An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: The Angels

angelsCreation, Ranks, and Nature of the Angels

Together with the earth, God created heaven, the invisible world, the dwelling-place of the blessed, and placed in it the countless spiritual beings whom we call angels. Thus there are creatures higher than men, and who are destined specially to the service of God. When we call these beings spirits, we say what they are. When we call them angels we describe their office as messengers, for the word “angel” means messenger.

They are countless in number, for the prophet Daniel, when describing them, says, “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him.” (Daniel 7:10)

Fall of the Angels – Their Punishment

These angels, like man before his fall, were good and happy. They were included in the words, “God saw all the things that He had made: and they were very good.” (Genesis 1:31) Not only were they exempt from every fault and imperfection, but they were, moreover, as most of the Fathers of the Church teach, endowed with a special supernatural grace that made them worthy to stand before the throne of God. Besides they were enriched with the gift of perception, wisdom, and strength. But, alas, let us tremble at the thought: Sin crept in among the angels and many of them yielded to temptation. Although we do not know with certainty how this took place, we may easily infer. As the angels had free will it was fitting that they should merit the gratuitous supernatural grace of God which had been given to them, and that they should show themselves worthy of it. Hence God subjected them to a test, in which many failed.

The sin they committed may have been, as it was with man, the sin of disobedience, for with them, too, “The beginning of the pride of man is to fall off from God.” (Ecclesiasticus 10:14) Forgetting that they owed all their endowments to the goodness of God, they became proud and haughty, and for this very reason they were punished with the loss of these gifts and graces. From the pinnacle of the most perfect happiness they were hurled by the Almighty into the lowest depths of misery, from heaven to hell, and from bright and happy spirits they were transformed into hideous devils, – once the friends of God they are now His blasphemous enemies. Nor did God forgive these wicked spirits, “for He spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment.” (2 Peter 2:4) Further details of their fall are given in the Apocalypse. “There was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.” (Apocalypse 12:7,8) According to the opinion of most of the Fathers this dragon, or leader of the fallen angels, was one of the highest and principal angels, called Lucifer, or light-bearer, which name indicates his high rank and office.

This Lucifer, with his unhappy followers, rebelled against his Creator. But another angel set himself up against this revolt, exclaiming, “Mi-cha-el, who is like to God?” This Saint Michael, with his faithful followers, fought and defeated their rebellious opponents, and, thus proving their fidelity, passed safely through the test and were admitted to perfect glory, where they still dwell and shall dwell forever, never again committing a fault. We know not how many angels fell, though in the Apocalypse the following is said of the dragon Lucifer, “His tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven” (Apocalypse 12:4), giving us to understand that, while an appalling number of angels fell, the great majority remained true and faithful.

The Relations of the Evil Spirits with us

The fallen angels still possess the power and knowledge given to them at the time of their creation, and they abuse them for the furtherance of evil. They are the enemies not only of God, but of all men, whom they tempt and thwart and whom they endeavor to deprive of their sonship to God and their chances for heaven. Power is also given to them to harm men in their bodies, as we see in the case of the pious Job, who was sorely tormented in his body and even in his worldly substance by the devil in his efforts to shake Job’s confidence in God. But from this very history of Job we see plainly that the devil can not hurt our souls unless we will it. Job amid all his afflictions did not give up confidence in God, and hence the assaults of the devil, instead of injuring him, resulted to his benefit and preservation. On the other hand Eve was led to disobedience, and Judas to the sin of despair, by the devil. Such examples prove to us the innate hatred of Satan for us and explain why Saint Peter truthfully terms him a ferocious lion greedy to destroy whatever comes before him. “Your enemy,” says he, “goeth about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” Thus we see that we have also invisible enemies against whom we must defend ourselves.

The power of the devil to injure our souls depends very much upon ourselves, for we have means to withstand him. These means are prayer and a God-fearing life. For it is sin chiefly that gives the evil spirit power over lis. The devil has the less power over a man if he lead a life of purity and integrity. To resist evil is to thwart the devil and to put him to flight. As Saint James says, ” Resist the devil and he will fly from you” (James 4:7). We find this truth verified in the case of Tobias and Sara. Sara, the daughter of Raguel, had seven husbands, all of whom were strangled by the evil spirit. Tobias did not fall into his power, because he had not sought Sara from unworthy motives. On the contrary he said to her, “Let us pray to God to-day, and to-morrow and the next day, because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock; for we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God. So they both arose and prayed earnestly both together that health might be given them. And Tobias said: Lord God of our fathers, may the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains, and the rivers, and all Thy creatures that are in them, bless Thee. Thou madest Adam of the slime of the earth, and gavest him Eve for a helper. And now, Lord, Thou knowest that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which Thy name may be blessed forever and ever.” (Tobias 8:4-9)

Thus prayer and a God-fearing mind were the weapons of Tobias, as they ought also to be ours in our conflicts with the devil. We ought to be fearless in this contest, for the Church places within our easy reach abundant and powerful means to enable us to overcome every assault. For that purpose she blesses water, salt, oil, and other things, even the very house we live in, using prayers calculated to defeat all the devil’s evil designs. The sign of the cross, too, is a powerful means of defense against bodily evils.

The Good Angels

In our struggles against evil spirits we are assisted by the good angels. They love God and pray to Him for us. They guide us in a mysterious way, inciting us to good, upholding and preserving us in adversity. Thus they led Lot out of Sodom and Gomorrha and preserved him from destruction. The holy archangel Raphael conducted Tobias to Rages and back again in safety. Each one of us has such a celestial guide whom we call our angel guardian. One of these it was that rescued Saint Peter from the prison into which he had been cast, and even the faithful, on first meet- ing Saint Peter after his delivery, would hardly believe that it was he and said that it must be his angel (Acts 12:15). Here we see the application of David’s statement, “He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Psalms 90:11)

It is our duty to be very fond of our guardian angels and by our childlike innocence and reverence to show to them our gratitude, that they may be pleased to remain with us. Let us pray every day to our guardian angels and never do anything that may have the effect of turning them away from our side and causing them pain. Moreover, as every Christian has his own special guardian angel, we must honor these angels in the persons of our fellow-beings by respecting our neighbors and avoiding any act, deed, or thought that would trouble these blessed spirits. Like them we, too, should be the guardian angels of our fellow-creatures, for then our own angels will be the happier in guiding and protecting us.

– text taken from An Explanation of the Apostle’s Creed: A Thorough Exposition of Catholic Faith, by Father H Rolfus, D.D., published by Benziger Brothers, 1907; it has the Imprimatur of +John M Farley, Auxiliary Bishop and Adminsitrator of New York, June 1902