Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Ancient Christology of the Shepherd of Hermas

The revelation of the New Church declares that Jesus Christ is Jehovah in human form, and that the human in which He became incarnate was transformed into a Divine Human upon the resurrection, by which all of humanity was saved from the dominion of hell.  The revelation also states that the trinity of three person of the 4th century A.D. was an invention of man and not part of the original gospel of Christ (see The False Belief of a Trinity of three beings: TRITHEISM).

So the question is, what was the theology of the original Christians of the first century A.D.?  It was simple, and they did not theologize that much.  I briefly touched on this in an early post entitled The Nicene Creed: a distorted version of the Apostle's Creed, where one can easily see that the earlier Apostle's Creed declared Jesus to be the Son of God born in time to the virgin Mary.  This also happens to be the position of the New Church, but it still acknowledges that Jesus was pre-existent as Jehovah.  The Nicene Creed basically invented a Son of God "born from eternity, not begotten," an utter paradox.  It has created a paradoxical faith, which no one understands and thus is a topic of conversation most avoid.


If we want to examine the beliefs of the early Christian church, there are very few texts to examine, but one very ancient Christian text stands out, called The Shepherd of Hermas, which is written as a religious parable, or if one believes it literally, contains a series of heavenly visions.  Everything is taught in the form of an allegory, and some of the content is similar in nature to the spiritual symbolism of scripture as revealed in Heavenly Arcana (aka Arcana Coelestia).

So, who wrote it, and when?  This was once a highly valued text within the early Christian church.  It was written in Rome by Hermas, a former slave, in the 1st or 2nd century A.D.  Here is a summary of the high respect the work had among the early church fathers from the Catholic site NewAdvent Encyclopedia, under Hermas:
"[The Shepherd of Hermas is] a work which had great authority in ancient times and was ranked with Holy ScriptureEusebius tells us that it was publicly read in the churches, and that while some denied it to be canonical, others "considered it most necessary". St. Athanasius speaks of it, together with the Didache, in connection with the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, as uncanonical yet recommended by the ancients for the reading of catechumens. Elsewhere he calls it a most profitable book. Rufinus similarly says that the ancients wished it to be read, but not to be used as an authority as to the Faith. It is found with the Epistle of Barnabas at the end of the New Testament in the great Siniatic Bible Aleph (fourth century), and between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus. In accordance with this conflicting evidence, we find two lines of opinion among the earlier FathersSt. Irenæus and Tertullian (in his Catholic days) cite the "Shepherd" as ScriptureClement of Alexandria constantly quotes it with reverence, and so does Origen, who held that the author was the Hermas mentioned by St. PaulRomans 16:14. He says the work seems to him to be very useful, and Divinely inspired; yet he repeatedly apologizes, when he has occasion to quote it, on the ground that "many people despise it".
It was a very popular Christian work in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries.  And then it just mysteriously dies out and disappears, and if you ask anyone now they probably never heard of it.  So when was it written?  Three ancient witnesses suggest that Hermas was the brother of Pope Pius I, whose pontificate was in the middle of the 2nd century A.D.  However other researchers state evidence that it was written in the late 1st century A.D.  From The Shepherd of Hermas:

The scholar John A. T. Robinson makes a detailed argument that in fact Shepherd was written before AD 85. This is because
a) Robinson believes that all the canonical New Testament books predate the fall of Jerusalem in AD.70.
b) Irenaeus quotes it as scripture in "Against Heresy" (c. 180) thus undermining the testimony of the Muratorian fragment, which, if believed, would place it during the bishopric in Rome of Pius (140–155). Robinson believes that Irenaeus would not count a 2nd-century text as scripture.
c) Tertullian, in De Pudicitia (c. 215) strongly disparages Hermas, but without mentioning the late composition which would have fatally undermined its canonicity.
d) Origen freely cites Hermas as scripture, and in his Commentary on Romans attributes it to the Hermas of Rom.16:14 (an identification supported by Coleborne).
e) Robinson believes that the internal evidence of Vision 2.4.2 refers to Clement, apparently before he became Bishop of Rome, for which Robinson cites in support G. Edmundson's Bampton lectures of 1913. Edmundson dates Hermas c. 90 on the basis that Clement became Bishop of Rome in 92. Robinson states that there is no reason to suppose that this reference is a pseudonymous fiction.
f) Robinson discounts the testimony of the Muratonian fragment, saying that for no other book should its unsupported evidence be taken seriously, and it is full of palpable mistakes.

What is interesting here, is that Hermas, the author of the work, may have known the apostle Paul, for Paul mentions a Hermas in one of his letters:
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.  Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers  who are with them.  (Rom. 16:13-14)
As a side note, what many people do not realize is that Rufus is one Rufus Pudens Pudentius, a Roman Senator thats known in Roman history.  He and the apostle Paul were likely half brothers.  Rufus married one Claudia, also mentioned in the epistle of Romans, who was of British royalty (see British Royalty: Founders of the Roman Church).  So Hermas is likely a real person as well who lived in Rome, and as early as the 2nd century there was a tradition that it was this same Hermas who wrote The Shepherd of Hermas.


So here is likely a first century Christian work by someone who knew the apostle Paul directly.  This work is completely untainted by the later Nicene Creed; it is just simple Christianity.  And in it are a set of visions and parables.  However it is the fifth parable that caught my attention.  It describes a Christology that does not fit the trinity of the Nicene Creed which would be developed over two centuries later.  And to my surprise, it is in agreement with the doctrine of the New Church.  As a parable, it is not completely explained.  I will quote the entire parable from this online translation, The Shepherd of Hermas:
"A certain man had a field and many slaves, and he planted a certain part of the field with a vineyard, and selecting a faithful and beloved and much valued slave, he called him to him, and said, 'Take this vineyard which I have planted, and stake it until I come, and do nothing else to the vineyard; and attend to this order of mine, and you shall receive your freedom from me.' And the master of the slave departed to a foreign country. And when he was gone, the slave took and staked the vineyard; and when he had finished the staking of the vines, he saw that the vineyard was full of weeds. He then reflected, saying, 'I have kept this order of my master: I will dig up the rest of this vineyard, and it will be more beautiful when dug up; and being free of weeds, it will yield more fruit, not being choked by them.' He took, therefore, and dug up the vineyard, and rooted out all the weeds that were in it. And that vineyard became very beautiful and fruitful, Having no weeds to choke it. And after a certain time the master of the slave and of the field returned, and entered into the vineyard. And seeing that the vines were suitably supported on stakes, and the ground, moreover, dug up, and all the weeds rooted out, and the vines fruitful, he was greatly pleased with the work of his slave. And calling his beloved son who was his heir, and his friends who were his councillors, he told them what orders he had given his slave, and what he had found performed. And they rejoiced along with the slave at the testimony which his master bore to him. And he said to them, 'I promised this slave freedom if he obeyed the command which I gave him; and he has kept my command, and done besides a good work to the vineyard, and has pleased me exceedingly. In return, therefore, for the work which he has done, I wish to make him co-heir with my son, because, having good thoughts, he did not neglect them, but carried them out.' With this resolution of the master his son and friends were well pleased, viz., that the slave should be co-heir with the son. After a few days the master made a feast, and sent to his slave many dishes from his table. And the slave receiving the dishes that were sent him from his master, took of them what was sufficient for himself, and distributed the rest among his fellow-slaves. And his fellow-slaves rejoiced to receive the dishes, and began to pray for him, that he might find still greater favour with his master for having so treated them. His master heard all these things that were done, and was again greatly pleased with his conduct. And the master again calling; together his friends and his son, reported to them the slave's proceeding with regard to the dishes which he had sent him. And they were still more satisfied that the slave should become co-heir with his son."
On a first read, it looks like someone just simply took the parable of the vineyard from the gospel of Matthew (see Matt. 21:33-41), and modified it to give it a happy ending.  Also one may first think that the faithful slave is Hermas himself.  But that is not what the parable means.  It is explained later, in the following passage:
"I shall unfold to you the meaning of the similitudes of the field, and of all the others that follow, that you may make them known to every one. Hear now," he said, "and understand them. The field is this world; and the Lord of the field is He who created, and perfected, and strengthened all things; and the slave is the Son of God; and the vines are this people, whom He Himself planted; and the stakes are the holy angels of the Lord, who keep His people together; and the weeds that were plucked out of the vineyard are the iniquities of God's servants; and the dishes which He sent Him from His table are the commandments which He gave His people through His Son; and the friends and fellow-councillors are the holy angels who were first created; and the Master's absence from home is the time that remains until His appearing."
I highlighted the last portion, the parable is related to the Second Coming, more on that later.  The slave is not Hermas, but rather the slave is the Son of God.  Which is strange, as the slave is portrayed as a separate person from the son of the Master.  Hermas is then confused, and asks why is Jesus portrayed as a slave.  At first the answer is not given, and it is explained one should ask the Lord to open one's understanding.  But Hermas persists, and the following answer is given:
"Hear," he answered: "the Son of God is not in the form of a slave, but in great power and might." "How so, sir?" I said; "I do not understand." "Because," he answered, "God planted the vineyard, that is to say, He created the people, and gave them to His Son; and the Son appointed His angels over them to keep them; and He Himself purged away their sins, having suffered many trials and undergone many labours, for no one is able to dig without labour and toil. He Himself, then, having purged away the sins of the people, showed them the paths of life by giving them the law which He received from His Father. And why the Lord took His Son as councillor, and the glorious angels, regarding the heirship of the slave, listen. The holy, pre-existent Spirit, that created every creature, God made to dwell in flesh, which He chose. This flesh, accordingly, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was nobly subject to that Spirit, walking religiously and chastely, in no respect defiling the Spirit; and accordingly, after living excellently and purely, and after labouring and co-operating with the Spirit, and having in everything acted vigorously and courageously along with the Holy Spirit, He assumed it as a partner with it. For this conduct of the flesh pleased Him, because it was not defiled on the earth while having the Holy Spirit. He took, therefore, as fellow-councillors His Son and the glorious angels, in order that this flesh, which had been subject to the body without a fault, might have some place of tabernacle, and that it might not appear that the reward [of its servitude had been lost ], for the flesh that has been found without spot or defilement, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, [will receive a reward]. You have now the explanation of this parable also."
When I reread this portion of the Shepherd of Hermas, I was surprised.  In the revelations of the New Church, it was revealed that Jesus inherited flesh of a weak nature from His mother Mary, which could be tempted by the evil spirits of hell.  However His soul was Divine, and fought against all of hell through the human form.  This happened in stages, until all sin was rooted out in the external human form, and it was transformed into a Divine Human.  What Swedenborg describes in page after page in Heavenly Arcana, in Doctrine of the Lord, and in True Christian Religion, is here summed up in a very short parable.  The doctrine of the Divine Human of the New Church is that Jesus born in time to the virgin Mary is the Son of God, and His human form was made completely Divine.  A form of this doctrine of the New Church is here described in a very short parable in one of the earliest documents of the Christian Church.  The pre-existent form of Jehovah before He became incarnate in flesh is also described, oddly enough, as the son of the Master.  This is described in explicit detail in the visions of Swedenborg.  Here is one notable passage where Swedenborg asked the angels concerning the Lord's pre-existent form before He became incarnate:
“I have been told from heaven that in the Lord from eternity, Who is Jehovah, before the assumption of the Human in the world, there were the two prior degrees actually, and the third degree in potency, such as they are also with the angels; but that after the assumption of the Human in the world, He put on also the third degree, which is called the natural, and that thereby He became a man similar to man in the world, with the difference, however, that this degree, like the prior degrees, is infinite and uncreated in Him, while these degrees in angel and in man are finite and created. For the Divine which had filled all spaces without space (n. 69-72), penetrated also to the ultimate things of nature. But before the assumption of the Human, the Divine influx into the natural degree was mediate through the angelic heavens, but after the assumption immediate from Himself. And this is the reason why all the churches in the world before His coming were representative of spiritual and celestial things, but after His coming became spiritual-natural and celestial-natural, and representative worship was abolished. This too was the reason why the sun of the angelic heaven, which, as was said above, is the first proceeding of His Divine Love and Divine Wisdom, after the assumption of the Human shone forth with a more glorious radiance and splendor than before the assumption." (Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, n. 233)
This assumption of a human form is thus the "slave" of the parable, and the pre-existent Divine Human in the heavens is the "son of the Master."  By making the human Divine, or one with the Divine, the human became a "co-heir."  But what about the Master's absence from His home until he returns?  This is the Second Coming, when people begin to realize that the Father exists in the Son as the soul does the body, that Jesus is truly Jehovah in human form.

So why did the Shepherd of Hermas eventually die out and disappear, before being rediscovered centuries later?  This was due to the Nicene Creed, and the definition of a trinity of three persons, by people who did not understand the allegorical way of speaking.  Once the Trinity became the established doctrine, other heresies were rooted out.  One particular heresy was "Adoptionism," which makes the error by declaring that Jesus was not the Christ until he was baptized by the Holy Spirit.  This particular heresy probably made use of the Shepherd of Hermas by misinterpreting the parable, and thus it fell out of favour following the fourth century A.D.  The truth of the matter, is Jesus is Jehovah in human form, which began when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit at birth - not later during a baptism ritual.  He is thus described as the "Word made flesh."  Interpreted properly, the Shepherd of Hermas provides confirmation that the revelation of the New Church is a revelation that all Christians should know about to have a better understanding of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:


    I have been analyzing the Shepherd of Hermas, and some opinions of scholars who have also analyzed the work. The book is divided into 5 visions, 12 commandments, and 10 parables. The ninth parable is definitely from a later author, which some other scholars have concluded as well. It has problematic content. Right now, my opinion is that the original work spanned everything up until the seventh parable, where it simply ended with a warning to the household of Hermas, and the coming persecution. But from the style and content, the eigth, ninth and tenth parables were added by another author, probably in the early half of the second century.

    Here are problems I have noted with the ninth parable:

    1. Begins with "after I had written the mandates and the parables." Only makes sense if another author is adding this one.
    2. Offers the odd explanation that the female angel that appeared earlier is the Son of God. This may have been done in opposition to female teachers.
    3. The phrase "Son of God" appears much more than in the previous chapters.
    4. It repeats the vision of the tower. The tower is unfinished, indicating a later date.
    5. It has virgins embracing and kissing, which is completely out of character with the beginning of Hermas to guard one's intentions.
    6. It describes the virgins as "holy spirits."
    7. It expands the number of virgins of the previous vision from 7 to 12. The representations of these virgins do not make sense (may write a later blog article on the 7 virgins).
    8. It states that the Son of God is "born before all His creation." This shows the author had a problem with the original Christology of the Shepherd of Hermas, explained above.
    9. It states the Son of God "bears the name of the virgins." As do the rejected stones. This goes against true Christianity in which all things are derived from the Lord alone. The Lord does not appropriate from the angels, it is the other way around.

    So, the ninth parable is a later addition. Given that, the tenth parable is late as well, since it continues from the ninth parable. The eighth parable, in its tedious explanation, is similar in nature to the ninth. The previous work is short and too the point. Also the eighth parable elevates Michael too highly above the Lord. A late date for the eighth parable is also indicated by references to a persecution that took place in which there were martyrs.

    So, for the reasons listed above, the original Shepherd of Hermas probably ended with the seventh parable. The later addition came later, which is why there are conflicting opinions on date.


Comments, questions, corrections and opinions welcome...