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December 29, 2017

Ignatius’ Epistle To Polycarp

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Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Ignatius’ Epistle To Polycarp


Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, wherein he imparts wisdom regarding behavior proper for a bishop, married Christian couples, and Christian communities in general.


Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several of the ancient Churches. He also wrote a personal letter to his friend and fellow bishop, Polycarp of Smyrna. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.


Two copies of this letter were used to produce the summary below. The English version provided the bulk of the material, and the Greek was used to gain clarity on specific points.

English: New Advent
Greek: TextExcavation

Also, the language search tools found at the Perseus Digital Library (Tufts University) came in quite handy for understanding the Greek.


The format of this letter is commensurate with Ignatius’ other epistles, though not identical. After the salutation and customary self-humiliation and praise of the recipient, The main topics of discourse are presented, of which this letter contains three. The first is a series of exhortations made to Polycarp, providing advice, counsel, and encouragement; this occupies the space of three-and-a-half chapters. After that, one chapter is dedicated to married couples within the Christian community and another to the duties of Christians in general. Finally, some specific instructions are given for Polycarp to carry out.

  • Salutation
  • Commendation
  • Exhortations
    • Keep a steady course
    • Maintain position in both flesh and spirit
    • Preserve unity
    • Model Godly forbearance
    • Lovingly support the faithful
    • Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)
    • Always seek understanding (continuous learning?)
    • Be watchful
    • Communicate
    • Bear the infirmities of all
    • Don’t just love good disciples, but humbly subdue the troublesome
    • There is no one solution to all problems
    • Big problems can be mitigated with consistent care
    • Always be “wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” (Matt 10:16)
    • As flesh and spirit, you can deal with all evil: that is plainly visible and that which can only be revealed by God
    • Navigate well, that you and yours may reach God
    • Be sober, for eternal life is at stake
    • In all things may my soul be for yours, and my bonds also, which you have loved.
    • Don’t fear teachers of false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3, 1 Tim 6:3)
    • Stand firm despite relentless opposition
    • Bear all things…as you want God to bear with you
    • Grow in zeal
    • Weigh carefully the times
    • Look for Him who became like us and suffered for our sake
    • Protect widows from neglect
    • Permit nothing to be done without your consent just as you seek the approval of God in all you do
    • Assemble frequently (Mass?)
    • It is better that slaves submit out of glory of God than to be freed and become slaves to their own desires (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1-2)
  • Duties of Husbands and Wives
    • Flee from abuse and don’t remain silent about it
    • Women should be satisfied with their husbands out of love of the Lord (Eph 5:22)
    • Men should love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5:25)
    • If one can remain unmarried and pure without boasting or conceit, let him do so to the honor of God
    • Those who do marry should do so with the approval of the bishop, and thus according to God’s will, not for lust
  • Duties of the Christian Flock
    • Remain submissive to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons
    • Work together as servants of God
    • Please God, your general and employer, and do not desert him
    • Let your baptism, faith, love, and patience endure and protect you
    • Work, that you may be rewarded according to the value of your deeds
    • Be patient with one another as God is with you (Matt 6:19-21)
  • Instructions
    • Elect by solumn council a new bishop for Antioch
    • Correspond with adjacent Churches on my behalf
  • Commendations of Others
  • Farewell


Papal Primacy. In his salutatory remarks, Ignatius addresses Polycarp as one “who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Historically, there has been much debate about Ignatius’ understanding of the Church in terms of structure, his vision of the local bishop as the spiritual leader over presbyters (as opposed to a Congregationalist view), and whether or not he recognized (even the notion of) the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. One might interpret this phrase to mean that he did not, in fact, recognize the Roman Bishop as anything but perhaps a distant peer, and that a bishop must give an account to no man but answer only to God himself. In my assessment, this conclusion is both over-reaching and anachronistic. The primacy of the Pope is not an issue being addressed in the letter at all, and Ignatius’ statement should not be taken as a testamony as such. This debate belongs to a different era (beit AD 381, 484, 654, 736, 867, 1054, 1281, 1472, or 1517).

Upon This Rock. At the beginning of Chapter 1, Ignatius claims to have “obtained good proof that [Polycarp’s] mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock (πετραν)”. This phrase calls to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, I tell you that you are Peter (Πέτρος) and upon this rock (πέτρα) I will build my Church.. No, Ignatius is (most likely) not alluding to Peter or the Papacy, but it is interesting that he describes Polycarp’s understanding of the faith in the same manner.

Subjunctive Mood. In the line from Chapter 1, “I entreat you…exhort all that they may be saved”, the verb for “saved” (σωζωνται) is in the subjunctive mood.

Sports Medicine. Like Paul, Ignatius likens the Christians to athletes (thrice in this letter alone) and to life as a race to be run with eternal salvation as the prize. He also notes that athletes are often injured, yet they still strive to win, that there is no one cure for all types of wounds, and that as athletes we must remain sober and ready.

Holy Battle Gear. Also like Paul (Eph 6:10-18), Ignatius speaks of putting on the armor of God (Chapter 6), complete with helmet (faith) and spear (love).

Good Works. Chapter 6 includes a line that states, “Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that you may receive a worthy recompense.” I found the Greek (τα δεποσιτα υμων τα εργα υμων, ινα τα ακκεπτα υμων αξια κομισησθε) and looked up each word, eventually coming up with “Where your work is stored, there your unbounded worth will be taken care of.” This sounded too similar to Matthew 6:19-21 to dismiss (to paraphrase: don’t store treasure on earth where it can perish, but in Heaven where it cannot be destroyed, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also). I settled on the amalgamation of “Work, that you may be rewarded according to the value of your deeds” for the summary above and added the reference to Matthew.

December 28, 2017

Ignatius’ Roman Epistle

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Ignatius’ Roman Epistle


Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to the Church in Rome, imploring that the faithful there not prevent his martyrdom.


Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several of the ancient Churches including the Christians in Rome. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.


Unlike his letters to the Churches in Asia, this letter is short and bears a simple message: don’t stop the Romans from killing me. It is clear from his salutatory introduction that he holds the Roman Christians in high esteem. He also suspects that they, out of brotherly love, will do anything they can to prevent his execution. Ignatius wishes to see the Lord and sees martyrdom as a direct path to this end.

Frankly, I find it difficult to glean much from this letter that could not be understood from reading the text itself. There is no hint of dogmatic beginnings or compelling exegesis to perform. Again the message is simple. The language, however, suffers from the disease of elegance, meaning that we modern readers have little patience for the flowery language employed, no matter how close to the original Greek the translator was able to render the English.

So, I feel that the best service I can provide at the moment is to do as I have done with other such writings and provide a more succinct rendition that may appeal to the current generation:

To the wonderful Christians in Rome,

[1]My prayers have been answered! I’m coming to see you as a prisoner and, God willing, to be executed in Rome. You who live there have ample opportunity to be martyred, but I had to go out of my way to make this happen. I’m just afraid that you, out of love, will prevent this from happening. [2]I may never have this opportunity again, so please, the best thing you could do for me is to just not say anything to anyone and let it happen. [3]Please do pray for an increase in my strength and resolve though. I would much rather be considered a true Christian after my death than to claim to be one and fall short. [4]Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, that my body be completely devoured so that no one must worry with my remains. [5]I hope the beasts attack quickly, and if they don’t attack me at all, I will provoke them! Bring it on! [6]Nothing in the world can profit me, for the world is death and Jesus is Life, and [7]I do not desire worldly food, but only the bread and drink of God, which is the flesh and blood of Christ. [8]I no longer want to live as man lives; pray that I obtain what I desire. [9]Pray also for the Church in Syria that I have humbly left behind. My soul praises you along with the other Churches that have met me with love along the way. [10]Tell those who have arrived before me that I am on my way. They are good people, so please show your hospitality to them.

Ignatius (a.k.a. Theophorus)
August 23rd

An Aside

If the letter above comes across as irreverent or even flippant, please know that this is not the intent. I’ve simply read with understanding Ignatius’ message and recast it in the words that might would be used by a modern English speaker. If anything, this is a reflection on our modern culture that devalues thoughtful personal correspondence and makes an idol of brevity. God only knows what Ignatius might’ve said if he had been limited to only 140 characters.

In all fairness, I am a modern English speaker too, and if I have misunderstood what Ignatius was trying to say, by all means, please bring it to my attention.

March 15, 2017

Ignatius’ Asian Epistles

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Ignatius’ Asian Epistles


Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to several Churches in Asia, imploring the faithful to remain united with the teachings of their bishops.


Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several Christian communities in Asia. Three of these letters (to the Churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles) were written while he was imprisoned in Smyrna, and two (to the Churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna) were written after he was transported to Troas. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.


The following is a summary of the major points addressed in each letter:

Ephesians Magnesians Trallians

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Ephesians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Praise of their Deacon, others
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Denounce hypocrisy
  • Be an example through prayer and works
  • Give thanks to God often
  • Statement on faith and love
  • Statement on silence
  • Warning against false doctrine
  • The advent of Christ
  • Promise to write again
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Magnesians
  • Praise of their Bishop, Priests, Deacon
  • Honor the bishop despite his youth
  • Disobedience mocks God, earns death
  • Remain united with your Bishop
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Be united in doctrine and deed
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Trallians
  • Be subject to the Bishop
  • Honor the Deacons
  • Humility in writing
  • Avoid heresy
  • Avoid temptation
  • History of Christ
  • More praise of the Trallians
  • Request for prayers
Philadelphians Smyrnæans

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Philadelphians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Avoid schismatics
  • Request for prayers
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Praise of the Gospel over the Law
  • End of persecution
  • Thanks to certain persons

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Smyrnæans
  • Avoid heresy, which leads to death
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Honor the bishop
  • A word of thanks
  • Request to sent message to Antioch


Pauline Style. The style in which Ignatius writes is strikingly similar to that used by Paul. An elaborate greeting, followed by some commentary on the community to which he is writing, followed then by some order of business to discuss, etc. Compare the contents of the first three Ignatian epistles to, say, the opening paragraphs of 1st Corinthians.

The Saint John Connection. All five churches are in western Asia (modern-day Turkey). Three of the churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia) are of the seven mentioned in the Apocolypse of Saint John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation). Patmos, the island where John was exiled, is just off the coast. Tradition tells us that John wrote his three (Biblical) epistles while living in Ephesus and his Apocolypse while on Patmos. Both Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch) and Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna) are believed to have been disciples of John.

Unity. The underlying theme running throughout Ignatius’ Asian epistles is the importance of unity within the Christian communities. To Ignatius, this was manifest in maintaining unity with “the bishop and the presbytery” (the latter referring to the collection of priests that serve the bishop of course). This is an extension of Paul’s proclamation that there should be no divisions amongst Christians (1 Cor. 1:10+).

Ignatius uses strong words to emphasize this urgent need for unity. He likens obedience to the bishop to obedience to Christ himself and declares that the disobedient man separates himself from the Church and thereby condemns himself. Consider the following exceprts:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ…that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified. [Ephesians 2]

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. […] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. [Ephesians 5]

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. [Ephesians 6]

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honor of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not…the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. [Magnesians 3]

…while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. [Magnesians 6]

…let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ,…and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and the assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. [Trallians 3]

Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. [Philadephians 2]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. [Philadephians 8]

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

In these bold words of Ignatius we find the roots of basic Catholic concepts, such as the Magisterium, the ordinary authority of the bishops, and latae sententiae excommunication, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Knowing the Community by the Bishops. While imprisoned in Smyrna, Ignatius was visited by delegations from at least three Christian communities. It is notable that these delegations included not just priests and deacons, but the local bishop as well! He apparently spent time talking with these men about their flocks and he makes it a point to mention in his letters that he “knows” them through their bishops. It may be a reflection of the translation, but his words seem to imply a deeper relationship and not just a surface knowledge of them. Consider the following excerpts:

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus…your bishop… [Ephesians 1]

…I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters…and through [the] deacon… [Magnesians 2]

I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind…as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna…that I beheld your whole multitude in him. [Trallians 1]

This language reinforces the unity found within these early Christian communities and the notion that the faithful are bound up to their bishop who is not only God’s representative to them, but their representative to God and to others.

For reference, here is a list of the names of the clergy and other visitors:

  • Ephesians: Onesimus (Bp), Burrhus (Dcn), Crocus, Euplus, Fronto
  • Magnesians: Damas (Bp, Bassus (Pr), Apollonius (Pr), Sotio (Dcn)
  • Trallians: Polybius (Bp)
  • Philadelphians: unnamed bishop
  • Smyrna: Polycarp, though not named in this letter

Dissenters. Unity with the bishop and the presytery isn’t important for the sake of simple affiliation. It is the way in which the faith is preserved and transmitted. Ignatius warns the Asian Churches about several types of dissenters, those who stray from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as it is communicated through the bishops.

The first type of dissenter is the hypocrite, one who professes to be a follower of Jesus but who does not live a life in accordance with his teachings.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. [Ephesians 7]

It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. [Ephesians 15]

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing that they are not steadfastly gathered according to the commandment. [Magnesians 4]

Another type is the heretic, teacher of false doctrine. Some of Ignatius’ warnings are generic, as is the case with the passages below. It may be harsh to hear that heresy ultimately destroys both the heretic and his followers, but this is the same warning issued by Saint Peter in his second encyclical (2 Peter 2:1-3) and even by Christ himself (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2).

Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom you did not allow to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that you might not receive those things which were sown by them… [Ephesians 9]

…how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God…such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. [Ephesians 16]

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. [Trallians 6]

In the category of heretics, we must include the Judeaizers who sought to bring the faithful Gentiles under the yoke of the Mosaic law. Paul writes at length about such heretics in his letter to the Galatians (the whole letter is about this) and to a lesser extent in his letter to the Ephesians (chapters 2-3). The Incident at Antioch (yes, the same Antioch in Syria where Ignatius eventually served as bishop) which led to the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) is the event that prompted Paul to issue such warnings.

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. [Magnesians 8]

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day…how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their teacher? [Magnesians 9]

For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. [Magnesians 10]

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumsised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either…do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. [Philadelphians 6]

Likewise, Ignatius mentions in several of the letters that there are some who believe that Jesus did not suffer and die at all, but that his body was merely an illusion. The heresy is called Docetism and its proponents would eventually come to be known as the Docetæ. Trallians 9-11 is one example, but his lengthiest treatment on this particular heresy is in Smyrnæans 2-7.

Unique to the letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius advises the faithful to avoid those who seek to divide the Church. These dissenters are called schismatics.

If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]. [Philadephians 3]


All quotes above came from the letters as they appear on

January 23, 2017

Martyrium Ignatii

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The Martyrium Ignatii (“Martyrdom of Ignatius”) provides details about the trial of Ignatius of Antioch before Emperor Trajan, his transport to Rome by way of Smyrna and Troas, and his execution in the Roman arena as he was fed to the beasts.


This account is written from the perspective of one who accompanied Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, possibly Philo, a deacon from Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus from Syria. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, scholars generally agree that the narrative is authentic, but since the earliest reliable copy is a revision with its earliest witness in the Tenth Century, it is also believed to be highly interpolated.


Here are the main points covered in this document:

  • Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, was bishop of the Church in Antioch (Syria).
  • He guided his Church through the persecutions under Domitian and survived.
  • He longed for a closer relationship with Christ through martyrdom.
  • Emperor Trajan forced Christians to choose to worship Roman gods or be killed.
  • In his ninth year as Emperor, Trajan was passing through Antioch on conquest.
  • Trajan questioned Ignatius about his religious disobedience and influence.
  • When Ignatius confirmed his devotion to Christ, he was sentenced to fight the beasts in Rome.
  • He was transported from Antioch to Seleucia, and then by sea to Smyrna.
  • He visited his former disciple, Polycarp, who was now the Bishop of Smyrna.
  • He was also visited by bishops, priests, and deacons from various cities in Asia.
  • To repay their hospitality, Ignatius wrote to the cities, giving praise and instruction.
  • They sailed to Troas and Neapolis, then traveled by land to Philippi and Epirus in West Macedonia.
  • From there they sailed to Rome, skipping Puteoli; thus, Ignatius could not follow in Paul’s steps.
  • Landing in Portus, he prayed with the brethren for the end of persecution, and was thrown into the arena.
  • His bones were collected, wrapped in linen, and returned to Antioch.
  • The authors of this account assert that, after his death, Ignatius visited each of them one night in their dreams.


  • External sources seem to agree that the letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans were written in Smyrna, and the letters to the Philadelphians, Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp were written in Troas.
  • According to Chapter Four, this account originally included a copy of Ignatius’ letter to the Romans. (This makes sense, as the authors returned to Antioch from Rome with Ignatius’ bones, and could have obtained or produced a copy there.)

January 7, 2014

The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > First Clement


This letter was sent from the Bishop of Rome to the Christian faithful in Corinth in response to a schism in that community, wherein he asserts the authority of the priests who had been appointed by Apostolic Succession.


This is the only authentic epistle written by Saint Clement of Rome (Pope Clement I) who served as Bishop of Rome from A.D. 92 to A.D. 99. He was either the second or third Pope following Peter depending on the source.


I chose to summarize this text by rewriting it in condensed and simplified language. The bracketed numbers indicate the transition between chapters as defined in the English Translation found at New Advent.

[1] From the Church in Rome to the Church in Corinth, greetings and may God bless you. We apologize that our circumstances here have delayed us from addressing the problems caused by the troublemakers amongst you. We know that you are a faithful and obedient people, [2] humble and eager to do good works, concerned with one another, and quick to forgive. Though you detested schism, [3] envy has led to rebellion, division, and unrest among you. Though some call themselves Christian, they do not practice their faith.

[4] Envy such as this is an ancient problem, well-known in the stories of Cain, Jacob, Moses, and David. [5] Too, in our own times, for both Peter and Paul have been martyred and sent to Heaven by men striken with unrighteous envy, [6] as have many other members of the elect. Indeed, envy and strife have overthrown great cities and nations. [7] We write this letter to encourage you in your duty, for we too face the same conflict here. Let us do what is good and pleasing to God for the sake of Christ’s precious blood that was shed for the world, recalling that in every age, God has aided those who repented. [8] The Lord has always called for repentance by the Holy Spirit and through the voices of men. [9] Let us, therefore, bend to his will and beg for mercy and love, avoiding deadly sins. Let us obey after the examples of Enoch, Noah, [10] Abraham, [11] Lot, [12] and Rahab. [13] In humility, let us set aside such things as pride and anger, but living instead as instructed by Jesus, showing mercy and forgiveness in such measure as we wish to receive ourselves. [14] It is right to obey God and show kindness, not to follow the example of rebellious men [15] or those who do not truly desire peace. [16] Follow instead the example of Jesus himself who was not exalted by others, but suffered instead at their hands. In humility, he was led quietly to the slaughter as a lamb offered up for the sins of all. [17] Look too to the example of the Prophets, to Elijah, Elisha, and Ezekiel, to Abraham, Job and Moses, [18] and of course to David in his confession. [19] With so many examples of humility and holy obedience, let us return then to peace for the love and fear of God. [20] Even nature and the universe obey his laws in peace.

[21] Strive to live in purity, encourage those around you to do the same (especially your wives and children), and honor the elderly and those in authority, for God graces those who please him. [22] This is the Christian faith revealed by the Holy Ghost in Sacred Scripture. [23] Stay humble and do not expect his reward or take his gifts for granted.

[24] God has revealed the reality of the resurrection in nature, in the passing from night to day, and in the seasons. [25] It is even symbolized in the rebirth of the phœnix. [26] How much more, then, would God want to raise those who remained faithful to him? Scripture testifies to the same. [27] Therefore, bind yourselves in hope and faith to he who is perfectly faithful and just, and all-powerful. [28] Fear the Lord and his judgments and avoid sin, for he sees and knows all of the deeds of men, [29] living instead in purity. [30] Strive for holiness by avoiding evil speech, lust and adultery, drunkenness, and pride. [30] Instead, be humble and exercise self-control. Do not boast, but let your deeds speak for you.

[31] It was through faith that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were blessed by God. [32] From them descended priests and Levites, kings, princes, and rulers, and even the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This was not a product of their works, but the will of God. Likewise, neither are we justified by our works or wisdom or godliness. [33] Does this mean we can stop practicing acts of Love? God forbid! He rejoices in his works that are wrought through his creation, man in his image, so we should bend to his will and do the work of righteousness without hesitation. [34] Just as a good servant receives a just reward for his labor, so too must we do the work of our master and only then pray that he reward us in accordance with his promises. Look to the example of the angels, his faithful and obedient servants.

[35] Wonderful are the gifts of God that we can now understand: life eternal, splendor, truth, faith, and holiness. How much more will his gifts be that we cannot now perceive, which have been promised to those who live out their lives in faithful anticipation. Understand God through faith, seek that which pleases him, act in accordance with his will, follow the way of truth and reject evil, and do not cooperate with those who hate God. [36] In this way alone will you find Jesus through whom all blessings flow.

[37] Just as soldiers submit to the wills of their commanders and generals, each carrying out his orders to fulfill the will of the king, so too should the members of Christ’s Body cooperate in harmony, for we are under common rule. [38] The rich should give thanks for God’s blessings by sharing them with the poor; likewise, the poor should give thanks to God for the beneficence. Conceit is foolishness, as all things come from God.

[40] God established an order to all things, including the timing of celebrations and offerings and the responsibility on whom the performance of these things rest, [41] and he executed capital punishment upon those who acted beyond his will in these matters. Take care, therefore, to not exceed the ministry to which you are called. [42] Just as God sent Jesus to deliver the Good News to the world, so Jesus sent his Apostles to do the same. They, in turn, appointed bishops and deacons, men who had been proven by the Holy Ghost. [43] To eliminate sedition, God revealed in the budding of Aaron’s rod that his People should be subject to a single governing body in the world, an authority appointed by God himself. [44] Learning from Christ that the office of bishop would see great strife, the Apostles established lines of succession, and it would be a great sin to remove from ministry a faithful servant who was appointed by such as these. The same is true for good priests, though we see that you have done just that within your own community.

[45] Search the Scriptures, words spoken to us by the Holy Spirit, and find that the righteous were never cast off by other holy men, but by the wicked. [46] You are the company you keep. Do not allow these divisions among you for we all serve one Lord. Your schism is a stumbling block for others in the faith, [47] has caused scandal with those who are not, is a disgrace to you and to the Lord, and has brought danger to your doorstep. Indeed, your sedition is worse than that which Paul addressed in his first letter to you. [48] End this now and repent! Seek reconciliation with the Lord and the Church, and love one another as brothers. [49] Read again Paul’s words regarding love. Love does not permit schism or sedition, but harmony, for by love all the elect will be made perfect and please God. It was in love that Christ died for us. Love the Lord by keeping his commandments [50] and pray for his mercy so that through love our sins may be forgiven.

[51] It is best that the leaders of the sedition acknowledge their wrongdoing, preferring that they themselves suffer the blame rather than the whole community, [52] for such a confession is a sacrifice acceptable to God. [53] See the example of Moses who pled for his people even if it meant his own destruction. [54] He who truly loves will put himself away for the sake of the Church, [55] just as many have suffered great loss to feed and protect their beloved. [56] In turn, we should pray for them in kindness and sympathy to God and through the Saints that they may submit to God’s will. By admonishing one another we are united with God.

[57] To you who have led the sedition, submit yourselves to the priests, repent, receive correction, replacing your pride with humility, [58] and escape the fate of the disobedient forewarned in the Wisdom of Scripture. [59] May God be merciful to they who choose not to obey.

In prayer we ask that God preserve all of his elect through Jesus Christ in whose name all have been called; that he lift up those especially who are afflicted, needy, sick, lost in spirit, hungry, weak, or in need of comfort; that he reveal to the world that he is God, Jesus is his son, and we are his people; [60] that he look not upon our sins, but purify us in truth, direct us on a path of holiness, and grant us his peace; [61] that he give to the rulers of the earth glory and wisdom to rule that his light may shine through them; to the only one with the power to do all these things we pray, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

[62] We have written previously concerning the religious observance of those who choose to pursue righteousness, conveying their mind that you may imitate them, for we were assured that you were men of faith and integrity who fear God. [63] Obey, therefore, and abandon your jealousy and wrath in favor of peace and unity. The couriers of this letter are faithful witnesses so that you may know that our concern for you is genuine. [64] May God’s blessings be upon you, through Jesus Christ. Amen. [65] Send these witnesses back to us soon with the good news that order has been restored. And may the grace of Jesus Christ be with you and with all who are called through him whose kingdom shall not end. Amen.


  • This is, of course, the same community of Christians in Corinth to whom Saint Paul wrote at least two epistles.
  • The lines of prayer in this letter sound very similar to various prayers used today, especially in the Mass. This may be a result of translation into English (and certainly accentuated in my own choice of words).
  • Intercessory prayer is referenced in paragraph 56.
  • The wording regarding the preservation of the elect in paragraph 59 connotes predestination, but in the Catholic and not the Calvinist understanding of the word.
  • I’m curious about the use of the word witness in paragraph 63. Were the messengers supposed to attest to the authenticity of the letter and vouch for the intentions of the sender, or were they to hear the repentance of the instigators and observe the reform within the Corinthian community?
  • The transition between chapters 3 & 4 is easily misread. To paraphrase chapter 3, All good things were given to you (Israel, c.f. Dt 32:15), but you took them for granted and evil things flowed out of you. After that, the greater was conquered by the lesser. You do not have righteousness and peace, because you (like everyone else) do not fear God or walk in his ways, or even act like a Christian, but instead seek after your own desires in the same envy (of Satan, c.f. Wis 2:24) by which death entered the world. Clement then continues in chapter 4 to tell how Cain rose up against Abel, as an example of the greater (or older) being conquered by the lesser (or younger). I learned in an online discussion that, due to the flow of ideas from one chapter to the next, one might interpret that death entered the world, because (for thus it is written) Cain murdered Abel. In context, however, it is obvious that Clement’s message to the Corinthians is that the envy that is causing the schism within their community is a product of their own departure from God’s will in favor of their own interests, and that it is not unlike the fallout from the original sin as evidenced by the first murder and the way in which the people of Israel lived their lives in their own day.

July 25, 2011

Pseudo-Clementine Writings

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Pseudo-Clementine Writings

Several writings have been attributed to this third Pope following Peter. As they are spurious and voluminous, I’m not going to summarize or analyse them all or in great detail, but only record some observations.

The Second Epsitle of Clement

  • Several translations of 2 Clement can be found here. It appears that the New Advent version is the Roberts-Donaldson translation. I’ve been spot-checking against the Lightfoot translation, which also has verse numbering.
  • Thinking lightly of Jesus and our salvation is a sin. (2 Clem 1)
  • “Rejoice, thou barren that barest not…” Isaiah used these words to describe Jerusalem suddenly filled with returning exiles (Is 54:1+). Paul explained how Hagar and Sarah allegorically represent the old and new covenants; that is, this verse contrasts the Jews of the Law with Chrsitians (Gal 4:21-31). Clement, likewise, uses it to describe the Church, but about how it is growing in faith, not in contrast with the followers of the Law (2 Clem 2:1-3).
  • We should honor God for his mercy, not just with our lips, but through obedience by loving one another, doing good, and avoiding evil. (2 Clem 3-4; c.f. Mt 18:11, Is 29:13, Mt 7:21)
  • This life is transient and we should fix our desires on things of the next world (detachment). The two worlds are opposed to one another. (2 Clem 5-6)
  • Hope for Heaven is rooted in “keep[ing] our baptism holy and undefiled” and “be[ing] found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness”. (2 Clem 6)
  • Clement leans on Paul’s comparison of the present life to a race. (2 Clem 7) He does not cite Paul or mention him by name.
  • We have only the present world in which to repent. (2 Clem 8)
  • The body is the temple of God, and the flesh will be judged. The resurrection is affirmed. (2 Clem 9)
  • Practise virtue. Those who cause others to sin will be condemned twice. (2 Clem 10)
  • Serve the Lord faithfully, and do not doubt, but trust in his promises. (2 Clem 11; c.f. James 4:8)
  • Chapter 12 borrows from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (Saying 22) and 1 Cor 7.
  • When Christians do not love one another as they ought, much less their enemies, then they are scorned by others and the name of God blasphemed. (2 Clem 13)
  • The gender roles of Christ (male, bridegroom) and the Church (female, bride) is used to explain how the Church is spiritual, made manifest in the body of Christ. It also leans on typology, calling the flesh the type of the spirit that can be corrupted. (2 Clem 14)
  • Turning the heart of another toward Christ is a good work. (2 Clem 15; c.f. 1 Tim 4:16)
  • Taming the soul and doing good prepares one for judgment. (2 Clem 16-17; c.f. 1 Pt 4:4)
  • The righteous are rewarded, though not immediately and often without suffering. (2 Clem 19-20)

Homilies & Recognitions

  • The twenty homilies preserve Clement’s story in Greek. “Recognitions” is the same story, but the Greek is lost, translated into Latin by Rufinus (<AD 410). These documents may have originated from a common ancestor.
  • When time allows, I will post a summary of the story here.


June 28, 2011

The Shepherd of Hermas

Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > The Shepherd of Hermas


The Shepherd (or The Pastor, Poimen, Ποιμήν) by Hermas was written in the first or early second century that was considered canonical by many Christians and was mentioned in the writings of several Church Fathers. It is an allegorical work that records the visions given to Hermas by the Church personified. It may be (at least partially) autobiographical.


Hermas is believed to have been a Christian living in Rome. The date of authorship is in question, because he:

  • May be the same Hermas (or Hermes) mentioned by St. Paul in Romans 16:14 (~A.D. 50s)
  • References Pope St. Clement I (or Clemens) in his second vision (~A.D. 90s)
  • Is called a contemporary relative of Pope St. Pius I by external sources (~A.D. 140s)


The Shepherd contains three major sections: five visions, twelve mandates (or commandments), and ten parables (or similitudes).


The Visions
Hermas records five visions given to him by God and recounts what was revealed to him in each.

  1. Hermas begins the story by explaining that he was sold by his father to a woman (Rhode), whom, after his freedom was granted, he loved as a sister, having but one brief lustful thought in his heart. In a vision, the heavens opened and the woman appears, telling him that she has been called to accuse him for his wicked thought with which he sinned against her, for even an evil desire is a sin. She tells him to pray for God to heal the sins of him and his household. Contemplating this, he then meets an old woman who tells him that, though it is a sin for the righteous to have evil thoughts, God is far more angry on account of the sins of his household. She then reads to him from a book that contains harsh words for heathens and apostates, and glorifying God, reminding the reader that he has much in store for those who keep his commandments in faith. When she is finished, so is removed to the east in a chair carried by four young men, attended by two others.

  2. A year later, Hermas has a second vision of the old woman. He agrees to transcribe her book for the elect, but as soon as he was finished, the book was snatched away from him. After fifteen days of prayer and fasting, the meaning of the writing was revealed to him. His wife and sons have sinned greatly, but will repent and be saved when they’ve heard the words revealed to Hermas. Hermas will be saved by his simplicity and self-control, should he remain steadfast. The number of days that the saints may repent is fixed, but not the days that the heathen may be saved. Hermas is to tell Maximus of the coming great tribulation. Those who endure and who do not deny the Lord will be happy; also, the Lord is near those who return to him (c.f. Eldad Modat). A young man then reveals to him that the old woman is the Church (not the Sibyl as he had presumed). Hermas is instructed to write two books, one for Clemens and the other for Grapte, for it is a message for the presbyters.

  3. The old woman arranged to meet Hermas in the country in the fifth hour to reveal what he should know. At the place, he found an ivory seat and the old woman did not appear until he began confessing his sins to God. She instructed him to pray for righteousness within his household instead, told her six attendants to go and build, and then told Hermas to sit on her left, the right reserved for those who have already pleased God and are sanctified. She explains that the left is for those who share in the same gifts and promises but who must be cleansed before that may sit with the sanctified.

    Then, she showed him the vision that she had promised, a host of young men led by her six attendants who were building a mighty tower from square stones. Some were from the depths (the water?) and were perfect, whereas others were from the earth and had defects, some being altered or even cast away unused. She tries to leave, but Hermas presses her for understanding. She reveals that the tower is her, the Church. It is built on the water that saves mankind and is supported by the invisible power of the Lord. The young men are the holy angels and the six attendants are the greatest amongst them. The different kinds of stones are the saints and the sinners, ranging from the polished and tight-fitting ones being the clergy who act in unity and the stones cast away being those not saved due to their sins. Some stones are found acceptable and others are set aside for a time for various reasons until they become useful for building. The pivotal message in this vision is that repentance and salvation are still possible for those stones cast away, though their repentance must be heartfelt and their ultimate dwelling still outside of the tower. The woman points out seven women: Faith, Self-restraint, Simplicity, Guilelessness, Chastity, Intelligence, and Love. Each is the daughter of the prior. Hermas is chastised for asking if the end had come, for it was clear that he didn’t understand – the tower had not yet been finished. He is commanded to share the vision given to him.

    Hermas yearned to know why the woman appeared very old to him in the first vision and progressively younger in the others that followed. After praying for this to be revealed and fasting, a young man appeared to him and explained that the age of the woman, that is the Church, was a reflection of his strength in spirit.s

  4. Another twenty days pass. In this vision, Hermas is confronted by a whale-like beast with fiery locusts in its mouth and four colors upon its head. Hermas places his trust in the Lord and is not harmed. Beyond the beast, he meets the woman, this tim young and dressed in white. She tells him that the beast he saw was a type of the tribulation to come. She explains the colors to be four ages of the world: black is the current darkness, red the perishing of the world by blood and fire, gold is what remains after the test, and white the purity of eternal life.

  5. In the last vision, Hermas is visited by an angelic figure dressed like a shepherd who was sent to dwell with him for the remainder of his life and deliver to him the commandments of the Lord.

The Mandates (Commandments)
The Shepherd gives these commandments to Hermas. The numbering of these commandments as twelve is misleading, as they are multifaceted. Commandment four, for example, spans four chapters, each a paragraph, and covers aspects of both Matrimony and Baptism.

  1. Have faith in and fear God. Exercise self-control and put on righteousness.
  2. Do not partake in slander. Give to the needy in simplicity.
  3. Walk in truth always. Hermas confesses to concealing the truth in the past and is told that since his has now heard the commandment, he must be truthful going forward.
  4. Thoughts of adultery and fornication are great sins. It is acceptable to put away (i.e. divorce) an adulterous wife, but to then marry another is adultery. The repentant wife should be taken back, but not frequently. This applies in reverse too – men and women should be treated the same way. To marry again after the death of a spouse is not a sin, but it is better to remain unmarried. Repentance is wisdom. Some taught that Baptism (“when we descended into the water and received remission of our former sins”) was the only time of repentance, but the Shepherd tells Hermas that has one more opportunity to repent after that. [Perhaps the practice of sacramental confession had not yet been discerned by the Church or was unknown to Hermas. The resolution to “go and sin no more” is expressed here.]
  5. Patience provides a pure place for the Holy Spirit to dwell, aiding in the works of righteousness. In contrast, anger pollutes patience and prepares a home for the devil. Anger does not sway those full of faith, but drives the Holy Spirit from those who doubt leaving such men in a “state of anarchy”.
  6. Walk the straight path of righteousness. Two angels dwell with every man: one of righteousness and one of iniquity. Trust the former and part ways with the latter.
  7. Fear the Lord and not the devil. The one who has power is feared and his work performed by those who fear him.
  8. The restraint of evil is righteous, but the restraint of good is a great sin. Examples of good works are listed.
  9. Pray over all things and with confidence. Doubt, which is from the devil, is a lack of faith, which is from God.
  10. Grief from doubt “crushes out” the Holy Spirit, but grief that results from the actions arising from anger leads to repentance and salvation. It is best to drive away grief altogether by eliminating both doubt and anger.
  11. False prophets ruin the minds of the doubters who become idolaters. True prophets are meek and humble, speaking only when and what God wishes them to speak. False prophets are proud and talkative, speaking only when they have something to gain.
  12. Cherish good and chaste desires over wicked and evil ones. Avoid covetousness and practice righteousness, virtue, truth, faith, meekness, etc.

The angel tells Hermas to walk in these commandments and to preach them. Hermas questions whether or not the men are able to keep the commandments for their difficulty and the angel exposes his doubt.

The Parables (Similitudes)

  1. There is no purpose in gathering possessions beyond necessity in this city (the world), for you will be cast out for not obeying its laws (death). It is better to purchase property (afflicted souls) like that found in your native city (Heaven). Do not covet, but do the work of God and be saved.
  2. The elm tree (the rich), which does not produce fruit, supports the vine (the poor), which allows it to not just produce fruit (intercessions), but to do so abundantly. In this way, both the rich and the poor do God’s work as partners, giving back to God through love what was given to them.
  3. In winter, green trees (living) and withered trees (dead) look alike. This life is winter to the righteous.
  4. In summer, the dead trees do not produce fruit or leaves and are burned. The next life is summer to the righteous.
  5. A slave (the Son of God) was put in charge of a field (the world) with a vineyard (the people) and was told by his master (the creator, God the Father) to stake it (place Holy Angels in it to keep the people together) while he was away (until the end of the age). He also weeded (removed sins from) the vineyard to please the master with its beauty. His obedience gained the slave his freedom, but the good he performed prompted the master to make him a co-heir with his own son (the Holy Spirit) as well. The master sent to the slave many dishes (the commandments of Christ) from his table, and the slave shared the leftovers with his fellow slaves, which also pleased the master. Fasting in itself is not true fasting; instead, true fasting is avoiding sin, servicing the Lord, keeping his commandments, walking in his ways, and believing. Therefore, for a fast to be true, the money saved through this self-sacrifice should be given to someone in want. It is explained that Christ is not in the form of a slave, but of a powerful ruler. To sin is to defile the flesh, and thus, the Holy Spirit that dwells within.
  6. In a vision, Hermas is shown two other shepherds. The first tends to sheep that feed in luxury, some of which skip around merrily. This is “the angel of luxury and deceit” and the skipping sheep represent men who have been deceived and have “freed” themselves from God. The second, savage in appearance and wielding a whip, mercilessly tortures the sheep given to him by the first shepherd. This is the just “angel of punishment”. The sheep are tangled in thorns and given no rest. The angel explains that the torture is temporal punishment for evil deeds, and once administered, the sheep are given to him for proper instruction and the sheep (i.e. men) learn to walk in the ways of the Lord with pure hearts. The punishment is not equal to the sin in duration, for torture imparts powerful memories. All acts that a man performs with pleasure are luxurious and invite punishment, except good works which can satisfy a man and yet be to his benefit. They who live in harmful luxury and do not repent are ultimately punished with death.
  7. Hermas is told that he will be punished at the hands of the other shepherd for the sins of his family as he is the head of the household. Foreknowledge of the punishment is a blessing, as it is assurance that the Lord finds Hermas worthy of proper instruction.
  8. Hermas was shown the people of God standing under a willow tree, being given pruned branches from it by an angel. When summoned, they returned the branches to the angel in various states (about twelve) ranging from withered to green and fruitful. The people who brought back branches bearing fruit were crowned, and all who returned green branches were clothed in white and allowed to enter the tower. The remaining branches, all withered in some way, were planted by the shepherd to see if they grow (willows are very forgiving plants). After a few days, the planted branches were inspected, and based on the results some men were let into the tower while others were given dwellings in the walls around the tower, and yet others were lost altogether. The tree is revealed to be the “Law” that is the Son of God, and the angel to be Michael, who has been placed in charge of God’s people. Those who were allowed to enter the tower were they who had suffered or been afflicted, or at least maintained pure hearts.
  9. Hermas, having been strengthened by the Holy Spirit, was visited by the angel of repentance so that he may be instructed more perfectly. He was taken to Arcadia, to a hill on a plain surrounded by twelve mountains. The mountains varied in vegetation and appearance. In the plain was a large rectangular pillar, larger than the mountains and hewn from old white rock with a gate guarded by twelve virgins. Many large men, led by six distinguished men, came to build a tower upon the stone. Ten shiny rectangular stones ascended from a pit and were taken through the gate and given to the men by the virgins to become the foundation of the tower. The three layers of stone that followed were built from an increasing number of stones, first twenty-five, then thirty-five, and then forty. Then colored stones were brought from the mountains and they became white when used to build the wall. Some stones were found unsuitable by the six leaders and were taken away and returned to their places of origin. The men rested after a time and the master for whom the tower was being built arrived to examine it. He tapped each stone thrice with a rod, revealing deformities and flaws in many. These were replaced by rectangular and circular stones found in a place where the master instructed them to look. The master instructed the Shepherd to clean the stones that had been replaced, and to discard any that could not be cleaned. Assisted by the virgins and twelve other women dresses in black, the Shepherd amended all of the stones that he could and they were added back into the tower. When the tower was complete, the stones fit together seamlessly such that the tower appeared to have been hewn out of the rock at its base. The tower was then cleaned and the grounds swept. As the Shepherd rested, Hermas stayed with the virgins, praying without ceasing and feasting on the words of the Lord.

    The Shepherd then explains the vision to Hermas. The large white rock is the Son of God. He is old for he existed before creation, though the gate in the rock is new, and through it men (the stones) enter the kingdom of God. The master is also the Son of God and the men building the tower — the Church — are his angels. The virgins are holy spirits, the powers of the Son of God. Four (named Faith, Continence, Power & Patience) are more powerful than the rest (Simplicity, Innocence, Purity, Cheerfulness, Truth, Understanding, Harmony, Love) Bearing the name of the Son of God is vital, but the stones must be carried into the tower by his powers. Conversely, the women in black are temptresses, and they carry away inferfect stones, though they who are not tempted and return to the ways of the virgins are added back to the tower. Four of these women (Unbelief, Incontinence, Disobedience & Deceit) are also more powerful than their followers (Sorrow, Wickedness, Wantonness, Anger, Falsehood, Folly, Backbiting & Hatred). The four layers of stones were righteous men, prophets and ministers, and apostles and teachers of the Son of God who never left the company of the spirits and one another. The stones ascended from the pit because they were obliged to ascend through water, sealed with the name of the Son of God and by the preaching of the Apostles and the teachers. The mountains are the twelve tribes living thoughout the world which vary in understanding (color) until they were preached the Son of God and become alike in understanding (white). Some revert to their old ways and are then returned to their former places, some ultimately rejected, for the chastisement for wickedness is worse for those who know God than for those who have not known him. The tower (the Church) is purified when stones such as these are rejected. During the repair process, the Shepherd had filled in the cracks on certain stones so that the stones’ surfaces could be levelled. These stones are the men who had heard the Shepherd’s message and repented.

    The Shepherd concludes with a plea of repentance. “Heal yourselves, therefore, while the tower is still building.”

  10. The messenger who had delivered Hermas to the Shepherd returned, knowledgable of Hermas’ progress, to confirm that he desired to stay under the protection of the Shepherd. Upon Hermas’ confirmation, he is assigned several virgins to assist him in life, but was warned that they would depart from his house should he do anything to defile it. Before departing, the angel urges Hermas to live in the commandments given to him and to make them known to others. From the version found on New Advent (edited for clarity):

    “Whoever [walks] in these commandments, shall have life, and will be happy in his life; [thus,] enjoin all, who are able to act rightly, not to cease well-doing; for, to practice good works is useful to them. […] Whoever, therefore, rescues a soul […] from [suffering], will gain for himself great joy. [But he who] knows a calamity of this kind afflicting a man, and does not save him, commits a great sin, and becomes guilty of his blood. Do good works, therefore, you who have received good from the Lord; lest, while you delay to do them, the building of the tower be finished, and you be rejected from the edifice: there is now no other tower a-building. For on your account was the work of building suspended. Unless, then, you make haste to do rightly, the tower will be completed, and you will be excluded.”

Notes & Observations

  • Originally written in Greek. Only full extants in Latin.
  • More popular in the West; hence why more Latin copies were made.
  • On the similitudes:
    • The first similitude echos the message in Matthew 6. Do not store up earthly treasures that can be destroyed or stolen (vv19-21), but seek first the kingdom and righteousness (v33).
    • The second similitude brings to mind the Beatitudes (Mt 5). In particular, the poor in spirit will have the kingdom (v3) and the merciful will be shown mercy (v7). It also touches on how difficult it is for the rich to enter Heaven (Mt 19:16-28), for the rich are distracted by their wealth (Mt 6:21)
    • The third and fourth similitudes are commensurate with the teachings of Jesus on knowing the good by their fruits (Mt 7:19-20; Mt 12:33), and also the parable of the sower (Mt 13:1-23) in which only some seed produces.
    • The fifth similitude is a bit harder to digest. It is similar to several Biblical parables, but not exactly the same; for example, one might interpret the weeds as sinful people (Mt 13:24-30), but in this case is a reference only to the sins themselves.
    • Referring to the Holy Spirit as the “son” sends a mixed message, true enough, but at a deeper level it also shows that the trinitarian nature of God had not yet been fully discerned, implying that both the Son and the Spirit came forth from the Creator, instead of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son (qui ex Pater Filioque procedit; Nicene Creed).
    • The representation of the commandments of Christ as dishes coming from the table of the Father and being shared with the other slaves introduces a few issues. First, the people of God are already represented as vines; so, who are the other slaves supposed to represent? The angel explains this in the fifth chapter, that they also represent the people. Similarly, the stakes represent the holy angels, but so do the friends of the son (i.e. the Spirit). This is a bit confusing and may indicate that the parable is overreaching, trying to explain too much.
    • One should probably call to mind that the commandments given to the people by God through Jesus were commandments to love God and neighbor (Mt 22:36-40); otherwise, this similitude could be misinterpreted in a number of ways. For example, one may the tempted to interpret the sharing of the dishes simply as the preaching of the Gospel or as adherence to the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.
    • Instructing the Philippians in humility, St. Paul explains how Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, and so was exalted by the Father. (Phil 2:5-11) The sixth chapter of the fifth Similitude expresses this very idea when the angel explains to Hermas in the context of the parable.
    • The last two chapters expose more about the early understanding about God’s nature. The Spirit is described as pre-existent and involved in creation; however, in discussing that Christ is not a slave, but glorified, it states that the flesh was created as a kind of tabernacle in which the Spirit may dwell, and that the one without spot or defilement works as a partner with the Spirit. This seems to imply that the Son was created, rather than being co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit. If the “flesh” is not meant to refer to the man Jesus, but simply to the matter, then the flesh here is animated by the Spirit, possibly inferring that these two persons of the Trinity are really only one. Still, the notion that the one of flesh works with the Spirit, “co-operates” if you will, implies that they are separate wills.
    • If the above point is not in regard to the Son at all, but to the remainder of mankind, then this is commensurate with Church teaching. We receive the Spirit at Baptism and become a temple for it. Moreover, if we cooperate with God and become partners with him in our works, then we bear witness to him, find favor with him, and be saved. Conversely, if we defile our bodies with sin, the Spirit cannot dwell within and we will not live, a condition we call mortal sin. This last paragraph also expresses (more implicitly than I present here) the error that God can/will forgive sins committed in ignorance, but that the informed believer must not sin for they will not be forgiven sinful acts of an informed will — the reason that led many Christians to postpone Baptism until their deathbeds in ages to come.
    • In the first chapter regarding the sixth similitude, the angel makes a great statement that expresses the essence of metanoia and illustrates the powerful role of faith and works in the life of the believer. From the version found on New Advent:

      “Why are you in doubt about the commandments which I gave you? They are excellent: have no doubt about them at all, but put on faith in the Lord, and you will walk in them, for I will strengthen you in them. These commandments are beneficial to those who intend to repent: for if they do not walk in them, their repentance is in vain. You, therefore, who repent cast away the wickedness of this world which wears you out; and by putting on all the virtues of a holy life, you will be able to keep these commandments, and will no longer add to the number of your sins. Walk, therefore, in these commandments of mine, and you will live unto God.”

    • Similitude six is also good illustration of the Church’s understanding of temporal punishment. In the parable, the torture for sin takes place completely in a man’s lifetime and the rational concept of Purgatory is not evident; however, the ideas that a proportionate amount of punishment is required to remedy a day’s worth of sin and that refusal to repent earns one death (in the eternal sense) are clear.
    • The seventh similitude embraces the idea that salvation is a communal affair, not an individual one. When one part of Christ’s Body suffers, the whole Body suffers.
    • The eighth similitude is long and somewhat complicated. It is similar to the parables of the tenants (Mt 25) and the minas (Lk 19), and Galatians 6:7-8 could easily be cited as the synopsis. Any of the various passages about knowing the faithful by their fruits (e.g. Mt 7:15-20) come to mind immediately as well.
    • Thirty-three chapters long, similitude nine is the longest and most complicated. It is, however, a very rich explanation of the Catholic idea of salvation and the symbolism of rock/stone is pervasive. The foundation of the tower is, of course, the Son of God. There is a healthy amount of discussion regarding the rejection of stones by the builders — that is to say, of people by the angels — which mirrors somewhat the rejection of cornerstone, Jesus, by the builders, the Jews. [Is 28:16; Ps 118:22; Mt 21:42-43; Acts 4:11; 1 Pt 2:4-10; etc.] Indeed, the Lord will be the one rejecting stones in judgment.
    • The fourth tier of stones included the Apostles, which of course included Peter. Christ’s words, “and on this rock I will build my Church,” take on new vibrance with this story as a backdrop. [Mt 16:18] Though one could argue that Peter was only one amongst forty such stones described, it does solidify that the Early Church placed primary importance on the teachings of the Apostles and their successors.
    • Some of the stones taken through the gate were rejected, either by the builders or my the master, but are saved to be cleansed. This is the strongest image in the text supporting the concept of Purgatory.
    • The Shepherd is instructed to care for the rejected stones by the master, and he does so with haste in fear that the master might return suddenly and find him negligent in his duty. Likewise, the tower is cleaned so that the master may not return to find it unacceptable. This imagery is used in the New Testament with regard to the Second Coming of Christ. [Mk 13:32-37; Mt 24:45-49; etc.]
    • Note how closely the names of the virgins, the “powers of the Son of God”, resemble the seven Heavenly and three Theological Virtues. Likewise, the names of the women in black resemble the Seven Deadly Vices.
    • Chapters 19 through 29 describe in detail the twelve mountains first mentioned in Chapter 17. That detail has been omitted here, but a few general observations are valuable. The stones from the black mountain would not change color and were not found suitable for inclusion in the tower. These are apostates and blasphemers, and though repentance is a possibility, it is unlikely. Conversely, the stones from the white mountain were all accepted, including the stones from the mountain’s root. These are innocents. The mountains in between vary by their vegetation, ranging from thorns and thistles to fruit, the symbolism fairly consistent with Scripture (e.g. parable of the sower, Mark 4). This is not a reference to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
    • That the stones ascending from the pit were obliged to ascend through the water is symbolic of Baptism.
    • In the second chapter of the ninth similitude, the Shepherd tells Hermas to stop trying to figure things out and to simply accept the vision, which can be explained afterward. This is an exercise of faith and a testimony to how far God’s understanding is above ours. The scene also adds to the character development, even this late in the text.
    • Similarly, at the end of the ninth similitude, the Shepherd asks Hermas if he had any more questions and reminded him of something about which he did not ask. Hermas confessed that he had forgotten to ask. Perhaps it is just the translation or the imputation of a modern tone, but the Shepherd’s question comes of as snarky and Hermas’ reply as somewhat flippant. This exposes their personalities, making it easier to relate to the characters.
    • The tenth similitude isn’t really a parable, but more of a conclusion to the story.
    • The angel assigned some of the virgins to Hermas as aides. Based on what was revealed in the ninth similitude, this means that Hermas was graced with virtues which are the powers of the Son of God. That these graces would depart his house should he act improperly is strikingly similar to the Church’s teaching that God’s grace is no longer poured out on one who has fallen into mortal sin (except, of course, the actual grace required to repent).
    • The angel’s final warning expresses the need, not just to avoid wrongdoing, but to continue well-doing. This is essentially and expression of the Church’s teaching on the necessity of both faith and works.


June 16, 2010

The Didache

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The Didache could be described as a guide book for the Christians of the first century. Its short title in Greek is “Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων”, or “The Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles”. It is listed alongside the Scriptures by Eusebius and used as a basis for other Church writings by the Fathers and others. It is worthy to note what the Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Doctrinal teaching is presupposed, and none is imparted.” In other words, this document doesn’t establish dogma, but simply explains what Christians were already doing.

The Didache is so short, there is no reason to not read it. Therefore, the summary of the chapters herein are somewhat sparse.


The author of the Didache is not known and may have been compiled and edited by several redactors. The Catholic Encyclopedia article includes a discussion about the date of authorship. It cites various points against which the date may be judged. The simplicity of the rituals, comparison of details with writings of the Fathers, and the descriptions of the ministry in specific terms lead to the conclusion that the Didache was written between AD 65 and AD 80. Wikipedia adds that by AD 100, the Didache was widely disseminated. Some scholars of the twentieth century date the book in the second century. It also notes a very Jewish tone, at least in part of the text, despite the very-Christian subject matter. Insufficient information exists to know where the text was written.


Catholic Encyclopedia. The article on the Didache divides the sixteen chapters into three parts. The first part (chapters 1-6) explains the “two ways”, the ways of life and death, the second (chapters 7-10) concerns Christian rituals, and the third part (chapters 11-16) discusses aspects of the ministry.

Wikipedia. This article agrees with the above, except it isolates chapter 16 as apocalyptic, undoubtedly based on one or more sources.


Chapter 1: The Two Ways The way of life inlcudes the two great commandments (Mt 22:35-40), the Golden Rule (Mt 7:12, Mt 22:39, Lk 6:31), and other advice from Scripture, namely: pray for your enemies (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-28), turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-42,Lk 6:29), and it is better to give than to receive (Mt 5:26, Acts 20:35).

Chapter 2: Gross Sin Gross sins include violations of the commandments, namely murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting possessions (Ex 20:13-17), but also pederasty, fornication, practicing magic or witchcraft, murder by abortion or infacticide specifically, swearing oaths (Mt 5:34-36), speaking evil, holding grudges, being two-faced, failing to keep promises, covetousness, hypocrisy, haughtiness, conspiracy, and hate. Others should only be reproved, prayed for, and loved.

Chapter 3: Other Sins Lesser sins include anger, jealousy, quarrelsomeness, a hot temperment, lust, filthy speech, superstitiousness, lying, greed, and vainglory. These lead to greater sins. Be meek (Mt 5:5) and humble (Lk 18:14) instead and consider all things that happen as if by fate as from God (Eph 1:11).

Chapter 4: Precepts Honor those who speak the word of God. Work for peace. Judge righteously. Be resolute (Sir 1:28-29). Give easier than you take (Sir 4:31), especially to those in want. Teach your children the fear of God (Eph 6:4). Slaves and masters should have a Christian relationship (Eph 6:5,6:9, Col 3:22,4:1). Hate hypocrisy and what doesn’t please Lord. Keep the commandments, neither adding to nor taking away from them (Deut 12:32; 13:1 in Hebrew text). In church, acknowledge transgressions and don’t pray with an evil conscience.

Chapter 5: The Way of Death This is a litany of evil ways, mostly the sins forbidden in chapters 2 & 3.

Chapter 6: False Teachers & Idol Food Offerings Don’t be led astray be false teachers, bear as much of the yoke as you can and don’t eat the food sacrificed to idols (Acts 15, esp vv1-5,10,28-29).

Chapter 7: Baptism Baptize using the Trinitarian formula (Mt 28:19) in living water if available [this may refer to immersion in a river], or at least by pouring water three times on the head. The baptized should fast for a day or two before, as well as the baptizer and others for some length of time if possible.

Chapter 8: Fasting & Prayer Do not pray (Mt 6:5) or fast (Mt 6:16) with hypocrites. Pray as the Lord commanded (The Lord’s Prayer, Mt 6:9-13 + doxology!), three times a day.

Chapter 9: The Thanksgiving It is evident from the text that ‘Thanksgiving’ herein means the Eucharist. Words of thanksgiving to be said over wine and bread are provided (cup before bread, as in Lk 22:17-20). Only the baptized may partake in the Thanksgiving (Mt 7:6).

Chapter 10: Post-Communion Prayer The prayer provided has some elements of the Lord’s Prayer. Of interest is the notion that those who are holy may come, but those who are not should repent – this being said in the context of the Eucharistic feast. Also, prophets should be allowed to “make Thanksgiving as much as they desire”, possibly indicating that the practice was (as it is) to limit the frequency at which the laity may partake of the Eucharist.

Chapter 11: Teachers, Apostles & Prophets Receive only those who teach the discipline or teach to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord. Apostles and prophets should always be received, though false ones will stay three or more days, take more than bread when they leave and ask for money. He is not forgiven who judges a true prophet, that is, one who speaks in the Spirit and holds the ways of the Lord (Mt 7:15-23).

Chapter 12: Reception of Christians Receive, then prove, one who comes in the name of the Lord. Assist the traveller, but see to it that he who stays also works (2 Thess 3:10).

Chapter 13: Support of Prophets True prophets and teachers are worthy of their support (Mt 10:10, Lk 10:7). Give first-fruits according the the commandment to the prophets and the poor (text resembles Deut 14:22-27).

Chapter 14: The Lord’s Day Gather, confess sins so the sacrifice may be pure (the clean oblation, Mal 1:11,14) and then break bread and give thanks.

Chapter 15: Bishops & Deacons; Christian Reproof Appoint worthy and proven bishops and deacons (1 Tim 3) and honor them. Reprove one another according to the Gospel (Mt 18:15-17). Pray, give alms, and do deeds according to the Gospel.

Chapter 16: Watchfulness; The Coming of the Lord Watch and prepare for the Lord’s coming (Mt 24:42). Seek often what is good for the soul. A life of faith will be wasted if the person is not made perfect at the end of it (Mt 24:9-13). Only one deceiver (Mt 24:24) is described here (the antichrist perhaps, or Satan?), then the signs of the true second coming (Mt 24:30-31).

Notes & Observations

  • Paraclete Press hosts a copy with verse numbers added.
  • Here is another Greek text adding the alternate title Duae Viae. It has some other interesting info.
  • This page cites various other sources on various topics about the Didache. It also displays a great close-up of some of the text (assuming that IS the text).
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia entry also contains interesting history and references on the text, when it was rediscovered and published, etc.
  • This entry also makes several references to the “Western Text” of the Scriptures.
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia Didache article claims that the text is based on an older Synagogue intruction manual for proselytes. (if link breaks, do an onsite search)
  • It also notes that the negative form of the Golden Rule (Chapter 1) is a traditional Jewish interpretation.
  • Here is an entry for the Didache from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11 ed. (1911), hosted by Interesting, but hard to read. Seems to indicate that no evidence extists to support the claim that the Didache was based on an earlier Jewish document.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that the Didache was written in a time when Jewish influence was still very strong, but that the comparative number of OT & NT quotations suggest that this is not of Jewish origin.
  • The Wikipedia entry for the Didache notes that a derivative work, the Didascalia Apostolorum, is included in the Ethiopian Orthodox canon of Scripture. This is repeated in the entry for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
  • CARM, though generally anti-Catholic, admits that the Didache is “valuable as an early church document”.
  • George G. Delo of Power For Today Prophetic Ministries doesn’t mind relying on the didache, at least as an accurate historical record for early Christian beliefs. He uses it to illustrate how false prophets have always been a problem for the Church.
  • The “Whole” Bible project dedicates a short page to the Didache on which it states, “The work was never officially rejected by the Church, but was excluded from the canon for its lack of literary value.” Does the author think that the Didache should have been rejected? Since it is almost completely based on Scripture passages from the canon, I cannot see how this would happen. I’d also like to find out what source claimed that the Didache was excluded from the canon because it lacked literary value — not that I disagree, mind you, since I have already stated that it is almost a copy of existing Scriptures — but it would be interesting to know.
  • As I read the Didache and cross-referenced the Scripture passages, I noticed that the bulk of the references were from the Gospel of Matthew, many from Luke, and only a few from Pauline Epistles and various OT books. I assumed that the author drew heavily from Matthew because that was the text available to him; however, the Wikipedia article notes that “virtually nothing” taken from Matthew can be found in Mark, whose Gospel Matthew relied upon heavily. The “most likely” hypothesis is that Matthew drew from the Didache, not the other way around.


  • The Didache article from the Caholic Encyclopedia, hosted by New Advent
  • The Didache hosted by New Advent
  • The Didache entry for Wikipedia
  • Greek text of the Didache from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College

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