Memorial of St. Clement I, Pope and Martyr

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Anchor symbol

St. Clement was probably the fourth pope, or bishop of Rome. St. Irenaeus claims he knew and was friends with some of the apostles. Other scholars say Pope Clement I is the very same one St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Philippians, chapter four, verse three, when he asks the church members there to help those who “have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

He was lashed to an anchor and thrown into the sea, where he drowned.

An ancient tradition has St. Clement arrested by Roman authorities and taken to the Crimea to serve out his sentence of hard labor. While a prisoner, so the story goes, he was lashed to an anchor and thrown into the sea, where he drowned.


We can’t be certain of either his relationship with St. Paul or the fact of his martyrdom, but we can be certain of his treasured letters and sermons, many of which have survived from the early second century, when he died, to the 21st.

Pope St. Clement sounds very like his successor, Pope Francis, when he writes “To the Colony of the Church of God at Corinth from the Colony of the Church of God at Rome,”

God opposes the proud, but he gives us grace to be humble; so let us attach firmly to men who have received this grace. Let us clothe ourselves in mutual tolerance of one another’s views, cultivating humility and self-restraint, avoiding all gossip and backbiting, and earning our justification by deeds and not by words.

And one can easily believe that he was St. Paul’s companion and co-worker after reading his reflection on love, for he sounds very like the apostle,

Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love’s endurance, no end to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship.

Pope St. Clement’s Day comes, in northern climes, as the days are growing shorter and shorter. It was traditionally a day of play and feasting before the serious snows came and made gatherings difficult. Revelers would go from door to door begging for sweets and treats. Often, one member of the party would go dressed as a bishop in long robes and wearing a long beard. This was “Old Clem,” and the festive begging was called “clemencing.” As they went from house to house, they sang this ditty, or one like it,

Clemany, Clemany, Clemany mine!
A good red apple and a pint of wine!
Some of your mutton and some of your veal,
And if it is good, pray,
Give us a deal!

We don’t know the original tune for this rhyming song, but it adapts easily to many familiar ones. Try singing it today to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” with the first two lines repeated at the end. And, as for tonight’s dinner, take your cues from the song.

– Melissa Musick