Our Guardian Angels
One of the most consoling doctrines of Scripture is that of the guardianship of angels; the doctrine which teaches that man in this world is guided and protected by invisible beings called angels.
1. Scripture openly teaches that among the angels there are those deputed by God to keep watch over men.
Thus (1) in the Psalms it is said: "He hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways." These words, according to the common interpretation of the Fathers, refer to all just souls trusting in God. St. Bernard says: " Wonderful condescension! and truly great love! He has given His angels a charge over thee, to guard thee in all thy ways. What is man, O God, that Thou shouldst thus be mindful of him! What reverence, devotion, and confidence, should this word inspire in us!" (2) Again, Christ Himself in the gospel charges us not to scandalize little ones, because "Their angels (that is, those who keep watch over them) always see the face of the Father." St. Jerome commenting on these words says: "Great is the dignity of the human soul, since each one of them has from the very outset of his life an Angel deputed to safeguard him."
(3) Finally, the apostle openly declares that the angels are ministering spirits sent by God, to keep watch over men who are destined for heaven: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" These words are commonly understood not only of the elect, but of all who are destined for salvation.
II. This doctrine, so clearly taught in Scripture, is also supported by solid reasons. These reasons flow from our relationship to God, for we are His children, members of Jesus Christ, and temples of the Holy Ghost. " Because we are His children," says Father Oliver, "He appoints to us as tutors the princes of His realm, who hold it an honor to have us in their charge. Because we are His members. He wills that those very spirits that minister unto Him be also at our side to render us their services. Because we are His temples in which He Himself dwells. He wills that Angels hover about us as they do about our churches, so that bowed down in worship before Him they may offer a perpetual homage to His glory, supplying for our neglect and making reparation for our irreverence."
Father Olier goes on to say that God wishes to unite intimately through the agency of His Angels the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant: "He sends this mysterious host of Angels in order that they may by uniting themselves to us and binding us to themselves form one body of the Church of heaven and the Church of earth."
III. Finally, this doctrine is the traditional and unanimous teaching of the Fathers. Among them there is no suggestion of doubt upon the subject. Thus Origen sets it down among the doctrines as to which there is no controversy in the Church, that some of the good Angels are God's ministers in promoting the salvation of men. St. Hilary calls it absolutely certain. St. Augustine uses the truth of this guardianship to prove that the duty of mutual love extends to all the intellectual creatures of God.
This doctrine has also been confirmed by the Church in the institution of a feast in honor of the Guardian Angels. In the prayer of this feast we say: " God, who in Thine unspeakable providence hast been pleased to give Thine holy angels charge over us, to keep us."
This feast, however, granted by Paul V (1608), had already been preceded by the Solemnity of St. Michael and of all the Angels instituted in the sixth century. It is celebrated in memory of an apparition of the Archangel Michael. More ancient however was the feast of St. Michael ascribed for 29 September.
In these festivities the angels were not only honored, but also invoked as our guardians and helpers. Thus in the prayer of the feast of St. Michael we say: "O God . . . mercifully grant that as Thy holy angels always do Thee service in heaven, so by Thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on earth." In the Church there has always been the persuasion that we are guarded and defended by the Holy Angels.
Thus that holy angels are deputed to keep watch over men in this world is not only certain, but also, according to many, of faith, on account of the institution of the feast of the Angel Guardians and the universal consent of the Church.
Thus far I have been considering the general doctrine that God deputes His angels to keep watch over men. Let us now go a step further, and consider the doctrine that there is an angel for each individual soul. Although not of faith, because it has not as yet been defined by the Church as an article of faith, nevertheless this doctrine is so universally received and with such solid foundation in Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the Fathers, that it cannot without great rashness be called in question. In fact to deny it might almost be termed erroneous.
(a) It is certain that each one of the faithful has his own angel guardian. This is intimated in the texts of Scripture above cited in the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and the common persuasion of the faithful. Let us hear St. Basil alone: "That there is an angel for each one of the faithful no one will contradict."
(b) The same is commonly asserted for sinners and for those not of the faith; for Christ died for all, even for those not of the faith, and merited for all the means of salvation; and one of these means, in the present dispensation, is the guardianship of angels: hence not only the faithful who are Just, but also sinners and those not of the faith, have each an angel guardian.
The Fathers are clear on this point. Thus Theodoret commenting on the words "Their angels always see the face of the Father," says: " Christ the Lord said that each man is under the care of an angel." And St. Chrysostom uses almost the same words: " This is a truth, that each man has an angel." And St. Augustine: " I esteem it, O my God, an inestimable benefit, that Thou hast granted me an angel to guide me from the moment of my birth to my death." Finally St. Jerome without any restriction declares: "Great is the dignity of the human soul, since each one of them has from the very outset of his life an Angel deputed to safeguard him."
In confirmation of this doctrine, the Fathers also give the words of the disciples in the Acts of the Apostles. When Peter stood at the gate and knocked, after his miraculous escape from prison, the disciples within could not credit the message of the portress that it was Peter himself, and they said: "IT IS HIS ANGEL" (12:15).
We have also in Christian hagiology many examples which confirm and illustrate this teaching. Thus we read of St. Paul of the Cross that he was often observed, on joining the company of his religious at recreation, to make a profound bow toward them with a joyous countenance that inspired devotion: the saint seeing that the religious were surprised, told them frankly that he did it chiefly out of respect for their angel guardians, who were with them. Of the Blessed Gemma of Luca we read that she saw her angel with her eyes, touched him with her hand as if he were a being of this world, remained talking with him as one friend would with another.
According to St. Thomas and most theologians, the angel assumes the office of guarding his client at the moment of birth: before this period, the infant is protected by the angel of the mother. Again this guardianship continues through the entire life, at least in the sense that the angel guardian never entirely deserts his client, although he can be less devoted to him for a time, for his punishment. Properly speaking, it ceases in death, since at that instant ceases the time of probation.
And not individual men alone, but communities also are under the guardianship of angels.
1. The Doctors hold most probably that there is a special angel guardian for the Church, namely St. Michael.
(a) Indeed, from Scripture St. Michael appears to have been formerly in charge of the Synagogue, because he is called the prince of the Jewish people, and is said to have had special care of it; and as the Church has succeeded the Synagogue, St. Michael, most probably, has special care of the Church.
(b) The words which are used by the Church in the office of St. Michael at least insinuate that that Archangel is the special protector of the Church.
II. It is taught also with sufficient probability that there are special angel guardians over each kingdom and nation, nay over each community of moment, for example, particular churches, religious orders, dioceses. The reason is because those societies are as it were moral bodies which need special assistance. Hence God gave the people of Israel on their journey through the desert an angel as protector: " Behold I will send my angel, who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared."
That other nations also have angel guardians is gathered from these and similar places: " But the prince of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days: and behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I remained there by the king of the Persians." Theodoret thus explains these words: "To the Archangels is given this office, that they be in charge of the nations, as B. Moses taught, with whom B. Daniel also agrees, when he himself says the prince of the kingdom of the Persians and again a little later the prince of the Greeks; he calls Michael also the prince of Israel." The angel guardian performs many services for us.
With regard to the body (a) the angel guardian averts from us exterior evils, or if we have already fallen into them, he delivers us from them: "The angel that delivereth me from all evils ". . . " He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee ". . . (b) Sometimes also he helps us in secular business, especially when this conduces to salvation, as appears from the example of Tobias (12:3 etc.).
With regard to the soul, (a) the angel guardians hold the demons in check, lest they do us harm, or at least lest they tempt us too severely.
(b) They suggest good thoughts, exciting us to good, averting us also from evil, through their counsels and corrections.
(c) They offer to God our prayers or our good works, not indeed that God may know them, for of Himself He knows all things, but that they may add their prayers to ours, and so give greater efficacy to them. Thus the angel Raphael assured the elder Tobias that, while he prayed, he himself was offering those prayers to the Lord: "I offered thy prayers to the Lord" (12:12).
(d) Sometimes they inflict medicinal punishments; for this is a work of mercy, and conduces to salvation. Vindictive punishments however are generally inflicted through the bad angels.
(e) Finally at the moment of death especially they help us against the last temptations, and the last attacks of the devil, and conduct our soul to heaven or to purgatory.
God deputes His holy angels to keep watch over us. This prompted the words of St. Bernard: "What respect, what thankfulness, what trust, ought this word work in thee! "We owe then to our guardian angels:
(a) Respect for their presence: indeed the angel guardian is always with us, and because he is a spirit pure and holy, we ought to avoid whatever could grieve him.
(b) Thankfulness and love for his kindness: for the angel guardian is for us as it were a benefactor, friend, and brother, and will be one day a partaker of the same inheritance in heaven; hence we ought to love him, think of him, and obey his inspirations.
(c) Trust in his safe-keeping: for our angel is powerful to succor us and at the same time most devoted to us; hence we ought to invoke him and fly to him in our doubts and difficulties, according to the same St. Bernard: "As often as the gloom of temptation threateneth thee, or the sharpness of tribulation hangeth over thee, call upon Him that keepeth thee, thy Shepherd, thy Refuge in times of trouble, call upon Him, and say: 'Lord, save us, we perish'."
1 Psalm 90:11-12.
2 Matt. 18:20.
3 Heb. 1:14.
4 Matt. 18:10.
5 Cf. St. Thom., I, q. 113, a. 5.
6 Ex. 23:20.
7 Dan. 10:13.
8 Deut. 32:8. Cf. Zach. 1:12; Act. 16:9.
9 Gen. 48:16; Ps. 90: 11-12; cf. Tob. 6:8 etc.
10 Tob. 8:3.
11 Tob. 6:16.
12 II Kings 24:16.
13 Matt. 8:25.
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