The Angelic Nature and Its Operation
The Angelic Mind and Mode of Expression
As pure spirits the Angels are created intelligences, altogether above matter and free from any essential relation to it, both in their existence and their operation. In this respect the Angels are specifically above the human soul which, even though of a spiritual nature, is not a pure spirit and a complete nature, but is naturally ordained to inform a human body and to constitute one individual substance with it. Even though spiritual and immortal by nature, the human soul, in this life, depends in a very large measure on the human body for its operations. All the Angels are endowed with intellect and free will. No pure spirit is conceivable without these natural faculties. The Angels are commonly called "minds," "intelligences" by theologians and philosophers. Dionysius calls them "celestial intelligences," "intellectual beings," "supercelestial beings," etc. Exalted knowledge and intelligence are the most outstanding qualities of an Angel according to human standards. Thus, in praising David's wisdom, the woman from Thecua could not find a similar intelligence here on earth and compared it to that of an Angelic mind: "Thou, my lord, O King, art wise, according to the wisdom of an Angel of God."1
In calling the Angels "minds" and "intelligences" we do not mean to limit the Angelic nature to the intellect but we rather wish to stress the power of the Angelic perception, superior by far to our own both in itself and in its mode of operation. We speak here of the natural knowledge of the Angels, the one which is proportioned to their condition of pure spirits; and we abstract, for the time being, from their present condition of comprehensors in which a Godlike, more sublime knowledge is imparted to them through the light of glory. The natural intelligence of an Angel is common to both the good and the fallen angels, the demons. "Although an Angel's intellect is not his own substance, just as our intellects are not our own substances, yet he possesses such penetration, that he is able, at one glance, to take in the whole field of science lying open to his perception, just as we, at a glance, can take in the entire field of vision lying exposed to our eyes."2 Our human mind comes into possession of knowledge by a gradual and laborious process. It requires first of all a number of years of physical development for the proper operation. It rises slowly from single sensible perceptions to general ideas of things and finally to abstract truth.
The Angelic intellect, entirely free and independent from matter and senses, needs no such development. It is in the full possession of its power from the very beginning of its existence. There is no need of gathering elements of knowledge bit by bit, of adding ideas to ideas in order to discover truth, as is the case with us. Having been created in the full perfection of its nature, the Angelic mind neither develops by gradual growth nor does it suffer any decay; its knowledge does not pass by consecutive steps from the haze of the morning to the splendor of the noonday brightness. From the beginning of its existence it was able to grasp the objects within its own sphere and advert to them without any fatigue in the process, moving in the dazzling light of the purely spiritual world as in its proper element. Its light is not subject to waning into twilight or disappearing into darkness, as is the case, unfortunately, with the human mind in this life. Being by nature higher than man and much closer to God, the Angels receive more of His light, that is, a greater power of understanding, infused ideas, mind-pictures representing external objects, the spiritual and material creatures of this universe. The process of Angelic knowing and understanding seems to consist in a placid gazing on these ideas or mind-pictures existing within its intellect from the beginning, actuated either by the Angelic will, or the need of the moment. There is no room for obscurity or error in the Angelic process of understanding. Obscurity and doubts often cloud human knowledge and understanding because of human passions and the senses. Even though enriched with all the necessary ideas from the beginning, the Angelic mind is capable of advancing in knowledge and able to learn about new events, as they occur, either through Divine Revelation or through illumination from Angels of a superior Order, or even through men.3
We must admit that what we have laid down about Angelic knowledge and similar questions of the Angelic life are no more than pure conjectures based on theological and philosophical principles and a few data of Revelation. "The comprehension of the Angelic intellect and its mode of operation is a subject of speculation, concerning which our limited mind is at a decided disadvantage. The Schoolmen have practically exhausted the capacity of the human intellect along these lines. As of faith we need only hold that the Angels are not endowed with cardiognosis [knowledge of the secrets of the heart nor with a certain knowledge of future acts of the free will; these being exclusively divine prerogatives. It follows that their knowledge of the thoughts and future free actions of men is purely conjectural and can at most engender only moral certitude."4
The Language of Angels
Do Angels speak and manifest their thoughts to others? It would indeed be inconceivable that such a vast multitude of pure spirits endowed with superior intelligence and an abundance of dear ideas should lack the means of communicating among themselves. Saint Paul speaks of such things as "the tongues of Angels." From Sacred Scripture we learn that Angels do talk with one another;5 they talk to men every time they are sent as God's messengers into this world. The examples are too many and too obvious: The Archangel Raphael and Tobias, Gabriel the Archangel and Saint Zachary and the Blessed Virgin Mary; an Angel spoke to Saint Peter,6 etc. If they talk and they sing in a manner and a voice that is not their own, how much more must they be able to talk and sing in the language of the spirits.
At the birth of Christ, the heavenly messenger of joy and of great tidings, an Angel of God announced the nativity of the Savior of the world to a few shepherds in the hill country around Bethlehem. Messengers had come down to earth many times since man's creation, to advise, to warn, to help, or to punish man. On this occasion "a multitude of the heavenly army" was heard for the first time singing, caroling, and praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." Only the Angelic mind could well understand the mystery of the Incarnation, and the great honor and dignity that had come to poor human nature when the Son of God, the Eternal Word, assumed and substantially united it to His Divine Person for all eternity. The fact that Angels possess a language of their own is beyond all doubt; the nature of that language, however, is little known to us.
When the Angels appear to men, a human language is spoken by them, the one spoken by the addressee. The sound of human voice is produced, and human words are spoken when the Angelic apparition is a sensible one; only mental words, the conveying of ideas, are used in cases of imaginative or intellectual visions. Among themselves the Angels do not converse in any human language, by words of mouth, being incorporeal and immaterial. What is their language then? Of several theories excogitated by the Schoolmen to explain the language of the Angels the one proposed by Saint Thomas seems to be the most acceptable. Saint Thomas holds that the Angels talk to each other by a mere act of the will, opening their mind and revealing whatever ideas they wish to convey to others of the same nature as themselves. This Angelic language, or conversation, is called illumination. Dionysius refers to this mode of speaking where he writes: "The lower orders of the Celestial Beings (the Angels) receive the understanding of the Divine works from those above them in a fitting manner, and the highest are correspondingly enlightened in the Divine Mysteries by the Most High God Himself. For some of them are shown to us enlightened in holy matters by those above them."7 Dionysius applies to the Angels of higher and lower ranks those questions and replies of Psalm 23, which describe Christ's triumphant ascension into heaven. Some of the Angels are depicted there asking: "Who is this King of glory?" Spirits of the higher Choirs of Angels answer: "The Lord who is strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." Some more Angels ask the same question: "Who is this King of glory?" And the higher Angels reply: "The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory." "Some of them," writes Dionysius, "are shown to us enlightened in holy matters by those above them, and [thus we learn that He who in human form ascended to heaven is Lord of the Celestial Powers and King of glory."8 "They [the Angels need neither tongue nor ears but without the help of any spoken word they exchange with each other their thoughts and their counsels."9
This form of expression, the Angelic language, may seem perhaps too faint and indistinct to us who are used to material sound and words of mouth; it is however much stronger, clearer, and more perfect than any human language, even when this is used by the most learned and experienced of men. Our words of mouth are no more than symbols of the ideas we have in our mind and wish to manifest to others. Symbols and words are very often inadequate in expressing the full thought, or they are ambiguous or not well understood by the hearer. To be able to open one's mind and reveal the whole thought, as it is there, without the channel of symbolism, sound, and words, is a higher and better form of expression. Such is the wordless exchange of ideas, the language of the Angels. Just as, by God's permission or command, the Angels are able to assume human forms when appearing to men, so, too, they are permitted to produce a human voice and speak our human language, as all reported Angelic apparitions reveal.
By the same Divine permission and in virtue of their natural powers, the Angels are able to produce what to human ears sounds like sweet melody or enchanting music, as we learn from the lives of several of God's servants about whom we shall report later. The fact of Angelic illumination implies difference of knowledge and ideas between one Angel and another. This difference is determined by the special degree of perfection of each individual Angel.
Since no two Angels are exactly alike, it follows that their power of understanding and their amount of knowledge differ accordingly. Angelic illumination is needed not only for acquiring new natural ideas but also, and especially, for the supernatural knowledge of the mysteries of God. Here an Angel of the higher ranks, having received more light from God on such mysteries, passes that knowledge along to Angels of lower ranks adjusting himself to their more limited capacity. Saint Paul implies that the Angels can be enlightened on such mysteries even through the Church and human preaching: "To me, the least of all saints is given this grace to preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men . . . that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to Principalities and Powers in heavenly places through the church."10
By opening his mind in light, an Angel is able to reveal not only his thoughts but also his affections, his desires, his joy, his gratitude, his happiness. Such manifestations are immensely more perfect, more beautiful, and convincing than any corresponding human expression. They are a blessed irradiation of whatever sentiment is being expressed. "The first Order of the Celestial Beings," writes Dionysius, "which are established about God, immediately encircling Him, in perpetual purity they encompass His eternal knowledge in that most sublime and eternal Angelic dance, rapt in the bliss of manifold blessed contemplations, and irradiated with pure and primal splendors."11
Love and Free Will of the Angels
Free will is an essential constituent of every spiritual nature, divine, angelic, and human. The Angels are pure spirits, as was demonstrated in the preceding chapter. They must consequently enjoy freedom of choice, no less than man who is a little less than the Angels. Sacred Scripture clearly implies the existence of a free will in the Angelic nature. The mere fact that a number of them sinned while the rest chose to remain loyal to God proves it beyond doubt. Personal sin is a willful transgression of the law of God. Sin cannot exist where there is no free will. Since the Scripture explicitly reveals the sin of the Angels and their banishment from heaven, it clearly implies that they are in possession of a free will. "God spared not the Angels that sinned."12 "The Angels who kept not their principality, but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains, unto the judgment of the great day."13
The voluntary abandonment of their "principality" and their subsequent punishment are facts that absolutely presuppose free will and free choice. "An Angel is an intellectual substance, endowed with liberty," writes Saint John Damascene; and again, "Every being that is endowed with reason is also endowed with free will. Consequently an Angel, being a nature endowed with reason and intelligence, is also equipped with freedom of choice. Being a creature, he is mutable, because he is free either to persevere in what is good, or to turn to what is bad."14
The words of the Divine Savior revealing that Angels rejoice in heaven when they see a sinner converted to God and doing penance, presuppose a free will and free choice not only in man-the sinner doing penance but also in the Angels who rejoice instead of lamenting over such an act. "So I say to you, there shall be joy before the Angels of God upon one sinner doing penance."15 This rejoicing over man's conversion, and hope of salvation, reveals the most beautiful and noble act of the Angelic will, their love. They love themselves and each other in God, and God in Himself and above all else. They love man because he is made to the image and likeness of God, is a partaker of the Divine nature, redeemed by the Son of God and destined to live with them in heaven.
Yes, they love man, they protect him, they inspire him with holy thoughts and desires, they offer his prayers, his good works, his sufferings and his tears to God and they pray for him. Yes, the good Angels love man as much as Satan hates him. This love of man explains the heavenly joy they experience when they see a sinner doing penance, because through sin he was lost and now has been found, was dead and has come back to life. Being entirely free from passions and all sensitive appetites, the act of the Angelic will is determined exclusively by the Angelic mind with a decision and a firmness that are final and admit of no reverse. It was exactly this quality of the Angelic will, as some say, that made the fallen angels incapable of conversion and repentance. For an Angel to sin-at the time of their probation when they were still free to do so-is to assume an immutable attitude against God, an aversion that will never end. He thus becomes an adversary of God, a demon. Whereas the good Angel that has once elicited an act of love of God will love God for all eternity. "Following that perfect knowledge of theirs, the Angel's surrender to love is immediate, unwavering, utterly whole and completely irrevocable. The fire of an Angel's love is not built up slowly; it has no stages of mere smoldering, no agonizing moments of dying embers; rather the Angel is immediately a holocaust, a roaring conflagration, aflame with a love that will never lessen."16
Desire is another manifest sign of a free will in a rational being. Saint Peter attributes this quality to the will of the Angels. For centuries and ages, ever since the primal revelation was made to them, those heavenly spirits had ardently desired to see the fulfillment of the redemption promised mankind from the beginning: "Into these things Angels desired to look."17 This desire to see our redemption accomplished is another proof of their love for us. Once established in grace and admitted to the Beatific Vision, the Angelic will, no less than the human will, can no longer choose between good and evil. The choice it has made of the Good, is now an eternal choice. In the eternal possession of the Supreme Good they can still choose what they please, but their choice is always guided by the love of the Supreme Being and is only a choice between good and better. Locomotion and Power of the Angels In order to fully understand the extraordinary power of the Angels it is necessary to know their peculiar relation to space and how they move from one place to another.
An Angel, as every spiritual substance, is said to be present or localized in a particular place not by reason of his own substance being coextended with and circumscribed by space, like material bodies, but merely by virtue of his power being applied to a specific object or a particular place. Being spiritual and completely immaterial he does not fill or occupy space, not even the smallest dimension, not even a single point. His presence in a place is determined, and occasionally made known, by his activity there and not by his substance which has nothing in common with matter. A graphic example of the presence of an Angel, made known by application of his power, is given in the well-known account of the miraculous cures that took place in the pond called Bethsaida, by the Sheepgate of Jerusalem. "An Angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under."18 It is not said here that the Angel was ever seen by anybody when coming into that pond. His presence became manifest only by his action of stirring the waters and giving health to the first infirm person entering the pond. The action of the Angel that determines his presence may affect material objects or immaterial subjects, like the human soul, other Angels, or demons.
Being thus engaged in one place the Angel cannot exert his activity and thereby be present at another place at the same time. He can be present and operate in one place at a time, and cannot reach by one action various objects in separate places. However, Angels pass from one place to another with the rapidity of thought. Their motion is not really a locomotion but merely an instantaneous change of place, even when the local distance between the second place and the first is of several thousand miles. His motion consists in transferring his attention and activity from one object to another without having to pass successively through the intermediate places and space. He can, however, follow a continuous motion through space when his activity demands it. Our mind, the closest thing to an Angel, even without leaving the location occupied by our body, travels with the speed of a spirit. At a moment's notice I can transfer my thoughts and my imagination from one continent to another, visit friends and even, perhaps, affect them telepathically. What a man can do mentally only, an Angel can do by actually transferring his own self and all his activity from one continent to another with the speed of lightning or, better, the speed of thought. It is recorded in the Bible that on such flights the Angels have transported material objects or human beings with the same speed of spirit motion. An excellent example of this is found in the book of Daniel. For six days the Prophet Daniel was in the den of lions without being touched by the hungry felines kept there. During those days the Lord remembered Daniel and sent an Angel to bring him food. The Angel had to provide real food somewhere on earth and then bring it to Daniel. Daniel was in Babylon; the Angel went to Judea, some six hundred miles west of Babylon, and this is how he did it: "There was in Judea a prophet called Habacuc, and he had boiled pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, to carry it to the reapers. And the Angel of the Lord said to Habacuc: Carry the dinner which thou hast into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions' den. And Habacuc said: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den. And the Angel of the Lord took him by the top of his head, and carried him by the hair of his head, and set him in Babylon over the den in the force of his spirit. And Habacuc cried saying: O Daniel, thou servant of God, take the dinner that God hath sent thee.... And Daniel arose and ate. And the Angel of the Lord presently set Habacuc again in his own place."19 The mode of Angelic locomotion is clearly expressed in those words: "in the force of his spirit." A locomotion that does not pass successively through the intermediate spaces is implied there where the Scripture says that "the Angel of the Lord presently (that is, that very moment, immediately) set Habacuc again in his own place." It is not said that Habacuc was carried all the way back to his place, but that he was set, placed again in his place six hundred miles away, still in time to prepare another meal for his reapers. It is not conceivable that the Angel who provided Daniel with food should let the poor laborers in the field go hungry.
An Angel is a finite being, a creature, and as such he cannot perform miracles. A miracle, in the strict sense of the word "is something done by God outside the order of all created nature."20 God is the principal cause of every miracle. He may-and usually does-make use of creatures, as Angels and Saints, as instrumental causes of miracles. However, many effects produced by Angels, according to their own natural powers, may appear like miracles to us because of the extraordinary manner in which they are produced and because of the superior power they reveal, but in fact they are not real miracles but Angelic deeds. The amazing swiftness of their movements, the devastating power of destruction which they manifest when God employs them as avenging Angels, are in reality ordinary exploits of the Angelic nature; yet they appear like miracles to us. A classical example of Angelic avenging power has been recorded in the Bible. One single Angel of the Lord wiped out a whole army of Assyrian warriors in one night. Led by Sennacherib, the Assyrians had come to take Jerusalem in the days of King Ezechias. At the prayers of the pious King, the Lord promised to protect the city of Jerusalem and not to permit the Assyrians to shoot a single arrow into the city. The Lord gave the avenging mission to one of His Angels. "And it came to pass that night, that an Angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead."21
This extraordinary historical event is recorded in four different books of the Scripture and finds its confirmation in the history books of Josephus Flavius and of Herodotus. The inspired writers tell us what the Lord revealed to them, namely that an Angel did it all. The pagan writers tell us how that mysterious agent accomplished it, namely making use of natural destructive means, deadly microbes and bacteria causing a plague: "God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his (Sennacherib's) army; and on the very first night of the siege, a hundred four score and five thousand, with their captains and generals were destroyed."22 The hand of the avenging Angel appears manifest in this incident which reminds us of the plagues of Egypt, in the days of Moses, when the Lord must have made extensive use of the Angelic ministry in producing those great signs and portents. "The phenomena to which the power of Angels may give rise, whether exercised mediately or immediately, must be of a remarkable character, both as regards their extent and their diversity.
As on the one hand these pure spirits possess a knowledge of physical and chemical laws far surpassing our own knowledge, and as on the other their power is of such vast range, we must assume that there are hardly any phenomena in the world which they cannot produce in one way or another. Indeed, such effects may be so surprising as to have all the appearances of miracles. They are not, however, true miracles, for, though they surpass the powers of the visible universe, so far as it is known to us, they do not in reality surpass the powers of the Angelic nature, a miracle being due to the power of God alone, and surpassing all the powers both of visible and invisible nature."23
Among the many effects of the Angelic power we must mention that of assuming a visible form or the appearance of a human body, always with God's permission or command. The many corporeal apparitions of Angels and Archangels mentioned in the Bible need not be repeated here. However, those assumed bodies do not become part of their nature. They are used merely as necessary instruments for communicating visibly with men. They are not real bodies, and whatever vital actions they seem to perform with them are such only in appearance. "I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you," said the Archangel Raphael, "but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men."24 The non-reality of the Archangel's assumed body was made manifest by his sudden vanishing into thin air: "And when he (the Archangel) had said these things, he was taken from their sight, and they could see him no more."25
1. II Kings 14:20.
2. A M. Lepicier, The Unseen World,. n. 27 f.
3. Eph 3:10.
4. Pohle-Preuss, God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural, p. 317.
5. Zach. 1:11 ff.
6. Acts 12:8 f.
7. De Cael. Hier., VII.
9. St. John Damascene, De Fide Orth., II, 3.
10. Eph. 3:8 ff.
11. Op. cit., VII.
12. II Pet. 2:4.
13. Jude 1:6.
14. Op. cit., II, 3; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theo., I, Q. 59, art. 3.
15. Luke 15:10.
16. Walter Farrell, O.P., Satan-The Devil Himself, p. 8.
17. I Pet. 1:12.
18. John 5:4.
19. Dan. 14: 32-38.
20. Summa Theo., 1, Q. 110, art. 4.
21. IV Kings 19:35; Tob. 1:21; Ecclus. 48:24; Isa. 37:36.
22. Antiquitates Judaicae, X, I, 5; History, II, 41.
23. Lepicier. op. cit., p. 66 f.
24. Tob. 12:19.
25. Ibid., 21.
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