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Clement of Smolensk

 

Hilarion’s Sermon was by no means the only work of oratorial prose. In the middle of the twelfth century the writings of Metropolitan Clement of Smolensk72 enjoyed great authority, of whom the chronicle said that he was “a writer and philosopher”, the like of which had never been known before in the Russian land.73 We know very little of Clement, however. He was born in Smolensk and was a monk in the Zarubsky Monastery near Kiev, In 1146 Grand Prince Izyaslav of Kiev decided to appoint him metropolitan. This attempt to appoint a Russian metropolitan without the blessing of the Patriarch of Constan­tinople encountered resistance from some of the Greek hierarchs in the Russian church, however. Clement’s position was insecure, and after Izyaslav’s death in 1154 he was forced to leave the office.

We also know little about Clement’s writing. The only work that can be indisputably ascribed to him is the beginning of an Epistle to Presbyter Thomas. The events that led to its writing are as follows. In his correspondence with Prince Rostislav of Smolensk, Clement offended Presbyter Thomas in some way. The latter accused the metropolitan of vanity, of seeking to present himself as a “philosopher” and said that Clement borrowed “from Homer, from Aristotle, and from Plato”, instead of basing himself on ecclesiastical authorities. Clement read his opponent’s epistle publicly before the prince and addressed a reply to Thomas which has survived. In it Clement defends the right to interpret the Holy Scriptures with the help of parables.

This dispute, about which we can judge only from the scant information in Clement’s Epistle, nevertheless testifies to the erudition of Clement who is reproached for quoting the Greek philosophers and Homer, and to the intensity of Russia’s cultural and literary life in the mid-twelfth century, if disputes on ceremonial rhetoric and the quoting of Greek writers in sermons or epistles could acquire such importance and provoke such a reaction in that period. Unfortunately we know of very few monuments of twelfth-century ceremonial and homiletic rhetoric. The writings of the eminent twelfth-century preacher Cyril of Turov are a fortunate exception.

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