In the book, which is divided into three sections, a heavenly messenger ("the shepherd") appears to Hermas and teaches him various things. Irenaeus and Origin considered the work to be on the same level as the canonical writings, although their opinion appears to have been a minority one. The work begins in a section of Visions, with Hermas being chastised for lusting after a woman. There are five such visions, which progressively focus more on the future of the church. After these there follows a section of Mandates or Commands. There are twelve of these, and perhaps they are better termed "fundamental truths." Finaly, there is a section of ten Similitudes, some of which are quite long. The message of the Shepherd is that pious Christians who persue virtue must overcome vices and troubles in order to do so.
Sample of a Vision (4):
The sun shone a little, and behold, I saw a great beast, as it were a whale, and fiery locusts came out of his mouth. The height of the beast was about a hundred feet, and he had a head like a large earthen vessel. I began to weep, and to pray to the Lord that he would deliver me from it. Then I called to mind the words which I had heard: Doubt not, Hermas.
Therefore, brethren, putting on a divine faith, and remembering who it was that had taught me great things, I delivered myself bodily to the beast. Now the beast came on in such a manner, as if it could have devoured a city at once. I came near to it, and the beast extended its whole bulk upon the ground, and put forth nothing but its tongue, nor once moved itself till I had quite passed by it. Now the beast had upon its head four colors: first black, then a red and bloody color, then a golden, and then a white.
Sample of a Mandate (1):
First of all believe that there is one God who created and framed all things of nothing into a being. He comprehends all things, and only is immense, not to be comprehended by any. Who can neither be defined by any words, nor conceived by the mind. Therefore believe in him, and fear him; and fearing him abstain from all evil. Keep these things, and cast all lust and iniquity far from you, and put on righteousness, and you will live to God, if you will keep this commandment.
Sample of a Similitude (or story) (2):
As I was walking into the field and considered the elm and the vine, and thought with myself of their fruits, an angel appeared and said to me, What is it that you think upon so long within yourself?
And I said to him, Sir, I think of this vine and this elm because their fruits are fair. And he said to me, These two trees are set for a pattern to the servants of God.
And I said to him, Sir, I would know in what consists the pattern of these trees which you mention. Pay attention, he said. Do you see this vine and this elm? Sir, I said, I see them.
This vine, he said, is fruitful, but the elm is a tree without fruit. Nevertheless, unless this vine were set by this elm and supported by it, it would not bear much fruit; but lying along upon the ground, it would bear but ill fruit, because it did not hang upon the elm; whereas, being supported upon the elm, it bears fruit both for itself and for that.
The Shepherd was regarded highly enough to be included in Codex Sinaiticus, and the lessons are basic principles that can probably benefit people today. Still, the writing is not apostolic and may not be historical.
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