Hermas

HERMAS (Gr. Hermas). A Roman Christian (Rom.16.14), not to be confused with the writer of The Shepherd of Hermas (second cent.).


Traditionally one of the Apostolic Fathers, known almost exclusively from his work The Shepherd. Formerly a (Jewish?) slave emancipated at Rome, he farmed and prospered, but lost his property and saw his sons apostatize in persecution. The Shepherd reveals a prophet of mediocre intellect, narrow concerns, and simple, sometimes unstable, piety. He was a contemporary of Clement, yet the Muratorian Canon says he wrote while his brother Pius was bishop of Rome (i.e., 140-54). Internal evidence confirms that The Shepherd was composed in stages c.90-140/150, perhaps by three different authors.

The work consists of five Visions, twelve Mandates, and ten Similitudes. Hermas receives revelations from a woman whose age turns to youthful beauty (Vis. 1-4), who is the Church (also depicted as a tower under construction), and from the “angel of repentance” in a shepherd's guise, whose appearance in Vis. 5 introduces the remaining sections. Inconsistencies, the apocalyptic and allegorical genres, and colorful imagery greatly complicate interpretation. The major themes are ethical-purity and repentance. Moral instruction largely occupies Simil. 1- 5 and the Mandates, which embody a “two ways” pattern widely attested in Jewish and early Christian literature.

Debate has surrounded The Shepherd's teaching on postbaptismal repentance. The view that it was first generally countenanced by Hermas is now being overtaken by the interpretation that he assumes it from the outset but limits it, because of the approaching end, to sins committed up to the present. A rudimentary penitential system is already operative (cf. Simil. 7-10). The Shepherd's chief importance lies in the light it throws on the beliefs of Jewish Christianity, whose literary forms it employs, and on the “vulgar catholicism” of a Christian congregation in Hellenistic Roman society. The work enjoyed high regard in the early centuries, especially in the East. It was widely included among the Scriptures until the third century and was still used for catechetical purposes in Athanasius's day. Nevertheless, it survives in a poor textual tradition.

See also Apostolic Fathers.

W.J. Wilson, “The Career of the Prophet Hermas,” HTR 20 (1927), pp. 21-62; B. Poschmann, Paenitentia Secunda (1939), pp. 134-205, and Penance and the Anointing of the Sick (1964), pp. 26-35; J. Quasten, Patrology 1 (1950), pp. 92-105; S. Giet, Hermas et les Pasteurs (1963); L. Pernveden, The Concept of the Church in the nodetitle (1966); J. Reiling, Hermas and Christian Prophecy (1973).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An abbreviated form of several names, e.g. Hermagoras, Hermeros, Hermodorus, Hermogenes, etc.; the name of a Roman Christian to whom Paul sent greetings (Ro 16:14). Origen and some later writers have identified him with the author of The Pastor of Hermas, but without sufficient reason. According to the Canon of Muratori, the author of The Pastor wrote when his brother Pius was bishop of Rome (140-55 AD). He speaks of himself, however, as a contemporary of Clement of Rome (chapter 4) (circa 100 AD). The name Hermas is very common, and Origen’s identification is purely conjectural.