The commandments, or mandates, contain teachings on faith, simplicity, truth, chastity and courage—as well as lessons on how to deal with spirits and demons. This text includes one of the earliest examples of the idea that human conduct can be classified as either good or bad—influenced by God or by evil spirit—and that people can discern the presence of a good or evil spirit by examining their feelings and inclinations:

“Now listen” he [the Shepherd] said, “about faith. There are two angels with a person, one that is right and one that is evil.”

“So how am I to know sir,” I [Hermas] said, “the workings of each, since both angels live with me?”

“Listen,” he said, “and you will understand them. The angel of right is sensitive to shame, meek and tranquil. When that angel enters your heart, it immediately speaks with you about justice, about purity, about reverence, about contentment and about every right deed and every honorable virtue. When all of this enters your heart, you know that the right angel is with you. These are the works of the right angel. Believe in it and its works. Now look at the works of the angel of evil. First of all, it is bad-tempered, and bitter and stupid, and its works are evil, undermining the servants of God. When this one enters your heart, know it from its works.”

“How am I to recognize it, sir,” I said, “I do not understand.”

“Listen,” he said, “when bad temper or bitterness overcomes you, you know it is in you; then come desire for doing more business, for extravagant food and drink, reveling, varied and unnecessary delicacies, lust for women, avarice, arrogance, pride and whatever else goes along with them. So when these things enter your heart, you know that the angel of evil is in you. So when you recognize its deeds, stay away from it and do not trust it at all, because its works are evil and inappropriate for the servants of God. Now you have the workings of both angels; understand them and trust in the angel of right. But keep your distance from the angel of evil, because its teaching is evil in every action. Even though a person be completely faithful, if the thinking of that angel enters his or her heart, that man or woman is bound to sin somehow. And again, even though a man or woman be really evil, and the work of the angel of right enters his or her heart, he or she will necessarily do some good. So you see that it is good to follow the angel of right but stay away from the angel of evil. This commandment clarifies the things of faith, so that you might trust in the works of the angel of right, and when you do them, you will live to God. But believe that the works of the angel of evil are troublesome, and by not doing them, you will live to God.”

(Mandate 6.2.1–10—translation by Carolyn Osiek)