THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS (1st - mid 2nd century) Questions on its authenticity and doubting


#1

The Shepherd of Hermas is an account of visions by Hermas of Rome from Christ in the form of a Shepherd. It was a widespread early writing, since the Codex Sinaiticus included it and Clement of Alexandria used it. Origen believed it was written during Clement’s papacy (88-99 AD), and the document (in section 8:3) says to have Clement send it abroad. Paul sent greetings to a Christian Hermas in Rome (Rom 16:14). The Muratorian Fragment, however, says: “But Hermas wrote The Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the chair of the church of the city of Rome [140-155 AD]. And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among the Prophets, whose number is complete, or among the Apostles, for it is after their time.” The Catholic Encylopedia suggests: “Perhaps the most probable view is that the historical data in the book are fictitious; the author was really the brother of Pope Pius, and wrote during his brother’s pontificate… The writer wished to be thought to belong to the preceding generation — hence the name of Clement, the most famous of earlier popes, instead of the name Pius.” (newadvent.org/cathen/07268b.htm)

The document is here: earlychristianwritings.com/text/shepherd.html

(Question 1) Do you believe that Hermas deliberately thought up his document as part of a literary genre of apocalyptic revelatory visions in expectation of nearing End Times (eg. expecting the Second Coming to occur in the 2nd c. AD)? Or was he simply narrating actual divine supernatural visions, wherein actual divine beings came to him?

The Unam Sanctam Catholicam website says: “Though the book presents its teaching in the form of a vision, it is believed the vision is literary and not meant to be a record of an actual apparition, although there is no harm in taking the latter view.” (unamsanctamcatholicam.com/history/79-history/356-shepherd-of-hermas.html)

(Question 2) What do you think about the Shepherd of Hermas’ passages about wavering in prayer and about doubts? The Shepherd says:
“if thou waver in thy heart, thou shalt surely receive none of thy petitions. For they that waver towards God, these are the doubtful-minded, and they never obtain any of their petitions. But they that are complete in the faith make all their petitions trusting in the Lord, and they receive, because they ask without wavering, nothing doubting”.

What about the time when the petitioner in the gospel asked Jesus for healing while recognizing his own doubt, saying “I believe, help my unbelief”(Mk 9:24)?

The Shepherd also says: “doubtful-mindedness is an earthly spirit from the devil, and hath no power.”
Isn’t having doubt an important part of discernment, like whether something is from God or not?


#2

(Question 3) In Vision 4, Chapters 1-2, when the Church in the form of a woman says that Hermas escaped harm because he didn’t doubt in the presence of the beast, but those hear and despise the woman’s words in the document would be better off not having been born. Does this sound strange or wrong?

Here is Hermas’ vision of the beast:

The Church in the form of the woman tells him:

The woman’s claim about the punishment of those who doubt the words sounds problematic, because we know that according to St. Clement of Alexandria, “many” people in the Church “despised” the writing called Shepherd of Hermas, and that some other Church writers and fathers downplayed the document in different ways.


#3

My own take is that there is no contradiction with the father of the epileptic. It has to do with the progression of faith. The father in that passage is struggling, his faith is small. What the Shepherd is getting at is that for people who are more advanced in their faith, there should be no doubt in their mind when praying. Otherwise their faith is small too. Remember that James said that the prayer of the righteous is powerful. The righteous has no doubts.


#4

http://www.ntcanon.org/Shepherd_of_Hermas.shtml


#5

Dear Dan, thanks for replying.

I think that you understand the Shepherd correctly. But I can’t think of anything in the Bible saying whether a doubting or wavering person’s prayer requests can ever be fulfilled. The epileptic’s father’s request seemed to be a successful request from a doubter, but I guess you could say that his request wasn’t in prayer and maybe Jesus helped his doubts go away before fulfilling the request, even though the story doesn’t say that all his doubts left.

What do you think about Questions # 1 (about whether the author thought up the stories or if they are long, literal visions ) and # 3 (whether people who despise the words of the woman in the controversial document would be better off not being born)?


Visions and Ectasy
Why wouldn’t God show miracles to this generation?
Wanting to believe miracles
#6

In my opinion, the author was divinely inspired. And lots of people in the early Church thought so too, the witness to that is the fact that the Shepherd is part of several Bible Codices.


#7

Thanks for posting this, Thistle. Your article says:

“The book is a picturesque religious allegory, in most of which a rugged figure dressed like a shepherd is Hermas’ guide. … The genre of Visions 1-4 is that of a Jewish-Christian apocalypse… The closest parallels to the Similitudes are the parables in the book of I Enoch . These parables, in which typically the telling of a parable is followed by a request for and granting of an interpretation, and finally blessings and curses upon those who either do or do not heed it, are more like allegorical similes than the more familiar parables of the synoptic Gospels.”

So your article doesn’t seem to think that Hermas literally had all these visions, but rather was writing in a genre of apocalyptic literature where the visions were really “allegorical similes” or parables. So your article looks at the document like “Dante’s Inferno”, which was a fictional story about a man’s visions. Do I understand this correctly?


#8

James 1:5-8


#9

Thanks. That passage says:

5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

James does not actually say that the wavering person will never receive anything (like the Shepherd says), but that the wavering person shouldn’t think that he will. Some other translations of this passage in James say that he should not expect that he will receive anything.


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