Hermas, Shepherd of

views updated Jun 11 2018


Second-century Christian apocalyptic work. From personal references it seems that Hermas had been a slave in Rome, was set free, married, and had a family, who because of his indulgence became apostate. He had been prosperous in business, but had lost his wealth and suffered in time of persecution. Some of these details, however, which are given in the first Vision, betray the influence of contemporary romantic literature.

The Muratorian Canon states that Hermas was the brother of Pope pius i (d. c. 154) and had written during his pontificate. Hermas himself refers to a contemporary Clement of Rome (Vis. 2.4.3) as an authority in the Church, but this is not necessarily Pope clement i (fl. c. 96). Origen's identification of Hermas with Rom 16.14 is regarded as an attempt to provide him with some kind of apostolic background. A date of composition between 140 and 155 fits the period given by the Muratorian Canon, while internal evidence indicates that the work was written after a period of peace.

The Shepherd is in three sections, and comprises five Visions (Vis.), 12 Mandates (Man.), and ten Similitudes (Sim.) or Parables. In the first four Visions, Hermas sees the Church as an elderly matron who grows progressively younger as he carries out her orders. She bids him and his family repent, sends him to the Church authorities with a call to repentance and a warning of imminent persecution; and she shows him a vision of a tower, representing the Church, in process of being built. The different stones used in the building typify varieties of Christians, and stones rejected by the builders may ultimately be used, provided that they repent now, before the tower is finished.

The fifth Vision is clearly intended as an introduction to what follows, for Hermas has a vision of the angel of repentance wearing shepherd dress; the angel dictates the 12 Mandates. The third to the sixth have some affinity with the Qumran Manual of Discipline (iii.13iv.26), and throughout there are distinct signs of Jewish influence, as in the conflict between the good desire and the evil desire described in the 12th Mandate. Hermas also commends such practices as cheerfulness, patience, continence, and fasting.

In the Similitudes, Hermas continues to receive teaching from the angel, but in the form of parables and more visions, some of which are explained with much allegorical detail. The first five contain moral teaching, and the rest deal with penitence. The ninth Similitude repeats the building of the tower, first described in the third Vision, but with additional details and the important difference that there is a pause in the building to allow men more opportunity for penance. In the Vision, the time had been severely limited.

The most striking and debatable feature of the Shepherd is the teaching about penance. Does Hermas represent a reaction against a current of rigorism that rejected the possibility of forgiveness for any post-Baptismal sin? Is it to counter this that he brings a celestial promise of an exceptional opportunity, referred to by some commentators as a time of jubilee, for penitence? Or is Hermas simply reflecting the penitential discipline current at the time? The first seems the more likely, for the author lays down no formula for reconciliation with the Church, though clearly inclusion within the Church is assumed to be a necessity for salvation.

Hermas was more concerned with morals than with theology, and his Christological thinking is confused. He emphasizes that there is only one God (Man. 1). The Holy Spirit is identified with the Son of God before the Incarnation, and Christ becomes the adopted Son after His humanity is taken up into Heaven (Sim. 5.6.5). Christ is the rock on which the Church is built, the door through which all stones must be carried (Sim. 9), but at times He seems to be no more than an angel.

The Shepherd was regarded as quasi-canonical by St. irenaeus, clement of alexandria, origen, and Tertullian in his pre-Montanist period. athanasius set it outside the Canon (probably because of the possibly Arian implications of Man. 1), but valued its moral teaching, as did Eusebius. At Rome, however, the Muratorian Canon expressly denied its inspiration while conceding its value for private reading. Jerome states that it was almost unknown in the West. Yet it is noteworthy that it followed the Epistle of Barnabas in the great 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus.

The incomplete Greek text is based on the Sinaiticus (to Man. 4) and a 15th-century Athos manuscript (to Sim.9). The rest is known from two Latin versions and one Ethiopic. In this century some Coptic and Greek papyrus fragments and one tiny Persian fragment have been published, and a notable University of Michigan papyrus contains Sim. 29, first published in 1934.

Hermas's style is prosaic, and much of his subject matter is repetitive. He is perhaps influenced by Greek literary models in his description of a woman bathing (Vis.1.1.2), or in situating Sim. 9 in Arcadia, but for the most part his outlook is limited by Jewish and Christian modes of thought. Attempts have been made to differentiate sources, strata, separate authors. The work is indeed diffuse and inconsistent, but that is in the nature of an apocalyptic. A unifying ethos of simple and rather narrow piety characterizes the whole.

Bibliography: Editions. j. b. lightfoot and j. r. harmer, eds., The Apostolic Fathers (2d ed. London 1912). k. lake, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library; 191213) 2:2305. m. whittaker, ed. (Griechische Christliche Schriftsteller 48;1956). r. joly, ed. and tr. (Sources Chrétiennes, ed. h. de lubac 53; 1958). Literature. j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, MD 1950) 1:92105. b. altaner, Patrology, tr. h. graef from the 5th German ed. (New York 1960) 8488. s. giet, Hermas et les pasteurs (Paris 1963).

[m. whittaker]


views updated May 18 2018

Hermas. Second-cent. Roman Christian and author of a work called The Shepherd. This purports to have been written in consequence of a series of visions. It is divided into five ‘Visions’, twelve ‘Mandates’, and ten ‘Similitudes’. In the E. Church it was widely regarded as scripture, and is found in the Codex Sinaiticus after the New Testament.