Satanology of the Apostolic Fathers: 1 Clement

Typically dated to the end of the first century,1 1 Clement uses no satanological terminology. There is one use of the verb antikeimai, ‘adversary’ (51:1). Although this verb is applied to the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, the New Testament never uses it of Satan, but does use it of human opponents in Luke 13:17; 21:15; 1 Corinthians 16:9, Galatians 5:17, Philippians 1:28, 2 Thessalonians 2:4, and 1 Timothy 1:10, which last usage makes its use in 1 Timothy 5:14 most likely to be human as well.2 Consequently there is no precedent for it referring to Satan in 1 Clement.

Although neither satanas nor diabolos appear in 1 Clement, there is clear evidence for him understanding diabolos with a human referent, in a passage which quotes Wisdom of Solomon.

1 Clement 3:
4 For this reason “righteousness” and peace “stand at a distance,” While each one has abandoned the fear of God and become nearly blind with respect to faith in Him, neither walking according to the laws of His commandments nor living in accordance with his duty toward Christ. Instead, each follows the lusts of his evil heart, inasmuch as they have assumed that attitude of unrighteous and ungodly jealousy through which, in fact, “death entered into the world.”3

Here is evidence for Clement’s harmartiology; like James, he attributes sin to the lusts of the evil heart. Reference to the entry of death into the world is a quotation from Wisdom of Solomon (2:24), where death’s entry is attributed to the envy of the diabolos. Clement interprets the diabolos here as a reference to Cain,4 which many scholars believe is the meaning intended.5

This is more likely than a supernatural referent, since ‘The notion that the devil was motivated by envy is likewise not attested before the first century C.E., at the earliest’.6 The fact that Clement understands diabolos here as a reference to Cain differentiates him sharply from the many later Christian commentators who read it as a reference to Satan; Irenaeus,7 Theophilus of Antioch,8 Cyprian of Carthage,9 Cyril of Jerusalem,10 Chrysostom,11 Augustine,12 Caesarius of Arles,13 John Cassian,14 Hermias Sozomen,15 Gregory Nazianzen,16 John of Damascus,17 Athanasius,18 Gregory the Great,19 Pseudo-Ambrose,20 Junian of Eclanium,21 Fulgentius of Ruspe.22 Either no such tradition existed in Clement’s era, or he was ignorant of it, or he was deliberately rejecting it.

To summarize the evidence in Clement, the writer used a verb the New Testament uses for human adversaries (instead of using a proper name or proper noun for Satan), and did not use either satanas or diabolos, his only reading of diabolos interprets it as a human adversary rather than a supernatural being, and he does not  refer to demons, evil spirits, fallen angels, demonic possession, or exorcism. Clement’s hamartiology is psychological rather than mythological; temptation and sin are the products of the human heart. Clement therefore represents a strong non-mythological view.

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  1. ‘That date, for 1 Clement considered by Cullman as “the document of ancient Christianity that can be dated with the greatest certainty,” is almost universally accepted as being circa AD 95-96’, Thomas J. Herron, Clement and the Early Church of Rome: On the Dating of Clement’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2010), xi; ‘This date ‘[about 96 CE’, top of page] is commonly accepted.’, Matthew R. Malcolm, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reversal in 1 Corinthians: The Impact of Paul’s Gospel on His Macro-Rhetoric, vol. 155, Society For New Testament Studies Monograph Series (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 64; ‘Although a precise and irrefutable dating of 1 Clement is impossible, there is widespread agreement that it was written in the last decade of the first century, perhaps around 95-96 CE.’, David G. Horrell, The Social Ethos of the Corinthian Correspondence: Interests and Ideology from 1 Corinthians to 1 Clement (A&C Black, 1996), 236. []
  2. ‘But who is the enemy? In view of verse 15, and in view of the fact that enemy is singular, the logical conclusion would be to identify Satan as the enemy. The problem with this option is, how can Satan insult members of the Christian community? It is for this reason that some translations have opted for identifying the enemy with certain people, perhaps and especially the followers of the false teachers. If such an option is taken, then enemy is considered as a collective noun and is therefore better translated plural, as, for example, TEV “enemies.” Those who hold to the view that the enemy here refers to Satan would reason that Satan insults the Christian community through a human being. All in all, though, it is recommended by this Handbook that translators render this word as “enemies.” In a number of languages “our enemies” will be rendered as “those who hate us.”’, Howard Arichea, Daniel C.; Hatton, A Handbook on Paul’s Letters to Timothy and to Titus (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 1995), 122; ‘But the final prepositional phrase is causal and is better taken as explaining the potential cause/source of the opportunity Paul seeks to prevent: thus “give no opportunity to the enemy on account of reviling.”144 In this case, an additional agent is implied, that is, some unnamed agent responsible for the act of reviling. This will be a person or people, since the term used to describe the verbal attacks envisioned here is used of people (cf. Jude 9). Presumably, Paul means those outside the community, and he therefore has the church’s public reputation in mind.’, Philip H Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (New International Commentary on the New Testament.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006), 356-7; ‘Hence, he adds: and give the adversary no occasion whatever for slandering (or: favorable to slandering). Paul is thinking of a human adversary, whether he be a Jew or a Gentile.’, William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (vol. 4; New Testament Commentary; Baker Book House, 1953), 177-178; ‘The apostle is once again most anxious that unnecessary reproach from any non-Christian opponent should be avoided.’, Donald Guthrie, Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (vol. 14; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries; InterVarsity Press, 1990), 118; ‘Here ὁ ἀντικείμενος is generic; it does not refer to Satan, who is only mentioned for the first time in v. 15.’, Geoffrey William Kittel, Gerhard; Friedrich, Gerhard; Bromiley, “ἀντίκειμαι,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. 3; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 655. []
  3. Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Updated ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 33. []
  4. ‘Clement is quoting Wis 2:24 and his placement of the verse like book ends for the Genesis 4 citation demonstrates that he interpreted it as referring to Cain and not the devil.’, John Byron, Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry (Brill, 2011), 223. []
  5. ‘Cf. Wisdom 2.24; ‘it was through the devil’s envy that Death entered into the cosmic order’ has been taken by many interpreters to refer to Cain (cf. D. Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon [AB], 121 for discussion). The interpretation gains some support from Wisdom 10.1-3, which contrasts Adam with Cain, ‘the wicked man… on whose account the earth was flooded.’, Philip R. Davies, “Sons of Cain,” in A Word in Season: Essays in Honour of William McKane (ed. Philip R. Davies and James D. Martin; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 42; Bloomsbury Publishing, 1987), 56.; ‘It is in fact likely that Clement interpreted Wisdom correctly in identifying the diaboloV of 2.24 as Cain and not as Adam or anyone connected with the sin of Adam.’, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78; ‘In Wisdom 10:1-2, the author does not consider the sin of Adam as particularly grievous, but in 10:3-4 blames Cain for three instances of death: the death of Abel, Cain’s own spiritual death of exile, and the death of almost the entire human race by flood. It is likely therefore that death entered the world through Cain’s murder of Abel.’, Richard J. Clifford, Wisdom (New Collegeville Bible Commentary; Liturgical Press, 2013), 21; ‘So while it is possible that Wis 2:24 is referring to the serpent/devil’s deception of Eve, it is not certain. If this is an allusion to Eve’s deception in Gen 3:4 then it is one of the earliest extant Jewish documents to equate the serpent with the devil. But if diaboloV is translated as “of the enemy,” then it is possible that 2:24 constitutes an allusion to Cain’s murder of Abel.’, John Byron, Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry (Brill, 2011), 220; ‘Levison’s theory is that “the enemy” (for this is how he translates this instance of diaboloV is actually Cain, as is more explicitly the case in 10:3-4.’, Peter Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives (Baker Academic, 2008), 19. []
  6. ‘The notion that the devil was motivated by envy is likewise not attested before the first century C.E., at the earliest, when it appears in The Life of Adam and Eve 12-17 (cf. 2 Enoch 31).’, David Collins and John Joseph Collins, Jewish Wisdom in the Hellenistic Age (A&C Black, 1998), 190. []
  7. Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching 16-17. []
  8. Apology to Autolycus 2.29. []
  9. On Envy and Jealousy 4. []
  10. Catechesis 12.5. []
  11. Second Epistle to Innocent. []
  12. Tractates on John 12.10. []
  13. Sermon 200.5. []
  14. Conferences 3.18.16. []
  15. Ecclesiastical History 8.26. []
  16. Oration 39.13. []
  17. Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 2.30. []
  18. On the Incarnation 5.2. []
  19. Book of Pastoral Rule 3.10. []
  20. Prayer 2.4, Between Vices and Virtue 6, and On the Book of Revelation 6.7, J.P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina (Paris: Garnier, 1844-1864). []
  21. Augustine’s Tractate Against Julian 2.52, Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana: Opere di Sant’ Agostino (1967-). []
  22. Letter to Peter on the Faith 71.28, Collana di Testi Patristici (1961-). []

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