Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Hermas’ vision of the church

The Shepherd of Hermas is an ancient Christian writing, probably from the 2nd century AD.  These excerpts are taken from the translation of J. B. Lightfoot, first published in 1891.

While I was advising and discussing these matters in my heart, I see, before me a great white chair of snow-white wool; and there came an aged lady in glistening raiment, having a book in her hands, and she sat down alone, and she saluted me, “Good morrow, Hermas.”

Now, brethren, a revelation was made unto me in my sleep by a youth of exceeding fair form, who said to me, “Whom thinkest thou the aged woman, from whom thou receivedst the book, to be?”  I say, “The Sibyl”  “Thou art wrong,” saith he, “she is not.”  “Who then is she?” I say.  “The Church,” saith he.  I said unto him, “Wherefore then is she aged?”  “Because,” saith he, “she was created before all things; therefore is she aged; and for her sake the world was framed.”

Now she was seen of me, brethren, in my first vision of last year, as a very aged woman and seated on a chair.  In the second vision her face was youthful, but her flesh and her hair were aged, and she spake to me standing; and she was more gladsome than before.  But in the third vision she was altogether youthful and of exceeding great beauty, and her hair alone was aged; and she was gladsome exceedingly and seated on a couch.  Touching these things I was very greatly anxious to learn this revelation.

So I fasted one day; and that very night there appeared unto me a young man, and he saith to me, “Seeing that thou askest me revelations offhand with entreaty, take heed lest by thy much asking thou injure thy flesh.  Sufficient for thee are these revelations.  Canst thou see mightier revelations than those thou hast seen?”

I say unto him in reply, “Sir, this one thing alone I ask, concerning the three forms of the aged woman, that a complete revelation may be vouchsafed me.”

Listen,” saith he, “concerning the three forms, of which thou enquires.  In the first vision wherefore did she appear to thee an aged woman and seated on a chair?  Because your spirit was aged, and already decayed, and had no power by reason of your infirmities and acts of double-mindedness.  For as aged people, having no longer hope of renewing their youth, expect nothing else but to fall asleep, so ye also, being weakened with the affairs of this world gave yourselves over to repining, and cast not your cares on the Lord; but your spirit was broken, and ye were aged by your sorrows.”  “Wherefore then she was seated on a chair, I would fain know, Sir.”  “Because every weak person sits on a chair by reason of his weakness, that the weakness of his body may be supported. So thou hast the symbolism of the first vision.”

“But in the second vision thou sawest her standing, and with her countenance more youthful and more gladsome than before; but her flesh and her hair aged.  Listen to this parable also,” saith he.  “Imagine an old man, who has now lost all hope of himself by reason of his weakness and his poverty, and expecteth nothing else save the last day of his life.  Suddenly an inheritance is left him.  He heareth the news, riseth up and full of joy clothes himself with strength, and no longer lieth down, but standeth up, and his spirit, which was now broken by reason of his former circumstances, is renewed again, and he no longer sitteth, but taketh courage; so also was it with you, when you heard the revelation which the Lord revealed unto you.  For He had compassion on you, and renewed your spirits, and ye laid aside your maladies, and strength came to you, and ye were made powerful in the faith, and the Lord rejoiced to see you put on your strength.  And therefore He showed you the building of the tower; yea, and other things also shall He show you, if with your whole heart ye be at peace among yourselves.

But in the third vision ye saw her younger and fair and gladsome, and her form fair.  For just as when to some mourner cometh some piece of good tidings, immediately he forgetteth his former sorrows, and admitteth nothing but the tidings which he hath heard, and is strengthened thenceforth unto that which is good, and his spirit is renewed by reason of the joy which he hath received; so also ye have received a renewal of your spirits by seeing these good things.  And whereas thou sawest her seated on a couch, the position is a firm one; for the couch has four feet and standeth firmly. . .  They then that have fully repented shall be young again, and founded firmly, seeing that they have repented with their whole heart.”

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