Pseudo-Clementine Literature; Introductory Notice

Introductory Notice to the Pseudo-Clementine Literature.

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

The name “Pseudo-Clementine Literature” (or, more briefly, “Clementina”) is applied to a series of writings, closely resembling each other, purporting to emanate from the great Roman Father. But, as Dr. Schaff remarks, in this literature he is evidently confounded with “Flavius Clement, kinsman of the Emperor Domitian.”1 These writings are three in number: (1) the Recognitions, of which only the Latin translation of Rufinus has been preserved;2 (2) the Homilies, twenty in number, of which a complete collection has been known since 1853; (3) the Epitome, “an uninteresting extract from the Homilies, to which are added extracts from the letter of Clement to James, from the Martyrium of Clement by Simeon Metaphrastes, etc.”3 Other writings may be classed with these; but they are of the same general character, except that most of them show the influence of a later age, adapting the material more closely to the orthodox doctrine.

The Recognitions and the Homilies appear in the pages which follow. The former are given a prior position, as in the Edinburgh series. It probably cannot be proven that these represent the earlier form of this theological romance; but the Homilies, “in any case, present the more doctrinally developed and historically important form of the other treatises, which are essentially similar.”4} They are therefore with propriety placed after the Recognitions, which do not seem to have been based upon them, but upon some earlier document.5


The critical discussion of the Clementina has been keen, but has not reached its end. It necessarily involves other questions, about which there is still great difference of opinion. A few results seem to be established : – 


(1) The entire literature is of Jewish-Christian, or Ebionitic, origin. The position accorded to “James, the Lord’s brother,” in all the writings, is a clear indication of this; so is the silence respecting the Apostle Paul. The doctrinal statements, “though not perfectly homogeneous” (Uhlhorn), are Judaistic, even when mixed with Gnostic speculation of heathen origin. This tendency is, perhaps, not so clearly marked in the Recognitions as in the Homilies; but both partake largely of the same general character. More particularly, the literature has been connected with the Ebionite sect called the Elkesaites; and some regard the Homilies as containing a further development of their system.6} This is not definitely established, but finds some support in the resemblance between the baptismal forms, as given by Hippolytus in the case of the Elkesaites,7 and those indicated in the Recognitions and Homilies, especially the latter.8


(2) The entire literature belongs to the class of fictitious writing “with a purpose.” The Germans properly term the Homilies a “Tendenz-Romance.” The many “lives of Christ” written in our day to insinuate some other view of our Lord’s person than that given in the canonical Gospels, furnish abundant examples of the class. The Tübingen school, finding here a real specimen of the influence of party feeling upon quasi-historical literature, naturally pressed the Clementina in support of their theory of the origin of the Gospels.


(3) The discussion leaves it quite probable, though not yet certain, that all the works are “independent elaborations – perhaps at first hand, perhaps at second or third – of some older tract not now extant.”9 Some of the opinions held respecting the relations of the two principal works are given by the Edinburgh translator in his Introductory Notice. It is only necessary here to indicate the progress of the modern discussion. Neander, as early as 1818, gave some prominence to the doctrinal view of the Homilies. He was followed by Baur, who found in these writings, as indicated above, support for his theory of the origin of historical Christianity. It is to be noted, however, that the heterogeneous mixture of Ebionism and Gnosticism in the doctrinal views proved perplexing to the leader of the Tübingen school. Schliemann10} took ground against Baur, collecting much material, and carefully investigating the question. Both authors gave the priority to the Homilies. While Baur went too far in one direction, Schliemann, perhaps, failed to recognise fully the basis of truth in the position of the former. The next important step in the discussion was made by Hilgenfeld,11} whose views are briefly given in the Notice which follows. Hilgenfeld assigned the priority to the Recognitions, though he traced all the literature to an earlier work. Uhlhorn12} at first attempted to prove that the Recognitions were a revision of the Homilies. Further contributions were made by Lehmann13} and Lipsius.14 The former discovered in the Recognitions two distinct parts by different authors (i.-iii., iv.-ix.), tracing all the literature to the Kerygma of Peter. The latter finds the basis of the whole in the Acta Petri, which show a strong anti-Pauline tendency.


Influenced by these investigations, Uhlhorn modified his views. Lechler,15 while not positive in his convictions, makes the following prudent statement: “An older work lies at the basis both of the Homilies and Recognitions, bearing the title, Kerygmen des Petrus.16 } To this document sometimes the Homilies, sometimes the Recognitions, correspond more faithfully; its historical contents are more correctly seen from the Recognitions, its doctrinal contents from the Homilies” Other views, some of them quite fanciful, have been presented.

The prevalent opinion necessarily leaves us in ignorance of the authors of this literature. The date of composition, or editing, cannot be definitely fixed. In their present form the several works may be as old as the first half of the third century, and the common basis may be placed in the latter half of the second century.

How far the anti-Pauline tendency is carried, is a matter of dispute. Baur and many others think Simon is meant to represent Paul;17 but this is difficult to believe, though we must admit the disposition to ignore the Apostle to the Gentiles. As to the literary merit of these productions the reader must judge.

For convenience in comparison of the two works, the following table has been prepared, based on the order of the Recognitions. The correspondences are not exact, and the reader is referred to the footnotes for fuller details. This table gives a general view of the arrangement of the two narratives : – 



Recognitions Homilies Recognitions Homilies   

I I, II VI XI   




V X, XV X XX  





1 History of the Christian Church, vol. ii. p.436, new edition.

2 See the Introductory Note of the Edinburgh translator.

3 Uhlhorn, article Clementines, Schaff-Herzog, i. p. 497. A second Epitome has been published by Dressel; see Introductory Notice to Homilies.

4 Lechler, Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, ii. p.168, Edinburgh translation, 1886, from 3d edition.

5 Uhlhorn, article Clementines, Schaff-Herzog, i. p. 497. A second Epitome has been published by Dressel; see Introductory Notice to Homilies.

6 Comp. Uhlhorn, p. 392; Schaff, History, ii. p.436; Lechler, ii. p.288. See Schaff-Herzog, i. art. Elkesaites.

7 See Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, book ix. 8-12, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5. The forms occur in chap. 10.

8 See Recognitions, book i. 45-48; Homilies, Epistle of Peter to James, 4, Homily XIV.1.

9 This is the last opinion of Uhlhorn (Herzog, Real-Encykl., 1877 art. Clementinen; comp. Schaff-Herzog, i. p.498). This author had previously defended the priority of the Homilies (Die Homilien und Rekognitionen des Clemens Romanus, Göttingen, 1854; comp. Herzog, edition of 1854, art. Clementinen).

10 Die Clementinen nebst den verwandten Schriften, und der Ebionitismus, Hamburg, 1844.

11 Die Clementiniochen Rekognitionen und Homilien, nach ihrem Ursprung und Inhalt dargestellt, Jena, 1848.

12 See Introduction footnote 9. Uhlhorn found the nucleus of the literature in Homilies, xvi.-xix.

13 Die Clementinischen Schriften, Gotha, 1869.

14 Die Quellen der römischen Petrussage, Kiel, 1872.

15 Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, vol. ii. p.270.

16 So Hilgenfeld, Lehmann, Uhlhorn

17 See especially Homilies, xvii. 19. Here there is “probably only an incidental sneer at Paul” (Schaff, History, ii. p.438).

Introductory Notice to the Recognitions of Clement.

The Recognitions of Clement is a kind of philosophical and theological romance. The writer of the work seems to have had no intention of presenting his statements as facts; but, choosing the disciples of Christ and their followers as his principal characters, he has put into their mouths the most important of his beliefs, and woven the whole together by a thread of fictitious narrative.

The Recognitions is one of a series; the other members of which that have come down to us are the Clementine Homilies and two Epitomes.1

The authorship, the date, and the doctrinal character of these books have been subjects of keen discussion in modern times. Especial prominence has been given to them by the Tübingen school. Hilgenfeld says: “There is scarcely a single writing which is of so great importance for the history of Christianity in its first stage, and which has already given such brilliant disclosures at the hands of the most renowned critics in regard to the earliest history of the Christian Church, as the writings ascribed to the Roman Clement, the Recognitions and Homilies.”2} The importance thus attached to these strange and curious documents by one school of theologians, has compelled men of all shades of belief to investigate the subject; but after all their investigations, a great variety of opinion still prevails on almost every point connected with these books.

We leave our readers to judge for themselves in regard to the doctrinal statements, and confine ourselves to a notice of some of the opinions in regard to the authorship and date of the Recognitions.3

The first question that suggests itself in regard to the Recognitions is, whether the Recognitions or the Homilies are the earliest form of the book, and what relation do they bear to each other? Some maintain that they are both the productions of the same author, and that the one is a later and altered edition of the other; and they find some confirmation of this in the preface of Rufinus. Others think that both books are expansions of another work which formed the basis. And others maintain that the one book is a rifaeimento of the other by a different hand. Of this third party, some, like Cave, Whiston, Rosenmüller, Staüdlin, Hilgenfeld, and many others, believe that the Recognitions was the earliest4 of the two forms; while others, as Clericus, Möhler, Lücke, Schliemann, and Uhlhorn, give priority to the Clementines. Hilgenfeld supposes that the original writing was the Κήρυγμα Πέτρου, which still remains in the work; that besides this there are three parts, – one directed against Basilides, the second the Travels of Peter (περίοδοι), and the third the Recognitions. There are also, he believes, many interpolated passages of a much later date than any of these parts.5

No conclusion has been reached in regard to the author. Some have believed that it is a genuine work of Clement. Whiston maintained that it was written by some of his hearers and companions. Others have attributed the work to Bardesanes. But most acknowledge that there is no possibility of discovering who was the author.

Various opinions exist as to the date of the book. It has been attributed to the first, second, third, and fourth centuries, and some have assigned even a later date. If we were to base our arguments on the work as it stands, the date assigned would be somewhere in the first half of the third century. A passage from the Recognitions is quoted by Origen6 in his Commentary on Genesis, written in 231; and mention is made in the work of the extension of the Roman franchise to all nations under the dominion of Rome, – an event which took place in the region of Caracalla, A.D. 211. The Recognitions also contains a large extract from the work De Fato, ascribed to Bardesanes, but really written by a scholar of his. Some have thought that Bardesanes or his scholar borrowed from the Recognitions; but more recently the opinion has prevailed, that the passage was not originally in the Recognitions, but was inserted in the Recognitions towards the middle of the third century, or even later.7

Those who believe the work made up of various documents assign various dates to these documents. Hilgenfeld, for instance, believes that the Κήρυγμα Πέτρου was written before the time of Trajan, and the Travels of Peter about the time of his reign.

Nothing is known of the place in which the Recognitions was written. Some, as Schliemann, have supposed Rome, some Asia Minor, and recently Uhlhorn has tried to trace it to Eastern Syria.8

The Greek of the Recognitions is lost. The work has come down to us in the form of a translation by Rufinus of Aquileia (d. 410 A.D.). In his letter to Gaudentius, Rufinus states that he omitted some portions difficult of comprehension, but that in regard to the other parts he had translated with care, and an endeavour to be exact even in rendering the phraseology.

The best editions of the Recognitions are those by Cotelerius, often reprinted, and by Gersdorf, Lipsiae, 1838; but the text is not in a satisfactory condition.





1 [See Introductory Notice to Pseudo-Clementine Literature, and Introductory Notice to Homilies. – R.]

2 Die Clementinischen Rekognitionen und Homilien, nach ihrem Ursprung und Inhalt dargestellt, von Dr. Adolf Hilgenfeld, Jena, 1884, p.1. [Despite the morbid taste of this school for heretical writings, and the now proven incorrectness of the “tendency-theory,” due credit must be given to Baur and his followers foe awakening a better critical discernment among the students of ecclesiastical history. Hilgenfeld’s judgments, in the higher and lower criticism also, are frequently very incorrect; but he has done much to further a correct estimate of the Clementina. See Introductory Notice to Pseudo-Clementine Literature. – R.]

3 [The title, which varies in different manuscripts, is derived from the “narrating, in the last books, of the reunion of the scattered members of the Clementine family, who all at last find themselves together in Christianity, and are baptized by Peter” (Schaff, History). – R.]

4 See Schliemann, Die Clementinen, Hamburg, 1844, p.295.

5 [See a brief account of the discussion, see Introductory Notice to Clementine Literature. – R.]

6 Philocalia, cap. 22.

7 See Merx, Bardesanes von Edessa, Halle, 1863, p.113.

8 Die Homilien und Rekognitionen des Clemens Romanus, nach ihrem Ursprung und Inhalt dargestellt, von Gerhard Uhlhorn, Göttingen, 1854, p.429. [Schaff thinks “the Homilies probably originated in East Syria, the Recognitions in Rome.” But Rufinus gives no intimation of the Roman origin of the Greek work be translated. Still, the apparently more orthodox character of the Recognitions suggests an editor from the Western Church. – R.]