In the previous mandate, we saw a lot of attention being given to the dynamic of the Holy Spirit and evil spirits clamoring for primacy in the Christian’s heart, specifically in the context of anger vs. patience. Now in the sixth, the angel wants to show Hermas how to distinguish between these two types of spirits. The command here is to trust the righteous spirit, and to put no trust in the unrighteous. The classic metaphor of two roads is then presented: there’s the straight and even way, and the crooked path filled with stumbling-blocks. “Whoever turns to the Lord with all his heart” will walk in the straight path. But so what? When are we going to have to deal with these opposing forces in our hearts? The angel has something to tell Hermas on this subject:
There are two angels with a man – one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity…. The angel of righteousness is gentle and modest, meek and peaceful. When, therefore, he ascends into your heart, forthwith he talk to you of righteousness, purity, chastity, contentment, and of every righteous deed and glorious virtue. When all these ascend into your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you….
Look now at the works of the angel of iniquity. First, he is wrathful, and bitter, and foolish, and his works are evil, and ruin the servants of God. When, then, he ascends into your heart, know him by his works…. When anger comes upon you, or harshness, know that he is in you; and you will know this to be the case also, when you are attacked by a longing after many transactions, and the richest delicacies, and drunken revels, and divers luxuries, and things improper, and by a hankering after women, and by overreaching, and pride, and blustering, and by whatever is like to these.
It’s just like in the cartoons, when an angel appears on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and they both vie for attention. It’s pretty clear if you listen objectively that one is speaking good and the other evil, but the evil often sounds more fun and tempting, even though it’s always telling us to act selfishly. In popular medieval thought, this two-angel concept was quite prominent, and the Roman Catholic Church today still affirms the concept that every Christian (or everyone) has a Guardian Angel, which fits right in with this spiritual scheme described in Hermas.
Furthermore, the angel says that these good & evil angels can persuade both the wicked and the righteous to act righteously or wickedly. In this sense, the good angel is a protector of the righteous and a gospel messenger to the wicked, constantly giving opportunity to amend their ways! For, at the end of the day, it’s the fruit of works that vindicate the righteous angel’s words and condemn the words of the evil angel. “You see, therefore, that it is good to follow the angel of righteousness, but to bid farewell to the angel of iniquity.“