Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Tag Archives: Angels

Viewing the Heavenly Liturgy

Today’s second reading allows us to particiheavenly jerusalempate in a prophetic tradition that links us through our own baptism[1] to the prophets of old. Through Sacred Scripture, we participate in the visions of all the prophets that were privileged to pierce the veil and look into the glory of heaven.

Each time a prophet viewed into heaven, did you ever considered what they viewed? They viewed the Divine Liturgy. When we consider Isaiah or Ezekiel in Sacred Scripture, who gazed upon this liturgy, we know it is the «Continue Reading»

To Be of Not To Be an Angel

Around this time of year, I receive a number of questions typically asking, “Does Uncle Clarence become an angel when he dies.” I’m not sure if it is because people have watched It’s a Wonderful Life one too many times or if they think that the angelic being is the top of the after-life corporate ladder. The answer of course is “No,” which means; as a number of parents have shared that I have just now crushed the hearts, dreams and spiritual potential of most of the second grade religious education class. As you might guess, the kids are great with the answer – it’s the parents that walk away dazed.

Mom or Dad always appear the following week – recovered from their daze, upset telling me that I am cruel and I need to update my theology (You know, Vatican II happened). So, in an effort to assist those well-meaning parents and grandparents – here is why we do not become angels.

We can no more become angels than a bird can drop its wings and become a fish. Just as the fish and the bird are two different species or kinds of animals, so may we apply the same logic to human beings and angelic beings. We are not only completely different from each other but,

Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection. For each one of the works of the “six days” it is said: “And God saw that it was good.” “By the very nature of creation, material being is endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws.” Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment. (CCC 339)

Angels too possess their own particular goodness and perfection. In the economy of salvation, angels serve a particular purpose within the Kingdom of God by serving the Messiah as His messengers to those who are called to salvation:

They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation? (CCC 331)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church continues to teach us that angels have been created to assist the Blessed Trinity not only manage the universe but, in a particular way, assist those who are called to be the sons of God.[1]

Humanity by nature was created a “little less than the angels.”[2] From the very beginning:

The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God (article 1); it is fulfilled in his vocation to divine beatitude (article 2).[3] From his conception, he is destined for eternal beatitude.[4]

Most importantly,

Man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.  (Gaudium et Spes 24)

Our Lord made us part of His family (1 John 3:1) and has destined us to participate in His glory. Now, I ask you, “Why would you ever want to be an angel?”

Angel of God My Guardian Dear…

October 2 is the Feast of the Guardian though it is suppressed this year as it falls on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time. Christ, in the economy of salvation has destined us for glory as we struggle in this world.

In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and
powerful help of angels. (CCC 334)

It is only by revelation do we understand the work of the angels among us.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC 336)

Each person from the moment of their conception is assigned a heavenly companion to walk with them through life and into eternity. Saint Jerome explained this matter in his commentary when he said, “The dignity of a soul is so great, that each has a guardian angel from its birth.”

I am constantly amazed at the assistance I receive when I least expect it from my heavenly companion. Anyone have any good stories? Please share!

Feast of the Archangels

The Feast of the Archangels celebrates the Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Many have written on these three protectors and defenders of humanity. To read more about them I would encourage to take a gander at the Catholic Culture explanation.

Instead, I would like to shed more light on the nine choirs of angels. The nine choirs or orders are divided into three hierarchies: 1) Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones – those that govern things pertaining to heaven; 2) Dominations, Virtues and Powers – those that govern things pertaining to the material universe; and 3) Principalities, Archangels and Angels – those that govern things pertaining to human affairs.

While on the subject, I would like to touch on a common fallacy. Evil spirits and demons are angels albeit fallen ones. The result of a glorified nature falling is not the destruction of the nature and its powers but the loss of its glory. A seraphim remains a seraphim with all of its natural powers of will and intellect – just devoid of the grace and light that made them resplendent.

The following is from the Minea of St Dimitry of Rostov and appeared in the November/December 1968 issue of Orthodox Life. After reading it, it is conformity of the Catholic angelic cosmology:

The nine orders of the angels are divided into three hierarchies, each of which is divided into three orders: the highest, the intermediate, the lower.

The first hierarchy, the highest and closest to the Most Holy Trinity, consists of the SERAPHIM, CHERUBIM, and THRONES.

The God-loving six-winged SERAPHIM stand closer than all before their Creator and Maker, as the prophet Isaiah saw, saying: “And the seraphim stood around Him, each having six wings” (Isaiah 6:2). They are fire-like since they stand before That One of Whom it is written: “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:29); “His throne was a flame of fire” (Dan 7:9); “the appearance of the Lord was like a blazing fire” (Ex 24:17). Standing before such glory, the seraphim are fire-like, as it said: “Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire” (Ps 103:4). They are aflame with love for God and kindle others to such love, as i shown by their very name, for “seraphim” in the Hebrew language means: “flaming”.

After the seraphim, before the All-knowing God, Who resides in inaccessible light, stand the many-eyed CHERUBIM in ineffable radiance. More than the other lower orders of angels, they are always radiant with the light of the knowledge of God, with the knowledge of the mysteries of God and the depths of His Wisdom; being themselves enlightened, they enlighten others. Their name “cherubim” in translation from the Hebrew language, means: “great understanding” or “effusion of wisdom”, because through the cherubim wisdom is sent down to others and enlightenment of the spiritual eyes is given for the seeing of God and knowledge of God.

Thereafter stand the God-bearing THRONES (as St Dionysius the Areopagite calls them) before Him Who sits on the high and exulted throne, being named “thrones” since on them, as on intellectual thrones (as writes St Maximus the Confessor) God intellectually resides. They are not called “God bearing” according to essence but according to grace and according to their office, as the flesh of Jesus Christ (as St Basil the Great writes) is called “God-bearing” according to essence since it was indivisibly united with God the Word Himself. The thrones are then called “God-bearing” not according to essence but according o grace, given for their service, which is mystically and incomprehensibly to bear God in themselves. Residing on them in an incomprehensible manner, God makes His righteous judgement, according to the word of David: “Thou hast sat upon a throne, O Thou that judgest righteousness.” (Ps 9:4). Therefore through them the justice of God is pre-eminently manifested; they serve His justice, glorifying it and pour out the power of justice onto the thrones of earthly judges, helping kings and masters to bring forth right judgement.

Th middle hierarchy also consists of three orders of holy angels: the DOMINIONS, the VIRTUES, and the POWERS.

The DOMINIONS are so named because, being themselves free, they dominate over the rest of the angels which follow behind them. Having abandoned servile fear, as St Dionysius the Aeropagite says, they voluntarily and with joy serve God unceasingly. Also they send down power for prudent governing and wise management to authorities on the earth set up by God. Further they teach how to control the senses, how to subdue in oneself dissolute desires and passions, how to enslave the flesh to the spirit, and how to rule over one’s will and be above all temptations.

The VIRTUES, [the usual translation of the name of this order of angels as “virtues” is readily misleading if the old meaning of the word “virtue” as “power” or “force”, especially as regards to divine beings (cf Oxford English Dictionary), is not remembered. Note of translator.] filled with divine strength, quickly fulfill the will of the All-High and Omnipotent Lord, strong and powerful. They both work very great miracles and send down the grace of miracle-working to God’s saints, who are worthy of such grace, in order that these may work miracles, such as heal every sickness and foretell the future. The holy virtues also help people laboring and those overburdened by the bearing of an obedience placed on them by someone – by which their names “virtues” is explained – and they bear the infirmities of the weak. They also strengthen every man in patience, so that he does not faint away in affliction but rather bears all misfortune with a strong spirit, courageously, and with humility, giving thanks for everything to God, arranging all for our benefit.

The POWERS are so called because they have power over the devil, in order to restrain the power of the demons, to repulse the temptations brought upon people by them, and to prevent the demons from harming anyone to the degree that they would wish. The powers strengthen the good ascetics in spiritual struggles and labors, protecting them so that they may not be deprived of the spiritual kingdom. They help those wrestling with passions and vices to cast out evil thoughts and slanders of the enemy and to conquer the devil.

In the lowest hierarchy there are also three orders: the PRINCIPALITIES, the ARCHANGELS, and the ANGELS.

The PRINCIPALITIES are named thus because they have command over the lower angels, directing them to the fulfilment of divine orders. The management of the universe and the keeping of all the kingdoms and princedoms, of lands and all peoples, races and nations, is also entrusted to them since each kingdom, race and people have for themselves a special deeper and manager from the heavenly order called the principalities, for all their country. Further, the service of this angelic order (according to the explanation of St Gregory the Dialogist) consists in teaching the people to requite each person in authority according to his calling. Finally, the angels of this order raise worthy people to various honorable offices and direct them so that they take power not for the sake of their own gain and benefit, nor for the sake of love of honr and vain renown, but for the sake of honor from God, for the sake of spreading and augmenting of His holy glory, and for the sake of the benefit of their neighbors – as serving the general needs of all their subordinates.

The ARCHANGELS are called the great heralds of good news, announcing the great and most glorious. Their service (as the great Dionysius the Aeropagite says) consists in revealing prophecies, knowledge, and understanding of God’s will which they receive from the higher orders of angels and announce to the lower order, ie. the angels, and through them, to men. St Gregory the Dialogist says that the archangels strengthen people in the holy faith, enlightening their mind with the light of knowledge of the holy Gospel and revealing the mysteries of devout faith.

The ANGELS are the lowest of all the orders in the heavenly hierarchy and the closest to man. They aannounce the lesser mysteries and intentions of God and teach people to live virtuously and righteously before God. They are appointed to guard each of us who believe: they sustain virtuous people from fallen, and never leave us though we have sinned, but are always ready to help us, if only we ourselves want it.

All of the heavenly orders are also called by the common name “angels”. Although they have different names according to their situation and grace given by God (as seraphim, cherubim, thrones and the rest of the orders), yet all in general are called angels, because the word “angel” is not a denomination of essence, but of service, as it is written: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister” (Heb 1:14). But their service is different and not identical: each order has its own service; for the All-Wise Creator does not reveal the mystery of His design to all to the same degree, but from the one to the others, through the higher He enlightens the lower, revealing to them His will and commanding it to be as in the book of the Prophet Zachariah. There it is said that one angel, after conversing with the prophet, met another angel who ordered him to go again to the prophet and reveal the future fate of Jerusalem: “And behold, the angel that talked with me went forth and another angel went out to meet him, and said unto him, Run, speak to these young man (that is, the prophet Zachariah), saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: For I, saith the Lord will be unto her a wall of fire round about” (Zach 2:3-5).

Deliberating about this, St Gregory the Dialogist says, “When one angel says to the other: ‘Run speak to this young man’ there is no doubt that certain angels send others, that the lower ones are sent, that the higher send” (St Gregory the Dialogist, Interpretation of the Gospels, #4).

We find exactly the same thing in the prophecy of Daniel, that one angel orders another to interpret the vision to the prophet. From this it is evident that angels of higher orders reveal the divine will and intention of their Creator to angels of the lower orders, that they enlighten them and send them to people.

We need to implore the angels to assist us in every manner they are able. May the holy angels assist us in our journey to heaven.

To read more about the fall of the angels and how they made a place for us before the divine majesty, read my article, Dancing with the Angels.

Prayer to Our Lady, Queen of the Angels

I like this one…

August Queen of Heaven!
Sovereign Mistress of the angels!
Thou who from the beginning
hast received from God
the power and mission to crush the head of Satan,
we humbly beseech thee
to send thy holy Legions,
that, under thy command
and by thy power,
they may pursue the evil spirits,
encounter them on every side,
resist their bold attacks
and drive them hence into the abyss of eternal woe.


Jesus isn’t a Pacifist

Had to re-post from at Roma locuta est:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jesus is Hardly a Pacifist (Neither is St. Michael nor Gandalf)

Whenever the Gospel scene of Jesus cleansing the Temple comes up in conversation, is it always entertaining to see people try to rationalize or explain away the anger that our Lord displayed.  There are those who will say that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ humanity, but such an explanation always seems to have an accompanying tinge of “perfect divinity, imperfect humanity.”  After all, when we say of someone, “He is only human,” we are usually doing so to justify an imperfect action or reaction, as if to say, “He is human, and therefore not perfect.”  Such an accusation of Jesus is misleading at best.  Yes, Jesus is human, fully human, in fact, as well as fully divine.  However, Jesus is perfect in his humanity.  Therefore, any reaction he gives is the perfect reaction to the situation that stands before him.  This is good news for the rest of us, for it demonstrates that humanity in both its core and destiny is fundamentally good, that imperfections found within all of us are the result of sin (both original and personal), and not the result of being human as such.  Therefore, the perfection that Jesus possesses in being fully human is a perfection that awaits us, God willing, in our glorified state.
What then, should we make of the anger demonstrated by Jesus in his cleansing of the Temple?  The first conclusion we can draw is that there is a place for a righteous anger in dealing with the problem of sin.  Of course, we should not mistake this kind of anger for the irrational, impatient, and reactionary kind that we so often demonstrate in our lives.  But Jesus is hardly a pacifist.  To get a better sense of righteous anger, it helps to consider a few examples.  The first we will take from the life of Jesus, the second from the archangel Michael, and the third from that master of myth, J.R.R. Tolkien.
First, consider the scene where Peter questions whether Jesus must actually undergo suffering and death.  From the Gospel of Matthew 16:21-23:
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus’ response is jarring.  After all, was not Peter only looking out for the well-being of his teacher and friend?  Jesus the pacifist pop-psychologist would have sat Peter down and calmly explained, “Now, Peter, you are not understanding the importance of what I have said.  I know this is hard for you, but in due time you will come to understand.  For now, let’s have a beer, and join me in a verse of Kumbaya.”  But such was not Jesus’ reaction.  Instead, he jarred Peter and the other disciples out of their foolishness, emphasizing the importance of his pending death and resurrection and the providence of the Father.  If this were a film, one could almost see the camera pan in for a close up of Jesus, the sky darkening behind him, and a fiery glow on his face.  The background audio would be eliminated and the voice of Christ would change from normal “human” discourse to the booming voice of God, the Second Person of the Trinity:  “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The second example of righteous anger is the battle in which St. Michael casts out of heaven the fallen prince of darkness himself.  St. Michael is a warrior, and as he engages in the cosmic struggle with Satan, I hardly think he demonstrates weakness.  Such a mistaken view of this soldier-angel would have him clashing swords while begging Lucifer to change his ways, “Why are you doing this?  Don’t you know that the Father loves you?  Please reconsider and come home?”  This is hardly the St. Michael that is portrayed in the icons and statues of old.  No, the same righteous anger demonstrated by our Lord in his dealing with Peter and the cleansing of the Temple accompanies St. Michael as he clashes swords with the evil one:  “Go back to the depths of Hell where you belong!”  Such a strong and angry reaction would be the only appropriate one in the face of pure evil.  Weakness has no place here, but fortitude and courage and the other virtues of spiritual warfare.
Finally, allegorical myth can go a long way in demonstrating eternal and cosmic principles.  As I was thinking over the notion of righteous anger, I was reminded of the scene from The Lord of the Rings where the wizard Gandalf battles the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-Dûm.  The works of Tolkien are not quite as allegorical as Lewis.  (With Lewis, there is no doubt that Aslan is the Christ figure.  In fact, Tolkien was moderately critical of what he considered a all-too-obvious allegory in The Chronicles of Narnia.)  Gandalf has elements of a Christ figure to be sure, but so too do the characters of Frodo and Aragorn.  In the scene on the underground bridge, the Balrog is a creature from the depth of the earth, a terrifying incarnation of hellish evil.  Gandalf here can either be seen as Christ himself or even as a St. Michael figure.  As the other characters are running to escape certain death, it is Gandalf who stays behind to look evil in the face and to engage the demon in battle.  The anger with which Gandalf meets the Balrog is both righteous and unshakable.
I will quote selectively from Chapter V of Book II:
Something was coming up behind them.  What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, or man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.
It came to the edge of the fire and the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it.  Then with a rush it leaped across the fissure.  The flames roared up to greet it, and wreathed about it; and a black smoke swirled in the air.  Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it.  In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left hand it held a whip of many thongs.
“A Balrog,” muttered Gandalf.  He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff.  “What and evil fortune!  And I am already weary.”
The Balrog reached the bridge.  Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring [his sword] gleamed, cold and white.  His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.  It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked.  Fire came from its nostrils.  But Gandalf stood firm.
“You cannot pass,” he said.  A dead silence fell.  “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.  You cannot pass.  The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun.  Go back to the Shadow!  You cannot pass.”
The following is a clip showing Gandalf’s encounter with the Balrog from the Peter Jackson films.  You will have to fast forward a bit to get to the actual battle.  (Embedding was disabled, so you will have to watch it directly on YouTube.)
There is a series of clips that shows the extended battle into the depths of Moria; again embedding was disabled.
This is the epic righteous anger that is appropriate in the battle against evil.  It is not an anger that is reactionary, selfish, or impatient.  But neither it is not a plea for pacifism.  Rather, it is meeting evil face to face, calling it by its proper name, and telling it in no uncertain terms where it can go.  I imagine it is the same kind of forceful language that would be used in an exorcism, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to depart!”
As a side note, Pope Benedict XVI dedicates part of the first chapter in the second installment of Jesus of Nazareth to the cleansing of the Temple, which he connects with the prophecy of the Temple’s destruction.  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Of course, there are multifarious and multilayered explanations of this prophecy, but certainly on one level the “den of thieves and robbers” is the beginning of the temple’s destruction, certainly a cause for the righteous anger of which we have been speaking.