Rome, Bishops and the Canon of Scripture
On 29 June 67 in the blood shed on the ager Vaticanus and beside the road to Ostia, Christian Rome was baptised. Henceforth, as ancient pagan Rome had set out to conquer the world for Rome and for Caesar, so now Christian Rome was setting out to conquer the world for Christ: ‘Let us get on with our warfare under His unerring directions,’ wrote Pope St. Clement I later in the first century. ‘Think of the men who serve our commanders in the field, and the prompt and orderly obedience with which they go about their duties … each at his own level executes the orders of the Emperor and the military commander.’* 2
As his first Successor as Bishop of Rome, St. Peter had nominated one St. Linus (who headed the church till 79). After St. Linus were elected St. Cletus (or Anacletus, 79 to 91) and then the famous St. Clement I (91 to 101). With St. Clement of Rome’s Epistle to the Corinthians we arrive at one of the very earliest Christian works outside the New Testament. At some time in the latter part of the first century trouble had broken out in the church in Corinth when some priests were expelled from their congregation. St. John the Apostle himself was living in nearby Ephesus, but appeal was made not to the nearby Apostle but to the church in faraway Rome. St. Clement of Rome settled the matter by sending his famous epistle with three delegates, Claudius Ephebus, Valerius Vito and Fortunatus, to ensure that order in the church in Corinth was restored. 3
In St. Clement’s epistle we see not only the Roman church authoritatively intervening in the internal disputes of another church but also the Christian priesthood in full liturgical function. Directly derived from the Temple chant, the Roman church’s liturgical chant of this earliest century slowly developed until in the 7th century it came to be known as ‘Gregorian’. (St. John was of impeccably Levitical and indeed priestly background. In view of the ending of the Temple sacrifices in 66 and the long since divinely prophesied and now visibly imminent destruction of the Temple, had St. John in Rome between 67 and 70, supervised not only the burials of St. Peter and St. Paul but also the full inauguration of the Roman liturgy? Should not St. John indeed be ranked along with St. Peter and St. Paul as a third founder of Christian Rome? Moreover, his Apocalypse, abounding as it does in images of candles, incense and priests, is by far the most ‘liturgical’ work in the New Testament.) In St. Clement’s epistle we can glimpse the Christian priesthood as already the fully aware and confident successor to the Old Testament order of worship which had been destroyed with the Jerusalem Temple in 70. Thus according to St. Clement: ‘There ought to be strict order and method in the performance of such acts as the Lord has prescribed for certain times and seasons. Now it was His command that the offering of gifts and the conduct of public liturgy should not be haphazard or irregular, but should take place at fixed times and hours. Moreover in the exercise of His sovereign will He has himself declared in what place and by what persons He desires this to be done…’*
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...