New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > H > Hermas


(First or second century), author of the book called "The Shepherd" (Poimen, Pastor), a work which had great authority in ancient times and was ranked with Holy Scripture. Eusebius 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 Fathers. St. Irenæus and Tertullian (in his Catholic days) cite the "Shepherd" as Scripture. Clement of Alexandria constantly quotes it with reverence, and so does Origen, who held that the author was the Hermas mentioned by St. Paul, Romans 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". Tertullian, when a Montanist, implies that Pope St. Callistus had quoted it as an authority (though evidently not as Scripture), for he replies: "I would admit your argument, if the writing of the Shepherd had deserved to be included in the Divine Instrument, and if it were not judged by every council of the Churches, even of your own Churches, among the apocryphal and false." And again, he says that the Epistle of Barnabas is "more received among the Churches than that apocryphal Shepherd" (On Pudicity 10 and 20). Tertullian was no doubt right, that the book had been excluded at Rome from the Bible Instrumentum, but he is exaggerating in referring to "every council" and to a total rejection, for the teaching of the "Pastor" was in direct contradiction with his own rigid views as to penance. His earlier use of it is paralleled by the Acts of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, before the end of the second century, but there is no trace of it in St. Cyprian, so that it would seem to have gone out of use in Africa during the early decades of the third century. Somewhat later it is quoted by the author of the pseudo-Cyprianic tract "Adv. aleatores" as "Scriptura divina", but in St. Jerome's day it was "almost unknown to the Latins". Curiously, it went out of fashion in the East, so that the Greek manuscripts of it are but two in number, whereas in the West it became better known and was frequently copied in the Middle Ages.


The book consists of five visions, twelve mandates, or commandments, and ten similitudes, or parables. It commences abruptly in the first person: "He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda, who was at Rome. After many years I met her again, and began to love her as a sister." As Hermas was on the road to Cumae, he had a vision of Rhoda, who was presumably dead. She told him that she was his accuser in heaven, on account of an unchaste thought he had once had concerning her, though only in passing; he was to pray for forgiveness for himself and all his house. He is consoled by a vision of the Church in the form of an aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of the faithful, who tells him to do penance and to correct the sins of his children. Subsequently he sees her made younger through penance, yet wrinkled and with white hair; then again, as quite young but still with white hair — this is the Church of the forgiven. Lastly, she shows herself all glorious as a Bride — this is the Church of the end of the days. In the second vision she gives Hermas a book, which she afterwards takes back in order to add to it. He is to give this writing to the presbyters, who will read it to the people; another copy is for "Grapte", who will communicate it to the widows; and a third is to be sent by Clement to the foreign Churches, "for this is his office". We see here the constitution of the Roman Church: the presbyters set over different parishes; Grapte (no doubt a deaconess) who is connected with the widows; Clement, the pope, who is the organ of communication between Rome and the rest of the Church in the second century is well known to us from other sources. The fifth vision, which is represented as taking place twenty days after the fourth, introduces "the Angel of repentance" in the guise of a shepherd, from whom the whole work takes its name. He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts (mandata, entolai) as to the belief in one God, simplicity, truthfulness, chastity, long-suffering, faith, fear, continence, confidence, cheerfulness, humility, good desires. These form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. The only point which needs special mention is the assertion of a husband's obligation to take back an adulterous wife on her repentance. The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the first seats (that is to say, among the presbyters). It is possible that we have here a reference to Marcion, who came to Rome about 142-4 and desired to be admitted among the priests (or possibly even to become pope). After the mandata come ten similitudes (parabolai) in the form of visions, which are explained by the angel. The longest of these (ix) is an elaboration of the parable of the building of a tower, which had formed the matter of the third vision. The tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful. But in Vis. iii it looked as though only the holy are a part of the Church; in Sim. ix it is clearly pointed out that all the baptized are included, though they may be cast out for grave sins, and can be readmitted only after penance.

The whole book is thus concerned with the Christian virtues and their exercise. It is an ethical, not a theological, work. The intention is above all to preach repentance. A single chance of restoration after fall is given to Christians, and this opportunity is spoken of as something new, which had never been clearly published before. The writer is pained by the sins of the faithful and is sincerely anxious for their conversion and return to good works. As a layman, Hermas avoids dogma, and, when incidentally it comes in, it is vague or incorrect. It has been thought with some reason that he did not distinguish the Son from the Holy Ghost, or that he held that the Holy Ghost became the Son by His Incarnation. But his words are not clear, and his ideas on the subject may have been rather misty and confused than definitely erroneous.

Authorship and date

It is not easy to decide whether the writer has given us a genuine fragment of autobiography and a true account of visions which he saw or imagined that he saw, or whether the entire work is fictitious both in form and in setting. Three dates are suggested by the variety of evidence available. The reference to St. Clement as pope would give the date 89-99 for at least the first two visions. On the other hand, if the writer is identified with the Hermas mentioned by St. Paul, an earlier date becomes probable, unless he wrote as a very old man. But three ancient witnesses, one of whom claims to be contemporary, declare that he was the brother of Pope St. Pius I, who was not earlier than 140-55. These three are (a) the Muratorian fragment; (b) the Liberian catalogue of popes, in a portion which dates from 235 (Hippolytus?); (c) the poem of Pseudo-Tertullian against Marcion, of the third or fourth century. (a) "Pastorem uero nuperrime temporibus nostris in urbe Roma Herma conscripsit, sedente cathedra urbis Romae ecclesiae Pio episcopo fratre ejus. Et ideo legi eum quidem oportet, se publicare uero in ecclesia populo neque inter prophetas completos numero, neque inter apostolos in fine temporum, potest" — "And very recently, in our own times, in the city of Rome, Herma wrote the Pastor, when his brother Pius, the bishop, sat upon the chair of the Church of the city of Rome. And therefore that [book] ought to be perused, but it cannot be publicly read to the people assembled in church, neither among the Prophets, whose number is complete, nor among the Apostles [who came] in the end of times." (b) "Sub hujus [Pii] episcopatu frater ejus Ermes librum scripsit, in quo mandatum continetur quae [quod] praecepit ei angelus, cum venit ad illum in habitu Pastoris" — "Under his [Pius's] episcopate, his brother Ermes wrote a book in which are contained the precepts which the angel delivered to him, coming to him in the guise of a Shepherd." (c) "Post hunc deinde Pius, Hermas cui germine frater angelicus Pastor, quia tradita verba locutus." — "Then, after him, Pius, whose brother according to the flesh was Hermas, the angelic shepherd, because he spoke the words given to him." The three authorities are probably citing the same papal catalogue (of Hegesippus?). As (c) quotes some details from this list which are absent from (b), it would seem that he is independent of (b). (a) has added the inference that the "Pastor" may be read publicly, provided it be not numbered among the fourteen prophets, nor among the Apostolic writings. The statement that Hermas wrote during his brother's pontificate may similarly be an inference from the fact that it was in a list of popes, against the name of Pius, that the writer found the information that Hermas was that pope's brother. He may have been an elder brother of the pope, who was probably an old man in 140. Hence it is quite possible that Hermas might have been past thirty when Clement died, at the time of his first and second visions. But because this is possible, it does not follow that it is very probable.

Older critics unanimously attributed the authorship to the Hermas of Rom., xvi, 14 — Bellarmine, Cave, Le Nourry, Rémi Ceillier, Lardner, etc., with Baronius, who strangely thought the same Hermas might have been brother to Pius I. In the middle of the eighteenth century Mosheim and Schroeck preferred the testimony of the Muratorian Canon, which was published in 1740; but Gallandi and Lumper adhered to the earlier view. Zahn, in an early work (1868), stood by the references to St. Clement and imagined a Hermas, neither known to St. Paul nor brother to St. Pius, but writing in the last decade of the first century. He was followed by Peters and Caspari. But Hefele had been teaching that we cannot refuse the contemporary witness of the Muratorian Fragment, and this view has in the end prevailed amongst scholars, being now almost universally received. The question remains how we are to explain the mention of St. Clement. It was suggested above that Hermas may have been older than his brother Pius. But Harnack, holding that monepiscopacy was unknown in Rome until Anicetus, the successor of Pius, has no difficulty in holding that Clement really lived into the beginning of the second century, and that Pius was the most prominent among the priests at Rome even before 140. He therefore dates part of Visio ii, the kernel of the whole, before 110, and the final redaction not earlier than 135, nor later than 145. It is indeed true that the book itself describes the various parts as having been written down successively, and the process may well have taken three or four years, but hardly a decade or two. Perhaps the most probable view is that the historical data in the book are fictitious; the author was really the brother of Pope Pius, and wrote during his brother's pontificate. The evils of the Church in his day which he describes are not impossible in the first century, but they certainly suit the second better. There is a possible reference to Marcion's visit to Rome about 142, and there is a probable reference to Gnostic theories in Simil. viii, ix. The writer wished to be thought to belong to the preceding generation — hence the name of Clement, the most famous of earlier popes, instead of the name Pius. We cannot even be sure that the writer's name was really Hermas. It is a suitable name for a slave, being a shortened form of Hermogenes, Hermodorous, or some such word. Dr. Rendel Harris has urged in an interesting essay that where Hermas describes twelve mountains in Arcadia (Simil. ix, 1), the description of the locality is taken from Pausanias. Dr. Armitage Robinson thought that we must even suppose that Hermas knew the place himself, and had been brought up in Arcadia. But all this is inconclusive, though plausible. The notion of De Champagny (who was followed by Dom Guéranger), that the "Shepherd" is made up of two works, the one (Vis. i-iv) by the disciple of St. Paul, the remainder by the brother of Pope Pius, is sufficiently refuted by the unity of style and matter, as Baumgaertner has shown. The same is to be said of Hilgenfeld's opinion, that we have before us a fusion of works by three authors. Spitta has brought into patristic study the method he has applied to the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse, and he finds in Hermas traces of a Christian enlargement of a Jewish writing, as Voelter had said of the Apocalypse. It is natural that Voelter should have approved this theory, but Spitta has not been followed by patristic scholars. Haussleiter formerly attributed only Vis. v-Simil. x to the brother of Pius, regarding Vis. i-iv as an addition made at the end of the second century in order to recommend the book as the work of Hermas, disciple of St. Paul. But that personage is not even mentioned.

There is but one direct quotation in the "Shepherd", and that is from the apocryphal book of "Eldad and Modat, who prophesied to the people in the wilderness", and the reference is apparently ironical. But there are many indirect citations from the Old Testament. According to Swete, Hermas never cites the Septuagint, but he uses a version of Daniel akin to that of Theodotion. He shows acquaintance with one or other of the Synoptic Gospels, and, since he also uses that of St. John, he probably knew all three. He appears to employ Ephesians and other Epistles, including perhaps I Peter and Hebrews. But the books he most certainly and most often uses are the Epistle of St. James and the Apocalypse. His matter is rather dull to us moderns, and the simplicity of his manner has been characterized as childish. But the admiration of Origen was not given to a work without depth or value; and, even with regard to the style, Westcott has reason to say ("On the Canon", pt. I, ch. ii): "The beauty of the language and conception in many parts has never been sufficiently appreciated. Much of it may be compared with the 'Pilgrim's Progress' and higher praise than this cannot be given to a book of its kind." There is indeed some resemblance between the intensity and directness of the ancient Roman Catholic and that of the persecuted Puritan, however antipodean the antithesis between the individualism of the one and the conception of a Universal Church which dominate the whole thought of the other.

The "Shepherd" was first printed in Latin by Faber Stapulensis (Lefèvre d'Etaples) in "Liber trium virorum et trium spiritualium virginum" (Paris, 1513); better edition by Fell (Oxford, 1685), and especially by Hilgenfeld (Leipzig, 1873), and von Gebhardt (Leipzig, 1877). This version, which is contained in many manuscripts, and has been frequently reprinted in the editions of the Apostolic Fathers, is known as the Vulgate. It was certainly known to the author of the "Adversus aleatores" (third or fourth cent.), and possibly to Tertullian, and the translation was probably made in the second century. Another version is contained in a single manuscript (Vat. Palat. 150, saec. xiv), and has been printed by Dressel, "Patres Apost." (Leipzig, 1857 and 1863), and von Gebhardt and Harnack ("Patres Apost.", Leipzig, 1877). It is of the fifth century, according to Harnack, and the translator has used the Vulgate version as an aid. Haussleiter's attempt to show that the Palatine is the older is rejected by Harnack and Funk. An Ethiopic version was discovered in 1847 by d'Abbadie; it has unfortunately a few lacunae and accidental omissions. It seems to have been made in the year 543. The Greek original was first known from a fourteenth-century manuscript on Mount Athos. The well-known forger Simonides stole four of the leaves and copied the rest. But he sold to the library of the University of Leipzig a Greek version which he had composed himself. This was published in 1856 by Rudolf Anger, with preface and index by Dindorf. The fraud was soon discovered. The four leaves and Simonides' copy were procured by the library, and the true readings were published by Anger in the "Leipziger Repertorium der deutschen und auslaendischen Literatur", III (1856), 138. Since then the six leaves which remain on Mount Athos have been collated by J. Armitage Robinson. The Codex Sinaiticus discovered by Tischendorf and published by him in 1862, contains the "Pastor", but in both manuscripts the end is wanting. Two fragments of the book are found on a papyrus leaf from the Fayoum, now at Berlin.


On the MSS. of the Vulgate version, see HARNACK, Gesch., I, 51; DELEHAYE in Bull. crit., 1894, p.14; EHRHARD, Altchristl. Litteratur, 104. The Palatine MS. has been carefully collated by FUNK in Zeitschr. fuer die oesterreich. Gymn., XXXVI (1885), 245. On the date and style of the Palatine version. HAUSSLEITER, De versionibus Pastoris Hermae latinis (Erlangen, 1884); IDEM in Z. fuer wiss. Theol., XXXVI (1883), 345. For the Ethiopic version, see D'ALBADIE and DILLMAN, Hermae Pastor, with Latin translation, in Abhandlungen fuer die Kunde des Morgenlandes, II (Leipzig, 1860), 1. The true Greek text appeared first in DRESSEL, Patres Apostolici (Leipzig, 1857 and 1863), and has been frequently republished in similar collections, as by HILGENFELD (1866 and 1881), GEBHARDT, and HARNACK (1877-); LIGHTFOOT and HARMER with English translation (1891), FUNK (1901). On the Athos MS., LAMBROS and ROBINSON, A Collation of the Athos Codex of the Shepherd (Cambridge, 1888); HILGENFELD in Z. Weiss. Theol., XXXII (1889), 94. The Berlin Papyrus is given in facsimile by WILCKEN, Tafeln zur aelteren griechischen Palaeogr. (Leipzig, 1891); a citation is found in a papyrus in GRENFELL and HUNT, The Oxyrhynchus papyri, I (London, 1898), 8. On both papyri see DIELS and HARNACK in Sitzungsber. der K. preussischen Akad. der Wiss. (Berlin, 1891), p. 427, and EHRHARD in Theolog. Quartalschrift, LXXIV (1892), 294.
The literature dealing with Hermas is very large, and only a selection is here mentioned. The best introduction and notes, in Latin, are by FUNK, Patres Appostolici, I (Tuebingen, 1901). An excellent summary account by BARDENHEWER, Gesch. der altkirchl. Litt., I (Freiburg im Br., 1902), 557-578; see also HARNACK, Gesch. der altchr. Litt., I, 49, and Chronol., I, 257; KRUGER (who dates the book c. 100), Gesch. der altchr. Litt. (1895), 29; ZAHN, Der Hirt des Hermas untersucht (Gotha, 1868); IDEM, Gesch. des N.T. Kanons, I (1888), 326; NIRSCHL, Der Hirt des Hermas (Passau, 1879); BRUELL, Der H. des H. (Freiburg im Br., 1882); RENDEL HARRIS, Hermas in Arcadia in Journal of Soc. of Bibl. Lit. and Exeg. (1887, and reprinted, Cambridge, 1888). On Hermas's use of the N.T. see the works of WESTCOTT, ZAHN, GREGORY, etc. on the Canon; and C. TAYLOR, The witness of Hermas to the four Gospels (London, 1892); IDEM, Hermas and the Cebes (an attempt to show that Hermas has used the pinakes of the Stoic philosopher Cebes) in Journal of Philo., XXVIII (1900), 276. On the plural authorship, DE CHAMPAGNY. Les Antonins, I (Paris, 1863); SPITTA, Zur Gesch. und Litt. des Urchristentums, II (Goettingen, 1896); VOELTER, Die Visionen des Hermas, die Sibylle, und Klemens von Rom (Berlin, 1900). For the unity, LINK, Die Einheit des Hermasbuches (Freiburg im Br., 1889); FUNK in Theol. Quartalschr., LXXXI (1899), 321; STAHL, Patrische Untersuchungen (Berlin, 1901-), gives the date as 165-70, after the appearance of Montanism; REVILLE, La valeur du temoignage historique du Pasteur d'Hermas (Paris, 1900). On the theology of the Shepherd, LINK, Christi Person und Werk im Hirten des Hermas (Marburg, 1886); BENIGNI in Bessarione, VI (1899); HEURTIER, Le dogme de la Trinite dans l'epitre de S. Clem. et le Pateur d'H. (Lyons, 1900). Further bibliography in RICHARDSON, Synopsis; CHEVALIER, Repertoire, and BARDENHEWER, loc. cit.

About this page

APA citation. Chapman, J. (1910). Hermas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Chapman, John. "Hermas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Don Ross.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is feedback732 at (To help fight spam, this address might change occasionally.) Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2009 by Kevin Knight. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.