The Shepherd of Hermas was a widespread document among early Christians and it was included in the Codex Sinaiticus. It is an account by Hermas of visions of Christ in the form of a Shepherd. Origen believed that it was written during Clement’s papacy (88-99 AD), and the document says to have a “Clement” send copies abroad. But the Muratorian Fragment (c. 200 AD) says that the Shepherd of Hermas was written under the papacy of Pius I (in 140-155 AD), the brother of Hermas.
You can read the text here: earlychristianwritings.com/text/shepherd.html
(Question 1) In Book I:2:3, Who is Maximus and what denial is the Shepherd talking about? Is the document giving permission to Maximus to deny Christ?
Blessed are all they who practise righteousness, for they shall never be destroyed. Now you will tell Maximus: Lo! tribulation cometh on. If it seemeth good to thee, deny again. The Lord is near to them who return unto Him
Christine Trevett in her 2016 article “I Have Heard from Some Teachers” (Studies in Church History vol 40) proposes that Maximus was someone who had denied the faith.
Maximus means “greatest”, and the ancient highest Roman pagan priest was called the Pontifex Maximus. Bp. Maximus of Jerusalem served as bishop in the late 2nd c. and Eusebius claimed that he wrote about the origin of evil and free will. Tertullian used this title for the Pope of Rome sarcastically. ("The ‘Pontifex Maximus,’ that is the ‘bishop of bishops,’ issues an edict: "I remit, to such as have discharged repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.” On Modesty, c. 220 AD)
Eusebius in Church History VI:43 wrote that Maximus (whom Cyprian had called a persecuted Confessor in Epistula 50) had only temporarily left the Church with the 3rd c. antipope Novatian, who refused communion to Christians who lapsed and repented. Maximus was Pope of Alexandria in 264-282. Some consider Pope Marcellinus (served 296 – 304) to have apostasized, repented, and then been martyred.
(Question 2) Does the Shepherd of Hermas teach a heresy that Christians cannot successfully repent of severe sins committed after their baptism more than once? How does this strict rule compare with the instructions to Maximus to deny the faith?
Brian Fitzgerald writes about early Christians’ views on this topic in his essay “Adult Patristic Study - The Shepherd of Hermas”:
Is repentance possible after baptism? To the modern Christian such a question would seem odd since it is assumed that one may repent as often as necessary. The early Church did not assume this, hence the then common practice of delaying baptism until the approach of death.
Where have you heard about Christians commonly delaying baptism in the early Church until the converts were near death? The only time that comes to mind is Constantine the Great being baptized before death.
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