Second Clement is the oldest, complete Christian sermon, dating from the early second century and possibly having been written as early as 98 A.D. The author or authors are unknown. It was preserved with 1 Clement, but Clement of Rome is probably not the author. A Christian document such as 2 Clement which was written so early ought to be of great interest and benefit to Christians today.
First Clement may give us some clues to the origin of 2 Clement. The church at Corinth was undergoing a power struggle and the elders had been deposed. Clement of Rome wrote a lengthy letter to the church in Corinth encouraging unity and giving support for the leadership of the original elders. Probably his letter was successful and the elders were reinstated. This set the stage for 2 Clement.
Second Clement is a sermon, a homily, or an exhortation. It shows internal evidence that it was a sermon read by or on behalf of the reinstated elders to the congregation: "Let us think about paying attention and believing not only now, while we are being admonished by the elders..." (17.3; all translations by Lightfoot-Holmes [Baker], 1992). And again, "I am reading you an exhortation" (19.1).
Second Clement has been outlined into three sections: (1) a theological section (1.1-2.7), (2) an ethical section (3.1-14.5), and (3) an eschatological section (15.1-18.2), followed by a short conclusion (Karl Paul Donfried, "The Theology of Second Clement," Harvard Theological Review 66 [October 1973] 487-88). The homily, 2 Clement, may have been composed to combat an incipient gnostic misunderstanding of the Christian faith which had a negative effect on the morality of the Corinthians (Ibid., 490-98). This would explain its major emphasis on Christian ethics, and thus it provides an excellent summary of how some Christians thought of the Christian life at the end of the first century.
The doctrinal or theological basis for a Christian lifestyle in 2 Clement is very sound, even if that lifestyle is overly ascetical in tone at times (5.1; 16.2, 4; 17.7). Christ as the revelation of God's love by means of his suffering on the cross is the starting point for 2 Clement's ethic (1.2-3).
Christian duty is the worthy, correct or appropriate (axios; BAGD, 78) response to the great salvation achieved in Christ (1.1-5). The relationship is reciprocal. Christ has given, therefore, we must give back to him (1.3, 5; 15.2; antimisthia, BAGD, 75). We recall "how much suffering Jesus Christ endured for our sake. What repayment, then, shall we give to him, or what fruit worthy of what he has given to us? And how many blessings do we owe him?" (1.2-3). "Pay him what is due" (9.7). God has called us (1.2, 8). He had mercy on us (1.7; 3.1). God acted to save those who were perishing (2.7). Salvation is not achieved by man. What we can do is "make every effort to pursue righteousness" (18.2). Good works provide evidence of the inward condition of one's soul (12.4).
How does a Christian demonstrate the appropriate reciprocal response to God's saving grace? "By doing what he says and not disobeying his commandments and honoring him not only with our lips but 'with our whole heart and with our whole mind'" (3.4). We should do God's will (5.1; 10.1; 11.7; 14.1) and the will of Christ (6.7; 9.11; 17.3). Obedience is indispensable (6.7; 8.4).
Second Clement gives specific content to these general descriptions of the Christian life. There is a "way of righteousness " (5.7; cf. 11.1). On the negative side, sin arises from an "evil mindset" (10.1). Christians should avoid sins like adultery (4.3; 6.4), slander (4.3), jealousy (4.3), greed (4.3; 6.4), corruption (6.4), deceit (6.4), idolatry (1.6; 17.1), doublemindedness (11.2; 19.2), and faithlessness (19.2). Christians should not be unrighteous or wicked (13.1; 19.2). They should "flee ungodliness" (10.1).
On the positive side Christian virtue is acclaimed by 2 Clement: "Let us pursue virtue now more than ever" (10.1). Various traits define what a "holy and righteous life" is (5.6; cf. 15.3; 19.2). These include self-control (4.3; 15.1), compassion (4.3), kindness (4.3), sympathy (4.3), loving one another (4.3; 9.6), loving our enemies (13.4), being eager to do good (10.2; 17.7), thankfulness (18.1), piety (19.1), goodness (19.1), and service from a pure heart (11.1). Good deeds such as giving alms are praised in 2 Clement, or should we say they are overpraised, due to Second Clement's moralism: "Charitable giving, therefore, is good, as is repentance from sin. Fasting is better than prayer, while charitable giving is better than both" (16.4).
Religious duty is defined mostly in ethical terms in 2 Clement. This may be due to the needs of the congregation at the time. But they are also told to fear God (4.4). Repentance is essential to the Christian life (8.1-3; 9.8; 13.1; 16.1, 4; 17.1; 19.1). Faith, hope, and love are all commended (20.2; 11.5; 12.1). Prayer is praised (16.4).
Various motives to promote godly behavior are marshalled. The reward of the life to come is a common appeal (5.5; 9.6; 11.5-6). A believer "will rejoice in an eternity untouched by sorrow" (19.4). On the other hand, warnings of judgment of the unfaithful are a motive also (6.9; 7.6; 16.3; 18.2). Eschatology is a key factor in 2 Clement's exhortation (17.4-7). Salvation must be sought in this life while opportunity still exists (8.2; 9.7; 16.1). Second Clement argues: "None of the righteous ever received his reward quickly, but waits for it. For if God paid the wages of the righteous immediately, we would soon be engaged in business, not godliness; though we would appear to be righteous, we would in fact be pursuing not piety but profit" (20.3-4).
Motives for right living by appeals to this life, in contrast to the future life, are found in 2 Clement. One should remain true to the pledge made at baptism (6.9; 7.6; 8.6). Good Christian examples will give the name of Christ a good reputation with the non-Christian (13.1-4) and will be a positive influence on those who are young (19.1). Appeals to happiness in this life are also found. The Christian life leads to peace, while the ungodly are wretched (10.2-11.2; cf. 15.5).
While there are appeals to this life in 2 Clement, the emphasis is on the future. While there is little evidence of a persecuted church within this sermon, the church was probably still composed chiefly of the disenfranchised (1 Cor. 1:26). Therefore, appeals are made for Christians to live as aliens in this present world (5.1, 6). One should not focus on the present life. It is "insignificant and transitory" (5.5; cf. 6.6; 12.1). The present world is at odds with the world to come (6.1-3). "We must renounce this one in order to experience that one" (6.5). We must patiently endure the misery of this world in hope (11.5; 20.4).
The Christian life is described as a contest (7.1-5; 20.2) which would be especially appropriate if its destination was Corinth, home of the nearby Isthmian games. The Corinthian Christians are exhorted: "Let us have faith, brothers and sisters! We are competing in the contest of a living God, and are being trained by the present life in order that we may be crowned in the life to come" (20.2). The Christian life is not a solitary, lonely struggle. We do not run the race alone. We run within a nurturing community of faith (17.2-3).
Despite a few objectionable points here and there, 2 Clement is a praiseworthy example of very early Christian teaching on the Christian life. It is worthy of our study and meditation as we attempt to walk closer to the Lord and "practice righteousness, that we may be saved in the end" (19.3).