in 46:6.

1 Clement would be rightly understood by Trinitarians in the same way as John 17:3; bringing to bear the entire counsel of Scripture as regards the only-begotten Son of God.

However, if a paraphrase is demanded, this background:

That the gentiles of the Greek and Roman ages (in the midst of which 1 Clement was written) have always been predominantly polytheistic

might render this historically relevant paraphrase:

Let all the Gentiles, who acknowledge many different and multiple gods, know that Thou, the singular God whom we preach and whom Jesus Christ manifested in the flesh, art the God alone (all other gods being nothing), and Jesus Christ is Thy only begotten Son.

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  • Did a mod delete my previous comment? Not sure. According to Trinitarians, there is God-Trinity, God-Father, God-Son, and God-Holy-Spirit, correct? So "Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son." -> "Thou art the God-Trinity alone, and Jesus Christ is God-Trinity's Son." Do you think that would be a fair paraphrase? May 31 at 4:04
  • @OneGodtheFather I have attempted a paraphrase at your request. May 31 at 13:21
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    These are the type of comments that make it seem that the entire question is opinion based, IMO. A genuine comprehension of the Trinity is necessary in dealing with this subject, as such as to remain clear on this matter in an authentic way of dealing directly with this particular topic. Whether we believe in the Trinity is not the issue, but rather that parties can understand this issues at hand.
    – Ken Graham
    May 31 at 14:51
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John 17:3
Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.

1 Clement 59:4
Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son.


The late, great Father Thomas Hopko, former Dean of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, had the following to say, in a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio:

Now here we have to see a very important point for Trinitarian theology, and that is that in the Bible, in the Scriptures, and then, therefore, in the creeds—and particularly the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which became the creedal statement for ancient Christianity and remains the baptismal, liturgical creed for Eastern Orthodox churches and most Christian churches to this very day, [...] it’s very important, really critically important, to note and to affirm and to remember that the one God in whom we believe, strictly speaking, is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is God who sends his only-begotten Son into the world, and Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Then, of course, in a parallel manner, the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is the Spirit of God, that the Holy Spirit, being the Spirit of God, is therefore also the Spirit of Christ, the Messiah, because the Christ is the Son of God, upon whom God the Father sends and affirms his Holy Spirit.

I think that this is very important, because there are wrong understandings of the Holy Trinity:

  • First of all, there are those who deny that there even is a Trinity of divine Persons or divine Hypostases. They just do not understand the proper relationship between Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God, his Father, and the Holy Spirit. So some, who might be called Unitarians or Adoptionists, or—there’s different names for them—they would say that the one God is just a uni-Personal Monad or God, and he has no Son; he does not beget; the divinity is his and his alone; and everything that exists in addition to the one God is a creature, has been created by God, has been brought into being out of nothing by God, but is certainly not an element of the very divinity and being of God himself; it doesn’t belong to God as such.

  • On the other hand, there is another terrible error, and the other terrible error, usually called Modalism in technical theological terminology, is where people say there is one God who is the Holy Trinity: there is he who is the Trinity. And we Orthodox Christians, following Scripture and the creedal statements and the liturgical prayers, can never say there is one God who is the Trinity.

There is one God who is the Father, and this one God who is the Father has with him eternally, whom he begets timelessly before all ages, his only-begotten Son, who is also his Logos, his Word, and also his Ḥokmot, his Sophia, his Wisdom, also his Eikona, his Icon, his Image. But this Wisdom and Word and Image and Icon of God is divine with the very same divinity as God, the one, true, and living God, because he is who he is, and he’s another who from the Father. There are three whos. There is he who is the Father, he who is the Son, and he who is the Holy Spirit. Those three whos are called the three Persons or three Hypostases.

But it is important to remember that the one God is the Father of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God. As the Nicene Creed said, “He is God from God, true God from true God.” Here the Christians would say and insist that the one God and Father, from all eternity, has with him his Son. He has with him his Son, who is of the very same divinity as he is and who was born from him, who comes forth from him, who proceeds from him; and that this one, true, and living God also has with himself his Spirit, who proceeds from him, who comes forth from him.

So what we believe is that Jesus is God’s Son. Also, in St. John’s gospel, it said, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God and the Logos was divine.” He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and nothing came to be that is, except through him, including the very existence and life of all that exists. In him was life; in him was light. But we Orthodox Christians interpret these sentences of Scripture to show that the Logos really is divine with the same divinity as the Father. Then, in the prologue of St. John’s gospel, it says, “And the Logos became flesh, and he pitched his tent among us. He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” In other words, as the Nicene Creed would say:

The only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not created, who for us men and for our salvation, came from heaven…

Came from the realm of God. That’s what heaven means. It’s not a geographical, physical, located space. “Came down from heaven” means comes from the realm of God. “...came down from heaven and was incarnate”—sarkōthenta, became fleshed, was enfleshed, and became human. You have those two words that he became flesh and he became human. He became human. Born of the Virgin Mary, he became human. So he who was divine became human.

When we say he’s truly divine, then we can call him God. St. Thomas, in the Bible, did call him God: “My Lord and my God.” The Logos is called God. Some of the sentences of St. Paul can be read as if Jesus can be called God. It depends a little bit on puncutation, but, like “Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ”: “Our great God-and-Savior, Jesus Christ,” not “Our great God, and the Savior, Jesus Christ.” Even other Old Testament terms, like calling him Lord in a divine manner: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” Well, he’s using the same term for the one who sits at his right hand as for God himself, because “Lord” means “Yahweh,” and “Yahweh” is God. “Theos Kyrios”: God is the Lord; the Lord is God, and Kyrios is Yahweh in the Bible.

When I was a seminarian, many years ago, I went to my professor of dogmatic theology, Professor Serge Verhovskoy, and I said to him, “Prof”—everybody called him “Prof”—“I don’t find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in the Bible. I don’t think it’s in the Bible.” Of course, in those days, I had a very skewed idea of the Trinity. I thought of the Trinity as sort of one God who is somehow three. I thought of it as like three-leaf clovers or like three elements of water, that water could be liquid, water could be steam, and water could be ice. Actually, I came to learn that, in fact, those symbolisms are Modalistic. They’re Modalistic symbolisms; they’re not accurate. You can speak of God as fountain and stream or something like fire and heat and warmth and so on, as emanating from the one God and Father through his Son and his Spirit, but not all analogies are apt, not all are good ones, and three-leaf clovers and three forms of H2O and so on, those are not happy images, because they give the very wrong idea.

Here, very interestingly, the Church Fathers of the fourth century, like Gregory the Theologian and Basil the Great and Ambrose of Milan and Hilary of Poitiers and Gregory of Nyssa, they would have never said that God the Father is of one essence with the Son. They would only say that the Son is of one essence with the Father, because the Son’s divinity is the Father’s divinity. The Son is God from God. He is a divine Person, a divine Hypostasis, from the one God.

Whether we think of the one Person of the Father, who is never devoid of his Son and Spirit, whether we think of the one divinity—and here we should notice, by the way, that in Eastern Orthodoxy, the term “Triune God” is not a traditional formula. In fact, I believe you never find it in any liturgical prayer ever, the expression “Triune God.” You find the expression “Tri-Personal, tri-Hypostatic divinity,” “Theotēs” in Greek, “Bozhestvo” in Slavonic, but not “Theos” or “Bog.” There is no tri-Personal Theos, God. There is the one Theos, kai Patera, the one God and Father: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty…” That’s the one God. But then that one God is Father eternally with his Son, who is God from God, and with his Holy Spirit.

Interestingly enough, the Nicene Creed does not call the Holy Spirit “Theos, God.” Gregory the Theologian was the first one to do that, and he did it in the fourth century. St. Athanasius, when he wrote the letters to Serapion proving the divinity of the Holy Spirit, never called him “Theos,” because the Bible never calls him “Theos.” St. Basil the Great, when he wrote his treatise, On the Holy Spirit, he never called the Holy Spirit “Theos,” and Gregory the Theologian was angry with him. He said, “You’re a coward. You have to do it. The Spirit is divine with the same divinity as God the Father and the Son.” And Basil said, “Yes, he is, but let’s be careful with our language. We’re having enough trouble with the Son of God; not to get in trouble with the Holy Spirit yet.”

He did call, and Nicaea did call the Son “God from God,” but it didn’t call the Spirit “God from God.” It could have, and later on, of course, it became very clear, and then, later on, the Holy Spirit is also called “Theos, God.” But we should be honest and clear and know that biblically it is never done. The closest thing in the Bible is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with Ananias and Sapphira, when it says they lied to God. They said, “Why did you lie to the Holy Spirit? You lied to God.” So if you lie to the Holy Spirit, you definitely lie to God the Father, whose Spirit the Holy Spirit is.


Keeping in harmony with the ideas expressed above, I am also reposting the following explanation, from a down-voted answer to a previously asked question:

Let us recall that, while Adam (meaning Man) may not have been the only human in the Bible, he certainly is the only one to have borne the name of our entire species in his own person; with all of this in mind, let us now adduce the following reasoning: Just as Adam's (Man's) humanity does not infringe upon that of the beings descended from his own flesh and blood (Genesis 2:23), despite his being the only person in the entire Scripture to have ever borne the name Man as his own personal name, in virtue of his being the one father of all mankind, so also the divinity of the one God and Father does not necessarily deter other possible divine persons (personifying His various divine attributes, as Eve did with Adam's) from possibly sharing in the same divinity; notice also how the very next verse (Genesis 2:24) perfectly mirrors or resembles Christ's own idea of family unity, expressed in John 10:30.

Posting as community wiki, since none of the ideas presented here are of my own creation.

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    Anyone can say whatever he might conjure up - but if there is no biblical basis to it it remains pointless. " the Father has with him eternally, whom he begets timelessly before all ages, his only-begotten Son"- right there is his problem - this is simply made up from a vivid imagination, nothing more.
    – steveowen
    May 31 at 9:17
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    @user47952: The purpose of this site is simply to present or explain the beliefs of various Christian denominations. The OP wanted to (better) understand how non-Unitarians make sense of the aforementioned expressions.
    – Lucian
    May 31 at 17:12
  • That may be, but the definition of ‘Christian’ is to follow Christ, not men and their ideas. Therefore the exposure of that which is not genuinely Christian is of greater import - we should stick to the text.
    – steveowen
    May 31 at 21:05
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    @user47952: Christ was, obviously, a man, and texts can lend themselves to more than one interpretation.
    – Lucian
    May 31 at 21:26
  • I disagree - context readily sorts that dilemma out. If we allow context to reign, trinitarian and other dogma proof-texts break down allowing the intended message to be read clearly.
    – steveowen
    May 31 at 22:23
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I cannot offer a Trinitarian's perspective on this question, but I do believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ. I appreciate that the question was crafted to solicit multiple viewpoints; I'll offer a response representing one of those viewpoints.

The easy answer would be to say that 1 Clement isn't canonical, so it doesn't matter what he thought. While I agree that 1 Clement isn't in the same category as the canonical New Testament--and isn't anyone's doctrinal foundation--I disagree that it does not matter what Clement believed.

Clement was a prominent leader in one of the most prominent churches of the first century, and was a disciple of the apostles. He and his contemporaries were responsible for setting apart, preserving, and promoting the books we know as the New Testament today. I will not claim anything like Clementine inerrancy, but I do believe his epistle offers an excellent window into what ideas were circulating among second-generation Christians.

--

What if the Apostolic Fathers disagree?

If Clement says Jesus is not Divine and Igantius says He is (and I suggest Ignatius does say this--see his Epistle to the Ephesians chapter 7) what are we to make of it?

Either:

  • Clement is wrong
  • Ignatius is wrong
  • Both are wrong (this is hardly a helpful option)
  • Or our interpretation is wrong

I suggest that a fair a priori working assumption is that if we think Clement & Ignatius are in conflict it is more likely that we misunderstood something than that one or both of them misunderstood.

--

In the words of his mentor

Clement is widely held to have been a student of Paul, and in 1 Clement 5 gives us the earliest surviving account of Paul's martyrdom. As Clement introduces the subject of Peter & Paul's martyrdoms he says:

Let us set before us the noble examples which belong to our generation (1 Clement 5:1)

His epistle is saturated with Pauline quotations (a helpful summary of NT quotations/allusions by Clement is available online here). Since Clement clearly has Paul on his mind, I suggest that Paul's teachings on the matter are very relevant to our analysis.

--

The Father put all things (except Himself) under the Son

From 1 Corinthians 15:

24 Then cometh the end, when he [Christ] shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

...

27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him [the Father] that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

Note also the similar ideas presented in Ephesians 1 which refers to:

the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory (verse 17)

and indicates that it is the Father who

hath put all things under his (Christ's) feet (verse 22)

Here the deference of Jesus to the Father is clear, as it was throughout Jesus' ministry.

--

To us there is One God

If I had to pick a single passage in all scripture that is probably on Clement's mind as he dictates the verse in the OP to his scribe, it would be Paul's teachings to the very same Corinthian church that he (Clement) is addressing now:

5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)

6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6)

If I may be so bold as to say so, I don't think Clement's words in 59:4 add anything theologically beyond what Paul has already told the Corinthians.

To those who take 1 Cor. 8:5-6 as a denial of Jesus' Deity, Clement won't move the needle. To those who do not take 1 Cor. 8:5-6 as a denial of Jesus' Deity, Clement won't move the needle the other way either.

My own view is that Paul does not deny the Deity of Christ, but acknowledges Christ's deference to the Father. Paul makes a distinction between the Father and the Son and their roles in eternity, while acknowledging the unity they have in their mission.

--

Some Academic Honesty

If the passage from Clement in the OP and the passages of Paul cited above were all we had to go on--no Old Testament, no Emmanuel from Matthew, no Gospel of John, no Hebrews, no Jewish worldview about sonship, etc (in my case "etc" includes a belief in modern revelation too)...I would agree that the Deity of Christ is not clearly evident.

My belief in the Deity of Christ informs my interpretation of Clement, not the other way around.

--

Context--Clement is saying a prayer

Going back a few lines shows that Clement is in fact uttering a prayer to God, and I will include just a few more words for the context I will support in my conclusion:

Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.

Clement isn't explicitly teaching--he is praying that the Gentiles will learn the truth.

--

Conclusion

Clement is calling attention to the (usually) polytheistic Gentiles. It is against that background that Clement's words (to me) make the most sense. Whereas the Greeks have to worry about pleasing Zeus, and Poseidon, and Hades, and hope they don't offend Athena in the process, and so on--their worship goes in multiple directions to competing gods--Clement, like Paul did before, is observing:

  • A distinction between the God Father and Jesus Christ
  • The deference the Son shows to the Father
  • The authority of the Son comes from the Father
  • The worship of a Christian goes in one direction

To paraphrase Clement--in a way in which I see no conflict with Igantius, let alone the New Tesatment--I would suggest:

May the Gentiles--whose worship goes in multiple directions--learn that true worship of God goes in only one direction. We believe in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, We are the flock of God the Father and Jesus Christ--we cannot truly worship one without worshipping the other, and we cannot please one without pleasing the other.

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  • +1 Re Ignatius to Ephesians 7, there are perhaps two important points in rebuttal. 1. The Long Rescension version of this text has a context that makes a straightforward understanding of 7 as equating Jesus with God problematic ("But our Physician is the Only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son.") 2. There is a question of the proper understanding of Ignatius' use of theos - was it 'god' as in Moses, angels, and judges (Jesus compares Himself to these 'gods')? Or is it 'God' as in the Almighty God? Jun 5 at 4:56
  • "We believe in God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ" Is this paraphrase intended to include Jesus as God, or does 'God' here apply to just the Father? Jun 5 at 15:49
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    @OneGodtheFather re Ignatius, that's a fair rebuttal. I modified my statement on Ignatius slightly. I suppose the stronger, original statement I made on Ignatius (which I do stand by =) ) would call for a more extensive argument to back it up. Probably a discussion for another post. Jun 5 at 16:47
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    @OneGodtheFather re your 2nd comment, I personally believe the Son of God is a Divine nomenclature. For purposes of this post I tried not to over-specify Clement's words. I don't think his statement here explicitly affirms or denies the Deity of Christ, so I was trying not to put words in his mouth. Jun 5 at 17:01

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