The Letter of Clement to the Christians in Corinth is probably the earliest Christian writing we have outside of the Gospel canon. The letter mainly dealt with a scandal in which shepherds (aka elders, bishops, presbyters) had been tossed out by a younger generation without good reason. It’s a well-known letter to Christians today, but it gives us a great insight into early Christian history and culture. Here are some gleanings from the letter:
And ye were all humble, boasting of nothing, submitting yourselves rather than subjecting others, more gladly giving than receiving, content with the provision that God had given you; and attending diligently to his words, ye received them into your very hearts, and his sufferings were before your eyes.
But let us pass from ancient examples, and come unto those who have in the times nearest to us, wrestled for the faith.
Envy hath estranged the minds of wives from their husbands, and changed the saying of our father Adam: This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.
As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of a sinner, as I desire his repentance;
Let us therefore cleave unto them who live in peace and godliness, not unto them who hypocritically profess to desire peace.
Let us offend against men who are foolish, and senseless, and puffed up in the pride of their own speech, rather than against God.
Audacity, self-will, and boldness belong to them who are accursed of God; but moderation, humility, and meekness, to them that are blessed of God.
What, then, shall we do, brethren? Shall we cease from well-doing, and abandon charity? May the Master never allow that this should happen to us! but let us rather with diligence and zeal hasten to fulfil every good work.
Through him we look steadfastly to the heights of the heavens; through him we behold, as in a glass, the immaculate and lofty countenance of God the Father; through him the eyes of our heart were opened; through him our foolish and darkened understanding springeth up again to his marvellous light; through him the Lord hath willed us to taste of immortal knowledge; who, being the brightness of his glory, is so far better than the angels, as he hath, by inheritance, obtained a more excellent name than they.
Let not the strong man despise the weak, and let the weak pay regard to the strong. Let him that is rich minister to him that is poor. Let him that is poor praise God that he hath given unto him one by whom his want may be supplied. Let the wise show his wisdom, not in words, but in good deeds; let him that is humble not bear witness to himself, but leave another to bear witness to him. Let him that is pure in the flesh boast not of it, knowing that it is another that giveth him the power of continence.
Since, therefore, these things have been made manifest before unto us, and since we have looked into the depths of the divine knowledge, we ought to do everything in order, whatsoever the Lord hath commanded us to do at the appointed seasons, and to perform the offerings and liturgies. These he hath not commanded to be done at random or in disorder, but at fixed times and seasons.
Ye are contentious, brethren, and are zealous concerning things that pertain not unto salvation.
Why do we tear apart and rend asunder the members of Christ, and make sedition against our body, and come to such a degree of madness that we forget we are members one of another?
This your schism has perverted many; hath cast many into despondency; many into doubt; all of us into grief, and, as yet, your sedition remaineth.
We ask thee, Lord, to be our helper and assister, save those of us who are in affliction, have compassion on the humble, raise the fallen, appear to those who are in need, heal the sinners, convert those of thy people who are wandering from the way, feed the hungry, ransom our prisoners, raise up the sick, encourage the feeble-hearted, let all the nations know that thou art God alone and Jesus Christ thy Son, and that we are thy people and the sheep of thy pasture.