Scripture consistently affirms the existence of the Angels. Today is the feast of the Archangels. We know of three of them and their names mean something: Michael (Who is Like God?!), Gabriel (God is Strong) and Raphael (God Heals).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:
The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels….In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God….From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC #s 334-336 selectae)
All this said, I would like to propose to you that, to some extent we have tended in modern times to sentimentalize the role of the angels in our lives and to drift from the Biblical data regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, but it needs to be balanced by deep respect for the angels.
- Angels have no bodies. They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.” Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no gender. Now we have to envision them somehow, so it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities but it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.
- Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy and charming creatures that modern portraits often depict. In the Bible angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw them (cf Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8). Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are call a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on God’s behalf and that of his people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23; Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7). While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24; inter al) recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image of their swiftness. They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1). And as for those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well read about the real Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight. And this is my main point, angels are not the sentimetal syruppy and cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, and powerful servants of God. They are his messengers and they manifest God’s glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God are immensely to be respected. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command act on our behalf.
- What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels? Sentimental thought may have its place but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus: Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him. (Ex 23:21) So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our Guardian Angel? I would suggest to you that we most hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice, we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our Guardian Angel. Now be careful, we like to try and rationalize what we do, explain away bad behavior, make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know what we are doing and whether or not it is wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth in us and informs our conscience. God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel God has given you not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.
- Finally, an on a less important note, we often think of angels in choirs singing. But there is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY it not sing it (cf. Luke 2:14). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person.
73 Replies to “Angels are Awesome. But Please, Let’s Have a More Biblical Understanding of the Them.”
Are there seven archangels, or is the seven symbolic?
The Roman Catholic Church holds that there are three archangels: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. The Eastern Rite holds that there are seven and names them; however, their names are derived from a Gnostic text that was deemed heretical (I Googled this recently but don’t have the direct link – however, it was a Catholic site). I do not know if this is the only source of their names, but since they are not revealed elsewhere and also name Lucifer as an archangel although he was not one of them, the Church does not traditionally teach that there are more than three archangels.
How about a liturgical precedent for angels singing? The Sanctus is one of the parts of the Mass usually sung “as we join the choirs of angels in heaven”… Just a thought.
“Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person”
Well, we do have a special song reserved just for us – the song of the redeemed.
Yes, though the Latin text of the prefaces says “dicentes” which refers to the angels as “saying” Hence, even though it is called a song of the angels it is stipulated that that say it.
Angels are powerful creatures. My guardian angel has saving my life on at least two occsions.
A great clarification of the fuzzy “naked baby” image. I think of angels as “messengers”, as the Greek word says, wherein the one who carries the message bears the authority of the one they represent. The image of God as a mighty warlord/King inclines some biblical writers to describe His messengers according to that particular image–as soldiers sent by a King– but there are also other descriptions. In Genesis they are guests seeking hospitality from Abraham, and in the book of Tobit Raphael seems to appear as a young Israelite laborer. These stories suggest God reaches out to us through tangible experiences with people. I would suggest that angels may have bodies according to this way of reading these texts.To me the challenge is to recognize and be open to those in our midst who are bringing the message of God to us, sometimes in plain view but often in unexpected ways. Matthew 25 also presents a striking challenge from Jesus in that the poor are special (bodily) representatives of God with whom God is directly identified.
Is it possible for me to ask my guardian angel to watch over my children since they are very young (one just born and the other about 18 months)? When do we receive our guardian angels? I also think the cute little Cherubs you noted is an attempt to, once again, diminish the power and glory of God. Combined with all the other sacrilegious depictions and falsehoods helps push the Father further out of society making us even easier targets for Lucifer and the flesh. Just my opinion but to depict the Warriors of Heaven completely opposite of what they actually are seems to go beyond just “fine art” for me.
Oh angel of God my guardian dear
for whom God’s love commits you here.
Ever this day be at my side to light and guard
to rule and guide. Amen.
Sacrilege? That seems a bit much.
Perhaps the most famous of the child-like cherubs are those painted by that artist who, coincidentally, is named Raphael.
Of course, Raffaello Sanzio was favored as an artist by multiple popes.
Even Michelangelo has depicted child-like angels, e.g. the creation of Adam.
Great article, as always! But I have to wonder about the issue of gender and the angelic nature. Certainly angels are incorporal, in that they have no physical bodies and thus no physical gender. But is that to say that our gender is only skin deep? Perhaps our outward appearance reflects the spiritual nature with which God has endowed us; that is, God has created us male and female in spirit, and has given us corresponding bodies to reflect that nature. In that case, an angel would have a gender, albeit not a physical one.
Then again, man was created so that the male would join with the female, and be of “one flesh” and complete. Maybe God created the angels differently so as to transcend this gender difference altogether?
You bring up a good question: Are angels without gender simply because they do not have bodies?
I would submit that the primary reason why angels do not have any gender is because they are each the perfect realization of their own species (each angel is a separate species from the rest). If they were male or female, then they would not be the perfect realization of their own nature, but only a partial one.
Thus, though it is possible (theoretically) that men and women have male and female souls, it seems impossible to say that angels are either male or female.
Please take a look at an article I wrote earlier today on this point: Why the archangel’s have men’s names – http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/09/why-archangels-have-mens-names.html
Reginaldus would appear to correlate angels with various “aspect Buddhas” found in Buddhism. Look into a glass onion.
I am giving the answer of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor, the Doctor of the Angels…
I can assure you, I am not the least interested in the demons which pagans worship, or New Age onions.
Rev. 6:11-12 “then I heard the voice of many angels. In loud voice they sang: Worthy is the lamb…”
In the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom reference is made to the angels singing and shouting the thrice holy hymn “Holy, holy holy, is the Lord god of hosts…”
Wasn’t Lucifer the name of an archangel.
Thanks for your thought provoking blogs.
Yes, but in both these cases the Greek text is significant. In the Liturgy of John Chrysostom which I do not have before in Greek and so may need correction, I believe the text refers to them merely as shouting the thrice holy hymn…..As for the Revelation text the Greek word in Rev 5:11 is legontes which is better translated “saying” not singing.
The four verbs in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom include ‘aidonta’, ‘singing’.
In the context of Revelation 5:11-12, it is worth noting the details of 5:9 “and they sing a new song saying […]” (kai aidousin ooideen kaineen legontes): ‘legontes’ can also be singing.
An interesting possible text is Job 38:7, but I am not enough of a Hebrew scholar to know the range of the verb in the first half of the verse: some translations give “sang”, others describe the morning stars as a “choir” – how possibly exact (or only free) is a ‘musical’ translation, here?
Should be Rev 5:11-12.
I had an interesting dream — just a dream, but a thought-provoking one. I was in the Holy Land when a van spun out of control and crashed. I knew (as one often knows in dreams) that this had been an attempted terrorist attack on some elderly Jews who were waiting in line for a bus; the van contained barrels of chemicals which, when mixed, would give off a poisonous gas.
Somehow I was not worried at all about myself, or even the people in line for the bus (they were several yards away), but I was very concerned about a young girl who was playing near the site of the crash. She looked to be about 6 years old and was wearing old-fashioned clothes. I went over to warn her.
The girl responded that there was no need to fear for her; just as Michael is the angel who protects the Jewish people, she was the angel who sees them to their final destination. She was about to escort the people I had seen waiting in line. Then I noticed something I had seen, but not recognized, before: she was totally white — not like a sheet of paper, but like a light bulb. Descriptions of angels as “having a face like lightening” or of having one’s eyes opened now make more sense to me; the sensation was like what happens when you briefly see a sign, but don’t read it, yet you can remember it well enough to read it from your memory.
I felt very strongly that she was not evil, she just had a job to do. I didn’t ask what the destination of those souls would be, since it was none of my business and would seem to be impertinent. SHE WAS NOT THE SORT OF CREATURE ONE IS IMPERTINENT TOWARDS. I also had the feeling that if I had touched her, it would have burnt my hand — not like a flame, but like liquid nitrogen.
Two quick final notes. I had never before considered the possibility of national angels of death. I had assumed it was either one’s guardian angel or maybe the same angel for everyone.
More chillingly, when I briefly mentioned to a Jewish friend that I had had a dream about the angel who sees Jews to their final reward, he asked, “What did she look like?” In Jewish folklore, the angel of death is feminine, but I had never considered a feminine angel of death.
An archetypical dream of cosmic proportion.
Congratulations, on a succinctly well-written (and much-need) article!
ALL, for The Greater Glory of GOD!
Great post on angels…especially in helping us to get away from our sentimentality!
Sentimentality is the great modern enemy of the Faith!
Just one question, though: Do you think that the first point about angels not having bodies is really “Scriptural”? Many in the middle ages and before thought that angels did have bodies, only very “subtle bodies” (I am thinking of St. Bonaventure, in particular).
Obviously, I follow St. Thomas on this point (as on nearly every point) — maintaining that angels DO NOT have bodies. But I am not sure that this is so much given from revelation and the Bible, as from a sound Aristotelian metaphysics…
ps. I do know that there are verses which speak of the angels as “spirits”…but my own study of Hebrew (as I can recall it) seemed to indicate that “spirit” could refer to “subtle matter” like wind or breath…
Thanks for all your good work and for calling us back to a Scripture-based theology!
You may be right that the denial that they have bodies may be more philosophical than biblical. I’d really ahve to study the matter more before completely agreeing with you but there has at times been a tendency for us to use Greek categories etc more than we should.
On the bodilessness – or not – of angels there has never, I think, been an absolute consensus throughout the history of the Church. Two handy resources for further study are by C.S. Lewis, ‘The Discarded Image’ and ‘Preface to Paradise Lost’. Lately, I also ran into an interesting little discussion in St. Theodore the Studite (759-826), in his “Third Refutation of the Iconoclasts” (as translated by Catharine Roth in ‘On the Holy Icons’, section A. 47, p. 95).
Awesome post on this feast day!
I’m not so sure. For most of our questions, Greek categories work pretty well.
The notion of angels having corporeal bodies of however “fine” a material raises a number of difficulties without actually solving any. For instance, if they have material bodies, it should be possible to detect or even restrain them with the proper equipment; not so if they are spirits. If they have bodies, how do demons possess people? If they have bodies, can they also suffer physical death? If not, why not?
The Catechism states, “328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition” and “330 As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.”
Thanks for this Howard. As I said I am away and do not have easy access to my research materials and am most grateful for your quotes from the CCC here.
Now I don’t want to disagree with the Catechism, and I certainly do not want to make it sound like I think that angels have bodies…but it seems a bit much to say that the fact that they are incorporeal is completely and entirely clear and obvious…
St. Bonaventure, a Doctor of the Church, held that angels had subtle bodies (quasi-material). He was not dumb, nor was he ignorant of Scripture and Tradition.
While today that fact that angels are incorporeal seems obvious, it was not so obvious in the 13th century.
On a more philosophical level:
If we do hold that angels have no bodies, then we must believe in a real distinction between essence and existence. If angels are not equal to God, then they cannot be perfectly simple beings. But if they are immaterial then the complexity of angels cannot be matter and form (body and soul) as it is with human beings. Therefore, St. Thomas discovered, there must be another distinction between essence (nature) and existence. This discovery was something which no one had ever thought of (at least no one had ever been able to articulate it) before St. Thomas Aquinas. But without this distinction (between essence and existence) it is impossible to hold that angles have no bodies.
THUS, I would hardly say that the fact that angels are incorporeal is something clear and obvious from either Scripture or Tradition. Rather, this seems to be a case of the Catechism projecting what is obvious to later thinkers back onto what is only hidden and implicit in earlier writings.
Angels are spirits and so are you when you leave the earth. You of course have a physical body while you are here. Ever hear of the soul? That is your spirit. Jesus Christ (God) is a spirit who became man because by the laws of God you cannot enter the earth except as a human. When you leave you leave behind the body which is of the earth and return to spirit form along with God and his Angels. The person that you are today is the personality that you developed since birth. You have a free will to do as you wish however the wise person does not drift away from God. All humans return to God as spirits not as the person that you have created. Are you ready to meet your maker? Good luck and God bless…..
Msgr. Pope, thanks for a very nice article.
I attended church today specifically because of the feast day and wanted to listen to our parish priest’s homily about Archangels. He did touch a couple of things that you mentioned (including the fluffy images we create!)
There was an instant in my life when I assumed I do not overwork my guardian angel. It did not take a long time for me to get a response – almost instant and quite dramatic. Yes, we should not forget our guardian angels – they watch over us even in our sleep!
I pray to my guardian angel before I sleep and I say the Prayer to St. Michael in the morning, among others. Somehow, my prayer time seems incomplete without these!
If they do not have bodies, funny Ezekiel did not mention that.
Neither did Genesis 18:2 (New International Version)
2 Abraham looked up and saw three MEN standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
Notice the use of the word MEN. It does not say “Abraham looked up and saw 3 genderless entities without bodies due to political correctness standing nearby”
No, it says MEN. 3 of them. And when he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent and bowed,
– low to the ground.
Do you even recognize the force of your own words?
Your insistence on the word “MEN” does very little to prove that angels have gender, but would do much more to prove that there were not in fact three angles but three male human beings…as that is the Hebrew word used…this would then apparently be in contradiction to the revelation made later that they are in fact not MEN but ANGELS… [yet another example of what is wrong with fundamentalists, they CREATE Biblical contradictions…]
I highly doubt that St. Thomas Aquinas was concerned about the political correctness of post-sexual revolution America when he wrote IN PARIS IN THE 13th CENTURY that angles are genderless entities without bodies…
Let’s be a bit more careful before we start accusing the good Msgr., shall we? You do know which “angel’s” name means “accuser”, don’t you?
Save your accusations for your self. I have not accussed the good Msgr of anything. I was not even reffering to the good Msgr.
I am merely stating the fact that according to scripture, there is no problem in being an ANGEL in the form of a MAN. In all respects. Including having bodies, with feet that needs washing, bodies that need resting and bodies that are able to consume food. Genesis 18-4. There is no contradiction in this.
After all, when the Saviour was able to be fully GOD and fully MAN at the same time, why should not angels have the capacity to be fully angels and fully men at the same time?
The Catechism mentions A form of existence for angels. It does not say that it is the only form.
And with regards to the gender argument, that angels cannot have a gender, otherwise they would not be
perfect, it is utterly ridicoulus. Does not GOD THE FATHER, HAVE A GENDER? IS HE NOT A MAN, IN ALL RESPECTS? AND IS HE NOT PERFECT
God the Father is not MALE, he is not a MAN…he is God…re-read your catechism…God has no gender…are you catholic? I am aware that some fundamentalist think God has gender, but this is contrary to Catholic Dogma.
Christ was fully God and fully man by virtue of the incarnation…the two natures united in his one divine person…there is no reason to think that any of the angels ever became man by assuming a human nature to themselves…
The bodies which angels assume when they appear are not their bodies, they are instruments which the angels use.
Finally, the Church does not say that angels have no gender because she is worried about being politically correct (as you accused her of); rather, she says angels have no genders because she thinks rationally…
For that matter, it doesn’t say “angels”, either — does it? At least not until chapter 19. (If it hadn’t, one could question why you think these “men” are relevant to a discussion of angels.) Yet I assume you would recognize these “angels” as being something other than “men”, as they are described.
Of course what Abraham saw (with his eyes) were men — that is, they had the appearance of men. In spite of this, Abraham knew better. There’s nothing in the story to make it clear that even Lot understood who the “two men” were who came to visit him; presumably the Sodomites DID NOT.
Everyone who has considered the subject of angels seriously knows that they can take on other appearances, most often those of human beings. The fact that “there appeared to him three men standing near to him” does nothing to change that.
P.S. The NIV is really only an OK translation. If you won’t use a Catholic translation, at least you could use a good literal translation like the NASB.
God the Father is not a man in any respect. “Father” is a authoritatively Divinely revealed (human) male image with masculine gender in Greek (and, I suppose – without having tried to check, first – in Aramaic).
While God the Uncreated and Eternal Son became fully Man while remaining fully God, that gives no ground for supposing any sort of creature could become “fully” any other sort of creature “at the same time” while having “the capacity to [remain] be[ing] fully” itself.
4Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, AND WASH YOUR FEET, and rest yourselves under the tree:
5And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye YOUR HEARTS; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
6And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth.
7And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
8And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, AND THEY DID EAT.
They DIDN’T EAT. In the book of Tobit (12:19,) the angel Raphael told Tobit and Tobias that,”when you thought you saw me eating, i did not really eat anything; it only seemed as if i did.” That is from the bible itself Gabriel,you can check.
How do you know that book is godly inspired?
How do we know who our guardian angel is? My mom always told me when I was little that it was anyone close to me who died, or someone who I respected that passed away but was not related to me. In that case, I would have a heck of a lot of guardian angels…
That was THE KING`s edition by the way.
You mean the Jimmy Stuart edition?
As for the quote itself, see Tobit 12:15–19. You can find it in http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/KjvTobi.html, if you prefer that translation.
There is a comic strip called, as best I recall, “A Ross is a Rose.” It is wholesome. It is about a husband and wife, much in love, and a cute son, about 3 or 4. The boy sees his guardian angel and converses with him. The angel looks just like the boy and is his size, only he hovers on wings that resemble those of an insect. However, when there is trouble, and the boy needs protection, the angel becomes about twenty feet tall, and is armed with a large sword and very businesslike scowl.
What do you think?
Sons of God refers to the angels
Job 38:7 When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?
Job 38:7 cum me laudarent simul astra matutina, et jubilarent omnes filii Dei?
Job 38:7 οτε εγενηθησαν αστρα ηνεσαν με φωνη μεγαλη παντες αγγελοι μου
Gn 6:4 Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown.
The Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexanderius both say angels instead of “sons of God”. I think they are interchangeable.
Yes I think this is the closest that we come to having a verse of angels singing. I would wish that “morning stars” were a clearer reference to angels but I think a strong case can be made that morning stars refers to angels. I don’t think that “sons of God” is the best reference to angel since it can also refer to men, however the Codexes you cite are surely authoritative and I do not wish to doubt them if other early codexes follow suit. But in the end this verse too is unsatisfaying since the Hebrew word “BRN” seems more literally to be translated: “to jubilate” or make jubilation” which may include singing but may not. Further the greek test speaks of them making a phone megale which is literally a “great sound” not necessarily a melody.
I do not think that nephilim refer to angels. Rather it refers to a powerful race of (human) people.
Sorry, I was not clear. The “Sons of God” was translated as “angels” in Gn 6:4 for the Codex Vaticanus/Alexander. I am not sure how they treat the “Sons of God” phrase in Job, I have to look it up online because I am very curious. However, the great St. Augustine agrees with you and says the nephelim were probably descendants of Seth. Yet the nephelim and the “sons of God” appear to be distinctly different actors in that verse. The “sons of God” (perhaps angels) made some women pregnant, and the those offspring became the Nephelim. The word supposedly means the fallen, in which case could refer to both fallen angels and fallen man in the line of Cain.
Further with reference to bodilessness (or not), one can of course distinguish between the possibility of their assuming tangible bodies for the purpose of appearing and interacting with humans (as, for example, with Abram, and then with Lot and his family and the men of Sodom; and consider Hebrews 13:2; Tobit may be more complicated, considering 12:19), and of their having ‘subtle’ bodies, or none, at other times/in other circumstances.
With respect to ‘cute’ angels, I had the good hap today to reach Patrick Leigh Fermor’s visit to Melk Abbey in Austria in reading his fascinating book about his travels though Europe (including newly ‘Nazi’ Germany) in 1933-34, ‘A Time of Gifts’ (1977). When he writes of “swarms of putti” who “try on mitres and cardinals’ hats and stumble under the weight of curtains and crosiers”, I thought of 1 Peter 1:12, and the wonder and curiosity of angels with respect to the (‘grossly’) material creation, and the Incarnation, and the Church. Could this be the non-decadent heart of the baby-ish depictions – not only agelessness, but never-diminished wonder?
As for my quote on the nephelim going into the daughters of men. I dont think it is a problem that angels are pure spirit. After all, God is pure spirit, and He made Mary pregnant.
One must distinguish between whatever “pure [created] spirit” could mean, and what Christus Deus in John 4: 24 (“pneuma ho theos”) means in the strictest Theological sense with reference to the Triune YHWH (a Person of Whom He is One).
God did not “make Mary pregnant” in any sense to be equated with any manner in which any creature (whether by nature bodiless or ‘bodied’) could make a human virgin pregnant.
Much (speculative) attention has been devoted down the ages of the Church as to how angels could make a tangible ‘body of manifestation’ for interaction with human beings.
This includes, with respect to fallen angels operating as mischievous ‘autonomous’ artificial insemination units (so to put it), receiving from a man as succuba to transmit to a woman as succubus.
There are also (I have been led to understand) speculations about the possibility of epiphanies of God-the-Son before His Incarnation involving some kind of ‘body of manifestation’ – that some ‘Christophanies’ may have occurred so.
But the miraculous Incarnation by Virginal conception cannot be equated with the (speculated) fertilizing action of any created spirit, bodiless or ‘subtly bodied’, with or without means of a material ‘body of appearance’.
I understand your criticism. And I agree with your assessment. Thank you for posting your reply.
Interesting article. My spouse and I have personal, close experience with angels… good and bad… having even captured a few in a snapshot on a cell phone — I’m not sure if that was something allowed by God for our benefit, or if the battle that had raged just before then was just that intense (there was a near fatal accident just before the picture was taken). You are right, they are fearsome creatures, which is why they always have to preface interaction with us humans with “Fear not!” They use swords, shields and spears. They emit light so bright, it can hurt your eyes. And yet, they are ministering spirits, here to serve on behalf of our God, limited only by our faith. I am actually currently trying to find a priest who is experienced with dreams and exorcism whom I can talk to about some things that have happened recently regarding fallen angels… if you have any suggestions, I would appreciate it.
This discovery was something which no one had ever thought of (at least no one had ever been able to articulate it) before St. Thomas Aquinas.
This is a rather audacious claim. Maybe those who went before him understood more than you give them credit for. One thing about St. Thomas is that, in not a few areas, he took the simple and made it complex (unlike Augustine who took the complex and made it simple). Meanwhile, others who had a simpler understanding, that is, a more straightforward conception, might have realized the possibility of non-corporeal beings, and alternate states of reality, quite readily.
Audacious but true. I dont think his statement was an indictment of the ancients but rather an acknowledgment of the greatness of St Thomas. St Augustine was the first to suggest time itself was created. Another audacious claim, but true.
Bender, You make a habit of attacking the Angelic Doctor, or at least berating those who follow his school of thought…why do you think that is?
Nearly every time someone brings up St. Thomas, you feel a need to bash him, to say he made things more confusing, to say that he didn’t know everything (as if anyone ever thought he did!)….
What I find most interesting, however, is that you have a very obvious lack of knowledge of the subject about which you speak…you call my claim “audacious” but then only can say “maybe” this and “maybe” that, or ” others might have” or “others may have”…
I referred to a particular distinction which St. Thomas was the first to make. I referred to a particular theologian who disagreed (St. Bonaventure).
You only can say…”poo, poo” St. Thomas!
“Amen I say to you, Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven…See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for amen I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of My Father in heaven… Whoever, therfore humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such little child for My sake, receives me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you, he is the geatest”
Jesus said it and I believe it’s true, Fr. John is in the sunset too.
Wonderful article about angels, but as I’m pondering them, I’m wondering whether some dead humans become angels or whether angels are angels from the git-go. My mother planted the idea in my head that my dead brother was my guardian angel and I think of him as one. I also think of her as my guardian angel … am I wrong to think like that? I am sure they are all in heaven, but are they angels?
I think we must distinguish between ‘angel’ as a distinct creature, and the meaning of the word ‘angel’ (and the corresponding Hebrew word as in Genesis 19:1, “haMALAKim”) as ‘messenger’. Some ‘messengers’ are those creatures, angels, but this need not mean that all are.
I write very consciously under correction, here, but when distinction is made within the ranks of the Blessed Dead by the Feast of All Saints and All Souls, I do not think it is impossible that the Redeemed Soul of someone who has died could be sent to act as a ‘messenger of God’, or set or permitted to act for the good of living people in other ways (as the Faithful Departed are asked to pray for the living in inscriptions in the Roman catacombs).
But it avoids confusion to distinguish between ‘Saints’ (including in the ‘All Souls’ sense of all the Faithful Departed) and ‘Angels’ (the distinct non-human creatures).
Thank you. I find the “Angels” depicted in the Bible fascinating. What amazing and fearsome creatures of God. I don’t think I could encounter one without dropping dead. My mother says she has seen her little boy (my brother) watch over us. I have always felt protected, even in the worst of times.
Ok, my last crack at it 🙂
Psalms 150:4 Praise him with timbrel and choir: praise him with strings and organs.
Psalms 150:5 Praise him on high sounding cymbals: praise him on cymbals of joy: let every spirit praise the Lord. Alleluia.
Angels are pure spirit. So here we have an exhortation for every spirit to praise the Lord with tymbrel, string, organ, and in choir. So its not the witnessing of angels doing this, but it is an acknowledgment that they can.
And by the way:
Angels are the fiercest of warriors imagineable. They are NOT a bunch of genderless homosexuals or hermafrodites. They are MEN. From their day of creation, til the last star has burned out of the sky.
And personally I think the claims of genderlessness borders on blasphemy. And blasphemy is wisely to be avoided.
Remember Sodom and Gomorrah. Always.
Who has suggested that they are homosexual?
Frankly, questions of angels sexuality are as out of place as asking if they are endothermic or exothermic, cold-blooded or hot-blooded. They don’t have blood or temperature; they are spirits. (Even the “burning ones” (seraphim) are not physically on fire.) Likewise, they do not have sexual reproduction (Matthew 22:30).
I think C.S. Lewis had it right when he said they are masculine or (maybe) feminine, but certainly neither male nor female.
The guardian angel we each have is an angelic spirit, not a human spirit.
We may well also have saints in heaven watching out for us, but if so that is in addition to our guardian angel.
It’s difficult for me to abandon my long held belief of the chiors of angels ‘singing’ the praises of God in Heaven. In addition, although I realize angels are pure spirit, I always thought they were sticktly held to just spirit and could assume human form:
1Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2
“I always thought they were sticktly held to just spirit and could assume human form:” should have been –
I always thought they weren’t strictly held to just spirit and could assume human form
I certainly never meant to imply that the Father was a man in any sense. These were 3 angels, who were neither man nor God, but they looked like men and spoke for God. In fact, although the icon is sometimes called “the Old Testament Trinity”, it is more appropriately called “the Hospitality of Abraham”, since the rubrics for icons do not allow the Father to be represented as an older man, as He often is in Western religious art.
Thanks Howard for not only pointing out that angels can appear as women but that “In Jewish folklore, the angel of death is feminine”. Good article and interesting comments. Keep up the good work
are you on crack?
GOD IS MALE, MAN AND MASCULINITY HIMSELF. HENCE THE WORDS “HE” AND “HIM” INSTEAD OF “IT”.
SOMETHING THAT HAS NO GENDER IS ALLWAYS REFFERED TO AS “IT”. FURTHERMORE GOD MADE
MAN IN HIS IMAGE. HENCE HE BOTH IS AND LOOKS LIKE A MAN. THIS IS ALSO WHY HE IS REFERED
TO AS “FATHER” INSTEAD OF “GENDERLESS CREATOR”
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE UP YOUR OWN GENDERLESS GOD, WHO IS NOT A “HE”, NOR A “FATHER” ANDTHUS NOT MALE, AND BREAK THE 1.ST COMMANDMENT WHILE YOU ARE AT IT,
BE SURE TO REFER TO THIS FALSE DEITY OF YOURS AS A GENDERLESS “IT” OR AS A HERMAFRODITE .
I HAVE READ MY CATHECISM, AND IT SPECIFICLY STATES THAT HE IS A “HE”.
NOT A “SHE” OR AN “IT” BUT A “HE”. SO DON`T EVEN TRY IT, SISTER.
Gabriel, I was very offended by your comment…I found it to be extremely insulting and rude…what is worst, you blaspheme almighty God!
please take a deep breath…then open the Catechism of the Catholic Church to paragraph 239…
“We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God.”
Does that sound to you like a “genderless God”?…”neither man nor woman”….”transcends the human distinction between the sexes.”
Obviously, God is revealed as Father…obviously he is call “he”…unfortunately, some fools have taken this to the next level and thought that God the Father really is a man, really is male…thus detracting greatly from the glory of God.
Please stop yelling at people (turn off your caps).
If “SOMETHING THAT HAS NO GENDER IS ALLWAYS REFFERED TO AS ”IT”. ” then please explain to us why ships are referred to as “she” and lady liberty is referred to as “she.”
Also Israel in the bible is referred to many times as a she, wisdom in Proverbs is referred to as a she, so this must mean that a state or a group of people or an idea is gendered? Also the bible says that wisdom was there when God created the world so does that mean there are female angels (or even that there are female gods!?) or does it mean that when God inspired the bible that he used the literary device of personification so that his people who are gendered could understand him?
When you say that God is male, is a man, I think you place limitations on God’s power, knowledge, being. You place a limitation of God’s creation back upon him. God is “the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable.” The Holy One of Israel created the world. He created out of nothing the heavens and the earth. He created time and space. He created male and female. Gender is a creation of God’s. It’s his idea. Homosexual acts are a serious sin, which obviously in Genesis and Romans are condemned. And yes, even the Catholic Church says it’s a serious sin. But that’s why they are condemned because they go against how God wants the world to work. A hemaphrodite is obviously a physical deformity (but that is a consequence of original sin, that there is physical evil as well as spiritual evil in the world) and therefore a lack of physical goodness. No one here is saying that angels are hemophrodites that lack physical goodness because that would mean they are physical and that there is something wrong physically with them. They are saying that they are spiritual creatures, more wise than the wisest man (or woman), more intelligent, more powerful than humans.
When a person says that God is not male or female, they are not idolators or breaking the 1st Commandment, but just saying in a philosophical way that the Bible personifies God so we can relate to Him, so we can understand a little about Him, so we can know, love, and serve Him in this world and the next. We have to use human modes of expression because we are human.
The Catechism states in Paragraph 239:
By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man. But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard: no one is father as God is Father.
This reminds me of a time in the last year when I was listening to some gospel music by Johnny Cash. As most know he was a country singer from a sharecropper background who had led a harsh life and would sometimes share his success in overcoming personal problems in an inspirational manner.
Possibly due to the rugged undertones in his music the following poem came to me; as poem sometimes will for many others besides myself.
At the Gate
Warrior angels held open the door
For the survivors of The End
Holding at bay the demons who
Desired human souls to rend
When one last human survivor
Approached the closing gate
So the angels told him to hurry in
Before it was too late
For they could only take one more
Before the gate was shut
But the human saw one chest rise and fall
In a body down in a rut
So, picking up the wounded one,
He went to push him through the gate
But the angels pushed the wounded one aside
And pulled the human in…they couldn’t wait
But the survivor pointed to the wounded one
And said, “He’s the one to pick.”
But, at an angel’s wave the wounded form became a demon
The angel said, “It was just a trick.”
And as the door slammed firmly closed
To stay shut forever more
Angels told of a special place
For one who’d yield his place – through salvation’s door.
The EF ‘Communio’ of the Feast of the Guardian Angels presented another ‘singing’ text to consider: Daniel 3: 58 includes “Angeli Domini, Dominum: hymnum dicite” (contrast the Vulgate, “laudate”) – very close to the Septuagint “hymneite”: though this may be complicated by the fact that “hymneite” is used for every creature of every sort from verse 57 through verse 90 (!).
St. Augustine’s ‘Enchiridion’, chapter 58, where he confesses not to know “whether the sun, the moon, and all the stars” in their physicality form part of the society of angels, got me wondering about whether, and if so, when, and how often, ‘the music of the spheres’ was ever connected with angelic singing.
The whole section touching on angels – chs. 58-64 is well worth (re)reading (see http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm )!
Striking is his consideration of “peace” and “understanding” in Colossians 1:19-20 and Philippians 4:7 with reference to God, angels, and men in chs. 62-63.
Also interesting in connection with “understanding” is the (possible) relation between the Hebrew word for ‘masculine’ or ‘male’ in Genesis 1:27, “ZaKaR”, and the verb for ‘remember’ (etc.) in Exodus 20:8 with “ZKR” and also in Psalm 8:5, and, in connection with Gabriel and the Annunciation the word for ‘feminine’ or ‘female’ in Gen. 1:27, “uNeKeVa” (or “uNeQeBa”) with the word for ‘the hearing channel of the ear’ (or so a book about the opening of Genesis by a learned poet persuades me – unfortunately not available in English).
I agree that angels ARE awesome. But some of the modern portrayals of them in Western television and film is not only disgusting and disturbing, but seriously blasphemous. I just hope God in the end will have mercy on the souls of those who proudly continue to portray these holy beings thus…
“Angels don’t take on” what? Plastic christians everywhere I go. And what I mean by [Plastic christians] is this… “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” The Angels of Sodom? Male. There are two female Angels referenced in the Bible (Zechariah 5:9).
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