Bishops of History Response, Catholicism

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Shepherd of Hermas

Then Ten Stadia to Hermas

d. Shepherd of Hermas

BOH opens discussion of the Shepherd by taking issue with my dating of the Shepherd. Since I admit the Muratorian fragment as evidence in favor of a composition c. 140, I am being “arbitrarily selective” when I note that I don’t agree that Pius was *the* bishop in Rome. Such an accusation, however, does not allow for numerous logical possibilities about why something may be legitimate evidence for one thing and not for another. The dating of the Muratorian Fragment itself dates anywhere from 170 CE-400 CE. Without seeking to enter into the fray of this discussion, I simply attempted to explain that the two largest pieces of evidence are the mention of Clement and the Muratorian Fragment.  Both pieces of evidence indicate Hermas is not much older than c. 140 CE. Lampe himself claims that it could be written as early as 120 CE and the strength of the Muratorian Fragment is often “overestimated” (pg. 223 fn. 27). In other words, the dating and reliability of the Fragment are unclear, but most scholars agree that it is written sometime in the early to mid-second century (writing style and mention of events are *also* tools that academics have used to estimate the time of composition).

In examining the text, BOH misses the argument. I note that Hermas nowhere talks about a bishop, but always refers to leadership in Rome in the plural. BOH counters that this does not meet the criteria for evidence from silence to carry evidential weight for two reasons,

We have no evidence by other means that Hermas intends his text to provide the identity of the bishop sitting in the episcopal chair in Rome, or intends to provide a complete specification of the hierarchy in Rome. Nor do we have good reason to believe that the author has no overriding reason for concealing the entity or event. Identifying his brother as the bishop of Rome would likely get his brother killed.

It is true that Hermas was not attempting to be exhaustive about Roman ecclesiology, but that does not mean that we cannot glean information from Hermas’s multiple mentions of ecclesial structure. Moreover it is improbable that identifying his brother would get him killed.  If that were the case, why does he name Clement and Grapte? He even explicitly mentions his location on the Via Campana, situated ten stadia from the Via Campana (Vis. 4.1.2). If Hermas is concerned about mentioning the name of the bishop, his brother, why does he explicitly mention his own location? His brother would presumably associate with Hermas, and by outing himself, he would seem to be potentially compromising his brother too.

BOH goes on to cite Vis 3.5.1 where apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons are mentioned and claims this is evidence for a threefold office. The fact that bishops, teachers, and deacons are mentioned is evidence of the threefold office,

Hermas does not use the term ‘presbyter’ here, because both bishops and teachers are presbyters, and therefore using the term ‘presbyter’ would not distinguish them from each other. Bishops too are teachers, of course, so there would be no need to specify the office of ‘teacher’ as distinct from the office of bishop, unless it referred to an office in which one had the authority to teach, but was not a bishop, because it did not include the power to ordain. The only ecclesial office fitting that description is the [mere] presbyter office St. Ignatius describes

Such an argument has a measure of plausibility, but it is largely built upon presuppositions. In its favor, there are three offices described and two of them are bishop and deacon. In attempting to draw a distinct office from the teachers and bishops, BOH claims using the term “teacher” would be redundant unless there was a difference between the teachers and the bishops; a fact that also possesses a level of plausibility. As BOH notes, bishops were probably involved in teaching, but there must have been something that distinguished teachers from bishops and a possible theory is proposed: the difference is bishops ordain while teachers do not. Even though I believe such a claim would need further argumentation for substantiation, for the sake of argument it will be granted.

BOH then makes a further assumption about this threefold division, teachers=presbyters. Why do teachers=presbyters, because the only office fitting the description of Ignatius is the office of mere presbyter. The reason that the Shepherd didn’t just use the word “presbyter” was because bishops are presbyters too and to avoid confusion he opted for the word “teacher” (even though this would admittedly be ambiguous as well).

The problems with this approach are as follows:

  1. The definition of “bishop” is assumed to be a monarchical bishop (not a presbyter-bishop)
  2. That a presbyter, in Hermas, would not have the authority to ordain
  3. Assuming Hermas is using “teacher” and “presbyter” in an equivalent sense
  4. That teachers do not have the authority to ordain

Carolyn Osiek, notes about “bishops”,

“Bishop” would be an anachronistic translation at this point if a single monarchical bishop is understood; but see Phil 1:1 for an earlier reference to episkopoi (pl.) as collegial local leaders, probably as here synonymous with presbyters (compare Acts 20:17,28 where the two terms apply to the same group).[1]

In other words, Hermas’s use of “episkopoi” is not concerning a monarchical bishop, but used in the same sense as in the canonical data, “collegial local leaders, probably synonymous with presbyters.”

Thus Osiek, in distinction from BOH prefers to see presbyters with bishops and not teachers as the canonical data testifies. This would also internally make sense of the fact that Hermas explains it is the presbyters who provide oversight in the church (Vis. 2.8.3). This also would seem to favor the idea that these presbyters possessed the authority to ordain–something that BOH implicitly denies by claiming presbyters=teachers and that the distinction between teachers and bishops was the ability to ordain. If #2 is incorrect, this necessarily invalidates assumptions #3 & 4 and these assumptions undermine the substance of BOH’s position.

A more nuanced position would recognize that Hermas is fully aware of the term “presbyter” because he has used it to describe the church in Rome. Hermas is asked if he has sent his book to the presbyters (τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις) and when Hermas answers that he has not, he is told in Vision 2.8.3,

“σὺ δὲ ἀναγνώσῃ εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας” But you will read these things to the city with the presbyters who are ruling the church.

BOH curiously does not address this section of Hermas, but instead argues that Hermas’s mention of episkopos in the plural is in the context of Vision 3.5.1, which is about the universal church (Osiek calls it the “idealized” church), not the Roman Church. Even if one agrees with BOH against Osiek that Hermas *may be* speaking of a monarchical bishop in Vision 3.5.1 and Similitudes. 9.27.1-3, Hermas’s clearest expression of Roman ecclesiology is Vision 2.8.3. There, the presbyters are the ones that rule over the church—and there is no mention of a single episkopos.

Vision 2.8.3 explains what the presbyters in Rome do; they “προϊταμένων.” BDAG uses this very passage as an example of its first definition of “to exercise a position of leadership.” Translation words include “rule, direct, be at the head (of).” It is the same word that Paul uses to describe the Romans rules in Romans 13:6. Thus, the presbyters are the ones exercising leadership in the community. BOH argues Hermas’s silence does not mean there was not a monarchical bishop, and once again, they point out something that is true. But simply because it is a possibility does not mean that the evidence for it is equivalent to evidence to my position which argues it was “presbyters who are ruling the church.”

In the spirit of fairness, however, BOH did correctly pinpoint an error in my initial article regarding Hermas’s discussion of “seats.” I had argued that a translation of Vision 3.9.7 could be translated “I now say to you who preside over the Church and *love* the first seats.” This translation is inappropriate and is the result of relying up a dynamic translation suggested by Patrick Burke. No other commentary or source corroborates this and BOH was correct to point out that no form of “love” is present in Greek. This was an oversight (a bad one) and I apologize for how this misinformation detracts from the truth and clarity of my argument.

BOH correctly argues,

In fact, Hermas grants that these men are involved in the instruction of God’s elect. Brandon has not shown that Hermas is portraying negatively men who occupy the first seats, or the occupation of these seats.

The Gospel of Matthew may echo here, but this is by no means clear. Even though this is a regrettable mistake, I do not believe that it weakens the substance of my argument from Hermas.

There is no mention of people striving for a single “seat” (outside of the one individual who desires the first seat—but it is uncertain if this is part of a Vision or addressed to a particular individual). Rather, there are multiple people presiding over the church, and those people are identified elsewhere as the “presbyters.” Of course it is possible—even probable—that some presbyters were more respected or influential than others, but that does not mean that they held a different *office.*

BOH responds this is not a convincing argument.  It claims,

From wanting pridefully to have more authority and fame than others have, it does not follow that all persons should have equal authority, or that presbyters and deacons should have equal authority, or that bishops and [mere] presbyters should have equal authority.

If there were evidence to show a distinction between bishops and presbyters then perhaps such a point would be valid. Hermas follows the pattern we’ve seen in the canonical and extra-canonical material, however; the prebsyters exercise episkope. While it is possible Hermas is writing about presbyters seeking to usurp the monarchical bishops authority, internal evidence favors an interpretation that sees the presbyters exercising episkope jointly attempting to gain more influence than one another. Hermas recognizes that leaders in the church are there to help those in need and he does not object to leadership—but he does object to rivalry among leaders in the church. Our knowledge of those disputes (i.e. that they were over one person possessing more honor than another) and Hermas’s revulsion to their behavior reinforces his plain statements that presbyters “rule the church.” BOH will want to claim that this is potentially compatible with their view because the presbyters do rule along with the bishop (who is himself a presbyter). Perhaps BOH is correct, but does this make the most sense of the data? I believe an evaluation of the competing stories makes BOH’s unable to integrate all of the data as seamlessly as mine.

e. Justin Martyr

Only a brief note at this point is needed. Justin’s comments about the liturgy in his Dialogues only serve to show the fractionation of Christianity. Justin describes a worship service where there is a presider over the service and (a) deacon(s). No mention is made of a bishop authorizing the presider. This citation only works in concert with the other literature already cited. The larger significance is for the issues of fractionation, discussed in Section V.


[1] Carolyn Osiek, Hermeneia Shepherd of Hermas. Pg. 71.


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