let our children receive instruction which is in Christ…

One Clement 21:8-22:1

(21:8) Let our children receive the instruction which is in Christ: let them learn how strong humility is before God, what pure love is able to accomplish before God, how the fear of him is good and great and saves all those who live in it in holiness with a pure mind. (21:9) For he is the searcher of thoughts and desires; his breath is in us, and when he so desires, he will take it away. (22:1) Now faith in Christ confirms all these things, for he himself through the Holy Spirit thus calls us: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (p. 55 of Holmes; see book citation in the paragraph titled Brief Background at the end of this post for full source information).


Although this is the longest section in the letter which directly addresses the spiritual formation of children, it is set in a much more extensive context of exhortations and biblical reminders directed to the Corinthians as a whole. In short, they once again had ostensibly fallen into internal conflict, as they had when the Apostle Paul had twice written them. The Romans were concerned and thus undertook to send this letter with the aim of inspiring spiritual course corrections, both in attitude and behavior.

It is no small matter that Clement, whoever he might have been (see background below), saw fit to remind his readers to instruct their children in the way of Christ. His words clearly are directed to adults and contain a sobering reminder of their fraility and their tenuous political situation, pointing out that children were not immune to the hazards of the day. Consider the following: (22:9b) “his breath is in us, and when he so desires, he will take it away.” While they acknowledged God’s providence, they also understood the brevity of life. Even for children. In many cases, especially so, given disease, war, social inequities, and the whims of evil emperors, etc.

Their’s was an urgent task, that children may know Christ and live practically as his followers. Although they had hope for the future, they faced grim realities in their present. I wonder if we in the 21st century West might learn from this? What generates urgency in our hearts to be devoted followers of Jesus and to train up children to follow in the way of Christ as well? What distracts us?

Based on internal evidence, the Corinthians were distracted by selfish desires which led to conflicts and compromise in their testimony. Maybe we aren’t so different, after all. Maybe Clement’s letter should serve as a call to renewed vigor in our purpose, our mission, our responsibility. I invite you to read it for yourself online in one of the free databases available on the web. The translations are archaic, but there still will be value.

In the meantime, be faithful to the calling to which God has entrusted you. The time is far shorter than we imagine.

In case you are interested: Brief background

The writer of the letter commonly known as One Clement wrote on behalf of the Roman Christians to the Corinthian church, likely about A.D. 95 or 96 (I prefer the traditional latin usage, rather than the more recent politically correct C.E.), although notable scholars date the letter much earlier (e.g., J.A.T. Robinson posits A.D. 70). Provenance studies indicate his name was Clement, but there is a fair amount of uncertainty precisely who he was. Internal textual evidence does not specify the author’s name, a situation not uncommon in early near eastern epistolary literature. Although tradition cites the third bishop of Rome after Peter, there is substantial scholarly disagreement with this hypothesis. Readers may view the evidence for themselves by consulting sources devoted to such concerns. The book The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd Ed., trans. by J.B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, ed. and rev. by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1992) is a helpful introduction to the field.

research assumptions concerning patristic views of childhood

As I begin my readings of the church fathers specifically to understand their written treatment of children and childhood, I find it helpful to identify a few early research assumptions on my part. Remember, these are early assumptions, which implies my understanding that I could be wrong. Any bona fide patristics research scholars are welcome to offer their feedback in the form of correction or affirmation in the comments. My assumptions are as follows:

  • The church fathers do not conceptualize childhood as we do in contemporary thought. That is, it is not seen as a research discipline or a topic of concern in its own right. Rather, the treatment of children, their discipline and life training, and their spiritual training are all interwoven into the fabric of larger topics within their writings.
  • Children are not viewed as having spiritual lives all their own. Rather, their spiritual formation is treated in the context of family and society and is considered important insofar as it contributes to their progression toward adulthood, rather than something of singular importance to their childhood.
  • The church fathers do not directly address reading children as an audience. They address adults, particularly parish leaders and parents (esp. fathers).
  • Where children are mentioned, training (discipline and instruction) children and protecting them from specific systemic evils seem to be the predominate themes.

In the weeks ahead as I continue my readings I will refer back to this post to interact with my early assumptions and make corrections as I continue my learning journey. I begin with the apostolic fathers: Clement of Rome, Mathetes, Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr,  and Irenaeus.