I am participating in the group Read the Fathers. In previous weeks I have posted these notes on Saturday, but due to some changes on this blog (see “Bloggers added!”) I will be posting them on Sunday. These are my notes from this week:

The Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd

This week’s readings were from Shepherd of Hermes.


The Shepherd of Hermes appears to be written in the second century. It was included in the Murtatorian Canon and used authoritatively by many of the proto-orthodox. Obviously, it did not maintain canonical status over time. The author is anonymous. This book addresses many charismatic matters, Pneumatology, angelology, prayer and other forms of spiritual discipline.

Hermas, a former slave, shares his visions in Book 1Vision 1 begins with Hermas being purchased by an attractive woman named Rhode of Rome. He assists her from the river after she finishes bathing, sees her beauty, and wishes that he might have a wife like her someday. Then the Spirit takes him to a plain that he could not have accessed on his own. The sky parts and a woman addresses him saying she is there to accuse him of his sins before the Lord. She lectures him on the danger of wicked thoughts. When the sky closes Hermas is filled with fear. He sees a great white chair made of wool. Then an older white woman with a book appears, hears of his fear of the first woman, and tells him that God does not hold these accusations against him, but that he has allowed his family to remain unconverted does bother the Lord.

Vision 2 begins with Hermas being taken by the Spirit, again. The old woman appears, reading a book. She asks if he can tell people about the book. He replies that he cannot, but asks if he can copy it. He copies it and when finishes someone snatches the book from him. After much prayer and fasting he is able to decode the book, which tells him that his family remains wicked. The book says that people can be forgiven to a certain point, but that God appoints a day when this is no longer possible for the saints. The heathen have until death to repent though. Hermas is warned of a great tribulation and that some will forsake God’s Son, being forsaken in return. It is revealed that the old woman is “the Church” and that she wants Hermas to write a book.

Vision 3 begins with Hermas being told by the old woman to meet her in the country. He agrees. As with Vision 1 and 2 he begins in prayer, repenting, but the old woman appears and tells him to pray for righteousness instead. The old woman has six young men who sit and her right hand side. Hermas must sit on her left side for now. He is not worthy. The old woman shows Hermas a tower, built on water, where the men are revealed as angels. These angels received stones from others. Some are used to build the tower, others rejected to various degrees. The tower is the Church and it must be entered through water (baptism?). There are stones that are apostles, prophets, bishops, deacons; stones that are martyrs. Some rejected stones include the wealthy of the world, others are those who became apostate in some way. Repentance is possible, but a purgatory-like refining is necessary before being fit into the tower. Seven women are around the tower as well representing Faith, Self-Restraint, Simplicity, Guilelessness, Chastity, Intelligence, and Love. It is by these daughters (i.e., obtaining these virtues) that one enters the tower (i.e., the Church). At the end of this vision a man explains Visions 1-3, noting that the older woman becomes younger, signifying the Church’s increased health.

Vision 4 is about a coming “tribulation”. Hermas sees a beast like a whale with locust flying out of its mouth. Hermas fears the beast, but he had been told not to fear, so he becomes bold and the beast lies down before him exposing a four-colored tongue. Hermas walks past the beast and meets a virgin, coming from a bridal chamber, dressed in white, with white hair. She is the Church. She reveals that the beast is the coming tribulation. She explains the colors and how the tribulation might be escaped.

Vision 5 begins with Hermas praying, again, then meeting a shepherd. He asks Hermas if Hermas knows who he is. Hermas doesn’t, then the shepherd reveals himself as the one unto whom Hermas has been entrusted. He tells Hermas to record his commands and similitudes. The shepherd is revealed as “the angel of repentance”.

Book 2 is a list of commandments: on having faith in God, avoiding evil speech, giving alms, loving truth, dealing with a fornicating spouse, being patient, avoiding anger, submitting to one’s righteous angel rather than an evil spirit, fearing the Lord, shunning evil, embracing good, praying without ceasing, avoiding grief, testing spirits and prophets, and having good desires.

The Fourth Commandment is interesting: if a man’s wife has committed adultery and he has sex with her in ignorance he is not guilty, but if he knows of his wife’s sin, and she continues, he is a participant in the sin. Hermas asks what a husband should do if the wife continues to sin. He is told to put her away and remain single for the rest of his life. If he remarries, he is a fornicator as well. A widow or widower can remarry.

The Pneumatology of Shepherd of Hermas is intriguing: Command 3 includes the phrase “the spirit that has been placed in your flesh” and a “spirit of truth”. Command 5 discusses evil spirits and the holy spirit. Command 6 says every person has a good angel and an impure spirit (similar to 1QS). Commandment 10 compares grief to evil spirits and says that grief moves the Holy Spirit away. Commandment 11 discusses how false prophets do not have the Holy Spirit. This section describes true prophets and authentic charismata. In Book 3, Similitude 9, connects Pneumatology to Ecclesiology. The Spirit is equated with the Son of God.

Book 3 consists of a bunch of similitudes: the heavenly city is like an earthly city, a vine supports an elm like the prayers of the poor support the rich, the world cannot tell the difference between the just and the unjust like withered trees look like trees in the winter, trees with fruit are different from withered tree like the just are different from the unjust, several about fasting, evil angels who are like shepherds (of luxury and deceit), and further teachings on repentance, the deeds of the elect, the Church, and almsgiving.

See notes from: