Friday, December 21, 2007

The Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd was a book written by Hermas between 88 and 97 A.D at Patmos, near Ephesus. Like the Gospel of Barnabas, it affirmed the Divine Unity, and it was for this reason that concerted efforts were made to destroy it, once the doctrine of Trinity had become firmly rooted in the established Pauline Church. It was one of the books which were banned as a result of the decisions made by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
Up until the Council of Nicea, the book was accepted and widely used by the earlier followers of Jesus, who regarded Hermas as a prophet. Towards the end of the second century A.D., it was accepted as part of the New Testament by Clement of Alexandria. Origen (185-254 A.D.) also accepted it as a revealed book, and it was placed at the end of the Codex Sinaticus which was in use in the middle of the fourth century A.D.
The Shepherd was a book which obviously could not be ignored and which was accepted as a revealed book by the majority of early Christian thinkers and lovers of God. It was written when the movement to ‘Hellenise’ the teachings of Jesus was in its infancy, and at a time when many of those who followed Jesus were still aware that Jesus had come to restore and expand the teaching which Moses had brought to the Jews. Like Jesus, they were practicing Jews whose understanding of what they were doing was illuminated by the knowledge Jesus had brought. They still believed in and followed the writings of the Old Testament and since The Shepherd affirmed what they already knew, they accepted Hermas’s book into their body of Scriptures.
It was found that the Greek used by Hermas was a simple vernacular. The language could be understood by the common people and it is clear that the book was written for everyone and not for an intellectual elite. His style was frank and informal and he possessed an originality of expression which made the book easy to read.
Hermas begins by telling four visions he experienced, the last of which he calls revelation since on this occasion an angle visited him dressed as a shepherd. The angel informed Hermas that he had been sent by the “most reverend angel” (that is the angel Gabriel) to live with Hermas for the rest of the days of his life.
The angel then ordered Hermas to write down all “the Commands and the Parables.” Since these were dictated to him by the angel, who only related what he was to say by the “most reverend angel” it was accepted as a revealed book by the earlier Christians.
The commands he was told to write down were these:

I. First of all believe that God is One and that He created all things and organized them and out of what did not exist made all things to be, and He contains all things but Alone is Himself uncontained. Trust him therefore and fear Him and, fearing Him be self controlled. Keep this command and you will cast away from yourself all wickedness, put on every virtue of uprightness, and you will live to god if you keep this commandment.

II. Be sincere and simple minded. Speak evil of nobody and do not enjoy hearing anyone do so. Do right and give generously.

III. Love truth.

IV. Observe purity. Be pure not only in action but also in thinking.

V. Be patient and understanding. The Lord dwells in patience, but the devil in ill-temper.

VI. Trust what is right and do not trust what is wrong. Uprightness has a straight and level way, but wrongdoing is a crooked one. There are two angels with men, one of uprightness and one of wickedness.

VII. Fear the lord and keep God’s commands.

VIII. Be self-controlled about what is wrong and do not wrong. But do not be self-controlled about what is right, but do what is right. Restrain yourself from all evil and follow the right path.

IX. Cast off doubt from yourself. Ask the lord without doubting, and you will receive everything. God is not like men who hold grudges, but He is forgiving and feels pity for what He had made. So cleanse your heart of all vanities of this world.
X. Put sadness away from you, for it is the sister of doubt and bad temper.

XI. A man who consults a false prophet is an idolater and void of the truth.
Hermas asked the angel how to distinguish a true prophet from a false. The angel replied that in the first place the man who has the spirit that is from above is gentle, quiet and humble. He abstains from all wickedness and the futile desires of the world… (He) does not speak by himself… but speaks when God wishes him to speak… but all power belongs to the Lord.

A false prophet exalts himself and wants to have a front seat. He is bold, shameless, and talkative, lives in great luxury and accepts pay for his prophesying. Can a divine spirit accept pay for prophesying? The false prophet avoids upright men and attaches himself to those who are doubtful and vain; and he says everything to them falsely in line with their desires. An empty vessel put among empty ones does not break, but they harmonize with one another. Take a stone and throw it up to heaven; see if you can reach it. The earthly things are impotent and weak. On the other hand, take the power that comes from above. Hail is a very small grain, yet when it falls on a man’s head what pain it causes! Or again, take a drop of water which falls on the ground from the roof and makes a hole in the stone. So divine Power that comes from above is mighty.

XII. Cast off from yourself every evil desire and clothe yourself in good and holy desires. God created the world for man’s sake and made his whole creation subject to man, and gave him complete authority to have dominion over all things under heaven. A man who has the Lord in his heart is able to master all things.
Behave as a slave of God. The devil cannot get control of the slaves of God. The devil can wrestle, but cannot throw them.

Source: “The Apostolic Fathers, Edgar J. Goodspeed”, from the book “Jesus Prophet of Islam by Muhammad Ata Ur Rahim”

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