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The Shepherd of Hermas

The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake in The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. II, pp. 2-3.

The Shepherd of Hermas is in form an apocalypse. It consists of a series of revelations made to Hermas by the Church, who appears in the form of a woman, first old, and afterwards younger; by the shepherd, the angel of repentance; and by the great angel, who is in charge of Christians. Each revelation is accompanied by an explanation, and from these it can be seen that though the form of the book is apocalyptic and visionary, its object is practical and ethical. The main problem, which constantly recurs, is that of sin after baptism. In the circle to which Hermas belonged the belief obtained that Christians after baptism were capable of leading sinless lives, and that if they fell they could not again obtain forgiveness. Experience, however, had shown that in this case few indeed would be saved, and the message of Hermas was that for sin after baptism there was still the possibility of forgiveness for those who repented, though this repentance would not avail more than once. A great part of the book is taken up in develpoing the details of this doctrine of repentance, which is entrusted to an angel called the Shepherd, who gives his name to the book, and it is obvious that we have here the beginning of the Catholic doctrine of penance.

The Shepherd is divided into Visions (in the last of which the Shepherd appears), Commandments or Mandates, as they are more usually called, and Parables or Similitudes. It may roughly be said that in the Visions the necessity for repentance is enforced, in the Mandates the life required for the penitent is explained, and in the Similitudes the working and theological doctrine of repentance is developed.

The date and provenance of the Shepherd is fixed by the list of canonical books in the Muratorian canon, which rejects the Shepherd of Hermas, though some accepted it as a canonical apocalypse, on the ground that it was written "quite recently, in our own time in the city of Rome, by Hermas, while his brother Pius was sitting on the throne of the church of the city of Rome." Pius was Pope about 148 A.D., so that the Shepherd must have been written in Rome at about that time. Many critics, however, think that it may have been written at intervals during the twenty or thirty years preceding this date, and that traces can be seen of varying dates in the three divisions of the book. This question, which can probably never be decided satisfactorily, and in any case depends on the consideration of a mass of details which cannot be discussed shortly, may best be studied in Harnack's Chronologie and in Zahn's Der Hirt des Hermas.

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Kirby, Peter. "Greek Reconstruction of 0212." Early Christian Writings. <>.