“more fraternal than authoritative”: an epistle to the Corinthians

When we hear of an Epistle to the Corinthians, most people will instinctively think of the St Paul the Apostle’s Epistles that are in the Canon of the New Testament, however epistles were being sent from many early Christian leaders to each other all over the known Christian world. This continues to this day, in each diocese all over the world, bishops can and do send pastoral letters to their flocks.

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Clement I, Bishop of Rome and Martyr. While many will regard a letter issued by him to be a letter with the authority of a Pope as the Roman Church understands that authority now, this may not be the case. It has been suggested by some scholars that St Clement’s epistle was “more fraternal than authoritative” – that is that he was not necessarily claiming that Rome was anything other than primus inter pares (first among equals). This is often the position that those of us who are independent Catholics find ourselves adopting or believing. We acknowledge the position of the Holy Father, Benedict ⅩⅥ, but we take his words as we would take the words of another bishop. 

St Clement’s epistle talks through many issues, but one chapter has hit home with me…

CHAPTER 13 — AN EXHORTATION TO HUMILITY.

Let us therefore, brethren, be of humble mind, laying aside all haughtiness, and pride, and foolishness, and angry feelings; and let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit says, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man Story in his riches; but let him that glories glory in the Lord, in diligently seeking Him, and doing judgment and righteousness” ), being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spoke, teaching us meekness and long-suffering. For thus He spoke: “Be merciful, that you may obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done to you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you measure, with the same it shall be measured to you.” By this precept and by these rules let us establish ourselves, that we walk with all humility in obedience to His holy words. For the holy word says, “On whom shall I look, but on him that is meek and peaceable, and who trembles at My words?”

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Those who are in positions of authority within Christ’s Church must bear in mind the words of Our Blessed Lord at all times. The passage highlighted by St Clement teaches us all that we should

Be merciful, that you obtain mercy; forgive, that it may be forgiven to you; as you do, so shall it be done to you; as you judge, so shall you be judged; as you are kind, so shall kindness be shown to you; with what measure you measure, with the same it shall be measured to you.

As I begin my ministry as Ordinary of my Priestly Fraternity, I am conscious of these words. I hope that all my Brethren will support me as I support them, we are learning as a community how to live one with the other, albeit at a distance. I ask for prayers for our new community but particularly for wisdom for my ministry amongst the Brethren.

Look forgivingly, on Thy flock, Eternal Shepherd, and keep it in Thy constant protection, by the intercession of blessed Clement Thy Martyr and Sovereign Pontiff, whom Thou didst constitute Shepherd of the whole Church, Through our Lord Jesus Christ. – Collect at Mass, Roman Missal 1962.

St Clement, bishop of Rome, pray for us.

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