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§ 168. Hermas.


The older editions give only the imperfect Latin Version, first published by Faber Stapulensis (Par. 1513). Other Latin MSS. were discovered since. The Greek text (brought from Mt. Athos by Constantine Simonides, and called Cod. Lipsiensis) was first published by R. Anger, with a preface by G. Dindorf (Lips. 1856); then by Tischendorf, in Dressel’s Patres Apost., Lips 1857 (p. 572–637); again in the second ed. 1863, where Tischenderf, (sic) in consequence of the intervening discovery of the Cod. Sinaiticus retracted his former objections to the originality of the Greek Hermas from Mt. Athos, which he had pronounced a mediaeval retranslation from the Latin (see the Proleg., Appendix and Preface to the second ed.). The Ποιμὴν ὅρασις is also printed in the fourth vol. of the large edition of the Codex Sinaiticus, at the close (pp. 142–148), Peters b. 1862. The texts from Mt. Athos and Mt. Sinai substantially agree. An Ethiopic translation appeared in Leipz. 1860, ed. with a Latin version by Ant. d’abbadie. Comp. Dillmann in the "Zeitschrift d. D. Morgenländ. Gesellschaft "for 1861; Schodde: Hêrmâ Nabî, the Ethiop. V of P. H. examined. Leipz. 1876 (criticised by Harnack in the "Theol. Lit. Ztg." 1877, fol. 58), and G. and H’s Proleg. xxxiv. sqq.

O. v. Gebhardt, and Harnack: Patrum Apost. Opera, Fascic. III. Lips. 1877. Greek and Latin. A very careful recension of the text (from the Sinaitic MS.) by v. Gebhardt, with ample Prolegomena (84 pages), and a critical and historical commentary by Harnack.

Funk’s fifth ed. of Hefele’s Patres Apost. I. 334–563. Gr. and Lat. Follows mostly the text of Von Gebhardt.

Ad. Hilgenfeld: Hermae Pastor. Graece e codicibus Sinaitico et Lipsiensi ... restituit, etc. Ed. altera emendata et valde aucta. Lips. 1881. With Prolegomena and critical annotations (257 pp.). By the same: Hermae Pastor Graece integrum ambitu. Lips., 1887 (pp. 130). From the Athos and Sinaitic MSS.

S. P. Lambros (Prof. in Athens): A Collation of the Athos Codex of the Shepherd of Hermas, together with an Introduction. Translated and edited by J. A. Robinson, Cambridge, 1888.

English translations by Wake (1693, from the Latin version); F. Crombie (Vol. I. of the "Ante-Nicene Christian Library." 1867, from the Greek of the Sinait. MS.), by Charles H. Hoole (1870, from Hilgenfeld’s first ed. of 1866,) and by Robinson (1888).


C. Reinh. Jachmann: Der Hirte der Hermas. Königsberg, 1835.

Ernst Gaâb: Der Hirte des Hermas. Basel, 1866 (pp. 203).

Theod. Zahn: Der Hirt des Hermas. Gotha 1868. (Comp. also his review of Gaâb in the Studien und Kritiken for 1868, pp. 319–349).

Charles R. Hoole (of Christ Church, Oxf.): The Shepherd of Hermas translated into English, with an Introduction and Notes. Lond., Oxf. and Cambr. 1870 (184 pages).

Gust. Heyne: Quo tempore Hermae Pastor scriptus sit. Regimonti, 1872.

J. Donaldson: The Apostolical Fathers (1874) p. 318–392.

H. M. Behm: Der Verfasser der Schrift., welche d. Titel "Hirt" führt. Rostock, 1876 (71 pp.).

Brüll: Der Hirt des Hermas. Nach Ursprung und Inhalt untersucht. Freiburg i. B. 1882. The same: Ueber den Ursprung des ersten Clemensbriefs und des Hirten des Hermas. 1882.

Ad. Link:Christi Person und Werk im Hirten des Hermas. Marburg, 1886. Die Einheit des Pastor Hermae. Mar b. 1888. Defends the unity of Hermas against Hilgenfeld.

P. Baumgärtner: Die Einheit des Hermas-Buches. Freiburg, 1889. He mediates between Hilgenfeld and Link, and holds that the book was written by one author, but at different times.

I. The Shepherd of Hermas12801280    Pastor Hermae, Ὁ Ποιμήν. Comp. Vis. I. 1, 2, 4; II. 2.280 has its title from the circumstance that the author calls himself Hermas and is instructed by the angel of repentance in the costume of a shepherd. It is distinguished from all the productions of the apostolic fathers by its literary form. It is the oldest Christian allegory, an apocalyptic book, a sort of didactic religious romance. This accounts in part for its great popularity in the ancient church. It has often been compared with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Dante’s Divina Commedia, though far inferior in literary merit and widely different in theology from either. For a long time it was only known in an old, inaccurate Latin translation, which was first published by Faber Stapulensis in 1513; but since 1856 and 1862, we have it also in the original Greek, in two texts, one hailing from Mount Athos re-discovered and compared by Lambros, and another (incomplete) from Mount Sinai.

II. Character and Contents. The Pastor Hermae is a sort of system of Christian morality in an allegorical dress, and a call to repentance and to renovation of the already somewhat slumbering and secularized church in view of the speedily approaching day of judgment. It falls into three books:12811281    This division, however, is made by later editors.281

(1) Visions; four visions and revelations, which were given to the author, and in which the church appears to him first in the form of a venerable matron in shining garments with a book, then as a tower, and lastly as a virgin. All the visions have for their object to call Hermas and through him the church to repentance, which is now possible, but will close when the church tower is completed.

It is difficult to decide whether the writer actually had or imagined himself to have had those visions, or invented them as a pleasing and effective mode of instruction, like Dante’s vision and Bunyan’s dream.

(2) Mandats, or twelve commandments, prescribed by a guardian angel in the garb of a shepherd.

(3) Similitudes, or ten parables, in which the church again appears, but now in the form of a building, and the different virtues are represented under the figures of stones and trees. The similitudes were no doubt suggested by the parables of the gospel, but bear no comparison with them for beauty and significance.

The scene is laid in Rome and the neighborhood. The Tiber is named, but no allusion is made to the palaces, the court, the people and society of Rome, or to any classical work. An old lady, virgins, and angels appear, but the only persons mentioned by name are Hermas, Maximus, Clement and Grapte.

The literary merit of the Shepherd is insignificant. It differs widely from apostolic simplicity and has now only an antiquarian interest, like the pictures and sculptures of the catacombs. It is prosy, frigid, monotonous, repetitious, overloaded with uninteresting details, but animated by a pure love of nature and an ardent zeal for doing good. The author was a self-made man of the people, ignorant of the classics and ignored by them, but endowed with the imaginative faculty and a talent for popular religious instruction. He derives lessons of wisdom and piety from shepherd and sheep, vineyards and pastures, towers and villas, and the language and events of every-day life.

The first Vision is a fair specimen of the book, which opens like a love story, but soon takes a serious turn. The following is a faithful translation:

1. "He who had brought me up, sold me to a certain Rhoda at Rome.12821282    So v. Gebh. and Hilgenf. ed. II., with Cod. Sin. But the MSS. vary considerably. The Vatican MS. reads: vendidit quandam puellam Romae. The words, εἰσ Ῥώμην would indicate that the writer was not from Rome; but he often confounds εἰς and ἐν.282 Many years after, I met her again and began to love her as a sister. Some time after this, I saw her bathing in the river Tiber, and I gave her my hand and led her out of the river. And when I beheld her beauty, I thought in my heart, saying: ’Happy should I be, if I had a wife of such beauty and goodness.’ This was my only thought, and nothing more.

"After some time, as I went into the villages and glorified the creatures of God, for their greatness, and beauty, and power, I fell asleep while walking. And the Spirit seized me and carried me through a certain wilderness through which no man could travel, for the ground was rocky and impassable, on account of the water.

"And when I had crossed the river, I came to a plain; and falling upon my knees, I began to pray unto the Lord and to confess my sins. And while I was praying, the heaven opened, and I beheld the woman that I loved saluting me from heaven, and saying: ’Hail, Hermas!’ And when I beheld her, I said unto her: ’Lady, what doest thou here?’ But she answered and said: ’I was taken up, in order that I might bring to light thy sins before the Lord.’ And I said unto her: ’Hast thou become my accuser?’ ’No,’ said she; ’but hear the words that I shall say unto thee. God who dwells in heaven, and who made the things that are out of that which is not, and multiplied and increased them on account of his holy church, is angry with thee because thou hast sinned against me.’ I answered and said unto her: ’Have I sinned against thee? In what way? Did I ever say unto thee an unseemly word? Did I not always consider thee as a lady? Did I not always respect thee as a sister? Why doest thou utter against me, O Lady, these wicked and foul lies?’ But she smiled and said unto me: ’The desire of wickedness has entered into thy heart. Does it not seem to thee an evil thing for a just man, if an evil desire enters into his heart? Yea, it is a sin, and a great one (said she). For the just man devises just things, and by devising just things is his glory established in the heavens, and he finds the Lord merciful unto him in all his ways; but those who desire evil things in their hearts, bring upon themselves death and captivity, especially they who set their affection upon this world, and who glory in their wealth, and lay not hold of the good things to come. The souls of those that have no hope, but have cast themselves and their lives away, shall greatly regret it. But do thou pray unto God, and thy sins shall be healed, and those of thy whole house and of all the saints.’

2. "After she had spoken these words, the heavens were closed, and I remained trembling all over and was sorely troubled. And I said within myself: ’If this sin be set down against me, how can I be saved? or how can I propitiate God for the multitude of my sins? or with what words shall I ask the Lord to have mercy upon me?’

"While I was meditating on these things, and was musing on them in my heart, I beheld in front of me a great white chair made out of fleeces of wool; and there came an aged woman, clad in very shining raiment, and having a book in her hand, and she sat down by herself on the chair and saluted me, saying: ’Hail, Hermas!" And I, sorrowing and weeping, said unto her: ’Hail, Lady!’ And she said unto me: ’Why art thou sorrowful, O Hermas, for thou wert wont to be patient, and good-tempered, and always smiling? Why is thy countenance cast down? and why art thou not cheerful?’ And I said unto her: ’O Lady, I have been reproached by a most excellent woman, who said unto me that I sinned against her.’ And she said unto me: ’Far be it from the servant of God to do this thing. But of a surety a desire after her must have come into thy heart. Such an intent as this brings a charge of sin against the servant of God; for it is an evil and horrible intent that a devout and tried spirit should lust after an evil deed; and especially that the chaste Hermas should do so-he who abstained from every evil desire, and was full of all simplicity, and of great innocence!’

3. " ’But [she continued] God is not angry with thee on account of this, but in order that thou mayest convert thy house, which has done iniquity against the Lord, and against you who art their parent. But thou, in thy love for your children (φιλότεκνος ὠν) didst not rebuke thy house, but didst allow it to become dreadfully wicked. On this account is the Lord angry with thee; but He will heal all the evils that happened aforetime in thy house; for through the sins and iniquities of thy household thou hast been corrupted by the affairs of this life. But the mercy of the Lord had compassion upon thee, and upon thy house, and will make thee strong and establish thee in His glory. Only be not slothful, but be of good courage and strengthen thy house. For even as the smith, by smiting his work with the hammer, accomplishes the thing that he wishes, so shall the daily word of righteousness overcome all iniquity. Fail not, therefore, to rebuke thy children, for I know that if they will repent with all their heart, they will be written in the book of life, together with the saints.’

"After these words of hers were ended, she said unto me: ’Dost thou wish to hear me read?’ I said unto her: ’Yea, Lady, I do wish it.’ She said unto me: ’Be thou a hearer, and listen to the glories of God.’ Then I heard, after a great and wonderful fashion, that which my memory was unable to retain; for all the words were terrible, and beyond man’s power to bear. The last words, however, I remembered; for they were profitable for us, and gentle: ’Behold the God of power, who by his invisible strength, and His great wisdom, has created the world, and by His magnificent counsel hath crowned His creation with glory, and by His mighty word has fixed the heaven, and founded the earth upon the waters, and by His own wisdom and foresight has formed His holy church, which He has also blessed! Behold, He removes the heavens from their places, and the mountains, and the hills, and the stars, and everything becomes smooth before His elect, that He may give unto them the blessing which He promised them with great glory and joy, if only they shall keep with firm faith the laws of God which they have received.’

4. "When, therefore, she had ended her reading, and had risen up from the chair, there came four young men, and took up the chair, and departed towards the east. Then she called me, and touched my breast, and said unto me: ’Hast thou been pleased with my reading?’ And I said unto her: ’Lady, these last things pleased me; but the former were hard and harsh.’ But she spake unto me, saying: ’These last are for the righteous; but the former are for the heathen and the apostates." While she was yet speaking with me, there appeared two men, and they took her up in their arms and departed unto the east, whither also the chair had gone. And she departed joyfully; and as she departed, she said: ’Be of good courage, O Hermas!’

III. The theology of Hermas is ethical and practical. He is free from speculative opinions and Ignorant of theological technicalities. He views Christianity as a new law and lays chief stress on practice. Herein he resembles James, but he ignores the "liberty" by which James distinguishes the "perfect" Christian law from the imperfect old law of bondage. He teaches not only the merit, but the supererogatory merit of good works and the sin-atoning virtue of martyrdom. He knows little or nothing of the gospel, never mentions the word, and has no idea of justifying faith, although he makes faith the chief virtue and the mother of virtues. He dwells on man’s duty and performance more than on God’s gracious promises and saving deeds. In a word, his Christianity is thoroughly legalistic and ascetic, and further off from the evangelical spirit than any other book of the apostolic fathers. Christ is nowhere named, nor his example held up for imitation (which is the true conception of Christian life); yet he appears as "the Son of God, and is represented as pre-existent and strictly divine.12831283    In the Visions and Mandates the person of the Redeemer is mentioned only three times; in the Similitudes Hermas speaks repeatedly of the "Son of God." and seems to identify his pre-existent divine nature with the Holy Spirit. Sim. I X. 1 τό πνεῦμα τό ἅγιον... ὁ θεὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστίν. But a passage in a parable must not be pressed and it is differently explained. Comp. Hilgenfeld, Ap. Väter, 166 sq., Harnack’s notes on Sim. V. 5 and IX. 1; the different view of Zahn, 139 sqq. and 245 sqq., and especially Link’s monograph quoted above (p. 680).283 The word Christian never occurs.

But this meagre view of Christianity, far from being heretical or schismatic, is closely connected with catholic orthodoxy as far as we can judge from hints and figures. Hermas stood in close normal relation to the Roman congregation (either under Clement or Pius), and has an exalted view of the "holy church," as he calls the church universal. He represents her as the first creature of God for which the world was made, as old and ever growing younger; yet he distinguishes this ideal church from the real and represents the latter as corrupt. He may have inferred this conception in part from the Epistle to the Ephesians, the only one of Paul’s writings with which he shows himself familiar. He requires water-baptism as indispensable to salvation, even for the pious Jews of the old dispensation, who received it from the apostles in Hades.12841284    This is the natural interpretation of the carious passage Simil. IX. 16: These apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, after having fallen asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached to those also who were asleep and gave to them the seal of preaching. They descended therefore into the water with them and again ascended (κατέβησαν οὖν μετ’ αὐτῶν εἰς τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ πάλιν ἀνέβησαν). But these descended alive and again ascended alive; but those who had fallen asleep before descended dead (νεκροί) and ascended alive (ξῶντες)."This imaginary post-mortem baptism is derived from the preaching of Christ in Hades, 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6. Clement of Alex. quotes this passage with approbation, but supposed that Christ as well as the apostles baptized in Hades. Strom. II. 9. 44; VI. 6, 45, 46. Cotelier and Donaldson (p. 380) are wrong in interpreting Hermas as meaning merely a metaphorical and mystical baptism, or the divine blessings symbolized by it.284 He does not mention the eucharist, but this is merely accidental. The whole book rests on the idea of an exclusive church out of which there is no salvation. It closes with the characteristic exhortation of the angel: "Do good works, ye who have received earthly blessings from the Lord, that the building of the tower (the church) may not be finished while ye loiter; for the labor of the building has been interrupted for your sakes. Unless, therefore, ye hasten to do right, the tower will be finished, and ye will be shut out."

Much of the theology of Hermas is drawn from the Jewish apocalyptic writings of pseudo-Enoch, pseudo-Esdras, and the lost Book of Eldad and Medad.12851285    The last is expressly quoted in the Second Vision.285 So his doctrine of angels. He teaches that six angels were first created and directed the building of the church. Michael, their chief, writes the law in the hearts of the faithful; the angel of repentance guards the penitent against relapse and seeks to bring back the fallen. Twelve good spirits which bear the names of Christian virtues, and are seen by Hermas in the form of Virgins, conduct the believer into the kingdom of heaven; twelve unclean spirits named from the same number of sins hinder him. Every man has a good and an evil genius. Even reptiles and other animals have a presiding angel. The last idea Jerome justly condemns as foolish.

It is confusing and misleading to judge Hermas from the apostolic conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.12861286    As is done by, the Tübingen School, but without unanimity. Schwegler, and, with qualifications, Hilgenfeld and Lipsius represent Hermas as an Ebionite, while Ritschl on the contrary assigns him to the school of Paul. There is no trace whatever in Hermas of the essential features of Ebionism circumcision, the sabbath, the antipathy to Paul;-nor on the other hand of an understanding of the specific doctrines of Paul. Uhlhorn his the point )l.c. p. 13): "Hermas ist ein Glied der damaligen orthodoxen Kirche, und seine Auffassung der christlichen Lehre die eines einfachen Gemeindegliedes one be stimmte Ausprägung irgend eines Parteicharakters."286 That conflict was over. John shows no traces of it in his Gospel and Epistles. Clement of Rome mentions Peter and Paul as inseparable. The two types had melted into the one Catholic family, and continued there as co-operative elements in the same organization, but were as yet very imperfectly understood, especially the free Gospel of Paul. Jewish and pagan features reappeared, or rather they never disappeared, and exerted their influence for good and evil. Hence there runs through the whole history of Catholicism a legalistic or Judaizing, and an evangelical or Pauline tendency; the latter prevailed in the Reformation and produced Protestant Christianity. Hermas stood nearest to James and furthest from Paul; his friend Clement of Rome stood nearer to Paul and further off from James: but neither one nor the other had any idea of a hostile conflict between the apostles.

IV. Relation to the Scriptures. Hermas is the only one of the apostolic fathers who abstains from quoting the Old Testament Scriptures and the words of our Lord. This absence is due in part to the prophetic character of the Shepherd, for prophecy is its own warrant, and speaks with divine authority. There are, however, indications that he knew several books of the New Testament, especially the Gospel of Mark, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle to the Ephesians. The name of Paul is nowhere mentioned, but neither are the other apostles. It is wrong, therefore, to infer from this silence an anti-Pauline tendency. Justin Martyr likewise omits the name, but shows acquaintance with the writings of Paul.12871287    See the list of Scripture allusions of Hermas in Gebhardt’s ed. p. 272-274; in Funk’s ed. I. 575-578; Hilgenfeld, Die Ap. Väter, 182-184; Zahn, Hermae Pastore N. T. illustratus, Gött. 1867; and D. Hirt d. H. 391-482. Zahn discovers considerable familiarity of H. with the N. T. writings. On the relation of Hermas to John see Holtzmann, in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissensch. Theol." 1875, p. 40 sqq.287

V. Relation to Montanism. The assertion of the prophetic gift and the disciplinarian rigorism Hermas shares with the Montanists; but they arose half a century later, and there is no historic connection. Moreover his zeal for discipline does not run into schismatic excess. He makes remission and absolution after baptism difficult, but not impossible; he ascribes extra merit to celibacy and seems to have regretted his own unhappy marriage, but he allows second marriage as well as second repentance, at least till the return of the Lord which, with Barnabas, he supposes to be near at hand. Hence Tertullian as a Montanist denounced Hermas.

VI. Authorship and time of composition. Five opinions are possible. (a) The author was the friend of Paul to whom he sends greetings in Rom. 16:14, in the year 58. This is the oldest opinion and accounts best for its high authority.12881288    So Origen (his opinion, puto enim, etc.), Eusebius, Jerome, probably also Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria; among recent writers Cotelier, Cave, Lardner, Gallandi, Lumper, Lachmann, Sprinzl.288 (b) A contemporary of Clement, presbyter-bishop of Rome, a.d. 92–101. Based upon the testimony of he book itself.12891289    Gaâb, Zahn, Caspari, Alzog, Salmon (in "Dict. of Chr. Biog. II. 912 sqq.).289 (c) A brother of Bishop Pius of Rome (140). So asserts an unknown author of 170 in the Muratorian fragment of the canon.12901290    "Pastorem vero nuperrime temporibus nostris in urbe Roma Herma (Hermas) conscripsit, sedente, [in] cathedra urbis Romae ecclesiae Pio episcopo, fratre ejus. Et ideo legi cum quidem opportet, se[d] publicare vero in ecclesia populo neque inter prophetas completum [read: completos] numero, neque inter apostolos, in finem temporum potest." The same view is set forth in a poem of pseudo-Tertullian against Marcion:
   Post hunc [Hyginus] deinde Pius, Hermas, cui germine frater,

   Angelicus Pastor, qui tradita verba locutus."

   It is also contained in the Liberian Catalogue of Roman bishops (A. D. 354), and advocated by Mosheim, Schröckh, Credner, Hefele, Lipsius, Ritschl, Heyne, v. Gebhardt, Harnack, Brüll, Funk, Uhlhorn, Baumgärtner. Others assume that the brother of Pius was the author, but simulated an elder Hermas.
290 But he may have confounded the older and younger Hermas with the Latin translator. (d) The book is the work of two or three authors, was begun under Trajan before 112 and completed by the brother of Pius in 140.12911291    Hilgenfeld desIgnates these authors H. a=Hermas apocalypticus H. P.=Hermas pastoralis H. s.=Hermas secundarius. See Prol. p. XXI. sq. Thiersch, Count de Champagny (Les Antonins, ed. III 1875, T. I, p. 144) and Guéranger likewise assumed more than one author. But the book is a unit. Comp. Harnack versus Hilgenfeld in the "Theol." Literatur-Zeitung" for 1882, f. 249 sqq., Link, Baumgärtner, Lambros, quoted above.291 (e) Hermas is a fictitious name to lend apostolic authority to the Shepherd. (f) Barely worth mentioning is the isolated assertion of the Ethiopian version that the apostle Paul wrote the Shepherd under the name of Hermas which was given to him by the inhabitants of Lystra.

We adopt the second view, which may be combined with the first. The author calls himself Hermas and professes to be a contemporary of the Roman Clement, who was to send his book to foreign churches.12921292    In Vis. II. 4 Hermas receives the command to write "two books and to send one to Clement and one to Grapte; " and Clement was to send the books to foreign cities (εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις). This seems to imply that he was the well known bishop of Rome. Grapte was a deaconess, having charge of widows and orphans. The opinion of Origen that Clement and Grapte represent the spiritual and literal methods of interpretation is merely an allegorical fancy. Donaldson and Harnack assume that Clement is an unknown person, but this is inconsistent with the assumed authority of that person.292 This testimony is clear and must outweigh every other. If the Hermas mentioned by Paul was a young disciple in 58, he may well have lived to the age of Trajan, and he expressly represents himself as an aged man at the time when he wrote.

We further learn from the author that he was a rather unfortunate husband and the father of bad children, who had lost his wealth in trade through his own sins and those of his neglected sons but who awoke to repentance and now came forward himself, as a plain preacher of righteousness, though without any official position, and apparently a mere layman.12931293    He is told in the Second Vision, ch. 2: "Your seed, Hermas, has sinned against God, and they have blasphemed against the Lord, and in their great wickedness they, have betrayed their parents ... and their iniquities have been filled up. But make known these words to all your children, and to your wife who is to be your sister. For she does not restrain her tongue, with which she commits iniquity; but on hearing these words she will control herself, and will obtain mercy." The words "who is to be your sister" probably refer to future continence or separation. Tillemont and Hefele regard Hermas as a presbyter, but Fleury, Hilgenfeld, Thiersch, Zahn, Uhlhorn and Salmon as a layman. He always speaks of presbyters as if he were not one of them, and severely censures the Roman clergy. Justin Martyr was also a lay-preacher, but with more culture.293 He had been formerly a slave and sold by his master to a certain Christian lady in Rome by the name of Rhoda. It has been inferred from his Greek style that be was born in Egypt and brought up in a Jewish family.12941294    Zahn infers from the Jewish Greek idiom of Hermas that he grew up in Jewish circles and was perhaps acquainted with the Hebrew language. On the other hand Harnack supposes (Notes on Vis. I. 1) that Hermas was descended from Christian parents, else he would not have omitted to inform us of his conversion in the house of Rhoda. Hilgenfeld (p. 138) makes Hermas a Jew, but his master, who sold him, a Gentile. Robinson conjectures that he was a Greek slave )Sim. IX.) and wrote reminiscences of his youth.294 But the fact that he first mistook the aged woman who represents the church, for the heathen Sibyl, rather suggests that he was of Gentile origin. We may infer the same from his complete silence about the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament. He says nothing of his conversion.

The book was probably written at the close of the first or early in the second century. It shows no trace of a hierarchical organization, and assumes the identity of presbyters and bishops; even Clement of Rome is not called a bishop.12951295    The church officers appear as a plurality of πρεσβύτεροι, or seniores, or praesides, of equal rank, but Clement of Rome is supposed to have a certain supervision in relation to foreign churches. Vis. II., 2, 4; III, 9; Simil. IX., 31. In one passage )Vis. III., 5) Hermas mentions four officers "apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons." The "bishops" here include presbyters, and the "teachers " are either all preachers of the gospel or the presbyter-bishops in their teaching (as distinct from their ruling) capacity and function. In other passages be names only the ἀπόστολοι and διδάσκαλοι, Sim. IX., 15, 16, 25; comp. Paul’s ποιμένες καί διδάσκαλοι, Eph. 4:11. The statements of Hermas on church organization are rather loose and indefinite. They have been discussed by Hilgenfeld and Harnack in favor of presbyterianism, by Hefele and Rothe in favor of episcopacy. Lightfoot, who identifies Hermas with the brother of bishop Pius (140), says: " Were it not known that the writer’s own brother was bishop of Rome (?), we should be at a loss what to say about the constitution of the Roman church in his day."(Com. on Philipp., p. 218.)295 The state of the church is indeed described as corrupt, but corruption began already in the apostolic age, as we see from the Epistles and the Apocalypse. At the time of Irenaeus the book was held in the highest esteem, which implies its early origin.

VII. Authority and value. No product of post-apostolic literature has undergone a greater change in public esteem. The Shepherd was a book for the times, but not for all times. To the Christians of the second and third century it had all the charm of a novel from the spirit-world, or as Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress has at the present day. It was even read in public worship down to the time of Eusebius and Jerome, and added to copies of the Holy Scriptures (as the Codex Sinaiticus, where it follows after the Ep. of Barnabas). Irenaeus quotes it as "divine Scripture."12961296    Adv. Haer. IV. 20, § 2: εἶπεν ἡ γραφὴ ἡ λέγουσα. Then follows a quotation from Mand. I. 1: "First of all believe that there is one God who created and prepared and made all things out of nothing." Possibly the wrong reference was a slip of memory in view of familiar passages, 2 Macc. 7:28 (πάντα ἐξ οὐκ ὀ̑ντων ἐποίσεν); Heb. 11:3; Mark 12:29 (ὁ θεὸς εἶς ἐστί); James 2:18 Hilgenfeld thinks that the Hermas was known also to the author of the κήρυγμα Πέτρου and pseudo-Clement.296 The Alexandrian fathers, who with all their learning were wanting in sound critical discrimination, regarded it as "divinely inspired," though Origen intimates that others judged less favorably.12971297    See the quotations from Clement of Alex. and Origen in G. and H. Prol., p. LIII.-LVI. Zahn says that "the history of the ecclesiastical authority of Hermas in the East begins with an unbounded recognition of the same as a book resting on divine revelation."297 Eusebius classes it with the "spurious," though orthodox books, like the Epistle of Barnabas, the Acts of Paul, etc.; and Athanasius puts it on a par with the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, which are useful for catechetical instruction.

In the Latin church where it originated, it never rose to such high authority. The Muratorian canon regards it as apocryphal, and remarks that "it should be read,12981298    In private only, or in the church? The passage is obscure and disputed.298 but not publicly used in the church or numbered among the prophets or the apostles." Tertullian, who took offence at its doctrine of the possibility of a second repentance, and the lawfulness of second marriage, speaks even contemptuously of it.12991299    On account of this comparative mildness (Mand. IV., 1), Tertullian calls Hermas sarcastically "ille apocryphus Pastor maechorum."De Pud. c. 20; comp. c. 10.299 So does Jerome in one passage, though he speaks respectfully of it in another.13001300    Jerome calls the Shepherd "revera utilis liber." which was publicly read in certain churches of Greece, and quoted by many ancient writers as an authority, but "almost unknown among the Latins" (apud Latinos’ paene Ignotus). Op. II. 846. In another passage, Op. VI. 604, he condemns the view of the angelic supervision of animals (Vis. IV. 2).300 Ambrose and Augustin ignore it. The decree of Pope Gelasius I. (about 500) condemns the book as apocryphal. Since that time it shared the fate of all Apocrypha, and fell into entire neglect. The Greek original even disappeared for centuries, until it turned up unexpectedly in the middle of the nineteenth century to awaken a new interest, and to try the ingenuity of scholars as one of the links in the development of catholic Christianity.


The Pastor Hermae has long ceased to be read for devotion or entertainment. We add some modern opinions. Mosheim (who must have read it very superficially) pronounced the talk of the heavenly spirits in Hermas to be more stupid and insipid than that of the barbers of his day, and concluded that he was either a fool or an impostor. The great historian Niebuhr, as reported by Bunsen, used to say that he pitied the Athenian [why not the Roman?] Christians who were obliged to listen to the reader of such a book in the church. Bunsen himself pronounces it "a well-meant but silly romance."

On the other hand, some Irvingite scholars, Dr. Thiersch and Mr. Gaâb, have revived the old belief in a supernatural foundation for the visions, as having been really seen and recorded in the church of Rome during the apostolic age, but afterwards modified and mingled with errors by the compiler under Pius. Gaâb thinks that Hermas was gifted with the power of vision, and inspired in the same sense as Swedenborg.

Westcott ascribes "the highest value" to the Shepherd, "as showing in what way Christianity was endangered by the influence of Jewish principles as distinguished from Jewish forms." Hist. of the Canon of the N. T p. 173 (second ed.)

Donaldson (a liberal Scotch Presbyterian) thinks that the Shepherd "ought to derive a peculiar interest from its being the first work extant, the main effort of which is to direct the soul to God. The other religious books relate to internal workings in the church—this alone specially deals with the great change requisite to living to God .... Its creed is a very short and simple one. Its great object is to exhibit the morality implied in conversion, and it is well calculated to awaken a true sense of the spiritual foes that are ever ready to assail him." (Ap. Fath., p. 339). But he also remarks (p. 336) that "nothing would more completely show the immense difference between ancient Christian feeling and modern, than the respect in which ancient, and a large number of modern Christians hold this work."

George A. Jackson (an American Congregationalist) judges even more favorably (Ap. Fath., 1879, p. 15): Reading the ’Shepherd,’ and remembering that it appeared in the midst of a society differing little from that satirized by Juvenal, we no longer wonder at the esteem in which it was held by the early Christians, but we almost join with them in calling it an inspired book."

Mr. Hoole, of Oxford, agrees with the judgment of Athanasius, and puts its literary character on the same footing as the pious but rude art of the Roman catacombs.

Dr. Salmon, of Dublin, compares Hermas with Savonarola, who sincerely believed: (a) that the church of his time was corrupt and worldly; (b) that a time of great tribulation was at hand, in which the dross should be purged away; (c) that there was still an intervening time for repentance; (d) that he himself was divinely commissioned to be a preacher of that repentance.

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