The Angelic Army – Part Two
In my last post, I discussed six of the ten topics on the angels covered by Jean Danielou in his book “The Angels and Their Mission According to the Father’s of the Church”. In this post, I will be covering the remaining four
7. The Guardian Angel
The angels also have a responsibility to each individual (in addition to their mission to the Churches). These guardian angels tend to be the most talked about. This teaching began with Moses (Genesis 48:16) and is also in Matthew’s Gospel (18:10). Origen also develops this when he says that, “All of the faithful in Christ, no matter how small, are helped by an angel, and Christ says that these angels always see the face of the Father who is in heaven.” St. Basil says that “an angel is put in charge of every believer, provided we do not drive him out by sin. He guards the soul like an army.” St. Thomas Aquinas supports this tradition in his Summa Theologica. A very important question to ask is that of whether Guardian angels are assigned at birth or baptism. St. Thomas reaches the conclusion supported by tradition, that every human being receives a guardian angel at birth, but their guardian angel takes on an entirely new role after baptism. They instruct in virtue, protect and defend the soul from dangers within and without, reprimand and punish the wayward, and they help us in prayer and transmit our prayers to God, and his answers to us. The early Church Fathers call the guardian angels the angels of peace, penitence, and prayer. Origen holds from older tradition that “all men are moved by two angels, an evil one who inclines them to do evil and a good one who inclines them to do good.” This would explain the spiritual combat we experience. The presence of the holy angels is not just to help keep us from sin, but also to lead us toward good as well.
8. The Angels and the Spiritual Life
The angels are present to help keep us from sin, however even if we sin, their assistance does not cease; the angels are saddened by it. They are also present to aid us in our spiritual growth. Danielou says that from a teaching in the Gospels comes the understanding that our spiritual life resembles the life of the angels and a participation in their life. However, because of Christ’s ascension, our soul rises even higher than the angels. The angels therefore first assist with spiritual ascension. Pseudo-Dionysius says the following with regards to how the angels assist in our spiritual growth:
The higher order, closer by its very dignity to the secret sanctuary, mysteriously initiates the second order. This in turn, composed of the Dominations, the Virtues, and the Powers, reveals the mysteries in a less secret way than the first hierarchy, but less openly than the third. Thus it is the order of Principalities, Archangels, and Angels to whom the office of revealer belongs. It is this order which, through all the degrees of its own internal constitution, presides over the hierarchies of men, in order that their spiritual elevation toward God will be effected in a harmonious fashion.
Pseudo-Dionysius describes three functions of the angels regarding the spiritual life: purification, illumination, and unification. Just as scripture depicts the Seraphim purifying the lips of Isaiah with burning coals (Isaiah 6:7), the angels purify the depths of our souls to consume our spiritual blindness which prevents us from being united to God. The purifying source comes from God, but the angels, primarily the Seraphim, administer this purification through the lower angels.
Regarding illumination, because the angels see the face of God, and are illuminated by Him, we in turn are illuminated by the angels. Danielou says that “this return to a place among the heavenly Powers signifies a participation in their being. The soul that rises toward God is declared to be like the angels…(Cant. 1:8).” For those who take to the theme of angelic hierarchy, they believe that in assimilating to the life of the angels, a soul assimilates in an upward succession to the different orders of the angels. The grace of a man can lead them to the grace of the lowest angelic order and upwards through the hierarchy. Once the soul has been led to Christ, the Bride to the Bridegroom at the “threshold of the wedding chamber,” they angels depart from them. It is through this that the soul passes into unitive life.
9. The Angels and Death
The angels have a very key role in our moment of death, namely in their escort of the soul. Pseudo-Justin says that “Immediately after the soul leaves the body, there follows a separation of the just from the sinners. Then they are led by the angels to the places they are deserving of.” The angels assist the soul in “escaping the sufferings of death,” leaving the body in peace, and our prayers for the dead ask for the assistance of the angels in accompanying the soul to heaven. As Danielou puts it, “the angels scatter the demons who try to bar the soul’s advance.” St. Gregory of Nyssa writes on the necessity of Baptism, “I do not know whether, once the soul has left the body, the angels will receive the soul which has not been illuminated and adorned with the grace of regeneration. For how could they, if it does not bear the seal and has no sign of its quality?…” The angels of earth also ask the angels of heaven, who are the guardians of Paradise, to allow the soul to enter. Important to note is the “river of fire” or Purgatory. If the soul, at death, is not entirely pure, it must be purified before appearing before God, by receiving a baptism of fire. Danielou writes regarding the role of bad and good angels that at our particular judgement that the bad angels keep count of our demerits and hold back the soul until it has been acquitted of them. The good angels count our merits and determine appropriately where we shall go.
10. The Angels and the Second Coming
The ministry of angels toward humans continues through to the Second Coming as if our souls are in heaven, our bodies still await the resurrection. The angels guard the tombs of the saints, protecting them from being profaned. At the resurrection of the dead, angels will gather the elect and separate the just from the wicked on behalf of the Lord. The depth of the spiritual world which has been invisible to us except through the eyes of faith, will be seen by all of humanity since the beginning of time. St. Cyril of Jerusalem advises to remember that although this number will be very great, the number of angels is even greater (ninety-nine to one, as in the biblical story of the Good Shepherd). The angels will also execute our sentence, casting souls into furnace of fire or leading souls into paradise. The angels then accompany Christ in His ultimate Ascension as he returns all things to His Father, commanding the everlasting gates to rise, so that the King of Glory may enter into the new heaven and new earth, a new universe. The angels will be freed from their serving a world that does not last, and will be free to adore and glorify God completely. The angels eagerly await the day when Christ will come for His Bride and together they will go to His Father’s house for the eternal wedding feast.
So in the end, we have learned that the angels are far from flighty fat babies with wings. They are missionary creatures, who serve the Lord and His people. They intercede for us, guard over the universe, and guard over each of us, individually. The lead us to God. They fight for us and defend us against the forces of evil, and aid us in the spiritual life. Let us, especially during this time of Holy Week, increase our devotion to the angels and may we never take for granted all that they have done and continue to do for us.
God love you,
The Angels and Their Mission According to the Father’s of the Church – Jean Danielou, S.J.