Monday, November 07, 2011

Tertullian's Attitude Toward the Shepherd of Hermas

It seems that Tertullian (after he became a Montanist) did not like the work known as the Shepherd of Hermas because of his stance on repentance and adultery. Tertullian neither regarded the Shepherd as Scripture nor as law (LEX). He wrote:

"It [the Shepherd of Hermas] is a story, not a law" (De Orat XVI, 2). This comment shows that Tertullian did not view the Shepherd in the same light that he viewed Scripture, and his view of this work appears to have been correct in certain respects. (See Jean Danielou 3:153.)

I say, in certain respects, since the Shepherd is not a part of inspired Scripture and never was--yet Tertullian apparently had an unbalanced view of godly repentance. Moreover, I am not so sure he was right to believe that the Shepherd condones adultery. See Mandate 4 of the Shepherd.

Tertullian also writes in De Pudicitia X,12:

"These (pleas) you (will urge) to me, most benignant
interpreter of God. But I would yield my ground to
you, if the scripture of 'the Shepherd,' which is the
only one which favours adulterers, had deserved to
find a place in the Divine canon; if it had not been
habitually judged by every council of Churches (even
of your own) among apocryphal and false (writings);
itself adulterous, and hence a patroness of its
comrades; from which in other respects, too, you
derive initiation; to which, perchance, that Shepherd
will play the patron whom you depict upon your
(sacramental) chalice, (depict, I say, as) himself
withal a prostitutor of the Christian sacrament, (and
hence) worthily both the idol of drunkenness, and the
brize of adultery by which the chalice will quickly be
followed, (a chalice) from which you sip nothing more
readily than (the flavour of) the 'ewe' of (your)
second repentance!"

What makes this text so intriguing is that Tertullian writes about the "Divine canon" which implies that he already knew about some type of canon generally
accepted by most Christians in his day. Additionally, he indicates that "every council of Churches" decided not to view the Shepherd as canonical. While Danielou suggests that Tertullian's language is a wee bit strong, since not every church council (or early church) thought the Shepherd was false, they did not usually view it as Scripture either. Tertullian's words may indicate that claims about the biblical canon being formed in the forth century or later are a little exaggerated, to say the least. One also needs to distinguish between the word "canon" referring to a list of authoritative books and that same term which references the inspired books themselves.


Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster

An alternate translation gives a different thought:

LATIN TEXT: “ non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum, etiam uestrarum, inter apocrypha et falsa iudicaretur, adultera et ipsa et inde patrona sociorum...” - (Chapter X, 11(C)-13(A), Tertulliani Liber De Pudicitia Text edited by Charles Munier, Sources Chrétiennes 394, 1993.)

TERTULLIAN-MONTANTIST WRITINGS (circa. 180 C.E.): “...if it were not considered by every congregation, even your own, to be apocryphal and forged, adulterous even itself and for that reason a spokeman for its compeers...” - (Q. S. FLORENTIS TERTULLIANI libellum DE PUDICITIA. praefatione, interpretatione, adnotationibus instructum edidit Gösta Claesson. 1950.)

The key phrase is: Ltn., “ non ab omni concilio ecclesiarum...”

“...if it were not by all [the] council of [the] congregations [ ecclesia's ? ]...”

“...ECCLESIA I. an assembly of the (Greek) people. … 1. A religious assembly of Christians, a Christian congregation, a church (eccl. Lat. … B. An assembly, a meeting in gen...” - (A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.)

I'm not good on Latin, whether this refers to “council” as in a generally held opinion or a group of elders together for a religious meeting like Nicea I don't know?

But it certainly gets one thinking about how early the “Canon” of scripture was actually set, and at what point were there large gatherings on doctrinal issues by the earliest Christians.

Edgar Foster said...

Hello Brother Matt,

I believe it's perfectly legitimate to understand the Latin "ab omni concilio ecclesiarum" as a reference to some type of ecclesiastical council that Tertullian perceived as having authority to pronounce decisions about the canon. Lewis-Short say regarding concilium, it may denote: "a collection of people, an association, gathering, union, meeting, assembly" depending on the context.

See also

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster.

I agree.

Depending on the date when Tertullian wrote DE PUDICITIA - this would give us a reasonably clear idea when this took place.

The Shepherd of Hermas is spoken of in the Muratorian Canon as having been written:

LATIN TEXT: "...tris legi in eclesia nolunt pastorem vero [74.] nuperrim e temporibus nostris in urbe [75.] Roma herma conscripsit sedente cathe [76.] tra urbis romae aecclesiae Pio eps fratre..."

"...But Hermas wrote the Shepherd very recently, in our times, in the city of Rome, while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the church of the city of Rome..."

Pius I, dating (circa 142-157 C.E.) according to the source above.

This pushes the date of any unrecorded Concil (or perhaps Councils) more into the second half of the second century and somewhere before Tertullian wrote De Pudicitia (perhaps as late as 200-220 C.E.).

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster.

An interesting point in the near context of the Shepherd at the very end of the text of the Muratorian Canon:

"...[81] But we accept nothing whatever of Arsinous or Valentinus or Miltiades, [82] who also composed [83] a new book of psalms for Marcion, [84-5] together with Basilides, the Asian founder of the Cataphrygians..."

Original Ltn., ( catafry )

Restored Ltn., ( catafry[gum] )

While disscussing non-canonical (i.e. Shepherd) and then those writings/scripure-copies that are to be completely rejected we find a possible reference to the Montantists (i.e. the "Phrygians").

Just a side point. I may be genuine or it may not. The original text is in a poor state and hard to read. But it appears to fit the context.

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster

Perhaps also, there is an infered reference (though chiefly intended for the Shepherd), would equally apply to the "New Prophecy" or any revelations or writings of the psuedo-prophet Montanus:

[SECTION 46 ORIGINAL LATIN]: “...neque inter profetas conpletum numero...”

[SECTION 46 RESTORED LATIN]: “...neque inter Prophetas, completum numero..."

[SECTION 46 ORIGINAL LATIN]: “...neither among the Prophets, since their number is complete...”

This along with the reference to the "Cata-Phrygians" in section 49 would certainly fit the bill for what Tertullian was talking about in DE PUDICITIA.

Perhaps the Muratorian Canon is the result of these/this very Council/Councils refered to by Tertullian in DE PUDICITIA?

Who knows?

This is pure speculation of course.

At the very least these sort of references would irratate any believer in the New Prophecy.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Brother Matt,

You might want to consult W.H.C. Frend's "The Rise of Christianity" on this point. See pages 250-257 for information on orthodoxy, the Montanists and the biblical canon. In footnotes 114 and 115 (on pages 264-265), Frend also suggests that the Muratorian Canon could be partially responding to Montanist views. See also von Campenhausen's work on the Christian Bible's formation.

Matt13weedhacker said...

Hello Brother Foster.

May I please ask - do you get many abusive coments from non-witnesses on your blog that you don't post - or - are they relatively few in number and don't bother you at all?

The reason I ask this is because I have long battled in my mind wether I should allow coments on my blog or not.

How do you find it? What would you suggest?

I know it would open up an opertunity to witness, but at the same time, I know I would get a lot of flack from Trinitarians and perhaps apostates.

But I know it would also allow others (like yourself) to put in very useful input on different subjects.

I am undecided at the moment an am erring on the side of caution.

What do you think?

Is it not that bad after all?

I hope you don't mind me asking?

The Weed Hacker.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Brother,

Nasty comments have not been a problem for me in this forum. I primarily moderate comments because of potential spam and apostates offering remarks. Now different content may bring about different results. But, for me, allowing comments has not posed a problem for me.

Your brother,


Brett Hancock said...

Tertullian said, in general, paraphrased "we regard as scripture everything that is suitable for edification"

To your point about Tertullian regarding the Shepherd of Hermas not as Law but as story, considering it was much an allegorical tone or story, was he saying that the type of writing was story, not law, or was he really disregarding it?

Edgar Foster said...

Dear Brett, notice above in the quote from Tertullian's De Pudicitia that he thinks the Shepherd espouses adultery and he regards the writing as a fake, certainly not scripture in his eyes. More than edification seems to be the issue in this case.