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Ante-Nicene Christian Library/The Pastor of Hermas

For other English-language translations of this work, see Shepherd of Hermas.



THE Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian church during the second, third, and fourth centuries. It occupied a position analogous in some respects to that of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in modern times; and critics have frequently compared the two works.

In ancient times two opinions prevailed in regard to the authorship. The most widely spread was, that the Pastor of Hermas was the production of the Hermas mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans. Origen[1] states this opinion distinctly, and it is repeated by Eusebius[2] and Jerome.[3]

Those who believed the apostolic Hermas to be the author, necessarily esteemed the book very highly; and there was much discussion as to whether it was inspired or not. The early writers are of opinion that it was really inspired. Irenæus quotes it as scripture;[4] Clemens Alexandrinus speaks of it as making its statements "divinely;"[5] and Origen, though a few of his expressions are regarded by some as implying doubt, unquestionably gives it as his opinion that it is "divinely inspired."[6] Eusebius mentions that difference of opinion prevailed in his day as to the inspiration of the book, some opposing its claims, and others maintaining its divine origin, especially because it formed an admirable introduction to the Christian faith. For this latter reason it was read publicly, he tells us, in the churches.

The only voice of antiquity decidedly opposed to the claim is that of Tertuliian. He designates it apocryphal,[7] and rejects it with scorn, as favouring Anti-Montanistic opinions. Even his words, however, show that it was regarded in many churches as scripture.

The second opinion as to the authorship is found in no writer of any name. It occurs only in two places: a poem falsely ascribed to Tertuliian, and a fragment published by Muratori, on the Canon, the authorship of which is unknown, and the original language of which is still a matter of dispute. The fragment says, "The Pastor was written very lately in our times, in the city of Rome, by Hermas, while Bishop Pius, his brother, sat in the chair of the church of the city of Rome."

A third opinion has had advocates in modern times. The Pastor of Hermas is regarded as a fiction, and the person Hermas, who is the principal character, is, according to this opinion, merely the invention of the fiction-writer.

Whatever opinion critics may have in regard to the authorship, there can be but one opinion as to the date. The Pastor of Hermas must have been written at an early period. The fact that it was recognised by Irenæus as scripture shows that it must have been in circulation long before his time. The most probable date assigned to its composition is the reign of Hadrian, or of Antoninus Pius.

The work is very important in many respects; but especially as reflecting the tone and style of books which interested and instructed the Christians of the second and third centuries.

The Pastor of Hermas was written in Greek. It was well known in the eastern churches: it seems to have been but little read in the Western. Yet the work bears traces of having been written in Italy.

For a long time the Pastor of Hermas was known to scholars only in a Latin version, occurring in several mss. with but slight variations. But within recent times the difficulty of settling the text has been increased by the discovery of various mss. A Latin translation has been edited, widely differing from the common version. Then a Greek ms. was said to have been found in Mount Athos, of which Simonides affirmed that he brought away a portion of the original and a copy of the rest. Then a ms. of the Pastor of Hermas was found at the end of the Sinaitic Codex of Tischendorf. And in addition to all these, there is an Æthiopic translation. The discussion of the value of these discoveries is one of the most difficult that can fall to the lot of critics; for it involves not merely an examination of peculiar forms of words and similar criteria, but an investigation into statements made by Simonides and Tischendorf respecting events in their own lives. But whatever may be the conclusions at which the critic arrives, the general reader does not gain or lose much. In all the Greek and Latin forms the Pastor of Hermas is substantially the same. There are many minute differences; but there are scarcely any of importance—perhaps we should say none.

In this translation the text of Hilgenfeld, which is based on the Sinaitic Codex, has been followed.

The letters Vat. mean the Vatican manuscript, the one from which the common or vulgate version was usually printed.

The letters Pal. mean the manuscript edited by Dressel, which contains the Latin version, differing considerably from the common version.

The letters Lips. refer to the manuscript, partly original and partly copied, furnished by Simonides from Athos. The text of Anger and Dindorf (Lips. 1856) has been used, though reference has also been made to the text of Tischendorf in Dressel.

The letters Sin. refer to the Sinaitic Codex, as given in Dressel and in Hilgenfeld's notes.

The letters Æth. refer to the Æthiopic version, edited, wath a Latin translation, by Antonius D'Abbadie. Leipzig 1860.

No attempt has been made to give even a tithe of the various readings. Only the most important have been noted.

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.