Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VIII/Two Epistles Concerning Virginity/Introductory Notice

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, Two Epistles Concerning Virginity
by Clement of Rome, translated by Benjamin Plummer Pratten
Introductory Notice
159559Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VIII, Two Epistles Concerning Virginity — Introductory NoticeBenjamin Plummer PrattenClement of Rome

Introductory Notice


Two Epistles Concerning Virginity.

By Professor M. B. Riddle, D.D.


Among the “Pseudo-Clementina” the Two Epistles concerning Virginity must properly be placed.  The evidence against the genuineness seems conclusive; yet, with the exception of the homily usually styled the Second Epistle of Clement,[1] no spurious writings attributed to the great Roman Father can be assigned an earlier date than these two letters.  Uhlhorn, in view of the reference to the sub-introductæ, thinks they were written shortly before the time of Cyprian;[2] and this seems very probable.  Jerome was acquainted with the writings (Ad Jovinum, i. 12), and possibly Epiphanius (Hær., xxx. 15).  Hence we may safely allow an early date.  Yet these evidences of age tell against the genuineness.

1.  Early works of this character would not have disappeared from notice to such an extent, had they been authenticated as writings of Clement.  Supporting, as they do, the ascetic tendency prevalent in the Western Church at and after the date when they are first noticed by Christian writers, they would have been carefully preserved and frequently cited, had they been genuine.  The name of the great Roman Father would have been so weighty, that the advocates of celibacy would have kept the documents in greater prominence.  The silence of Eusebius respecting the letters is an important fact in this discussion.

2.  A second argument against the genuineness is derived from the ascetic tone itself.  Such pronounced statements are not, we must firmly hold, to be found in the Christian literature of the sub-apostolic age.  This historical argument is further sustained by other indications in the epistles.  They point to a stage of ecclesiastical development which belongs to a much later period than that of Clement.

3.  The use of Scripture in these letters seems to be conclusive against the Clementine authorship.  A comparison with the citations in the genuine Epistle of Clement shows that these writings make much greater use of the Pauline (particularly the Pastoral) Epistles; that the Old Testament is less frequently cited, and that the mode of handling proof-texts is that of a later age.

4.  The judgment of the most candid patristic scholars is against the genuineness.  Of Protestants, Wetstein stands alone in supporting the Clementine authorship; and his position is readily explained by the fact that he discovered the Syriac version which restored the writings to modern scholars (see below).  The genuineness is defended by Villecourt and Beelen (see below), also by Möhler, Champagny, and Brück.  But such experts as Mansi, Hefele, Alzog, and Funk, among Roman Catholics, unite with Protestant scholars in assigning a later date, and consequently in denying the Clementine authorship.

Translator’s Introductory Notice.

While the great mass of early Christian literature bearing the name of Clement of Rome is undoubtedly spurious, the case is somewhat different with regard to the two following epistles.  Not only have Roman Catholic writers maintained their genuineness with great ingenuity and learning, but Wetstein, who first edited them, argued powerfully for their being received as the authentic productions of Clement; and even Neander has admitted that they may possibly have been written by that friend and fellow-labourer of the apostles.

Their literary history in modern times is somewhat curious.  Wetstein unexpectedly discovered them appended to a copy of the Syriac Peschito version of the New Testament furnished to him by Sir James Porter, then British ambassador at Constantinople.  He soon afterwards (1752) published them in Syriac, accompanied by a Latin version of his own, with Prolegomena, in which he upheld their genuineness.  This speedily called forth two works, one by Lardner (1753), and a second by Venema (1754), in both of which their authenticity was disputed.  To these writings Wetstein himself, and, after his death, Gallandius, published rejoinders; but the question remained as far from positive settlement as ever, and continues sub-judice even at the present day

It is generally admitted (and, of course, asserted by those that maintain their truly Clementine origin) that Greek was the original language of these epistles.  Many have argued that they contain plain references to the sub-introductæ spoken of in the literature of the third century, and that therefore they were probably composed in the Oriental Church about that period.

These epistles have been very carefully edited in recent times by the Roman Catholic scholars Villecourt (1853) and Beelen (1856).  Both have argued strenuously for the genuineness of the letters, but it may be doubted if they have succeeded in repelling all the objections of Lardner and Venema.  Beelen’s work is a highly scholarly production, and his Prolegomena are marked by great fulness and perspicuity.

A German translation of these epistles was published by Zingerle (1821).  They are now for the first time translated into the English language.

The translation is made from the text of Beelen.

The division into chapters is due to Wetstein.


  1. See vol. vii. pp. 509–523.
  2. Against this class Cyprian stoutly contended.  Comp. Cyprian, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. v. pp. 357, 358, 587–592.