And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his Angels battle with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and they did not prevail, neither was their place found any more in heaven--Apocalypse 12, 7-8
There are three reasons assigned in today's Gospel why the word of God, or the teachings of Christ, do not bear fruit in the hearts of men, namely, the devil, the flesh, and the world. That we are beset with temptations of the flesh from within, and the allurements of riches and pleasures in the world from without, no one will easily deny. But it is frequent in the present age to question the very existence, let alone the intervention in human affairs, of angels and demons. And yet an invisible world of spirits which we do not see, as really exists as the visible world around us which we do see. It is important that we should reflect upon this doctrine of divine revelation.
I. Creation and trial of the angels, 1. Angels are pure spirits endowed with intellect and will; their number is exceedingly great,--"thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him" (Daniel vii. 10) ; our Lord spoke of "legions of Angels" (Matt.xxvi. 53). 2. The angels, like the rest of the universe, were created out of nothing; they were adorned from the beginning with grace. 3. Many of the angels rebelled and were cast into eternal punishment with their leader, the devil, who is also called Lucifer, or Satan. 4. The rest of the angels remained faithful and were granted the vision of God and confirmed in grace and glory.
III. Good angels are the Guardians of Men. I. The good angels pray for us and rejoice over our prosperity. 2. Some of them are commissioned by God to protect and guide us towards salvation. As a traveller through perilous ways is assisted by a faithful guide, so we are helped and defended by ministering spirits. 3. Sacred Scripture abounds in proof of the benefits, temporal and spiritual, conferred through guardian angels (Tobias; Acts xii. 7 ff.; Ps. xc. 11, 12). 4. The good angels are also the messengers of God to man (Luke i. 26; ii. 10; Mark xvi. 6, 7; Matt. ii. 13, etc.) ; the executors of His decrees (Acts xii. 23; Luke xvi. 22) ; they preside over nations and over the material world.
CONCLUSION. l. Against the attacks of the evil spirits we should watch and pray (I Peter v. 8), ever invoking the aid of our guardian angels. 2. To these latter we owe reverence (Gen. xviii. 2), gratitude (Exodus xxiii, 21; Tobias xii. 5), and confidence.
THE ANGELS; GOOD AND BAD ANGELS; GUARDIAN ANGELS
BY THE REV. H. G. HUGHES
(a) The existence of Angels.
The existence, dear brethren, of innumerable hosts of angels, of purely spiritual beings, created, as we ourselves were created, by the fiat of the Almighty word, yet more noble than we by nature, and higher in the scale of created things, is a truth that can be known to us with certainty only by means of some interposition from the other world, the world of spirits, to which they belong. Such interposition may take the form either of a divine revelation on the point, or of some sensible physical action exercised, with the divine command or permission, by angels themselves. Of such action, both by good and bad spirits, there is evidence amply sufficient for those who are not prejudiced. There can be no doubt that instances have occurred, and still do occur, for example, of possession by the devil. Some of the phenomena of spiritism, which is attracting in the present day the morbid curiosity of many, cannot be attributed to anything but the malevolent and mischievous action of evil spirits. The history of the Church and the lives of the saints present to us, on the other hand, many well-attested instances of the action both of good and bad angels. But it may be doubted--and the skepticism in this matter of those who believe neither in Church nor Bible would appear to bear out the supposition--whether without the express teaching of the Church and of God's written word such occurrences as I have referred to would have been sufficient to prove with entire certainty to men in general the existence of purely spiritual beings.
But "we have a more sure word of prophecy." We are not left to the teaching of experiences which cavillers might always represent as deceptive, or due to unknown natural causes. God Himself, by the word of the inspired writers and through the mouth of His Church, has assured us of the fact of the existence of angels, good and evil.
In proposing, then, my dear brethren, to give you an instruction on the subject of the angels, I take it for granted that I am addressing an audience most of whom are firm believers in the authority and testimony of the Holy Catholic Church as the teacher of God's truth; and that those of you who are not Catholics believe, as we also do, in the Holy Scriptures as the very word of God Himself. Now there is scarcely a truth more plainly and more often written in the pages of the Bible, from beginning to end, than that of the existence of angels. Much, moreover, is there told us concerning their origin, their nature, their present state, and their occupations; so that if we believe in the Bible at all, we must believe in those beings of another world.
This particular teaching of the Church and the Holy Scriptures no more than any other has escaped the attacks of modern criticism. Unbelievers have endeavored to discredit the very strong testimony which we possess in the records of the Old Testament to the belief of the Jewish people on this subject, by representing their doctrine concerning angles as having been borrowed by them from the heathen people among whom they lived in captivity, and particularly from the Persians. But it has not been difficult for Catholic scholars to show that the people of Israel had nothing to learn from other races on this matter. There is, it is true, a resemblance between the system of Persian mythology and that of the Holy Scriptures in regard to angels; but it is no more than a resemblance; and inspired authors of the Old Testament had written of angels long before their countrymen came into connection with the Persians. A similar objection has been made against the doctrine of angels as taught by the Christian Church. Christians, it is declared, borrowed many of their ideas on this subject from the old pagan religions of Greece and Rome. The only ground for this statement is found in a fact not always sufficiently taken into account, namely, that not in their doctrines, but in the verbal and pictorial expressions of their doctrines, the early Christians made use of symbolisms which they sometimes borrowed from the more innocent elements of the old religions. Thus an angel may be so represented in an early Christian painting as to be scarcely distinguishable from the figures of Genii, or the figures, for instance, of the goddess Victory. But a little examination will show that the resemblance is only external; that there is nothing in common between Christian teaching about angels, and the fanciful, if not evil, legends of heathendom.
Let us turn from such objections and ask what Holy Scripture tells us about the angels. In the very beginning of the Bible we read of the cherubim who guarded the entrance to Eden after the unhappy fall of our first parents. You will remember, too, the heaven-sent messengers who delivered Lot and his family from the wicked city of Sodom. The beautiful record of Jacob's dream has been familiar to you from your childhood; how "he saw in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it" (Gen. xxviii. 12). Prophets in vision saw the heavenly country, and the throne of God surrounded by angels, made known to them, it is true, under various material forms and images, but nevertheless representing the truth. And that none may doubt this, that none may suppose that the Old Testament imagery is nothing else than imagery, that there are no real spiritual beings who were represented to the prophets of old, Our Blessed Lord Himself and the sacred writers of the New Testament plainly teach the existence of a world of spiritual beings, created by God, of a higher order than men. "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. xviii. 10). "I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance" (Luke xv. 10). "He that shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him the Son of man shall be ashamed, when he shall come in his majesty, and that of his Father, and of the holy angels " (Luke ix. 26). These are some of the passages in which Our Lord Himself speaks of the angels; nor must we forget those terrible words in which our Divine Teacher speaks also of the devil and his angels. If we look to the epistles, both of St. Paul and the other New Testament authors, we find the same truth constantly stated. " I think that God," writes St. Paul, " hath set forth us apostles, the last, as it were men appointed to death: we are made a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men" (I Cor. iv. 9). "Angels and powers and virtues," St. Peter declares, are made subject to Our Lord Jesus Christ in His glory (I Pet. iii. 22). And in those marvelous visions of the heavenly country shown to St. John the Apostle, and written down by him in the Book of the Apocalypse, how great a part is played by the angels!
The teaching of the Church is explicit, as indeed it must needs be concerning a fact so plainly stated in God's written word. "God," declares the Vatican Council (Sess. Ill, cap. I) "of his own free counsel, in the beginning of time created from nothing . . . both spiritual and corporeal creatures, angels, that is to say, and the world, and lastly man, composed of both body and soul."
(b) The nature of Angels.
What, then, is the nature of these beings. The Vatican Council speaks of them as "spiritual," and contrasts them with man, who is made up of matter as well as spirit. Everything that we read about the angels in Holy Scripture makes it clear that they are not as we are. Except by means of some supernatural intervention, they are invisible to the eyes of the body. Had they bodily frames as we have, we should see them without the need of a miracle to enable us to do so. Not till his eyes were opened by the Lord, not otherwise, that is, than by some special intervention, was Balaam able to see the angel of the Lord. " Forthwith the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel, standing in the way with a drawn sword, and he worshipped him, falling flat on the ground" (Num. xxii. 31). The angel who appeared to Gedeon disappeared suddenly from his sight, by which fact he knew that it was an angel who had been speaking with him. " The angel of the Lord vanished out of his sight. And Gedeon seeing that it was the angel of the Lord, said: Alas, my Lord God: for I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face" (Judges vi. 21,22).
To Tobias the angel Raphael declared that he eat only in appearance, that he had another, a spiritual, food and drink. "I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you: but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men. . . . And when he had said these things, he was taken from their sight, and they could see him no more" (Tob. xii. 19-21). The blessed, in the resurrection, Our Blessed Lord has told us, will be similar to the angels of God, precisely because they will be free from those trammels which are associated with flesh and blood in our present condition. " You err," He said to the Sadducees, "not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be married; but shall be as the Angels of God in heaven" (Matt. xxii. 29, 30).
In the light of these and similar passages of Holy Scripture and with faithful' adherence to her constant tradition, the Church teaches as a sure and certain point of Catholic doctrine that the angels are spirits; that they have nothing material about them. When they have appeared to men it has been by taking, for the time being, some visible appearance. It is not easy, indeed, for us to conceive of a being, an intelligent, powerful, noble being, under any form but that of a man. In other words, it is difficult for us to conceive what a spirit is. Nor is it within the scope of this instruction to enter into an explanation of spiritual natures in general. Yet I may suggest, in passing, a few thoughts that may help us to form some idea of the angelic nature. What is it that is most powerful in man? What is it in man that has produced the greatest events, exercised the greatest influence in the history of the world and of mankind. Has it been brute force, or bodily strength? At first sight it might seem that at least in some periods of the world's history, and among barbarous peoples, this has been so. That it has been so at certain times and over a restricted area of time and place I would not deny. But what really great movement, what accomplishment lasting in its effects has been the outcome of mere brute bodily strength? Behind such movements and such effects we shall always find a master mind; a will and an intelligence, intelligence to know and foresee, the will to accomplish and to bend other wills to the accomplishment desired. And to which part of our nature do will and intelligence belong? To our spiritual part. And if we reflect, the body is a hindrance rather than a help. It has so many necessities; it is so soon fatigued; oft and again "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." For us, indeed, it is a necessary instrument for the accomplishment of most of our purposes, but one of which we should often like to be independent. An angel, dear brethren, is will and intelligence unhampered and untrammeled by the flesh. How often our soul sighs to be free from bodily hindrances; to feel no longer the fatigue and heaviness which oppress the bodily frame. Such is the condition of God's holy angels. And to take another thought; what intense activity may be exercised in the spiritual part of our nature while the body is still. What wide tracts we can range over in thought; what violent struggles can take place in our inmost souls; what burning desires, what joy, what deepest grief, what serenity, and what desolation our spirits can experience, yet none know by any external act what is taking place within. From our own inner experience, then, by multiplying a thousandfold the energies of our souls, we may gain some notion of the vast activities of those spirits whom God has created, unfettered by fleshly bond, to be His court and to do His behests. This, then, is another truth taught us by Holy Scripture and the Church, that angels are purely spiritual, without any admixture of material and bodily elements.
(c) Their origin.
And these powerful spirits were created by God. This is a truth which we profess every time we recite the words of the creed which is said in Holy Mass: "Creator of all thing's visible and invisible." In those words we confess Almighty God to be the Creator of all things that are; of the invisible, spiritual world, as well as of the visible universe. The words of the Vatican Council, which I have already quoted to you: " God ... in the beginning of time created from nothing . . . both spiritual and corporeal creatures," are but a more emphatic and explicit declaration of the words of the Nicene Creed, and of those still more ancient words of the Apostles' Creed: " I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,"--of heaven, with its hosts of angels; of earth, with its manifold forms of life.
To sum up, then, the teaching of Church and Bible so far, we are plainly taught by Holy Scripture, and by the Church, who is the authorized exponent and interpreter of Scripture, that angels certainly exist, that they are entirely spiritual in their nature, and that they come forth, by creation out of nothing, from God the Author of all that is.
(d) Good and Bad Angels.
The Vatican Council, in the place from which I have already twice quoted, tells us what was the end which God had in view in creating all things. "God, of His goodness and by His almighty power, made creatures . . . not in order to increase His own blessedness, nor to acquire any perfection for Himself, but to manifest forth His perfections by the good which He has imparted to His creation" (Loc. cit.).
In other words, God made all things out of love; to make them sharers in His own goodness. Necessarily, also, He made them for His own honor and glory; for no more perfect end could He have than that, and, being perfect. He must have the most perfect end in view. But the Vatican Council here insists upon the fact that God's honor and glory involves the happiness of His creatures. Again, that happiness can only be assured to them by their loving and serving their good Father and Creator. It is the destiny, then, of all free creatures of God to glorify Him, and to attain the happiness He offers to them, by loving Him and doing His will. And this end is to be carried out by each according to his place in God's creation. The angels were created especially to form the court of the King of heaven; to minister to Him in His own high sanctuary. This, too, is the teaching of Holy Scripture and the Church.
The holy Prophet Daniel saw in a vision the Ancient of days. " His throne like flames of fire: the wheels of it like a burning fire. A swift stream of fire issued forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him." What a glorious destiny was that of the angels--to be the immediate attendants of the heavenly court; to surround the very throne of the Almighty God. Truly to hold such an office is to be a prince, higher and nobler by far than any prince among men. And so it is. The angels and princes; each has his own glorious throne and crown.
But, dear brethren, could we look into the inmost courts of the heavenly country, were we favored with the visions that entranced the souls of the prophets of old, we should see that now, in heaven, many angelic thrones stand empty, many glorious crowns have been cast down and trodden in the dust. What does this mean? It means that multitudes of the angelic host have fallen forever from their high estate, and have been hurled down with "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." Those who fell, like those who stood firm, were created for God's glory and their own happiness. But God would have free and willing service, and to this end it was necessary that his glorious creatures, the angels, should be endowed with freewill, with the mastery over their own actions, with the power of choice between God's service or the worship and service of self. We can gather from Holy Scripture that the sin of the angels was a sin of immense and overweening pride. St. Paul, writing to his disciple, Timothy, warns him not to elevate to the episcopate one who is a new convert, "but," he says, "being puffed up with pride, he fell into the judgment of the devil"; into the judgment, that is, into which the devil himself fell. "Satan," writes St. Athanasius, "was not driven from heaven for a sin of fornication or adultery or robbery; but pride cast him down into the lowest depths of the abyss." That the sin of the angels was a sin of pride is the common and universal teaching of fathers and doctors of the church. Of the details of that sin, how and in regard to what in particular the angels set themselves up in rebellion against the power of the Almighty, we do not know with certainty. Some great theologians have put forth as a probable conjecture that it was revealed to the angels that the Eternal Son would assume to Himself, and raise up to the very throne of God, a nature lower than their own, and that they were called upon to worship Him in that human nature, whereupon Satan, thinking that the angelic nature should have been thus honored, refused to adore, and drew innumerable hosts after him in his sin. But be that as it may, it is a truth of faith that the angels sinned; it is the unanimous doctrine of fathers and doctors that their sin was pride; and it is a truth of faith that they fell thereby into the misery of utter damnation and eternal banishment from God in the torments of hell. " And the angels," writes St. Jude (Jude vi), "who kept not their principality, but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains." "God," says St. Peter (2 Pet. ii. 4), "spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments, to be reserved for torments."
What a lesson, dear brethren, for us! What a warning against sin; against pride especially, which indeed enters essentially into every mortal sin, since in every mortal sin the creature lifts himself against his Creator and declares, "Nolo servire--I will not serve Thee--I will do my will, not Thine!"
Alas for that unhappy fall! They who were glorious princes made themselves devils. From that time they have not ceased to hate God and all His works. By their fall they have not, however, lost all the powers that belong to angelic nature; and they exercise those powers, as far as God permits, for the destruction and ruin of man; anxious, if they can, to frustrate, in spite and envy, the merciful designs of God in regard to those favored creatures whose nature He Himself has condescended to take. Thanks be to God that, though for our trial and probation He permits them to tempt us, they can do us no harm unless we willingly give ourselves over to their evil suggestions. Armed with His divine grace, we can extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one. On our side are the hosts of those who remained faithful; who passed successfully through the trial of temptation; who are now enjoying, without possibility of falling, the vision of God in heaven, and who, by His merciful providence, guard and guide and assist us in our warfare upon earth.
(e) The ministry of the Angels. Guardian Angels.
We have seen what is the office of the angels in regard to God. They are the attendants of His heavenly court; they cease not to worship and adore Him day and night, saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts. But He has given them also duties in regard to us. They are His messengers; they have charge of the Holy Church, of kingdoms and nations, and, moreover, of individuals. It is the teaching of Holy Church that at least each of the faithful enjoys the protection and aid of an angel guardian; and it is not in any way contrary to Holy Scripture to suppose that every child of man is thus protected. From the beginning the Catholic Church has honored the holy angels, has invoked them and solicited their aid; and it behooves us, dear brethren, to follow this example by being devout to our guardian angel. How consoling is the thought of princes of the heavenly court charged with the care of our souls and bodies; ever at hand to ward off temptation; to repulse the demons, to suggest good and holy thoughts, to protect us from bodily danger and accidents in our coming and going; to stand by us and care for us till at last they shall joyfully present our souls, redeemed and cleansed, before the throne of God to receive the reward. We should examine ourselves to see whether we have neglected and forgotten our angel guardian. It is to our interest to invoke him; to second his efforts by our earnest endeavors to avoid sin. How often we frustrate those endeavors by willfully running into temptation! It is a matter of common gratitude, too, that we should remember him who has the charge of us; that we should thank him for his care, that we should try to live more in his presence. It is needless to say that the greatest spiritual good must be the result of such a practice. Remembering the presence of our guardian angel, we shall remember also the presence of God. We shall thereby be supported in temptation and restrained from sin; we shall be consoled in affliction and kept temperate in the time of joy: cultivating the friendship of our celestial companion we shall be kept from harmful affection for the creatures of earth; more than any earthly guide and counsellor he will teach and lead us along the heavenly way, until the veil is taken from our eyes, and we shall behold at the last the angel of the Lord with whom we shall praise and bless the Father of us both forever in heaven.