Clement of Rome (died 99) against Sola Scriptura


Protestant apologists, in addressing the subject of sola Scriptura and whether the Fathers of the Church believed it or not, very often argue as follows:

Father X of the Church believes in sola Scriptura, because, look, see! : he praise Scripture in this place and that, and another over there, and says that Christians should read the Bible to learn theology! He therefore clearly agrees with the formal Protestant principle of sola Scriptura! Who could doubt this?

But it is fallacious and illogical through and through. The proper approach to this and what an Church father believed is:

Sola Scriptura (as classically defined by Protestants) means that Scripture is the the only ultimate infallible standard and source and standard (rule of faith) for Christian doctrine and faith. It follows from this that neither the Church, nor the Ecumenical Councils, nor the Popes, nor the sacred apostolic tradition, nor the apostolic succession are infallible sources of authority. They are generally respected by thoughtful Protestants and regarded as authoritative to some extent, but not infallibly so.

We must therefore seek whether the Father of the Church X think scripture is formally sufficient for authority (not just materially sufficient, which we agree with) without the necessary help from tradition and the Church, or if it does not, as stated in other statements. A thinker’s statements about Christian authority must be evaluated in the context of all his thinking in this area, rather than pulling out pieces of it and then claiming that they “prove” something that they do not prove. Actually not at all.

In other words, even if we find a quote where a father seems (at first glance) state something that looks like sola Scriptura (since he writes on the Bible without immediate reference to Church or tradition), we must examine what he thinks of the (obligatory?, infallible?) authority of tradition, of the Church (y including ecumenical councils) and apostolic succession, because the question at hand (what is the rule of faith?) has to do with the relationship of all these things (all except Scripture being non-infallible, according to sola Scriptura).

For this reason, their beliefs regarding all of these other elements have to examine, in order to fully understand how they view their relationship to each other, and whether or not they adhere to sola Scriptura. as a rule of faith. If they hold to the infallible authority of anything other than Scripture, they do not not believe in sola Scriptura.

The Protestant always places the Bible above Church and tradition, and denies that the latter two can be infallible. Catholics and Orthodox believe in a three-legged stool, where, practically, Church and tradition have equal authority with Scripture, as they are the necessary framework and grid of interpretation through which Scripture can be correctly interpreted in an orthodox sense.

With this in mind, we proceed to determine whether Saint Clement of Rome believed in sola Scriptura, or the rule of Catholic faith. The material below is from Clément First letter to the Corinthians (all on one web page in the collection of 38 volumes of the Church Fathers of Schaff), unless otherwise indicated. Catholics consider Clement, as the fourth bishop of Rome and successor of Saint Peter as pope. The most mentioned date at the time of writing this epistle is AD 96.

Sacred tradition

Therefore let us abandon vain and vain thoughts; and let us in accordance with the glorious and venerable rule handed down to us; (chap. 7, JB Lightfoot translation, published in 1891)

[L]and U.S comply with the glorious and holy rule of our tradition. (ch. 7; revised translation of Lightfoot, in The Apostolic Fathers, second edition; edited and edited by Michael W. Holmes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989, p. 32)

Therefore let us put aside empty and vain worries, and let come to the glorious and venerable rule of our tradition, (chap. 7, Kirsopp lake translation, 1912)

Leave us. . . tower to the glorious and venerable rule of our tradition. (chap. 7, James A. Kleist, SJ translation, 1946)

[L]and U.S turn to renowned and solemn standard that has come down to us, (chap. 7, Edgar J. Goodspeed translation, 1950)

Therefore, leave us. . . approach the renowned and honorable rule (canon) of our tradition. (chap. 7, Translation by Kevin P. Edgecomb, 2006)

Saint Clement also cites as “scripture” in 23: 3-4 a source that is not found in the Bible, as later determined:

Far from us this Scripture, where it says: “Cursed are the thoughtless, the skeptics of the soul, who say: ‘These things were even heard by our fathers, and behold, we have grown old and none of them happened to us. ‘ “You fools! Compare yourselves to a tree; take the vine. Indeed, first it loses leaves, then a bud is produced, then a leaf, then a flower, and after these, a grape not. ripe, then becoming a bunch of grapes (ch. 23; Translation by Kevin P. Edgecomb, 2006)

Some speculate that the quote was from the lost book of Eldad and Modat mentioned in The Shepherd of Hermas (Vis. 2.3.4). Translators Kirsopp Lake, JB Lightfoot, and Good speed also use the word “scripture” in 23: 3. Schaff, however, translates “what is written”: perhaps a translation bias, as we also see no doubt in his interpretation of chapter 7.

Apostolic succession

[L]and we comply with glorious and venerable rule handed down to us; (chap. 7, JB Lightfoot translation)

[L]and U.S turn to renowned and solemn standard that has come down to us, (chap. 7, Edgar J. Goodspeed translation, 1950)

the apostles preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus christ [has done so] of God. Christ was therefore sent by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were done in an orderly manner, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with the full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth and proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they named the first fruits [of their labours], having first tested them in the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who would believe later. It was not something new either, since indeed many centuries before it was written about bishops and deacons. For thus says the Scripture in a certain place, “shall appoint their bishops with righteousness, and their deacons with faith.” (ch. 42)

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife because of the episcopal office. For this reason therefore, insofar as they had acquired a perfect prior knowledge of it, they named those [ministers] already mentioned, and after gave instructions, that when they should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. We are therefore of the opinion that those they named, or later by other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have served Christ’s flock blamelessly, in a humble, peaceful, and selfless spirit, and have long held the good opinion of all , cannot be properly dismissed from the ministry. (ch. 44)

Petrine Primacy / Papacy

If, however, one must disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will get involved in transgression and serious danger; . . . (ch. 59)

Joy and joy will you offer us, if you become obeying the words written by us and by the Holy Spirit uproot the lawless anger from your jealousy according to the intercession we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (ch. 63)

I have written at some length about these ostensibly “papal” passages. Here are some of my observations:

Why does Clement speak with authority from Rome, settling disputes between other Regions [Corinth was about 743 miles from Rome]? Why didn’t the Corinthians solve it themselves, if they had a proclaimed bishop or even if they did not claim one at the time? Why did they appeal to the Bishop of Rome? . . .

Clement definitely asserts his authority over the Corinthian church from afar. Again, the question is: “Why?” What sense Does this work in a Protestant-type ecclesiology where each region is autonomous and where there would be no hierarchical authority in the Christian Church? Why do they have to “obey” the bishop from another region? Not only does Clément claim a strong authority; he also claims (twice) that Jesus and the Holy Spirit speak “through” him.

That is to say extraordinary, and very similar to what we see in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:28 (“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place a burden on you greater than these necessary things”: RSV) and in Scripture itself. It is not strictly inspiration but it is certainly something akin to infallibility (divine protection against error and the pope as the sole spokesperson or representative of God). . . .

[W]Hello Corinth have to obey Rome? Who determined this implement? Why is it even cross their mind write to a distant local church to sort out their problems, and why does Clement assume they should obey him, and that it would be “transgression and grave danger” if they not?


Related reading

For many safer sola Scriptura: see my Bible, Tradition, Canon and “Sola Scriptura” web page.

For the documentation of many more Church Fathers who rejected sola Scriptura, see the “Bible” section of my Church Fathers webpage.


Practical questions: Maybe some of my 3,900+ free online articles (the most comprehensive ‘one-stop’ Catholic apologetics site) or fifty books have helped you (by God’s grace) decide to become a Catholic or to return to the Church, or to better understand certain doctrines and Why we believe them.

Or you may believe that my work deserves to be supported for purposes of apologetics and evangelism in general. If so, please seriously consider a much needed financial contribution. I always need more funds: above all monthly Support. “The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18, KJV). December 1, 2021 was my 20th anniversary as a full-time Catholic apologist, and February 2022 marked my blog’s 25th anniversary.

PayPal donations are the easiest: just send them to my email address: [email protected] You will see the term “Catholic Used Book Service”, which is my old side activity. To learn more about the different contribution methods including the 100% tax deduction, etc., see my page: About Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong / Donation Info. Many thanks from the bottom of my heart!


Photo credit: Pope Saint Clement of Rome. Mosaic of Hagia Sophia in Kiev, c. 1000 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: I prove that Saint Clement of Rome did not believe in the Protestant rule of faith: sola Scriptura, and that he accepted the authority of apostolic succession and tradition.


Comments are closed.