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Lightfoot's Apostolic Fathers In English - J. B. Lightfoot, D. D., D.C. L., LL. D.

THIS work is entitled in the most ancient notices ‘The Shepherd’, or ‘The Shepherd of Hermas’. Hermas is both the narrator and the hero of the narrative. The Shepherd is the divine teacher, who communicates to Hermas, either by precept or by allegory, the lessons which are to be disseminated for the instruction of the Church. Later confusions, which identify Hermas with the Pastor, find no countenance in the work itself. Hermas’ own personal and family history are interwoven from time to time into the narrative, and made subservient to the moral purposes of the work. In this case it resembles the Divina Commedia, though history plays a much less important part here than in Dante’s great poem.

The structure of the work is seriously impaired by the common division into three parts or books. Visions, Mandates, and Similitudes, as if they stood on the same level. It may be convenient to use this mode of division for purposes of reference alone; but we must not suffer it to dominate our conception of the work. The Visions are introductory, and the Shepherd does not appear until their close. He delivers his message to Hermas in two parts, (1) Mandates or Precepts, (2) Similitudes or Parables, i.e., moral lessons taught by allegory.

The person first introduced in the book is one Rhoda (Vis. i. 1), to whom Hermas had been sold when brought from Rome as a slave. Her part is somewhat the same as Beatrice’s in Dante’s poem. She appears to him in the heavens as he is on his way to Cumae, and reproaches him with his not altogether blameless passion for her. Having thus aroused his conscience, she withdraws. Then he sees before him an aged woman whom (considering the place) he not unnaturally mistakes for the Sibyl (Vis. ii. 4), but who proves to be the Church. The object of the Visions indeed seems to be to place before the reader the conception of the Church under the guise of an aged woman, whose features become more youthful at each successive appearance. Thus the lessons of a smitten and penitent conscience, of the Church growing and spreading (the Church Militant), lastly, of the Church purified by suffering (the Church Triumphant), and the terrors of the judgment, occupy the four Visions properly so called. Hermas is enjoined to write down all that he hears. One copy of his book he is to send to Clement, who is charged with making it known to foreign cities; another to Grapte, whose business it is to instruct the widows and orphans, and he himself, together with the presbyters, is to read it to the people of ‘this city’, i.e., Rome (Vis. ii. 4).

The fifth Vision is different in kind from the preceding four, and indeed is designated, not a Vision (ἅρασις), but a Revelation (ἀποκάλυψις). Hermas is now in his own house. The appearance is no longer the representation of the Church, but a man of glorious visage in a pastoral habit, who has been sent to dwell with him, and teach him to the end of his days. He is ‘the Shepherd, the angel of repentance’, who delivers to him certain Mandates and Similitudes, which he is ordered to write down, and which form the two remaining books—the main part of the work.

The teaching of the Shepherd then is contained in the twelve Mandates and the ten Similitudes which follow. But the tenth and last of the latter is not strictly a parable like the rest. It contains a final chapter, summing up the function of the Shepherd and his heavenly associates, in the work of perfecting the instruction of Hermas.








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