The Angelic Army – Part One
Angels are one of the least talked about and probably one of the most misunderstood (if understood at all) of all of God’s creatures.
In this blog post, I will be delving deeper into the reality of Angels, and their mission. I will be separating this into two parts. The first of which is below and the second, which I will post tomorrow. It is important to know that although these beliefs on the angels are held by the Early Church Fathers, it is not something that is handed down in the deposit of the faith and does not have to be believed by the faithful. That being said, this stuff is pretty darn cool.
One of the most basic things regarding Angels, that we may already be familiar or may have an acquaintance with, is the nine orders of Angels, which I have quoted below from Catholic.org.
Now, onto the good stuff!
This is the highest order of Angels, whose purpose is to attend and guard the throne of God. What we know of the Seraphim is from Isaiah Chapter 6:1-7. It is from this scripture that we get the Sanctus or the “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts” which we say at Mass every day. The Seraphim are also described in this scripture as having six wings – two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, and two to fly.
They are the second highest order of Angels and are manlike in appearance and double-winged. In the Old Testament, they were guardians of God’s glory, symbolizing God’s power and mobility. In the New Testament, they are alluded to as celestial attendants in the Apocalypse (Revelations 4-6). Catholic tradition describes them as having an intimate knowledge of God and continually praising Him.
“Thrones are the Angels of pure Humility, Peace and Submisssion. They reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape. The lower Choir of Angels need the Thrones to access God.”
“Dominions are Angels of Leadership. They regulate the duties of the angels, making known the commands of God.”
Virtues are the Spirits of Motion and control the elements. sometimes referred to as “the shining ones. They govern all of nature and have control over the seasons, stars, sun, and moon, and they are in charge of miracles and provide courage, grace, and valor.”
Powers, or “potentates” are Warrior Angels and defend the cosmos and humans against evil.
Archangels are generally taken to mean “chief or leading angel” ( Jude 9; 1 Thes 4:16), they are the most frequently mentioned in the Bible. They may be of this or other hierarchies as St. Michael Archangel, who is a princely Seraph. They play a unique role as messengers of God to His people at critical times in history and salvation. A feast day celebrating the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael is celebrated in the Church on September 29. St. Michael has played a special role as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles. He is commonly placed over all the angels, as Prince of the Seraphim, being described as the “chief of princes” and as the leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over Satan and his followers. The angel Gabriel first appeared in the Old Testament in the prophesies of Daniel, to announce the prophecy of 70 weeks (Dn 9:21-27). He also appeared to Zechariah to announce the birth of his son, St. John the Baptist (Lk 1:11) and it was also Gabriel who proclaimed the Annunciation of Mary to be the mother of God (Lk 1:26) The angel Raphael first appeared in Tobit (Tobias) Tb 3:25, 5:5-28, 6-12). He announces “I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God.” (Tb 12:15)
“In the New Testament Principalities refers to one type of spiritual (metaphysical) being which are now quite hostile to God and human beings. (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15) Along with the principalities are the powers (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 1 Pt 3:22; 2 Thes 1:7); and cosmological powers (1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; Col 2:15);Dominions (Eph 1:21; Col 1:16) and thrones (Col1:16). The clarity of the New Testament witness helps see that these beings were created through Christ and for Him (Col 1:16). Given their hostility to God and humans due to sin, Christ’s ultimate rule over them (ibid) expresses the reign of the Lord over all in the cosmos. This is the Lordship of Christ, which reveals God’s tremendous salvation in conquering sin and death at the cross, and now takes place in the Church. (Eph 3:10)”
These angels are closest to the material world and human begins. They deliver our prayers to God and they also deliver God’s answers and other messages to us as humans. They are able to access all the other Angels at any time. They are the most caring if the angels and always ready to assist those who ask for help.
So, since that is covered, what is the whole purpose of Angels? What do they do?
I have recently read a short book by Jean Danielou, S.J., entitled The Angels and Their Mission according to the Fathers of the Church. I have wanted to know about the Angels especially as they are so forgotten, despite the war that they fight on our behalf which we do not see. In essence, they are performing an utterly thankless job and mission. Though they are mentioned, their role is not really appreciated, especially by the faithful. This needs to change, and this is why I have desired so ardently to write on this topic, to give credit where credit is due and to open our eyes and hearts to ask for their aid and assistance.
Jean Danielou discusses ten topics, which I will also discuss in brief, on the Angels.
1. The Angels and the Law
St. Augustine said that, “all corporeal things are governed by the angels. And this is not only the teaching of the holy doctors, but of all the philosophers.” They have a particular relation to the election of the people of Israel. Archangel Michael plays a special role as guardian over the people of Israel. One of the early Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria describes the protocist, or “first-operating” angels who effect covenants through the means of other angels. This giving of the Law was the principal gift made by God to his people, however it was not the only one. Origen says that, “the angels served the people of Israel in the Law and in the other mysteries,” and St. Hilary supports this in saying that the manna given in the desert was given by the angels, hence, Panis Angelicus, “the bread of angels”. The angels not only promulgated the law, but they also guarded the law in the Holy of Holies in the temple. With the coming of Christ, the Church Fathers hold that the angels no longer needed to promulgate the Law, as Christ now promulgated the Law.
2. The Angels and the World Religions
The angels have had a role to play in the divine assistance of the nations. Danielou quotes Deuteronomy 32:8 which says that, “When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, he appointed the bounds of people according to the number of the angels of God.” The first mission of the angels of the nations is to offer protection and temporal assistance, leading those who wanted to follow God toward one universal principle (Dionysius). It is in this way that they also play a role in the natural revelation of God and it is for this reason that even the pagans may retain some aspect of natural law. Unfortunately the angels were not very successful in the revelation of God to the nations, which can be seen in examining the other world religions, because of the wayward, idolatrous hearts of the people of the other nations. For all those who chose to faithfully follow God, the angels gave great aid to them.
3. The Angels of the Nativity
St. John Chrysostom said that “God set all things in motion through the angels, and nothing was working out well.” Although the angels were there to communicate the Law and the love of God to the nations, and lead them to Him, idolatry and devil worship prevailed. The angels could not “stem the flood of evil.” Before the coming of Christ, their attempts to care for earthly affairs were not successful. Christ came and is the center of the history of salvation, and the angels remained about Him to serve Him, especially in his Nativity and Ascension. When Christ came, the angels who oversaw the nations recognized him and as it says in the Gospel, “The angels drew near and ministered to Him.” The angels surrounded Him with their adoration and service. The angels descended from Heaven, “… a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” The angels remained the messengers of divine revelations: Revealing to Zachary that his son to be born would announce the work of Jesus, the angel Gabriel asking Mary to be the bearer of God’s Son, the angels revealing to the shepherds the birth of Christ. This ministry of the angels was present from Christ’s Nativity to his Agony, however in his agony, no angels could assist Him. The early Church historian Eusebius explains this when he says regarding the scripture verse, “For tribulation is very near, for there is none to help me,” that “the bitterest of the sufferings heaped upon Him then was that not one of the angels…eager to be of aid …dared set foot in the domain of death…He alone could actually go on without fear, since it was only for Him that the gates of death had opened, and the prison guards of death were terrified at seeing Him advance alone…” It is for this reason that Christ said that his agony was near and no one could help Him.
After Christ enabled man to access the father without the help of the angels, the angels of the higher orders became his messengers not only among men but among the lower orders of angels who have the duty of governing earthly things. Pseudo-Dionysius said that, “the higher order, which is composed of the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and the Thrones and which is the closest of all, by reason of its dignity, to the secret sanctuary, mysteriously initiates the second order, composed of Dominations, Virtues, and Powers. This order, in its turn, reveals the mysteries to the Principalities, the Archangels, and the Angels, who are set in charge of the human hierarchies.” It is for this reason that Origen allegorically interprets the revealing of the Good News of Christ’s birth to the Shepherds as the revealing of the Good News to the angels who are in charge of the nations. Danielou notes that “this joy of the nations is all the greater since the revelation of Christ infinitely surpasses their expectations.” In the Old Testament, “God had said that He would save His people Israel, but had said nothing about the nations. The angels knew that the nations were called, but could not imagine that they would be called to the same end…”
4. The Angels and the Ascension
“If the mystery of the Nativity inaugurates the work of Christ, that of the Ascension completes it” (Danielou). St. John Chrysostom says regarding the Ascension that “when our Lord was born according to the flesh, the angels, seeing that He was being reconciled with man, cried ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ Do you want to know how they rejoiced in the Ascension? Listen to the account in the Bible, “They rise and descend continuously.” That is the behavior of those who want to contemplate a very special sight. They want to see the unheard-of spectacle of man appearing in heaven…”
The angels were there to assist Him in His ascent. Eusebius describes the Ascension saying that “The Virtues of heaven, seeing Him begin to rise, surround Him to form His escort, proclaiming as the cried, “Rise up, gates everlasting, and the King of Glory will enter.” The Ascension is not simply the rising of Christ in His body to heaven in the midst of the angels, but also the exaltation of human nature above the angelic orders which are superior to it. This, to the angels, was an unheard-of sight. This is why the angels asked “Who is this King of Glory.” The angels did not recognize Christ in His incarnate form, with the marks of His Passion. This is supported by other Church fathers such as Irenaeus, Athanasuis, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory Nazianzen.
5. The Angels and the Church
St. John Chrysostom says, “Today the angels have obtained what they were always waiting for; today the archangels have received what they ardently desired. They have seen our nature upon its royal throne, shining with immortal glory and beauty. Even though it has the honor of being exalted above them, they rejoice at our good, just as they suffered when we were deprived of it.” The angels desired that humanity would return to heaven, and it finally had. Human nature has this honor of being exalted above the angels because humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Methodius of Philipi, another early Church father says that “the spirit who was present about the earth…was created by God like the other angels… For this was the condition of the angels: they had been established by God to watch over the realities governed by Him, in such a way that it was God who watched over the whole universe by His providence…and certain of the angels were set up to watch over each individual part of the universe. The others abode over the the elements for which God had created and established them. But this one [Satan] grew proud and became perverted in the administration of the part entrusted to him; for he had become envious of our human lot.” The sin of the wicked angels was that they were jealous of humanity. The Ascension was the counterpart of the fall in that just as the jealousy of the wicked angels caused humanity to be driven out of Paradise, their great rejoining met humanity as it returned to Paradise.
One great Biblical image of the restoration of humanity, as the Church fathers show, is the story of the Good Shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep seeking out the one lost sheep. Methodius of Philipi notes that we should see that the ninety-nine sheep represent the Powers, Principalities, and Dominations who are left behind as the Good Shepherd goes to seek out the lost sheep. Just as the Good Shepherd returns to the fold with the lost sheep on His shoulders, Christ returns to Paradise in the Ascension having assumed human nature in His Incarnation. Christ tells us in Luke 15:7 that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” This is the rejoicing of the angels.
One other great BIblical image of the angels and the Church is that of the Bride and the Bridegroom. The angels are the friends of the Bridegroom and whose purpose is to bring the Bride to the Bridegroom so that they can go together to the House of His Father; to lead the Church to Christ so that He can go with His Bride to Paradise. This marriage is accomplished through Christ and His Cross and Resurrection, and also the “wedding chamber of the Sacraments” (Danielou).
6. The Angels and the Sacraments
The angels have a very key role in the Church, especially with regards to the Sacraments. The Church father Hippolytus says in his allegory comparing the Church to a boat, that “The Church also has its sailors, on port and on starboard – that is, the holy angels who help her; she is always watched over and defended by them.”
This role starts with Baptism, with the angels helping to prepare us for it and in leading us in our Spiritual growth. Also, just as the Apostles were sent visibly to the pagan nations, similarly the angels are sent invisibly to the pagan nations. The angels are also nations sent to watch over our Churches. St. Gregory Nazianzen says that, “The care of this Church has been entrusted to an angel. And the other angels are in charge of other Churches, as St. John teaches in his Apocalypse.”
The Church Fathers such as Origen and Tertullian hold that the angels also assist with baptism. Tertullian says that, “Cleansed in the water by the action of the angel, we are prepared for the Holy Spirit…Thus the angel set in charge of the baptism makes way for the coming of the Holy Spirit by the washing away of sins.” The Church of the angels hold our Baptism with such high regard and wonder because it resembles their own purity (Gregory Nazianzen), and it is a sharing in the rising of Christ above all the orders of angels.
The angels are also present at Mass with us. As said by Origen, since Jacob said that the angels of the Lord shall encamp around those that fear Him and shall deliver them, when people who fear God are gathered together for His glory, the angels are also present. They are present to hear the readings and also the homily given by the Priest. They are present also during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially since it is a “sacramental participation in the liturgy of heaven (Danielou).” Theodore of Mopsuestia shows them represented by deacons assisting at the Altar. Their spreading of the cloths upon the altar represent Chris’s burial linens. Once the Eucharist has been Consecrated, they stand “on either side and fan the air around it” and this represents the angels who stood by Christ while He was dead until they had seen His Resurrection. Our unity with the angels is called upon when we sing the angelic praises with them in the Sanctus, which is the hymn of the higher angels within the sanctuary of the Trinity.
To be continued…