Friday, September 16, 2005

Epistle to the Corinthians: First Main Part

Onward to the second main part of St. Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians, consisting of chapters 37 through 61.

Quasten: "The second main part deals more immediately with the quarrel among the Christians in Corinth. God, the Creator of order in nature, requires order and obedience from his creatures. This necessity for discipline and subjection is proved by pointing to the rigorous training of the Roman army and to the existence of a hierarchy in the Old Testament. So, too, Christ called the Apostles and they in turn appointed bishops and deacons. Love should take the place of discord and charity should prompt forgiveness. The instigators of contention are exhorted to do penance and to be submissive."

I love Clement's appeal to the Roman army model. "All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals." It reminds me of the centurion of faith--"For I too am a man subject to authority, and have soldiers subject to me"--whose words of confidence in humility (Lord, I am not worthy...) we repeat at each mass before receiving the Eucharist.

Anyway, more Quasten, on the Epistle in general, by topic:

Church history: "Very important is the first chapter. It bears reliable testimony to St. Peter's sojourn in rome, St. Paul's journey to Spain and the martyrdom of the two Princes of the Apostles.... Again the sixth chapter gives us information about Nero's persecution of the Christians, speaks of a multitude of martyrs and mentions that many of them were women."

History of dogma: "Here for the first time we find a clear and explicit declaration of the doctrine of apostolic succession. The fact is stressed that the presbyters cannot be deposed by the members of the community because authority is not bestowed by them.... [T]he very existence of the epistle is in itself a testimony of great moment to the authority of the Roman bishop. the Church of Rome speaks to the Church of corinth as a superior speaks to a subject.... [T]he Bishop of Rome regards it as a duty to take the matter in hand and he considers it sinful on their part if they do not render obedience to him."

Liturgy: "The Epistle points to a clear distinction between hierarchy and laity. After explaining the various divisions of the Old Testament hierarchy the author adds: 'the layman is bound by the rules laid down for the laity' (40, 5).... The members of the Christian hierarchy are called episkopoi kai diakonoi [bishops and deacons]. In other passages they are called cumulatively presbyteroi. Their most important function is the celebration of the liturgy: to offer the gifts or to present the offerings."

So I was noticing that both the Presbyterian editors of the ANF translation (the one I've been linking to) and the Catholic Jurgens (The Faith of the Early Fathers) consistently use "presbyters" to translate presbyteroi, while Kirsopp, in the scholarly and secular Loeb edition, translates the word literally as "older." In the first chapter, I really find Kirsopp's translation more likely: "obedient to your rulers, and paying all fitting honour to the older among you" is contrasted in the next sentence to the treatment of the young: "On the young, too, you enjoined temperate and seemly thoughts." In chapter 57, Kirsopp uses "presbyters," since an ordained class is clearly being referred to.


Anonymous Caroline O said...

O.K., so here's my first stupid question in what will most likely become a lengthy series of stupid questions: Why was this book not included in the NT? What were the qualifications for making that cut?

1:08 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Not a stupid question! A very good question. Here's my best answer, with the caveat that I'm not a historian, and I have to rely on historians for information. I try to rely on real historians, though.

The criteria for inclusion of books of the NT in the early Church was that they be written by apostles or disciples of apostles and accepted by the Christian faithful (as shown by the books being read in churches as part of the liturgy), particularly in the great Sees. These criteria were fuzzy enough that, as you probably know, several books were thought by some to be in, and by others to be out; and so there are many different canons, sometimes defended quite heatedly. Through surviving lists of canons used in Christian churches in the early centuries, we learn which parts of the NT were disputed.

Among the NT books that were thought by many early orthodox Christians to be outside the canon are Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews (many of the early Church Fathers doubted St. Paul to be the author), James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation). Syriac Christians continue to use the Peshitta, a NT that excludes 2 & 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation.

Among those books that were considered by many to be canonical are the Didache, Barnabas, Hermas, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Acts of Paul, the Apocalypse of Peter, 3 Corinthians, the Apostolic Constitutions, and 1 and 2 Clement. There were many other writings, other than the well-known Gnostic writings, that were accepted only by a minority of Christians, but still disputed. Today, the Armenian Orthodox include 3 Corinthians, and the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Copts include several NT books not present in the Catholic canon, including good old Clement.

Anyway that's a long answer to a short question, and it doesn't really get at your central question, which I guess would be, why did the Catholic canon and the majority Orthodox canon come to exclude Clement's letter to the Corinthians? (The Protestant canon presumably excludes it because the Catholic NT canon was retained after the Reformation.) My best guess is that it failed the "apostle or disciple of an apostle" test. But it's interesting to know it *could* have made it!

6:11 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Erratum: Above, the second paragraph should read "there WERE many different canons."

6:15 PM  

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