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Landmarks in the History of Early Christianity




I am glad to be allowed to quote on this subject from a letter by my friend and former pupil, Dr. F. S. Mackenzie of Montreal, who has spent much time on the study of Hermas. He says:

"In several passages Hermas speaks of a small circle of six superior angels. It is legitimate to look for a reason for his choice of this= particular number, and there can be little doubt that the reason may be discovered in Sim. ix., where the Son of God, who appears as lord of the tower, is clearly thought of as the seventh angel, superior to the six who accompany him and who have charge of the building of the tower, as they in turn are superior to all lesser angels and men. Thus the number of the archangels is made complete, according to prevailing apocalyptic enumeration. The contention of some scholars, among whom Zahn is the most outstanding, that Hermas makes a fundamental distinction between the Son of God and all= angels, cannot be made good. The lord of the tower in Sim. ix. is not different in kind from the six angels who accompany him in his inspection of the tower. While he is, indeed, much more glorious than the others,= nevertheless he and they alike appear as 'glorious men.' They all are angels (Sim. ix. 12. 7-8). Moreover, this angelic Son of God is called Michael in Sim.= viii., and is obviously identical with the most revered or glorious angel (= ffenv6raTos ayjf\os ) referred to in other places. He is supreme in the angel= world. He has all authority over both angels and men. He is lord of the Church, and judge of its members.

"Why is the Son of God, the Christian archangel, called Michael? Michael was one of the seven Jewish archangels; and to him, according to Dan. xii. 1, was to be committed the


judgement of the people of God. There are indications in apocalyptic literature that he was regarded as supreme in this angelic circle. Hermas apparently has carried over the name of this Jewish angel, and used it to designate the archangel of the Christians, who are for him, of course, the true Israel. The position of supremacy in the angel world, assigned by pre-Christian righteous men to Michael, is really held by the Son of God. He is in fact the true Michael; and in him all that is foretold of Michael in valid prophecy will be fulfilled. If Hermas regarded the= prediction of Dan. xii. 1 as authoritative at all, he must obviously have seen in it a reference to the Christian judgement to be executed by the Son of God. And I consider it highly probable that this may explain the apparent identification of the Son of God with the Jewish angel. Hermas has simply made use of the name to connect his ideas with the Danielic prophecy, and to show how, in his opinion, that prophecy is to be fulfilled. If this be so, then the Son of God is not, strictly speaking, identified with the Jewish Michael, but he may nevertheless be given the name on occasion, because of the fact that in him all that the prophets foretold of the= archangel of the people of God will come to pass.

"The term Son of God is used by Hermas in a double sense. On the one hand, it is used of the pre-existent counsellor of God, who may also be called the Holy Spirit, and on the other of the glorified and exalted= Jesus, the elect servant, who became the Son of God (Sim. v. 6), or in whom, as is said in Sim. ix. 12, the pre-existent Son became manifest. Because Jesus alone of all men preserved the indwelling Spirit pure,= therefore he is the only perfect manifestation of the Spirit or Son of God. And he was rewarded for his fidelity by being adopted into the family of God as joint heir with the Son. Nevertheless he is not, and never can be, one with the pre-existent Son or Spirit.

"One is tempted to argue that this distinction is observed in= Similitudes v., viii., and ix., and that the Son of the master of the vineyard, the great spreading tree, and the ancient rock respectively represent the= pre-existent Son, while the elect servant, the angel Michael, and the lord of the tower represent the exalted Jesus. Thus all the angelic representations of the


Son of God would refer only to the latter. Moreover, there are features in the angelology of Hermas which strengthen such an argument. From Vis. ii. 2, 7, Sim. ix, 24. 4, 25. 2, 27. 3, it seems clear that Christians are believed to become angels at their death. Their rank, however, in the angel world will not be uniform, but will vary according to the excellence of their life on earth. Jesus therefore, because of his unique purity of life, must necessarily be the most highly exalted of all such angels. And so, in point of fact, he is. Of all angels, only he has ever been admitted to a position of co-equality with the pre-existent Son.

"On the other hand, it must be remembered that Hermas at times seems to think of the pre-existent Son or Spirit as an angel (Mand. vi. 2, xi. 9). Moreover, in his representation as the son of the master in the parable of Sim. v., he stands in very much the same relation to the first-created angels as does the lord of the tower in Sim. ix. And finally, there is an undoubted difficulty in supposing that the six archangels are thought of as being obliged to wait from the beginning of time until the exaltation of Jesus for their number to be completed. It still remains an open= question whether the Christian archangel, the lord and judge of the Church, is the eternal or the adopted Son of God; and with the uncertainty and obscurity of the data, it may be doubted whether a final judgement in the matter can be given. Hermas does not, in fact, preserve any clear distinction between spirits and angels. He reveals throughout an undoubted fondness for hypostatisation. Even virtues and vices, emotions and passions, are described as spirits or demons as the case may be, and spoken of as if they were possessed of personality. And certainly some allowance ought to be made for this tendency of the author, in the matter of determining his conception of spirits in general, and in particular of the Holy Spirit, who besides having an eternal existence with God, dwells also in every man."

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