Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church (The Complete Eight Volumes in One). Amazon Kindle Edition, 2014.
Volume 2, Ante-Nicene Christianity A.D. 100-325, “Chapter 13. Ecclesiastical Literature of the Ante-Nicene Age, and Biographical Sketches of the Church Fathers.” sec. 159-204.
§ 168. Hermas.
Schaff provides a brief bibliography. It is of interest to me that there was debate in the scholarly community about the authenticity of the Greek version as opposed to the Latin version, discovered earlier. The issue was largely settled in the 1860s (Schaff 2014, loc. 20133). The title of the work is derived from the author’s self-identification as “Hermas” and the fact that he is instructed by an angel who appaers as a shepherd (Schaff 2014, loc. 21056). The text is an allegorical and didactic apocalypse. The work is in three books: visions, commands, and parables. Schaff finds that these are intended to call Hermas, and the church through him, to repentance (Schaff 2014, loc. 21071). Schaff considers the work to be of no literary merit. “It is prosy, frigid, monotonous, repetitious, overloaded with uninteresting details, but animated by a pure love of nature and an ardent zeal for doing good” (Schaff 2014, loc. 21080). Schaff reprints the first vision as an example of the style.
In his analysis of the theology, Schaff finds that Hermas has a very non-technical form of theology in which Christianity brings a new law to replace the old law of Judaism. Man’s duty is to keep the laws given by Christ (Schaff 2014, loc. 21134). This is a striking difference from the other Fathers. However, several elements of historic Christianity are present, such as the pre-existence of God the Son, the existence of an ideal church which differs from what is found in society, and the urgent importance of water baptism (Schaff 2014, loc. 21141). Much of Hermas’ theology can be traced to Jewish apocalyptic writers. The prophetic and ascetic tendencies suggest a relationship to Montanism, but the Montanist movement arose after this work. Further, the asceticism endorsed is not as strict as that of the Montanists (Schaff 2014, loc. 21171).
Schaff notes the authorship and dating could suggest Hermas as a friend of Paul (Rom. 16:14), a contemporary of Clement, “a brother of Bishop Pius of Rome” (Schaff 2014, loc. 21179), a composite of several people in the time of Trajan, or another fictive character. Schaff’s view is that Hermas was a contemporary of Clement who may also have been a young disciple mentioned by Paul some years earlier (Schaff 2014, loc. 21179). The text suggests several unfortunate situations in the author’s life. By the time of writing there was some level of corruption in the church.
The book was very popular and influential in the second and third centuries but didn’t have long term significance (Schaff 2014, loc. 21193). It fell out of respect and out of use by the fifth century and was lost, in Greek, for several centuries.