If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; . . . (St. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians, 59)
Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (Ibid., 63)
Why is it that Clement is speaking with authority from Rome, settling the disputes of other regions? Why don’t the Corinthians solve it themselves, if they have a proclaimed bishop or even if they didn’t claim one at the time? Why do they appeal to the bishop of Rome? These are questions that I think Protestants need to seriously consider and offer some sort of answer for.
Why does Corinth have to obey Rome? Who determined that set-up? Why does it even cross their mind to write to a local church far away to settle their problems, and why does Clement assume that they should obey him, and that it would be “transgression and serious danger” if they don’t?
Clement definitely asserts his authority over the Corinthian church far away. Again, the question is: “why?” What sense does that make in a Protestant-type ecclesiology where every region is autonomous and there is supposedly no hierarchical authority in the Christian Church? Why must they “obey” the bishop from another region (sections 59, 63)? Not only does Clement assert strong authority; he also claims that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are speaking “through” him.
That is extraordinary, and very similar to what we see in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28 (“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things”: RSV) and in Scripture itself. It’s not strictly inspiration but it is sure something akin to infallibility (i.e., divine protection from error and the pope as a unique mouthpiece of, or representative of God).