AAF II: Brief Rhetorical Analysis of I Clement…

…and Possible Implications For Understanding the Relationship Between the Roman and Corinthian ChurchesTony Sig

In Aristotle’s third chapter in his lectures On Rhetoric, he classifies three genres of rhetoric; συμβουλευτικον, δικανικον, and επιδεικτικον; deliberative, judicial, and demonstrative respectively. The majority of classical rhetoricians adhered to this rather strict set of three genres. But not all did, Cicero’s De oratore and Quintilian’s Institutio oratorio each argue that the tri-fold classification system is much to narrow, nonetheless, Aristotle and his idea of three genres held sway over the education and instruction of rhetoric, even if in practice it is difficult to sequester a piece off into only one of the three kinds.

In time other subcategories emerged which suggested that public epistles and private letters were different is scope and character. Holmes tells us that I Clement is a strict exercise in deliberative rhetoric, placed in a public and literary epistle. The letter is highly stylized and is an attempt to persuade the audience to do something, and/or to dissuade them from doing something. A “deliberative” piece was also called a letter of advice. The message would have been framed as if to say “is it more beneficial to do this than do that.” It is a letter which implies there be room for a response, although we do not know if a proper response was made, or if the letter was successful at it intended purpose, although it is possible that II Clement is a sermon by a Corinthian elder after having been restored; if this is correct then 1 Clement was a success.

There were forms available for letters which presumed the authority of one party over another, and I Clement does not fit into that category. I Clem. makes authoritative use of LXX scriptures, some pseudepigraphical and unknown sources, Jesus traditions, I Corinthians and likely Romans and Hebrews as well. I Clem. also uses pagan and secular examples, including Stoic cosmology, the legend of the phoenix, and the Roman army. Appeals are made to ομονια “concord” (which is used 14 times!) and sought to settle στασις or “revolt.” That is to say, they made their appeals by examples from scripture, Jesus, the Apostles, nature, and societal expectations.

Given the nature of the letter, one of advice; that there were forms available which were official and implied authority, to which I Clem does not adhere; that the letter is addressed from the whole church to another church; that appeal is made to everything from the religious to the secular, but not to the authority of a figure in the Roman church or the church itself; that the letter attempts to persuade by argument with an implied response; and that a “teaching authority” or “authority of Peter” is never invoked

It seems at this initial stage, that we should understand the letter to be a word of advice to the Corinthian church from their fellow believers in the church of Rome, which assumes no authority over the Corinthians but instead uses rhetorical standards to persuade them to take a course of action the Roman church believes is the most appropriate Christian response.

*All information either came to me in an ecstatic vision, or I found it in the into to I Clement in Holmes 3rd ed, in David Aune’s “The New Testament in its literary Environment,” 1987 Westminster; or “The Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period 330 BC – AD 400” Stanley Porter, Brill 2001


  1. I would be interested to read a RCC apologist make a case for Rome’s authority in this letter. I am unfamiliar with the debate but from my brief reading and some quick study, Tony’s reading of “some Christianly advice from one church to another” is what I’ve gathered too.


  2. I was actually hoping for some Catholic feedback. It’s not like I’m trying to pick a fight, I really want some conversation partners.


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