A penitential homily of an unknown author, the oldest Christian preaching to have reached us difficult to date later than the mid-2nd c., has passed into ecclesiastical literature as the second letter of Clement see Euseb., HE III, 38,4, simply because it is transcribed after Clement’s letter to the Corinthians in three codices Alexandrian, Hierosol., one Syriac. In fact the homily’s unassuming tone and unaffected language reveal an author with no literary aspirations. Its main interest is to recall new converts from idolatry and paganism so as to show gratitude to Christ for the benefits received by observing the commandments and leading an ascetic life chs. 3 4 and 15. The author collects and reworks complex theological traditions, such as the theme of carnal purity as a basic baptismal pledge chs. 6 and 8 or the doctrine of the preexistence of the heavenly church ch. 14. A point of anti-Docetist polemic is included ch. 9. The preacher’s strong ascetical tension is also shown from the citation of an apocryphal logion on the coming of the kingdom and the overcoming of the duality of the sexes ch. 12, which recurs in Encratite texts such as the Gospel of the Egyptians in Clem. Alex., Strom. III, 64,1 and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas log. 22. Its substantial lack of awareness of Pauline literature leads today to the hypothesis that the homily likely originated in Syria, though some lean toward Egypt, others Corinth. In fact the document’s date of composition, geographical provenance, literary genre, and ideological orientation are still debated, and it would be tiresome to list all the proposals more or less weak, advanced thus far. Perhaps the only thing that can be asserted with some confidence is the text’s presbyterial origin ch. 17,3, which for that time period suggests its location within the orthodox or proto-Catholic front interested in opposing the growth of radical movements enthusiastic, Encratite, pre- or protognostic spreading throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin. This alone would be enough to justify the very early joining of this enigmatic document to Clement’s prestigious letter.
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