- Clement and Peter,
- You are worthy of all praise!
- Holy and unassailable strongholds of the Church;
- Inspired models of true faith and devotion:
- Guard us all through your intercessions!
This hymn to Clement and Peter preserves the tradition that these two "popes" form the orthodox bedrock on which the Christian church was built. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the early church governance tradition of the Jewish Christian church at Jerusalem seems to have been inherited by the church at Rome. Traditionally, that church was led by Peter, who himself had earlier been a leader of the Jerusalem church. In the Roman Catholic understanding, an unbroken line of orthodox popes has been maintained from then on, forming a direct spiritual line from Peter through Clement, on down to the present pope.
However, it is doubtful that Clement I was ever a "pope" in the sense that the term is used today. Rather, he seems to have been a presbyter (elder) or a bishop, but not the sole ruler of the Roman church and certainly not having authority to govern the bishops of all other churches in the Roman Empire. However, it is possible that Clement might have known Peter when the latter was an old man, and might even have been ordained by him as one of Rome's several bishops, if such an office existed yet.
While the "historical Clement" remains mysterious, the author of I Clement, traditionally ascribed to him, was clearly a person authorized to write on behalf of the Roman church to the church at Corinth. This may indeed have been "our" Clement. This letter is of immense significance in church history, as it is the most ancient source demonstrating Rome's sense of entitlement to intervene in the affairs of other churches. II Clement is probably not by our Clement, nor is any of the large body of so-called Clementine literature traditionally ascribed to him. Unfortunately, the history of the early Christian church remains shrouded in mystery due to the paucity of sources.