"Ttikl SHEPHERD OF HERMAS."
THE very best books do not satisfy the student; they give an appetite for reading. Such a book is the late Dr. Brooke Foss Westcott's " Two Empires " (Macmillan and Co., 6s.), a new edition of which we welcome. His delightful essays upon the early Church will surely set many men and women upon a course of patristic literature. According to St. Paul, not many learned men joined the early Church, and this no doubt is the explanation of the baffling darkness which envelops the period of almost miraculous growth which succeeded immediately upon the death of the Apostles. It is the learned men who reveal to us the past. From the second century a few books have come down to us by the light of which we are still able to get a glimpse of the Christian world as it then was. One of these was widely popular within the Christian community. " The Shepherd of Hernias" appears at one time to have been looked upon as Scripture. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all regarded it as in some sense inspired, though Origen admits that some persons despise it. It deals little with matters of dogma, and seems to have been read in church with a simple view to edification and consolation. For readers of to-day its interest consists chiefly in the historical fact of its early wide appeal. We learn from it what sort of teaching delighted the men for whom the Apostolic tradition was a thing of the near past. It is very unlikely that Hernias taught anything new. An atmosphere of intellectual peace pervades his pages. Simple people like to hear their own ideas well expressed. It is probable, therefore, that Hernias throws light on a time even earlier than his own. One might call the book an allegory or a set of parables. Hernias sets out upon several spiritual expeditions or imaginary pilgrimages. and he sees many visions, which are explained to him by a heavenly interpreter, the " Angel of Repentance," who is his "Shepherd."
Perhaps the most impressive of the sights seen by Hermas—of bisvisions, as he calls them—is that of "a great tower" which is still in building, and for which stones are brought from all over the world. These are of different shapes and sizes, and most of them after due polishing and hewing are fitted into the walls. The stones represent different types of good people. Martyrs and the young and innocent go into the church just as they are. Many stones, on the other hand, have to be altered in shape, and some before they can be fitted in lose half their size. These are the men and women who " have the larger share of righteousness; yet they have also a considerable share of iniquity, and therefore they are shortened and not whole." Some such "are at discord in their hearts one with another " ; others "have faith indeed, but they have also the riches of this world. When, therefore, tribulation comes, on account of their riches and business they deny the Lord." They are not, however, to be despised. " When the riches that now seduce them have been circumscribed, then will they be of use to God." Some stones, Hermas observes, are thrown away, a few to a great distance, others just outside the precincts. The last are those " who have sinned, and wish to repent. On this account they have not been thrown far from the tower, because they will yet be useful' in the building, if they repent." As to those at a distance, Hermes particularly inquires their fate. " Is repentance possible for all those stones," he asks, "and will they yet have a place in this tower P " "Repentance," he is told, " is yet possible, but in this tower they cannot find a suitable place. But in another and much inferior [or, to quote Lightfoot's translation, far humbler'] place they will be laid." This can happen, however, only after a period of chastisement, and they will only be relieved "from their punishments when the thought of repenting of the evil deeds which they have done has come into their hearts." The hard unrepentant few must perish everlastingly. They are utterly destroyed—Hermas does not preach hell—and are "guilty of their own blood."
Another and very similar parable is spoken concerning a number of trees. Some are altogether green and flourishing; some half, some two-thirds withered. These have been "immersed in business," or have "denied the Lord in various ways,"—even for those who deny there is a place of repent- ance unless they have " denied from the heart." In this case the guide simply asserts that he does not know whether they tray live. As to those who have pinned through ignorance, God is "able to heal them." Eternal justice looks differently upon the ignorant and the wilful. "Filled up are the days of repentance to all the saints ; but to the heathen repentance will be possible even to the last day," for " every one who shall serve good desire shall live to God." A man's duty is to offer up his soul to his Maker "as sound as he received it," for all children are " honourable before God."
After the Arian controversy Herman fell out of favour. He was regarded as unorthodox, yet with respect to the doctrine of the Incarnation it does not seem possible to find much fault with his views. "The holy pre-existent Spirit, that created every creature, God made to dwell in flesh," we read, and the words are directly applied to Christ. Perhaps his immediate application of this doctrine to practice, his immediate assertion that all men have in them the Spirit of God, Whom to expel is the true death, may have suggested a want of orthodox precision after the dogma of the procedure had been formulated.
At times Herman seems to forget the thread of his narra- tives and become absorbed in conversation. His hero asks whether it is possible to keep the commandments of God, whether they are not, after all, too " exceeding hard." He receives the following infinitely wise reply :—" If you lay it down as certain that they can be kept, then you will easily keep them, and they will not be hard. But if you come to imagine that they cannot be kept by man, then you will not keep them." Then the " angel " breaks into eloquence. "Return, ye who walk in the commandments of the devil," he exhorts, "in hard, and bitter, and wild licentiousness, and fear not the devil ; for there is no power in him against you, for I will be with you, the angel of repentance, who am lord over him." After all, says this teacher of sanctified common- sense, the delights of wrongdoing are overrated. Is revenge really so sweet P " The remembrance of wrongs worketla death"; and as to fleshly passion, it will "wear you out." Soothsayers and fasting are discussed at great length. False prophets are to be recognised by their bad lives, and all who take money for their prayers or prophecies are to be utterly condemned,—a warning not without its significance at the present day. The true fast is not outward. " Offer to God a fasting of the following kind: Do no evil in your life, and serve the Lord with a pure heart : keep His commandments, walking in His precepts, and let no evil desire arise in your heart; and believe in God. If you do these things, and fear Him, and abstain from every evil thing, you will live unto God ; and if you do these things, you will keep a great fast, and one acceptable before God." Nevertheless, if any man would eat no flesh in order that he may have the more to give away, his sacrifice is acceptable to God. We cannot refrain from quoting a very remarkable passage about self-indulgence and self-control which occurs in one of the discussions. It turns a side of the subject towards the reader upon which religious students are rarely asked to look. After a severe condemnation of bitter anger and all the sins of the flesh, we read that "there are habits of self-indulgence likewise which save men, for many are self-indulgent in doing good, being carried away by the pleasura it gives to themselves. This self-indulgence, then, is expedient for the servants of God, and giveth life to a, man." Everywhere cheerfulness is enjoined and grief deprecated. Really good people should be " simple and harmless," ready to rejoice, " having pity on every man, and giving aid from their own labour to every man, without reproach and without hesitation."
Scholars have compared this book to Revelation, to the Divina Commedia, and to " The Pilgrim's Progress," adding always that in genius and wealth of imagery Hernias falls far below Dante, Bunyan, and the writer of the Apocalypse. The analogy does not seem to us to be very close, even when it is premised that leas things may be compared with greater. For our part, we would compare him with a greater than these, making in still stronger terms the foregoing premiss. If we cut out the first few pages of the book, which are inferior to the rest, Hermas succeeds in creating an atmo- sphere which brings vividly to mind that of the early Church as it is described by St. Luke, and we cannot help feeling that this may explain the reverence paid to his work by the early Fathers. Small things may, as we have already insisted, recall great, and his real likeness is, we think, to St. Luke,—to the Evangelist who preserved for us the group of parables of which that of the Prodigal Son is the centre, and who drew for us
the picture of a society of men and women who believed that they knew the secret of everlasting life, and who walked among the shadows of time cheered by a supernatural sunshine, invisible to the outer world,—that world the roar of whose ceaseless traffic could never drown the sound of good news which was ringing in their ears.