Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hort's Lecture on Clement of Rome and Hermas

Fenton John Anthony Hort
In 1890, Fenton John Anthony Hort (half of the Westcott-Hort duo) delivered a series of six lectures on ante-Nicene fathers.  They were published in 1895, a few years after his death.  What follows here, with slight adjustments, is the first lecture in the series.


            The lectures which I hope to deliver this term are intended to have for their subject “Some early Fathers of the Church.”  In this description of the proposed subject the word  “Fathers” means simply what it means in common usage, the Christian writers of the early Christian centuries.  In one literal sense they might be called Fathers, viz. as being the parents of the Christian thought and belief and life of later centuries, which, however modified and altered by the inward and outward changes arising in the course of time, retain always down to the present day important features inherited from the peculiar circumstances of the centuries which followed the Apostolic age.
            But, although it is important to remember that our own thoughts, and the thoughts of all
Christians everywhere, have been in a great measure thus shaped for us by the thoughts of the early Fathers, it is not on account of this fact that we call them Fathers, but rather in gratitude and veneration for them as the patriarchs of Christendom, speaking to us still out of that early dawn of the Christian period of history, and often speaking to us out of the fiery trial of persecution.  But it would be a misuse of this legitimate reverence to treat the words of the Fathers as oracles appointed to dictate to us what we ought to believe.  If we read their words with an open and teachable mind, we shall often find there abundant help and instruction, but the responsibility will always lie upon us of weighing and testing what we read, to the best of our power.  We must not be surprised if we sometimes find much dross, for each age has its own limitations and vagaries, and, besides these, each man in each age has his own limitations and vagaries, some more, some less.
            Again it is not really possible to measure the comparative worth of the Fathers, one with another, merely by their comparative antiquity. There is no doubt a peculiar freshness in the best writings of quite the earliest time, the only time which can with any propriety share with the Apostolic Age the much misused and slippery epithet “primitive.”  But the greatest of the Fathers belong to later times, and different later times, when in doctrine and in institutions and in various other things pertaining to Christian life, great and unavoidable changes had taken place, changes that were on the whole for good and belonging to healthy growth, but also by no means free from loss, from injurious onesidedness, and from corruption.  In what we call the age of the Fathers there was anything rather than a uniform state of things.  Movement was at that time more rapid than probably at any later time of Christian history.
            There are several comparatively distinct subjects which might properly enough be lectured about or written about in connection with the Fathers. They might serve as a thread for speaking about Church History generally, or about the History of doctrine, of course in either case within the limits of their own time. Or again they might, with more obvious fitness, be taken as the heads of the corresponding history of Christian literature. The time at our disposal will not however allow us to follow any of these lines, unless it be incidentally and to a small extent.  I wish rather to do what I can towards putting before you the leading Fathers of the earliest centuries as living men, the children of a particular time, and to give some account of the purpose and character of their chief works, illustrated by translated extracts which may help towards the formation of individual impressions that may remain associated with their respective names.  
            It is well to keep in mind throughout that only a small part of the actual Christian literature of the early centuries is now preserved to us.  Not only many books, but all the books of many authors, have completely perished. Of others we possess only scanty fragments.  On the other hand, when we observe the neglect or even dislike with which the Ante-Nicene Christian literature, with very limited exceptions, was regarded by most of the Christian theologians of later days, we can hardly be too thankful that so much has been preserved; and moreover that what has been preserved has so representative a character, that is, supplies us with substantial and important examples of different times, different schools, and different churches.  Again it is a striking and encouraging fact that so many lost works, or lost portions of works, belonging to this period have come to light within the last forty years.  Nor is there any reason to believe that we have come to the end of discoveries of this kind.
            The Fathers of whom I propose to speak today belong to the small group to which it has been usual for above two hundred years to give the rather unmeaning name Apostolic Fathers, that is, preeminently Clement of Rome, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp. In the opinion of many the earliest extant Christian writing outside the New Testament is the remarkable little manual of Christian morals and ecclesiastical instruction calling itself the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, now familiarly known as the Didache, which was discovered and published a few years ago. It may however be considerably later, and at all events it lies too near the edge of our subject to need more than this passing word of notice.
            We begin then with Clement of Rome. The little that is really known about him will be best found in Dr. Lightfoot’s admirable edition, and still more in the Appendix which he published eight years later, in which he has carefully sifted the mass of ancient legend and modern speculation which has gathered round Clement’s name. Some pages of his Philippians are also worth reading in the same connection.  The apparent time when the Epistle was written and the apparent personal position of Clement are both remarkable.  Some thirty years had passed, what is counted a generation, since the persecution of Nero, some twenty-five years since the fall of Jerusalem, the greatest as well as most awful of events for all Christians. For the Empire, after all the frightful turmoil which had followed the death of Nero, a happier time had already begun with the accession of Vespasian, a period Dr. Merivale says “distinguished by the general prosperity of the administration, the tranquil obedience of the people, and (with a single exception) by the virtue and public spirit of the rulers.” 
            Vespasian’s son Titus had succeeded, and then his other son Domitian, his reign being the one exception to the comparative brightness of the series of eight.  Always capricious and suspicious, the emperor showed these qualities in an extreme form about the years a.d. 95, 96, the last of his life. Among his victims were his own first cousin and niece’s husband, Flavius Clemens, the father of the two reputed heirs to the empire. This Clemens was executed, and his wife exiled, both apparently as having become Christians. The Clement who wrote our Epistle was, it would seem, a freedman or freedman’s son in their household, and had in this manner received his name. Everything in his letter shows that he must have been long a Christian himself, so that his mind would naturally be saturated, as we find it, with the language and ideas of the Old Testament, the only Scriptures, properly so called, for Christians at this early time, even if he was not previously, as is possible, a Jew of the Dispersion. 
            His precise position in the Roman Church is difficult to ascertain. Two or three generations later, when the early constitution of the European Churches had been forgotten, he was placed in the series of early Bishops of Rome. But, as Dr. Lightfoot has shown (Phil. p. 218, ed. 8), it is difficult to reconcile his holding such an office with the language of the Epistle itself, or with other indications as to the constitution of the Church of Rome at a somewhat later time. But he must certainly have been a man of importance and influence in the Church to be entrusted with the duty of writing such an Epistle, even if he was not the Clement to whom the book of Hermas’ Visions (to which we shall come shortly) was to be sent for sending on to the cities away from Rome, that task, it is said, having been entrusted to him.
            The Epistle itself starts with a salutation resembling those of the Apostolic Epistles, beginning “The Church of God which sojourns at Rome to the Church of God which sojourns at Corinth.”  The first words of the letter itself show the state of things at Rome.  “Because of the sudden and quickly succeeding misfortunes and calamities happening to us, brethren, we deem that we have been somewhat slow in giving attention to the matters that are in dispute among you.”  [From Lightfoot, Clement of Rome, Appendix, p. 346.]  Thus the Epistle was written during or soon after the persecution which fell on the Roman Christians in those last months of Domitian’s reign, the first persecution of which we have any knowledge after the persecution of Nero and the immediately following time of confusion.
            The purpose of this the first extant writing of a Christian Father is the promotion of peace, the restoration of a divided and disorderly Christian community to the concord and order implied in the very idea of Church-membership.  At the outset the Roman Church commends warmly the previous temper and conduct shown by the Corinthian Church, and then especially those ways of theirs to which the present state of things stood in the strongest contrast.   In place of all this had now come what is called (i) a vile and unholy sedition (or quarrel, statis), kindled by a few headlong and self-willed persons to a pitch of madness which had brought their honorable name into disgrace. It had arisen, we read further on, from contumacy shown against some of the elders of the Church, who had been thrust aside without having deserved it (44, 47, 57, etc.). This conduct is traced back (3 fin.) to “an unrighteous and impious jealousy” (zhlos), a jealousy of which examples are given as leading to great crimes and misfortunes in the times of the Old Testament, and now again as leading to the martyr deaths of Peter and Paul and many others of those who are called “elect.” 
            These admonitions the Roman Church then takes up as addressed equally to themselves:  “we are in the same arena, and the same contest awaits us.”  “Let us hearken (9) to His majestic and glorious purpose, and coming as suppliants of His mercy and graciousness let us fall down [before Him] and turn to His compassions, abandoning the laboring that is vain and the strife and the jealousy that leads to death.”  Then follow examples of those “who have ministered perfectly to God’s majestic glory” by obedience or faith or in other like ways, beginning with Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, the words of the Old Testament being copiously cited as well as the lives of its holy men.
            “The humility therefore and the submissiveness of so many and so great men, who have thus obtained a good report, hath through obedience made better not only us but also the generations which were before us, even them that received His oracles in fear and truth.  Seeing then that we have been partakers of many great and glorious doings, let us hasten to return unto the goal of peace which hath been handed down to us from the beginning, and let us look steadfastly unto the Father and Maker of the whole world, and cleave unto His splendid and excellent gifts of peace and benefits.  Let us behold Him in our mind, and let us look with the eyes of our soul unto His long-suffering will. Let us note how free from anger He is towards all His creatures.
             “The heavens are moved by His direction and obey Him in peace.  Day and night accomplish the course assigned to them by Him, without hindrance one to another.  Moreover, the inscrutable depths of the abysses and the unutterable statutes of the nether regions are constrained by the same ordinances.  The basin of the boundless sea, gathered together by His workmanship into its reservoirs, passes not the barriers wherewith it is surrounded; but even as He ordered it, so it does. For He said, ‘So far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.’  The ocean which is impassable for men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Master.  The seasons of spring and summer and autumn and winter give way in succession one to another in peace.  The winds in their several quarters at their proper season fulfill their ministry without disturbance; and the ever-flowing fountains, created for enjoyment and health, without fail give their breasts which sustain the life of men.  Yea, the smallest of living things come together in concord and peace. All these things the great Creator and Master of the universe ordered to be in peace and concord, doing good unto all things, but far beyond the rest unto us who have taken refuge in His compassionate mercies through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the majesty for ever and ever.  Amen.” [From Lightfoot, Clement of Rome, Appendix, pp. 355 foll.]

            Then follows a series of chapters of religious exhortation in the same lofty strain, ending with texts thus introduced.
            “This is the way, dearly-beloved, wherein we found our salvation, even Jesus Christ the High-priest of our offerings, the Guardian and Helper of our weakness. Through Him let us look steadfastly unto the heights of the heavens; through Him we behold as in a mirror His faultless and most excellent visage; through Him the eyes of our hearts were opened; through Him our foolish and darkened mind springeth up unto the light; through Him the Master willeth that we should taste of the immortal knowledge; ‘Who being the brightness of His majesty is so much greater than angels, as He hath inherited a more excellent name.’ For so it is written, ‘Who maketh His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire’; but of His Son the Master said thus: ‘Thou art my Son; I this day have begotten Thee.  Ask of me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession.’ And again He saith unto Him, ‘Sit thou on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.’ Who then are these enemies – They that are wicked and resist His will.” [From Lightfoot, Clement of Rome, Appendix, p. 364.]
             The original subject of the Epistle returns in a fresh exposition of the necessity and Divine-ness of order:
            “The great without the small cannot exist, neither the small without the great” (according to the wise Greek proverb).  “All the members breathe together and join in one [common] subjection that the whole body may be saved.”  This spirit of order is traced in the Mosaic legislation, and in the office and work of the apostles who received the Gospel for us from Jesus Christ, even as He was sent forth from God.  The details of what is said about the appointments of elders or men having oversight by the Apostles would need more time to discuss than we can give.  Again and again the original evil state of things at Corinth is touched on, and then always there is a return to the setting forth of the right spirit which would make such scandals impossible.  In these later chapters there is special insistence on love as, so to speak, the deepest root of the matter, as it had been set forth by St. Paul in writing to that same Corinthian Church.  The demand which it makes for self-suppression and self-surrender is illustrated by examples both from among God’s saints of old and from among heathens who sacrificed themselves for their fellow-citizens.
            “These things have they done and will do, that live as citizens of that commonwealth of God for belonging to which there is no regret” (54).

            As the end of the Epistle draws near, the Romans by the mouth of Clement declare themselves now guiltless of the sin of the Corinthian malcontents, should it be persevered in ; and break forth in a prayer equally memorable for its own sake and for the large borrowings from it which arc found in various later Greek liturgies. It begins with asking that we may hope on Thy Name, etc.  “Grant unto us, Lord, that we may set our hope on Thy Name which is the primal source of all creation, and open the eyes of our hearts, that we may know Thee, who alone abidest Highest in the highest. Holy in the holy; who layest low the insolence of the proud, who scatterest the imaginings of nations; who settest the lowly on high, and bringest the lofty low; who makest rich and makest poor; who killest and makest alive; who alone art the Benefactor of spirits and the God of all flesh; who ‘lookest into the abysses,’who scannest the works of man; the Succour of them that are in peril, the ‘Savior of them that are in despair’ ; the Creator and Overseer of every spirit ; who multipliest the nations upon earth, and hast chosen out from all men those that love Thee through Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, through whom Thou didst instruct us, didst sanctify us, didst honor us.  We beseech Thee, Lord and Master, to be our help and succour. Save those among us who are in tribulation; have mercy on the lowly; lift up the fallen; show Thyself unto the needy; heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Thy people; feed the hungry; release our prisoners; raise up the weak, comfort the faint-hearted.  Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art God alone and Jesus Christ is Thy Son and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture.” [From Lightfoot, Clement of Rome, Appendix, p. 376.]

            The prayer for the Christian community presently expands into universality (“Give concord and peace both to us and to all that inhabit the earth”); and then, in the true spirit of St. Paul and St. Peter, specially makes supplication for the rulers of the Roman empire, “Thou through Thine operations didst make manifest the everlasting fabric of the world.  Thou, Lord, didst create the earth. Thou that art faithful throughout all generations, righteous in Thy judgments, marvelous in strength and excellence, Thou that art wise in creating and prudent in establishing that which Thou hast made, that art good in the things which are seen and faithful with them that trust on Thee, pitiful and compassionate, forgive us our iniquities and our unrighteousness and our transgressions and shortcomings.  Lay not to our account every sin of Thy servants and Thine handmaids, but cleanse us with the cleansing of Thy truth, and guide our steps to walk in holiness and righteousness and singleness of heart and to do such things as are good and well-pleasing in Thy sight and in the sight of our rulers.  Yea, Lord, make Thy face to shine upon us in peace for our good, that we may be sheltered by Thy mighty hand and delivered from every sin by Thine uplifted arm.  And deliver us from them that hate us wrongfully.  Give concord and peace to us and to all that dwell on the earth, as Thou gavest to our fathers, when they called on Thee in faith and truth with holiness, that we may be saved, while we render obedience to Thine almighty and most excellent Name, and to our rulers and governors upon the earth.
            “Thou, Lord and Master, hast given them the power of sovereignty through Thine excellent and unspeakable might, that we knowing the glory and honor which Thou hast given them may submit ourselves unto them, in nothing resisting Thy will.  Grant unto them therefore, O Lord, health, peace, concord, stability, that they may administer the government which Thou hast given them without failure.  For Thou, O heavenly Master, King of the ages, givest to the sons of men glory and honor and power over all things that are upon the earth.  Do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Thy sight, that, administering in peace and gentleness with godliness the power which Thou hast given them, they may obtain Thy favor.  O Thou, who alone art able to do these thins and things far more exceeding good than these for us, we praise Thee through the High-priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ, through whom be the glory and the majesty unto Thee both now and for all generations and for ever and ever.  Amen.” [from Lightfoot, Clement of Rome, Appendix, pp. 377 foll.]
            The Epistle closes with a few more quiet sentences on its principal theme, and with the commendation of two members of the Roman Church sent as bearers of the letter, “faithful and prudent men, that from youth to old age have walked blamelessly among us, who shall also be witnesses between you and us.”
            The unaffected loftiness of this Epistle of Clement of Rome, and its position at the head of post-biblical Christian literature, have been a temptation to give it a somewhat disproportionate amount of time. What is called the second Epistle of Clement, really an anonymous homily, a generation or two later in date, may be left alone, though important for the history of doctrine.  It is rather eccentric in character, though less so than the early Epistle which bears the name of Barnabas. Whoever may be the author of that Epistle, he was certainly not the Barnabas of the New Testament; and though full of points of interest to advanced students, the Epistle is one which for our purpose may be passed over with little loss.

            After Clement of Rome we come to Hermas of Rome. We need not trouble ourselves about his precise date, which is much disputed.  At earliest he was a contemporary of Clement, at latest half a century later. He was a brother, possibly an elder brother, of Pius, who was bishop of Rome about the middle of the second century. He was evidently a layman, apparently engaged in commercial pursuits. By birth, according to his first words, he was a slave. His book, which from an early time was called The Shepherd, was read in various churches in the first centuries; and the Latin translation, which till lately was the only form known of it, had a certain popularity in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, so that it is even found in or after the Old Testament in several manuscripts of the Latin Bible. It has often been compared to the Pilgrim’s Progress, and with good reason.
            It contains in an imaginative form the thoughts and broodings of a simple-minded devout man, on whom the evil that he feels within him and sees around him lies as a heavy burden, more especially the evil which he cannot help recognizing within the Church itself, the holy society of God’s own chosen people.  ‘Repentance’ is perhaps the idea that he cherishes most.  He is entirely free from bitterness or arrogance; and the messages which he delivers he delivers not as from himself but as entrusted to him by one or other kind of Divine messenger.
            The first part of the book consists of five Visions. In the first he receives a rebuke for a sinful thought of his own; and then presently for his tolerating the misdeeds of his children, which had brought loss upon him. The speaker in the latter part of this vision is an aged lady in bright apparel, sitting on a seat of snow-white wool; who in the second vision is revealed to him to be not, as he supposed, the Sibyl, but the Church.  The third vision, a very striking one, is chiefly of a tower in process of building upon the waters, made of squared shining stones, i.e. again the Church, built of men (living stones, as St. Peter would say) who fit rightly into their place, other stones being partially or wholly cast away.  In the fourth vision a great monster from whose mouth proceed fiery locusts is seen and interpreted to be the great tribulation, which is approaching to try the faint-hearted and double-minded that they may be purified for God’s use.
            The fifth vision in a manner includes the rest (above three-fourths) of the book. It begins thus:  “When I had been praying in my house, and had seated myself on the bed, there came in a certain man of glorious appearance, in the guise of a shepherd, clothed in a white (goat’s) skin, and having a wallet on his shoulders and a staff in his hand. And he greeted me, and I returned his greeting. And straightway he sat down beside me and saith to me, ‘I have been sent by the angel of highest dignity, that I may dwell with thee the remaining days of thy life’.”  The shepherd presently bids him write down the commandments and the parables which he would declare to him.  He is then described as the Shepherd, the angel of repentance.  Thenceforth he reappears several times, almost to the end of the book.
            Then come twelve Commandments, as they are called. The first is a short one, “First of all believe that God is One, He who created and frames all things, and made all things out of what is not, [bringing them] into being, and containeth all things, but alone is uncontained.  Trust Him therefore and fear Him, and fearing practice self-restraint. Keep these things, and thou shalt cast from thyself all wickedness, and put on every virtue of righteousness, and shalt live to God, if thou keepest this commandment.”
            The subjects of the other commandments are truthfulness, chastity, long-suffering, the ways and the angels of good and of evil, right and wrong fear, right and wrong abstinence, the need of faith for prayer, the evil of a gloomy spirit, the true and the false prophet, good and evil desire.
            After the twelve Commandments come ten (or more strictly nine) Parables or Similitudes.  They are almost wholly taken from country scenes and agricultural or pastoral occupations, specially from vines and other trees. Perhaps the most interesting is the eighth.  The angel shows Hermas “a great willow-tree, overshadowing plains and mountains, and under the shade of the willow had come all that have been called by the Name of the Lord.”  This mighty tree which overshadowed plains and mountains and all the earth, is explained to be the Law of God which was given “to go forth into all the world : and this law is the Son of God proclaimed unto the ends of the earth ; and the peoples that are under the shade are they that heard the proclamation and believed on Him.”  These last words refer to the next incident of the parable:
            “There stood an angel of the Lord glorious exceedingly, in height above the willow tree, holding a great reaping-hook, and he cut down branch after branch from the willow, and gave to the people that were overshadowed by the willow.  And after that all had received their twigs, the angel laid aside his reaping-hook, and the tree was sound just as I had seen it before.”  Presently the angel asks back the twigs, and receives them one by one, some withered and gnawed as by a moth, others withered only, others half withered, others half withered and cracked, and so on in various gradations to those which were wholly green and clothed with fresh shoots and fruit. Those who had held these last were crowned with palm-leaves. This is perhaps the most remarkable example of the just and truthful habit of mind which leads Hermas in various places to mark the various gradations in which good and evil are actually mixed in the hearts and lives of men.  The Shepherd invites Hermas to join in planting the other twigs, which in various degrees had lost their greenness, if perchance some of them might live when they have been duly watered : for, said the Shepherd, “He that created this tree willeth that all should live who have received branches from this tree.”
            With these words we may part company from Hermas.

No comments: