Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Hermas On Prayer To The Dead And Angels

I was recently reminded of a passage in The Shepherd Of Hermas that I'd forgotten about. It's addressing people who consult soothsayers, false prophets, and the like:

"For no spirit given by God requires to be asked; but such a spirit having the power of Divinity speaks all things of itself, for it proceeds from above from the power of the Divine Spirit." (Commandment Eleven)

Michael Holmes' translation renders it:

"For no spirit given by God needs to be consulted; instead, having the power of deity, it speaks everything on its own initiative, because it is from above, from the power of the divine Spirit." (The Apostolic Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2005], 407)

It seems that Hermas didn't think we should pray to the deceased or angels. In a thread here, I discuss another passage in Hermas that points in the same direction. Use the Ctrl F feature on your keyboard to search for "Hermas". The discussion is near the end of the thread.

That same thread also discusses a lot of other patristic evidence against the practice of praying to the dead and angels. Use Ctrl F to search for Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Lactantius, and other patristic sources. In a post here, I have a collection of links to my material on prayer to the dead and angels, including other threads in which I interact with advocates of the practice.

A couple of things that should be noted about Hermas are that he's early and Roman. His work or portions of it are dated anywhere from the late first century to sometime in the second. And he lived in Rome and apparently was the brother of a second-century Roman bishop (according to the Muratorian Canon, though later sources make the less likely claim that he was the Hermas of Romans 16:14), so his background makes him harder to dismiss from a Roman Catholic perspective.


  1. Jason, I'd like to read some of the ante-nicene fathers since some of them are so close to the time of the apostles. What would your recommendation be for people like me? Do you recommend the series by Philip Schaff? Or are they outdated?


      Here's something I wrote a few years ago about how to study the church fathers. There are advantages to having newer editions of patristic documents, but you can learn the large majority of what there is to know from older editions and ones that are available for free online. If you have a question about a particular passage, you can look up a lot of older editions for free online, such as at Google Books, and you can read a lot of material for free at Amazon, including portions of newer works. Depending on your finances and other factors, you could start with what's accessible for free (online, at libraries, etc.), then pay for whatever else you want as circumstances warrant.

      Whatever editions of the fathers you read, I recommend reading the notes also, not just the main body of the text. And take notes of your own.

    2. Thanks Jason for the recommendations here and at the other blogpost. They really make sense and can give people like me a sense of what we want to get out of the fathers and a strategy as to how to get it. For myself I'll probably be focusing on christology, pneumatology, soteriology, ecclesiology and the role of Scripture and T/tradition.