The Angels, by Father Pascal Parente

detail of a stained glass window of Christ and angels, date and artist unknown; Theddlethorpe Saint Helen, England; photographed by 18 April 2008 by Richard Croft; swiped from Wikimedia CommmonsThe Angels: Morning Stars of Creation

Pure spirits, the closest image and likeness of the Creator, were the effect of a divine act of creation. A spirit world was produced, at once, in its fullness and in its grandeur. When, at the word of the Almighty, light’s first rays lit up the primeval, shapeless world, still “wrapped in a mist as in swaddling clothes,” a wondrous song, a joyful melody filled the new heavens with never-ending strains. The Lord recalls these primordial times when He asks: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made joyful melody.” These “sons of God,” living witnesses of the creation of the material universe, were our Angels, the morning stars of creation.

It is an article of faith, firmly established in Scripture and Tradition, and clearly expressed in Christian Doctrine from the beginning, that this spirit world, our Angels, began with time and was created by God. This traditional belief of both the Old and the New Testament was given a more formal and solemn expression in the fourth Lateran Council in 1215: (God) “by his almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the Angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were an intermediate creature, composed of body and spirit.”

From this definition we learn that the Angelic spirits were created when time began and not from eternity. Like all other creatures they were produced by the almighty power of God, out of nothing. It would be heretical to affirm that the Angels are an emanation of the divine substance. Spiritual substances do not divide or split or multiply in any form whatever, nor change one into another; their individual existence can only be explained by creation.

The creation of the Angels is implicitly affirmed in all those passages of Sacred Scripture in which it is stated that all things were made by God; explicitly and formally their creation is mentioned by Saint Paul in one of those incomplete enumerations of the Angelic orders: “In Him (the Son of God, the Logos) were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers: all things were created by Him and in Him.”

Creation itself is a revealed truth, not so the exact time when the Angels were created. Nothing definite can be determined on this point from Sacred Scripture. Neither Jewish nor Christian Tradition agrees on the time when the spirit world, our Angels, came into existence. With many of the Fathers of the Church we believe as very probable that the Angels were created long before the material world. They were certainly created before man, because we find them already distinguished as good Angels and fallen angels on man’s first appearance on earth.

This circumstance would seem to imply that a long time, one or more cosmic period, had elapsed from the time of their creation. It does not seem probable that God, Who created this world for His own glory, would have no created intelligences to witness the awe-inspiring act of its making. The passage from Job quoted above seems to prove that such witnesses did exist. They saw the marvelous manifestations of the Divine Wisdom, Power, and Goodness and praised the Lord, filling the heavens with “joyful melody.” Man himself was not there at the beginning of creation to give glory to God; some created intelligence must have been present. The Angels were the first splendors created to reflect the glory of the Eternal. The first creative act must have produced a creature to the image and similitude of God, a creature able to understand, love, thank, and praise God. When the whole material world had been created, the Lord formed another similar creature, “a little less than the Angels,” consisting of body and spirit, able to know, love, and serve Him on earth as the Angels do in heaven. We like to imagine the creation of the material universe placed between the creations of two orders of rational beings. One, heavenly, purely spiritual: the Angels; one, earthly, partly material, partly spiritual: Man.

Saint Thomas, with some of the Fathers of the Church, regards as more probable the opinion maintaining that the Angels were created together with the material universe because they are part of that universe. He does not regard as erroneous the opinion of those who hold that they were created before the visible world. The peculiar astronomical notions common in his day attributed to the Angels many duties that pertained to the physical government of the world, and thus they appeared more as a necessary part of the visible world than they actually are.

Another reason for that opinion is the authority of some of the Fathers who saw the creation of the Angels in the words of Genesis, chapter 1:1, more exactly in the creation of heaven: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” Thus, for example, Saint Epiphanius: “The word of God clearly declares that the Angels were neither created after the stars nor before heaven and earth. It must be regarded as certain and unshakable the opinion that says: None of the created things did exist before heaven and earth, because ‘in the beginning God created heaven and earth’ so that this was the beginning of all creation, before which none of the created things existed.” Origen, however, is more careful with his opinion: “This also is part of the doctrine of the Church, that there are certain Angels of God and certain good Powers, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men. When these, however, were created, or of what nature they are, or how they exist, is not dearly stated.” He does not read in the words of Genesis what is not written there. Modern Scripture scholars reject as unfounded the opinion of those who see the creation of the Angels in the creation of heaven. Thus, according to Ceuppens, the whole account of Genesis, chapter 1:1, treats only of things visible, not of the invisible and immaterial: “Heaven and earth is an expression used by the Hebrews to mean the whole visible universe, the cosmos, the well-ordered world as we see it.” Even more emphatic is Father Von Hummelauer: “Now the Angels are certainly not meant by the word “heaven”, because they are never called “heaven” . . . nor does the context offer sufficient reason for us to affirm that Angels are truly implied even though only implicitly.”

The wording of the definition by the Lateran Council, reported before, which seems to be opposed to the opinion of priority of creation of the Angels, creates no difficulty whatever. It is said there that God “created together (simul) in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the Angelic and the earthly.” It is commonly admitted that the word “together” (simul) in this case has not the meaning of parity of time or simultaneousness, but parity of action. The expression was taken from Scripture where it is said: “He that liveth forever created all things together,” meaning not that all things were created at the same time, but that all things were likewise created with no indication of time. Saint Thomas points out that this definition of the Lateran Council was aimed at a Manichaean heresy of emanation. It did not bear on the time of creation of the Angels but on the fact that they were produced by the act of creation, just like the corporeal, earthly creatures.

Both the existence and the creation of the Angels are dogmas of faith presenting one of the most inspiring and consoling aspects of our Religion. As the first creatures of this universe, the Angels were the first revelation of the Supreme Goodness of God and of His transcendent Beauty. Even though part of the universe, the Angels really constitute a world to themselves, the spirit world, so exalted and so different from our visible, material world.

When God created the first life in this world He bade it to multiply upon the earth. The Lord blessed the first human couple He had created, saying: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” It took mankind many thousands of years to discover and fill most of the earth. Not so with the spirit world. There are no more Angels today than when they were first created at the beginning of time. They filled the heavens from the start, and their number was complete from the beginning. Their spiritual nature, just like our human soul, cannot be produced except by the Divine act of creation, with the difference that the human soul is created only in the course of time, when it is needed to inform a human body at the time of generation. Except for the apostasy and desertion of the fallen angels, the Angelic family has remained the same from the time it was called into being by the loving Father of all.

No matter when the Angels began, there was a time in that endless eternity when the Angels, like all the other creatures, did not exist. The Eternal Wisdom, the Word of God, refers to such an epoch in the timeless existence of God, where It says: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning.” Therefore, they were not created from all eternity but in the beginning of time.

The Population of the Angelic World

The exact number of Angels that inhabit the heavenly Jerusalem has not been revealed. To try to determine their number must appear like an idle question, since man has not been able even to determine the exact number of stars. The vast number of stars, each one a sun in itself, is awe-inspiring and quite beyond our powers of comprehension. Until now, no known mechanical device has been able to even remotely suggest the magnitude of this visible universe. What must be the magnitude, the splendor, and glory of the invisible, immutable Angelic part of the universe? What the vastness of the spirit world, the number of those splendors that decorate the heavenly home, the House of God, if the house of man, our earth, is surrounded by such an infinity of stars? Who has ever been able to count all the men and women who have inhabited this earth from the beginning to the present time?

Without Divine revelation we would be unable to know not only the number of Angels but even whether they exist at all. It is then on the data of revelation that we must depend in order to give some vague idea of the transcending vastness of the spirit world. These data actually suggest a multitude of Angels that is beyond all our power of comprehension.

Describing the throne of God surrounded by heavenly spirits, the prophet Daniel is at a loss in determining the number of those heavenly beings, our good Angels: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him.” Bible commentators tell us that the figures here given by Daniel do not express a definite number. They serve to convey the idea of a multitude that is far beyond the power of human language to express. More than figures, they are really hyperbolical expressions for an innumerable multitude of Angels standing around the throne of God.

The throne of the Most High, surrounded by His hosts of myriads and myriads of Angels, is a picture occurring frequently in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. “I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the army of heaven standing by Him on the right hand and on the left.” Awe-inspiring is the vision described by the Prophet Isaias: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated, and his train filled the temple. Upon it stood the Seraphims, the one had six wings, and the other had six wings: with two they covered his face, and with two they covered his feet, and with two they flew. And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory.” Saint John the Evangelist, in his Apocalypse, describes a vision of many thousands of Angels round about the throne of God: “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many Angels round about the throne . . . and the number of them was thousands of thousands.”

Saint Thomas holds that the multitude of the Angels far exceeds every multitude of material creatures, quoting to this effect from Pseudo Dionysius who wrote: “The scriptural tradition regarding the Angels gives their number as thousands of thousands, multiplying and repeating the very highest numbers we have, thus clearly showing that the Orders of the Celestial Beings are innumerable for us. So many are the blessed Hosts of the Supernal Intelligences that they wholly surpass the feeble and limited range of our material numbers.” The more perfect creatures, writes Saint Thomas in the same article of the Summa, are produced in greater number, because God intends primarily the perfection of the universe in the production of things. With this principle in mind it is easy to understand how the number of the Angelic spirits must exceed beyond all comparison the number of human souls created from the beginning of the world until now and to be created from now to the end of the world.

When we speak of the number of Angels we refer to the good Angels who now live with God and minister to Him both in Heaven and on earth, that portion of the spirit world which remained faithful to God after the fall of Lucifer and his rebellious spirits.

Nothing is revealed about the number of the fallen angels. However, some theologians believe to have found something like a proportion between good Angels and demons (fallen angels) in the words of the Apocalypse: “Behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his head seven diadems; and his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.” The stars of heaven are understood by these authors to be a figure of speech for Angels and the red dragon for Satan. “On the strength of this text certain mystically inclined theologians estimate the proportion of the fallen angels to those that remained faithful as one to three, 1:3. Whether this estimate be correct or no, we may safely assume that the number of the faithful Angels exceeded those who fell away.”

An event that took place in the days of the prophet Eliseus seems to corroborate the view that there are many more of the good Angels than of the fallen ones; many more on our side than against us. A vast army of Syrians had been sent to apprehend the prophet who was alone with his servant. At the sight of the Syrian army, the servant became deadly frightened not knowing that a more powerful Angelic army had been sent invisibly by God to defend the prophet: “And the servant of the man of God [Eliseus] rising early, went out, and saw an army round about the city, and horses and chariots; and he told him saying: Alas, alas, alas, my lord, what shall we do? But he answered: Fear not, for there are more with us than with them. And Eliseus prayed and said: Lord, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Eliseus.”

This powerful array of the heavenly armies ready to defend one of God’s prophets reminds us of the Divine Savior Who, at the very moment of being delivered into the hands of His enemies, reminded the over-zealous Simon Peter, “Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of Angels?”

What interests us, at present, are those “twelve legions of Angels.” A legion of soldiers, in New Testament times, was composed ordinarily of 6,826 men. Perhaps we should not take the expression as a definite number but rather as a symbolic figure of a vast multitude. In that dark and sad hour that marked the beginning of His great humiliation, the Savior calls God His Father and reminds His disciples that the hosts of heaven are at His command. One of those heavenly spirits had come down to comfort Him. Far more numerous than all the stars of heaven, all the flowers of spring, and all the children of men are God’s Angels, the blessed citizens of the spirit world, the fulgid, glittering morning stars of creation.

What Is An Angel?

“The Angels are spirits,” says Saint Augustine, “but it is not because they are spirits that they are Angels. They become Angels when they are sent, for the name Angel refers to their office not to their nature. You ask the name of this nature, it is “spirit”; you ask its office, it is that of an Angel, (i.e., a messenger). In as far as he exists, an Angel is a spirit; in as far as he acts, he is an Angel.” The word angel, comes from a Greek word meaning “messenger.” In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the most frequently used name to designate the Angels is mal’akh, which means, messenger or legate.

This generic name angel does not reveal anything about the real nature of those celestial beings besides the fact that they are occasionally sent on a mission as messengers or legates of God to men. Because only on such occasions, and in such a quality, they make themselves visible to men, they have been given the name of messengers from the most common duty and office they fulfill towards God’s children here on earth. “And to the Angels indeed he saith: ‘He that maketh his Angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.'”

The office of being a messenger, an angel, is neither the most important nor the most common among the duties of the celestial spirits in the court of Heaven; it alone does not offer enough ground for speculation on their true nature and operation.

Heaven is the true country of the good Angels: “Their Angels [of the little ones] in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Even while engaged here on earth as guardians of the little children, they remain the blessed comprehensors, enjoying the vision of God, “the face of my Father.” They are by grace the happy citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem from the beginning.

“Let us remember,” writes Saint Bernard, “that the citizens of that country are spirits, mighty, glorious, blessed, distinct personalities, of graduated rank, occupying the order given them from the beginning, perfect of their kind . . . endowed with immortality, passionless, not so created, but so made, that is, through grace, not by nature; being of pure mind, benignant affections, religious and devout; of unblemished morality; inseparably one in heart and mind, blessed with unbroken peace, God’s edifice dedicated to the divine praises and service. All this we ascertain by reading, and hold by faith.”

All this is really what we gather and ascertain by reading the sources, Scripture and Tradition, regarding the nature, character, and blessed condition of the Angels. All the qualities of the Angelic spirits listed here by Saint Bernard are most beautiful and they are theologically correct. However, we have omitted one of the qualifications from the above passage in order to make the quotation perfect. The words omitted are these: “having ethereal bodies.” On this very important point of the perfect spirituality of the Angelic nature there still remained some confusion in the days of Saint Bernard, as it had been the case for several centuries during the Patristic period. Saint Bernard expresses his doubts and hesitation on this point when he adds: “As regards their (the Angels’) bodies some authorities hesitate to say not only whence they are derived, but whether in any real sense they (the bodies) exist at all. If anyone is inclined to think the derivation of these bodies a matter of opinion, I do not dispute the point.” It is Catholic doctrine today, even though not yet an article of faith, that the Angels are pure spirits, incorporeal substances, free and independent from any material body, ethereal or otherwise.

By “pure spirit” we understand a subsistent intelligent being whose subtle and transcendent nature is in no wise whatever composed of matter, however refined and ethereal. An Angel then is such a spirit. Both his existence and operation are free and independent from matter; nor is the Angel related to a body, like the human soul, which even though perfectly spiritual, is naturally related to the human body as an essential part of the whole human nature. The Angelic nature is wholly spiritual, man’s nature is composed of body and spirit.

One of the reasons why so many of the ancient writers, including a good many among the Fathers, attributed subtle bodies to the Angels, even while admitting their spiritual nature, is the fact that for them the words “body” and “spirit” did not have that definite and perfect philosophical meaning which those words acquired especially during the Scholastic period of Christian philosophy. Such a cloudy philosophical notion, for example, appears manifest in the Catecheses of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem. For him, whatever has not a gross body can rightly be called a spirit; so that the air we breathe, any vapor or gaseous matter was called spirit or spiritual body. They attributed such kind of bodies to Angels. Others made a distinction between earthly bodies and heavenly bodies, attributing a subtle, rarefied nature to the latter. They were confirmed, it seems, in this erroneous opinion by a false interpretation of Genesis, chapter 6:2 ff., according to which the “sons of God” mentioned there, who took to themselves wives and procreated children, were erroneously understood by them to be Angels; whereas they were human beings, the descendants of the religious and devout Seth and Henos. Then again, they were led to believe that those ethereal human forms assumed by the Angels in their various apparitions here on earth were part of their Angelic nature. Saint Basil the Great believed that the Angelic nature was a “breath of air or an immaterial fire.” This is why they are localized, he said, and become visible, in the form and shape of their own bodies, to those who are worthy to see them. We find these notions about ethereal bodies both among the Greek and the Latin Fathers. While Saint Jerome has nothing definite regarding the nature of the Angels, he rejects the argument in favor of a corporeal nature inferred from Genesis. Saint Augustine thought it more probable that they had subtle bodies. According to him the demons, before their fall, had such heavenly bodies; since their fall, however, their bodies consist of damp, thick air. Cassian clearly expresses the same opinion in these words: “Even though we define as spiritual some of the substances, such as the Angels, the Archangels, and the other powers, as also our own souls and certainly this subtle air, nevertheless they are by no means to be regarded as incorporeal, for in their own way they possess a body whereby they subsist, even though it is a much more subtle one than our own. . . . Hence it appears that God alone is incorporeal.” It is more surprising to find the same opinion expressed by Saint John Damascene, who knew the writings of Pseudo Dionysius on this subject for which he had great admiration. While expressing some hesitation regarding the true nature of an Angel and while defining him as asomatos (without a body) he finally agrees with the current philosophy of calling the angelic nature “gross and material” if compared to God. “An Angel is an intellectual substance, endowed with liberty, perpetually active, without a body, serving God, having attained immortality by a gift of grace, the form and the limits of whose substance only its Creator knows. However, it is said to be incorporeal and immaterial only in reference to us, for anything compared to God, Who alone is incomparable, is found to be gross and material. The divine nature alone is immaterial and incorporeal.” In the West, Saint Gregory the Great, while not completely free of the philosophy of “spiritual bodies,” inclines vigorously towards the opinion of Pseudo Dionysius that makes the Angels pure spiritual beings.

Discussing the term “incorporeal” Origen writes: “The term ‘incorporeal’ is disused and unknown, not only in many other writings but also in our own Scriptures.” He then explains the expression “an incorporeal demon” by saying: “It must be understood that he [Christ] had not such a body as demons have, which is naturally fine and thin, as if formed of air (and for this reason is either considered or called by many incorporeal), but that he [Christ] had a solid and palpable body. Now, according to human custom, everything which is not of that nature is called by the simple and ignorant incorporeal; as if one were to say that the air which we breathe was incorporeal.”

From what has been said so far we must conclude that the terms “spirit” and “spiritual” were not taken by all in the same sense in which they are taken and understood today, in reference to the Angelic nature. A number of the earlier Scholastics retained the view of ethereal bodies in the case of the Angels, as Rupert of Deutz, Saint Bernard (as we have seen), and Peter Lombard. On the other hand Robert Pulleyn and Hugh of Saint Victor contended that the Angels must be regarded as pure spirits and immaterial beings. Owing to the position taken by the IV Lateran Council, the latter view became more common during the first part of the thirteenth century. Even though the doctrine had not been defined by the Council, it had nevertheless been made quite dear to what class of creatures the Angels belong. The Council divided all creatures into three classes: the purely spiritual, the Angels; the purely material, the material world; and the partly spirit, partly matter, human beings. By one of his subtle theories, Scotus is said to have ascribed bodies to Angels but in an entirely different sense. Saint Thomas with Saint Albertus Magnus, Henry of Ghent, Durandus and many others were in favor of the spirituality of the Angels in the strict sense of the word.

This opinion of the Angelic Doctor regarding the nature of the Angels has become the common doctrine. They are pure spirits, not composed of matter and form, but composed of essence and existence, of act and potentiality. This doctrine is found already in the writings of Pseudo Dionysius and of a few of the Fathers, whom Saint Thomas follows closely in this question.

In his work on The Celestial Hierarchies, Pseudo Dionysius thus describes the Godlike immateriality of the Angels and their superiority of nature above all other creatures: “Those natures which are around the Godhead (the Angels) have participated of It in many different ways. On this account the holy orders of the celestial beings are present with and participate in the Divine Principle in a degree far surpassing all those things which merely exist, all the irrational living beings, and rational human beings. For molding themselves intelligibly to the imitation of God, and looking in a supernal way to the Likeness of the Supreme Deity, and longing to form the intellectual image of it, they naturally have a more abundant communion with Him, and with unremitting activity they tend eternally up the steep, as far as is permitted, through the ardor of their unwearying divine love, and they receive the primal radiance in a pure and immaterial manner, adapting themselves to this in a life that is wholly intellectual.”

Because of their wholly spiritual and immaterial nature, the Angels occupy the first and highest place in the scale of created things. Man himself is second on the scale of creatures: “Thou hast made him [man] a little less than the Angels.” Just like an Angel because of his spiritual, immaterial soul, less than an Angel because of his material body.

Every Angel is a distinct being, an individual subsisting in an intellectual nature; consequently every Angel is a person. The classical definition of a person, by Boethius, applies to them most perfectly: A person is an individual substance of a rational nature. Every Angel is an individuated nature, endowed with intelligence and liberty, placed outside of its cause in the world of reality. All the essential elements of an individual personality are clearly manifest in those manifold accounts of Angels appearing in this world and dealing with man, as reported in the Bible, for example, the Archangel Raphael and young Tobias; Gabriel and the Virgin Mary; Gabriel and Saint Zachary. Rightly, therefore, Pope Pius XII condemns the opinion of those who “question whether Angels are personal beings.”

Not only are the Angels real personal beings but because of their spiritual nature wholly untrammeled by matter, their personality is far superior to human personality. Human beings differ from each other merely as individuals of the same species; Angels on the contrary, according to Saint Thomas, differ from each other specifically; so that we may say that there are not two Angels of the same species; each of them is his own kind. This fact implies a far more perfect individuality, a higher form of personality than the one known to us. Because of this specific difference, it follows that every single Angelic creature reveals an entirely new aspect of the eternal beauty and glory of God. To them apply the words of Saint Paul: “Star differeth from star in glory.”

This is the wondrous Angelic world that the Lord created at the beginning of time. In our earthly way of thinking we may conceive it as a living diamond whose myriads of facets reflect constantly and harmoniously the divine splendors of the eternal glory of God. Among all created things the Angels are the best reflectors of the divine light: “As our sun, through no choice or deliberation, but by the very fact of its existence, gives light to all those things which have any inherent power of sharing its illumination, even so the [supreme] Good . . . sends forth upon all things according to their receptive powers, the rays of its undivided Goodness.”

The Angelic Mind and Mode of Expression

As pure spirits the Angels are created intelligences, altogether above matter and free from any essential relation to it, both in their existence and their operation. In this respect the Angels are specifically above the human soul which, even though of a spiritual nature, is not a pure spirit and a complete nature, but is naturally ordained to inform a human body and to constitute one individual substance with it. Even though spiritual and immortal by nature, the human soul, in this life, depends in a very large measure on the human body for its operations.

All the Angels are endowed with intellect and free will. No pure spirit is conceivable without these natural faculties. The Angels are commonly called “minds,” “intelligences” by theologians and philosophers. Dionysius calls them “celestial intelligences,” “intellectual beings,” “supercelestial beings,” etc. Exalted knowledge and intelligence are the most outstanding qualities of an Angel according to human standards. Thus, in praising David’s wisdom, the woman from Thecua could not find a similar intelligence here on earth and compared it to that of an Angelic mind: “Thou, my lord, O King, art wise, according to the wisdom of an Angel of God.”

In calling the Angels “minds” and “intelligences” we do not mean to limit the Angelic nature to the intellect but we rather wish to stress the power of the Angelic perception, superior by far to our own both in itself and in its mode of operation. We speak here of the natural knowledge of the Angels, the one which is proportioned to their condition of pure spirits; and we abstract, for the time being, from their present condition of comprehensors in which a Godlike, more sublime knowledge is imparted to them through the light of glory. The natural intelligence of an Angel is common to both the good and the fallen angels, the demons. “Although an Angel’s intellect is not his own substance, just as our intellects are not our own substances, yet he possesses such penetration, that he is able, at one glance, to take in the whole field of science lying open to his perception, just as we, at a glance, can take in the entire field of vision lying exposed to our eyes.”

Our human mind comes into possession of knowledge by a gradual and laborious process. It requires first of all a number of years of physical development for the proper operation. It rises slowly from single sensible perceptions to general ideas of things and finally to abstract truth. The Angelic intellect, entirely free and independent from matter and senses, needs no such development. It is in the full possession of its power from the very beginning of its existence. There is no need of gathering elements of knowledge bit by bit, of adding ideas to ideas in order to discover truth, as is the case with us. Having been created in the full perfection of its nature, the Angelic mind neither develops by gradual growth nor does it suffer any decay; its knowledge does not pass by consecutive steps from the haze of the morning to the splendor of the noonday brightness. From the beginning of its existence it was able to grasp the objects within its own sphere and advert to them without any fatigue in the process, moving in the dazzling light of the purely spiritual world as in its proper element. Its light is not subject to waning into twilight or disappearing into darkness, as is the case, unfortunately, with the human mind in this life.

Being by nature higher than man and much closer to God, the Angels receive more of His light, that is, a greater power of understanding, infused ideas, mind-pictures representing external objects, the spiritual and material creatures of this universe.

The process of Angelic knowing and understanding seems to consist in a placid gazing on these ideas or mind-pictures existing within its intellect from the beginning, actuated either by the Angelic will, or the need of the moment.

There is no room for obscurity or error in the Angelic process of understanding. Obscurity and doubts often cloud human knowledge and understanding because of human passions and the senses. Even though enriched with all the necessary ideas from the beginning, the Angelic mind is capable of advancing in knowledge and able to learn about new events, as they occur, either through Divine Revelation or through illumination from Angels of a superior Order, or even through men.

We must admit that what we have laid down about Angelic knowledge and similar questions of the Angelic life are no more than pure conjectures based on theological and philosophical principles and a few data of Revelation. “The comprehension of the Angelic intellect and its mode of operation is a subject of speculation, concerning which our limited mind is at a decided disadvantage. The Schoolmen have practically exhausted the capacity of the human intellect along these lines. As of faith we need only hold that the Angels are not endowed with cardiognosis [knowledge of the secrets of the heart] nor with a certain knowledge of future acts of the free will; these being exclusively divine prerogatives. It follows that their knowledge of the thoughts and future free actions of men is purely conjectural and can at most engender only moral certitude.”

The Language of Angels

Do Angels speak and manifest their thoughts to others? It would indeed be inconceivable that such a vast multitude of pure spirits endowed with superior intelligence and an abundance of dear ideas should lack the means of communicating among themselves. Saint Paul speaks of such things as “the tongues of Angels.” From Sacred Scripture we learn that Angels do talk with one another; they talk to men every time they are sent as God’s messengers into this world. The examples are too many and too obvious: The Archangel Raphael and Tobias, Gabriel the Archangel and Saint Zachary and the Blessed Virgin Mary; an Angel spoke to Saint Peter, etc. If they talk and they sing in a manner and a voice that is not their own, how much more must they be able to talk and sing in the language of the spirits. At the birth of Christ, the heavenly messenger of joy and of great tidings, an Angel of God announced the nativity of the Savior of the world to a few shepherds in the hill country around Bethlehem. Messengers had come down to earth many times since man’s creation, to advise, to warn, to help, or to punish man. On this occasion “a multitude of the heavenly army” was heard for the first time singing, caroling, and praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.” Only the Angelic mind could well understand the mystery of the Incarnation, and the great honor and dignity that had come to poor human nature when the Son of God, the Eternal Word, assumed and substantially united it to His Divine Person for all eternity.

The fact that Angels possess a language of their own is beyond all doubt; the nature of that language, however, is little known to us. When the Angels appear to men, a human language is spoken by them, the one spoken by the addressee. The sound of human voice is produced, and human words are spoken when the Angelic apparition is a sensible one; only mental words, the conveying of ideas, are used in cases of imaginative or intellectual visions.

Among themselves the Angels do not converse in any human language, by words of mouth, being incorporeal and immaterial. What is their language then? Of several theories excogitated by the Schoolmen to explain the language of the Angels the one proposed by Saint Thomas seems to be the most acceptable. Saint Thomas holds that the Angels talk to each other by a mere act of the will, opening their mind and revealing whatever ideas they wish to convey to others of the same nature as themselves. This Angelic language, or conversation, is called illumination. Dionysius refers to this mode of speaking where he writes: “The lower orders of the Celestial Beings (the Angels) receive the understanding of the Divine works from those above them in a fitting manner, and the highest are correspondingly enlightened in the Divine Mysteries by the Most High God Himself. For some of them are shown to us enlightened in holy matters by those above them.” Dionysius applies to the Angels of higher and lower ranks those questions and replies of Psalm 23, which describe Christ’s triumphant ascension into heaven. Some of the Angels are depicted there asking: “Who is this King of glory?” Spirits of the higher Choirs of Angels answer: “The Lord who is strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” Some more Angels ask the same question: “Who is this King of glory?” And the higher Angels reply: “The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory.” “Some of them,” writes Dionysius, “are shown to us enlightened in holy matters by those above them, and [thus] we learn that He who in human form ascended to heaven is Lord of the Celestial Powers and King of glory.”

“They [the Angels] need neither tongue nor ears but without the help of any spoken word they exchange with each other their thoughts and their counsels.” This form of expression, the Angelic language, may seem perhaps too faint and indistinct to us who are used to material sound and words of mouth; it is however much stronger, clearer, and more perfect than any human language, even when this is used by the most learned and experienced of men. Our words of mouth are no more than symbols of the ideas we have in our mind and wish to manifest to others. Symbols and words are very often inadequate in expressing the full thought, or they are ambiguous or not well understood by the hearer. To be able to open one’s mind and reveal the whole thought, as it is there, without the channel of symbolism, sound, and words, is a higher and better form of expression. Such is the wordless exchange of ideas, the language of the Angels.

Just as, by God’s permission or command, the Angels are able to assume human forms when appearing to men, so, too, they are permitted to produce a human voice and speak our human language, as all reported Angelic apparitions reveal. By the same Divine permission and in virtue of their natural powers, the Angels are able to produce what to human ears sounds like sweet melody or enchanting music, as we learn from the lives of several of God’s servants about whom we shall report later.

The fact of Angelic illumination implies difference of knowledge and ideas between one Angel and another. This difference is determined by the special degree of perfection of each individual Angel. Since no two Angels are exactly alike, it follows that their power of understanding and their amount of knowledge differ accordingly. Angelic illumination is needed not only for acquiring new natural ideas but also, and especially, for the supernatural knowledge of the mysteries of God. Here an Angel of the higher ranks, having received more light from God on such mysteries, passes that knowledge along to Angels of lower ranks adjusting himself to their more limited capacity. Saint Paul implies that the Angels can be enlightened on such mysteries even through the Church and human preaching: “To me, the least of all saints is given this grace to preach among the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men . . . that the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to Principalities and Powers in heavenly places through the church.”

By opening his mind in light, an Angel is able to reveal not only his thoughts but also his affections, his desires, his joy, his gratitude, his happiness. Such manifestations are immensely more perfect, more beautiful, and convincing than any corresponding human expression. They are a blessed irradiation of whatever sentiment is being expressed. “The first Order of the Celestial Beings,” writes Dionysius, “which are established about God, immediately encircling Him, in perpetual purity they encompass His eternal knowledge in that most sublime and eternal Angelic dance, rapt in the bliss of manifold blessed contemplations, and irradiated with pure and primal splendors.”

Love and Free Will of the Angels

Free will is an essential constituent of every spiritual nature, divine, angelic, and human. The Angels are pure spirits, as was demonstrated in the preceding chapter. They must consequently enjoy freedom of choice, no less than man who is a little less than the Angels.

Sacred Scripture clearly implies the existence of a free will in the Angelic nature. The mere fact that a number of them sinned while the rest chose to remain loyal to God proves it beyond doubt. Personal sin is a willful transgression of the law of God. Sin cannot exist where there is no free will. Since the Scripture explicitly reveals the sin of the Angels and their banishment from heaven, it clearly implies that they are in possession of a free will. “God spared not the Angels that sinned.” “The Angels who kept not their principality, but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains, unto the judgment of the great day.” The voluntary abandonment of their “principality” and their subsequent punishment are facts that absolutely presuppose free will and free choice. “An Angel is an intellectual substance, endowed with liberty,” writes Saint John Damascene; and again, “Every being that is endowed with reason is also endowed with free will. Consequently an Angel, being a nature endowed with reason and intelligence, is also equipped with freedom of choice. Being a creature, he is mutable, because he is free either to persevere in what is good, or to turn to what is bad.”

The words of the Divine Savior revealing that Angels rejoice in heaven when they see a sinner converted to God and doing penance, presuppose a free will and free choice not only in man, the sinner doing penance but also in the Angels who rejoice instead of lamenting over such an act. “So I say to you, there shall be joy before the Angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.” This rejoicing over man’s conversion, and hope of salvation, reveals the most beautiful and noble act of the Angelic will, their love. They love themselves and each other in God, and God in Himself and above all else. They love man because he is made to the image and likeness of God, is a partaker of the Divine nature, redeemed by the Son of God and destined to live with them in heaven. Yes, they love man, they protect him, they inspire him with holy thoughts and desires, they offer his prayers, his good works, his sufferings and his tears to God and they pray for him. Yes, the good Angels love man as much as Satan hates him. This love of man explains the heavenly joy they experience when they see a sinner doing penance, because through sin he was lost and now has been found, was dead and has come back to life.

Being entirely free from passions and all sensitive appetites, the act of the Angelic will is determined exclusively by the Angelic mind with a decision and a firmness that are final and admit of no reverse. It was exactly this quality of the Angelic will, as some say, that made the fallen angels incapable of conversion and repentance. For an Angel to sin, at the time of their probation when they were still free to do so, is to assume an immutable attitude against God, an aversion that will never end. He thus becomes an adversary of God, a demon. Whereas the good Angel that has once elicited an act of love of God will love God for all eternity. “Following that perfect knowledge of theirs, the Angel’s surrender to love is immediate, unwavering, utterly whole and completely irrevocable. The fire of an Angel’s love is not built up slowly; it has no stages of mere smoldering, no agonizing moments of dying embers; rather the Angel is immediately a holocaust, a roaring conflagration, aflame with a love that will never lessen.”

Desire is another manifest sign of a free will in a rational being. Saint Peter attributes this quality to the will of the Angels.

For centuries and ages, ever since the primal revelation was made to them, those heavenly spirits had ardently desired to see the fulfillment of the redemption promised mankind from the beginning: “Into these things Angels desired to look.” This desire to see our redemption accomplished is another proof of their love for us.

Once established in grace and admitted to the Beatific Vision, the Angelic will, no less than the human will, can no longer choose between good and evil. The choice it has made of the Good, is now an eternal choice. In the eternal possession of the Supreme Good they can still choose what they please, but their choice is always guided by the love of the Supreme Being and is only a choice between good and better.

Locomotion and Power of the Angels

In order to fully understand the extraordinary power of the Angels it is necessary to know their peculiar relation to space and how they move from one place to another.

An Angel, as every spiritual substance, is said to be present or localized in a particular place not by reason of his own substance being coextended with and circumscribed by space, like material bodies, but merely by virtue of his power being applied to a specific object or a particular place. Being spiritual and completely immaterial he does not fill or occupy space, not even the smallest dimension, not even a single point. His presence in a place is determined, and occasionally made known, by his activity there and not by his substance which has nothing in common with matter.

A graphic example of the presence of an Angel, made known by application of his power, is given in the well-known account of the miraculous cures that took place in the pond called Bethsaida, by the Sheepgate of Jerusalem. “An Angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water, was made whole, of whatsoever infirmity he lay under.” It is not said here that the Angel was ever seen by anybody when coming into that pond. His presence became manifest only by his action of stirring the waters and giving health to the first infirm person entering the pond.

The action of the Angel that determines his presence may affect material objects or immaterial subjects, like the human soul, other Angels, or demons.

Being thus engaged in one place the Angel cannot exert his activity and thereby be present at another place at the same time. He can be present and operate in one place at a time, and cannot reach by one action various objects in separate places. However, Angels pass from one place to another with the rapidity of thought. Their motion is not really a locomotion but merely an instantaneous change of place, even when the local distance between the second place and the first is of several thousand miles. His motion consists in transferring his attention and activity from one object to another without having to pass successively through the intermediate places and space. He can, however, follow a continuous motion through space when his activity demands it. Our mind, the closest thing to an Angel, even without leaving the location occupied by our body, travels with the speed of a spirit. At a moment’s notice I can transfer my thoughts and my imagination from one continent to another, visit friends and even, perhaps, affect them telepathically. What a man can do mentally only, an Angel can do by actually transferring his own self and all his activity from one continent to another with the speed of lightning or, better, the speed of thought.

It is recorded in the Bible that on such flights the Angels have transported material objects or human beings with the same speed of spirit motion. An excellent example of this is found in the book of Daniel. For six days the Prophet Daniel was in the den of lions without being touched by the hungry felines kept there. During those days the Lord remembered Daniel and sent an Angel to bring him food. The Angel had to provide real food somewhere on earth and then bring it to Daniel. Daniel was in Babylon; the Angel went to Judea, some six hundred miles west of Babylon, and this is how he did it: “There was in Judea a prophet called Habacuc, and he had boiled pottage, and had broken bread in a bowl, and was going into the field, to carry it to the reapers. And the Angel of the Lord said to Habacuc: Carry the dinner which thou hast into Babylon to Daniel, who is in the lions’ den. And Habacuc said: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den. And the Angel of the Lord took him by the top of his head, and carried him by the hair of his head, and set him in Babylon over the den in the force of his spirit. And Habacuc cried saying: O Daniel, thou servant of God, take the dinner that God hath sent thee…. And Daniel arose and ate. And the Angel of the Lord presently set Habacuc again in his own place.”

The mode of Angelic locomotion is clearly expressed in those words: “in the force of his spirit.” A locomotion that does not pass successively through the intermediate spaces is implied there where the Scripture says that “the Angel of the Lord “presently” (that is, that very moment, immediately) set Habacuc again in his own place.” It is not said that Habacuc was carried all the way back to his place, but that he was set, placed again in his place six hundred miles away, still in time to prepare another meal for his reapers. It is not conceivable that the Angel who provided Daniel with food should let the poor laborers in the field go hungry.

An Angel is a finite being, a creature, and as such he cannot perform miracles. A miracle, in the strict sense of the word “is something done by God outside the order of all created nature.” God is the principal cause of every miracle. He may, and usually does, make use of creatures, as Angels and Saints, as instrumental causes of miracles. However, many effects produced by Angels, according to their own natural powers, may appear like miracles to us because of the extraordinary manner in which they are produced and because of the superior power they reveal, but in fact they are not real miracles but Angelic deeds. The amazing swiftness of their movements, the devastating power of destruction which they manifest when God employs them as avenging Angels, are in reality ordinary exploits of the Angelic nature; yet they appear like miracles to us.

A classical example of Angelic avenging power has been recorded in the Bible. One single Angel of the Lord wiped out a whole army of Assyrian warriors in one night. Led by Sennacherib, the Assyrians had come to take Jerusalem in the days of King Ezechias. At the prayers of the pious King, the Lord promised to protect the city of Jerusalem and not to permit the Assyrians to shoot a single arrow into the city. The Lord gave the avenging mission to one of His Angels. “And it came to pass that night, that an Angel of the Lord came, and slew in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand. And when he arose early in the morning, he saw all the bodies of the dead.” This extraordinary historical event is recorded in four different books of the Scripture and finds its confirmation in the history books of Josephus Flavius and of Herodotus. The inspired writers tell us what the Lord revealed to them, namely that an Angel did it all. The pagan writers tell us how that mysterious agent accomplished it, namely making use of natural destructive means, deadly microbes and bacteria causing a plague: “God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his (Sennacherib’s) army; and on the very first night of the siege, a hundred four score and five thousand, with their captains and generals were destroyed.”

The hand of the avenging Angel appears manifest in this incident which reminds us of the plagues of Egypt, in the days of Moses, when the Lord must have made extensive use of the Angelic ministry in producing those great signs and portents.

“The phenomena to which the power of Angels may give rise, whether exercised mediately or immediately, must be of a remarkable character, both as regards their extent and their diversity. As on the one hand these pure spirits possess a knowledge of physical and chemical laws far surpassing our own knowledge, and as on the other their power is of such vast range, we must assume that there are hardly any phenomena in the world which they cannot produce in one way or another. Indeed, such effects may be so surprising as to have all the appearances of miracles. They are not, however, true miracles, for, though they surpass the powers of the visible universe, so far as it is known to us, they do not in reality surpass the powers of the Angelic nature, a miracle being due to the power of God alone, and surpassing all the powers both of visible and invisible nature.”

Among the many effects of the Angelic power we must mention that of assuming a visible form or the appearance of a human body, always with God’s permission or command. The many corporeal apparitions of Angels and Archangels mentioned in the Bible need not be repeated here. However, those assumed bodies do not become part of their nature. They are used merely as necessary instruments for communicating visibly with men. They are not real bodies, and whatever vital actions they seem to perform with them are such only in appearance. “I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you,” said the Archangel Raphael, “but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men.” The non-reality of the Archangel’s assumed body was made manifest by his sudden vanishing into thin air: “And when he (the Archangel) had said these things, he was taken from their sight, and they could see him no more.”

Grace of God and Probation

The Angels, the first creatures of the universe, were created to God’s own image and similitude. “The Angel,” writes Saint Thomas, “is the most excellent of all creatures because among all creatures he bears the greatest resemblance to his Creator. The glossa on Ezechiel, 28, “Thou wast the seal of resemblance”, says: The more subtle their nature (the Angelic nature) the better is the image of God found expressed in them.” The Lord bestowed on them marvelous gifts of nature and grace: wisdom, power, beauty, holiness. With the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, He infused in them all the virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Thus their natural life of created spirits was divinely perfected. The Angels became sharers and participants of the Divine Life and were given the opportunity to merit the reward of eternal bliss in the face-to-face vision of God in heaven. Thus the morning stars of creation became the first adoptive sons of God.

Saint Thomas believes that the Angels were given all these supernatural virtues and gifts of grace (which are absolutely necessary to every intelligent creature who would attain Beatific Vision) in exact proportion to their individual natural aptitude and perfection. Since the natural perfection of one Angel differs specifically from that of any other, it would follow that the degrees of grace among the Angels differ even more than among our Saints, according to St. Thomas.

That the Angels were actually elevated to the supernatural order and endowed with sanctifying grace is a truth firmly and unanimously defended by Catholic Theologians. This truth is based on Divine Revelation where the Angels are often called “saints,” “sons of God,” “Angels of light” in opposition to Satan. They are portrayed as enjoying Beatific Vision: “Their Angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” To this vision they could be admitted only because they had been previously sanctified and had persevered in grace.

The sanctity of the Angels, no less than that of man, is not a quality of nature, nor anything demanded by nature, but a supernatural gift of God, freely bestowed out of that same divine love which had freely given them all the gifts of nature and nature itself. “The Powers of heaven (the Angels) are not holy by nature, but they possess the measure of their sanctification from the Holy Spirit, according to the rank by which one excels another.” According to Saint Augustine, the gift of grace was bestowed upon the Angels together with the gift of nature, so that their creation and their sanctification were simultaneous: “God created the Angels with a chaste love whereby they adhered to Him, granting to them His grace while creating their nature.”

The exact time of the sanctification of the Angels is not a matter of faith. But Saint Augustine’s opinion on this has become the prevailing one, especially since the time Saint Thomas defended it against some medieval theologians who maintained that the Angels remained for some time in the pure state of nature and were elevated to the supernatural order some time later. Saint Augustine’s opinion has been adopted by the Roman Catechism.

Just like man, the Angels had to undergo a period of probation during which they were free to choose between good and evil. They were not yet confirmed in grace and they did not enjoy the Beatific Vision during this time. This was a period of existence like that of our first parents before their fall, insofar as they were wayfarers, living in faith and hope of those supernal truths and promises that God had revealed to them. During this time the Angels had the great opportunity to merit heaven and eternal life with God, but in the meantime they were exposed to the danger of committing sin and thereby losing God and heaven for all eternity. The Fathers and the theologians are unanimous in admitting a period of probation for the Angels. Gennadius, who disagreed with them, asserted that the Angels were created in a state of grace and glory. His opinion would suppose that sin is possible for those who enjoy Beatific Vision. The freedom of choosing what is evil or wrong does no longer exist in the state of glory.

It is matter of faith that during their period of probation some of the Angels sinned and were condemned to hell. The fact that they did sin proves that there was a time in their existence when sin was possible. Since they could not sin in statu termini (the state of final consummation which excludes the possibility of further merit or demerit) they must have sinned in statu viae (the state of wayfaring or probation). This state is necessarily a state of faith and not of vision, of merit not of reward. Hence the existence of such a state of probation for the Angels is a firm theological conclusion.

How long did this probation last? Divine Revelation offers no answer to this question. The various opinions expressed on the subject by some theologians are pure speculations. They speak of one single instant, or the time required for the first act of love elicited by the Angels; or of two or three instants, or morulae, the first instant marking the act of creation and sanctification, the second referring to their perseverance or fall, the third to their reception into the glory of heaven or their damnation. Since we do not even know how long the period of probation of our first parents was, we should not presume to define the duration of the test imposed by the Lord on His Angels.

Considering the great difference existing between the Angelic nature and the human, and between their respective mode of operation, it would seem a priori that the Angels would require a much shorter period of probation than man. Man is relatively very slow in his physical development and in his mental operations. The Angel is in full possession of his natural gifts from the very beginning, and his mental process is instantaneous and perfect. Divine grace perfects nature according to the proper mode of that nature, hence the Angelic nature would seem to have required a much shorter time than man’s nature both for its perfecting and for its testing. However, these considerations do not take into account the hidden reasons of Divine Providence which could have demanded a much longer period of probation for the Angels, because the period of probation is also a period of merit. The fact that the first act of love of God elicited by the good Angels merited heaven for them, does not seem a sufficient reason to prove that they were immediately admitted to the glory of heaven. They could have merited more glory by being given the opportunity for more such meritorious acts: “He that is just, let him be justified still; and he that is holy, let him be sanctified still.” Man who is in the state of grace is not taken immediately into heaven after eliciting his first act of love of God but he is left ordinarily a long time here on earth in his state of probation in order that he may acquire more merit. Something analogous must have been the case with the probation of the Angels.

One thing distinguishes man’s probation from that of the Angels. The first act of love of God elicited by an Angel is a final choice; he will love God forever. We may say that thereby he is practically confirmed in grace, for he who will never deflect from the love of God will never lose His grace. On the other hand the Angel who sins will sin forever. He is lost: “Because of his exalted perfection an Angel who sins falls far; because of the perfection of the angelic will the Angel who falls, falls but once.” Their first choice of good or evil is an immutable, an eternal choice. After this choice Angels are divided not simply into saints and sinners, as it is usually the case with men (who after their fall are given an opportunity for conversion, redemption, and salvation), but into good Angels and Devils.

Another outstanding difference between the period of probation of the Angels and that of man is this, that all the Angels were individually and personally subjected to their probation, because they were all there at the time; whereas only the first parents, the first father and mother, were personally present when all mankind was subjected to a test. With the fall of Adam all mankind fell, because all mankind was virtually present in him and actually represented by him through a divine decree. Hence, because Adam sinned we all sinned. Only a number of the Angels fell, because only a number of them disobeyed and sinned; the others, the great majority of them, undismayed by the bad example given by some of their brethren, remained loyal to God, clinging to Him with pure and ardent love. The good Angels never knew sin, but all men (except Jesus our Lord and His Immaculate Mother) because of original sin are servants of sin, children of wrath and in need of redemption. This sinlessness of the good Angels, more than their exalted nature, renders them so wonderful and so lovable to us, and so dear to God.

The Heavenly Hierarchies and the Choirs of Angels

As has already been explained, the Angels are pure spirits, incorporeal and in every sense immaterial substances. There is no question of generation and multiplication with them, consequently no angelic families and clans. Each Angel stands apart as a complete and direct creation of God. Each Angel, according to Saint Thomas, is specifically different from any other in the entire spirit world, so that he possesses more or less perfection than the one next to him, by a degree higher or lower than that which here below separates man from a brute animal, an animal from a plant. This is because each Angel is a pure form. Now, every differentiation in form implies differentiation in species. Human beings, no matter what their race, belong all to one and the same species. They differ only individually by some material or moral quality that does not alter substantially their specific nature of a rational creature composed of body and soul.

The Lord of heaven Who has grouped the children of men according to races, tribes, families, and nations must have assigned some order to the more numerous and more diversiform world of the Angels. The various names, in the plural number, given to the Angels in the Bible seem to imply that there are various orders and ranks among them. What is said here of the Choirs and Hierarchies of the Angels is not an article of faith, yet it should be regarded as a certain truth.

As a matter of fact the Scripture mentions nine different orders of Angels. In various passages in the Old and New Testament mention is made of Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels, and Angels. The mere fact that the Scripture carefully distinguishes between these various names of Angelic orders is sufficient reason to believe that they actually represent different ranks in the spirit world, with a difference of perfection and of office between the various orders of Angels. There seems to be no basis whatever to the opinion that these nine different denominations are synonymous terms. It never happens that while the Scripture is talking, for example, of Seraphim it would next refer to them as Thrones, Dominations, etc. The only exception is to be made with the term Angel, which is used both as a specific term for the lowest Choir, and as generic term for all the Choirs, as when the Psalmist says: “Praise ye him, all his angels; praise ye him, all his hosts.” “All his angels” here means all the choirs of Angels, whatever their name and their rank.

Some writers believe that this enumeration of nine Choirs of Angels is incomplete, because of the following words of Saint Paul: “Above all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” They say that “every name that is named” would seem to imply an indefinite number of Angelic Orders. While this is true, those same words could be equally well explained by the fact that in this passage Saint Paul had mentioned only four out of nine Choirs, hence those words could also imply that the enumeration just given is incomplete.

There is a great disagreement and uncertainty in Patristic tradition on this point. Except for Saint Ambrose and Dionysius, (Saint Gregory the Great and Saint John Damascene both depend upon Dionysius in this matter), the theory of the nine Choirs and the Angelic Hierarchies is unknown to the Greek and Latin Fathers. They hardly ever agree in either the number and the names of the Angelic Orders. A diligent analysis of the Scripture, however, gives us the nine orders and names of Angels: “We say that there are nine orders of Angels, because we know from Scripture to be so,” says Saint Gregory.

In the days of Saint Gregory the theory of the nine Choirs of Angels was well established because of the accepted authority of Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite. However, as far back as the days of Saint Ignatius Martyr, who died 107 A.D., explicit mention is made of hierarchies and of ranks of Angels: “I am in chains and able to grasp heavenly things, the ranks of the angels, the hierarchy of principalities, things visible and invisible.” Saint Ambrose enumerates the nine Choirs of Angels in ascending order from Angels to Seraphim, without any hesitation. Saint Augustine, on the contrary, candidly admits his ignorance regarding any difference between the Angelic orders. Commenting on Colossians, chapter 1:16, “whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers”, he writes: “What difference is there between these four terms . . . let those tell who can, I for myself must confess that I do not know.” Several of the Fathers believe that the enumeration of the Angelic orders found in the Scripture is incomplete. Commenting on Psalm 135, Saint Hilary writes that the Apostle Paul either purposely concealed or he ignored the exact number of Angelic Choirs. Saint Jerome seizes on the same idea. After referring to one of the enumerations given by Saint Paul, he adds the following: “And the other terms of ministry which neither we ourselves nor Paul himself, I believe, was able to name while still in his mortal body.” Saint Jerome enumerates only seven Choirs of Angels, but he insists on a real difference between them: “Why do we read that in the kingdom of heaven there are Archangels, Angels, Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Cherubim and Seraphim, and every name which is named not only in this present world, but also that which is to come? A difference of name is meaningless where there is not a difference of rank. An Archangel is of course an Archangel to other inferior Angels, and Powers and Dominions have other spheres over which they exercise authority.” The wavering and unsettled opinion about the Choirs of Angels, before the days of Dionysius, appears very manifest in the Apostolic Constitutions, which, at one time, mentions ten Angelic Choirs, including Aeons and Hosts but omitting Dominions; at another time it lists eleven Choirs, adding Dominions to the previous enumeration.

Saint John Damascene seems to attribute the final decision on the matter of Choirs and Hierarchies to his predecessor Dionysius: “As the most holy and venerable man and excellent theologian Denis the Areopagite says, the entire theology, that is Sacred Scripture, has listed nine celestial substances which our master theologian has divided in three orders (hierarchies).” It is evident that the merit of Dionysius is limited to the division of the nine Choirs into three Hierarchies. The Choirs themselves and their names are found in Sacred Scripture, and they had been grouped together long before the time of Dionysius by, for example, Saint Ambrose. With the translation of his works into Latin his theory of the nine Choirs and the three Hierarchies became the commonly accepted opinion also in the West. Beginning with the most perfect Hierarchy and the highest Choirs of Angels, the Angelic world is thus divided according to Dionysius:


Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones


Dominations, Virtues, Powers


Principalities, Archangels, Angels

These nine orders of Angels are commonly called Choirs. Because the word choir means a band of singers, it is liable to create a wrong notion about the number and the duties of the Angels. Singing the praises of the Most High is indeed one of the most pleasant and desired occupation of all celestial spirits, but certainly not the only duty and occupation. Their vast number of countless millions and myriads in each Choir would be better expressed by other terms, like Order, Rank, Hosts, etc. Yet, the accepted name should be retained because of its antiquity.

What is meant by Angelic Hierarchy? According to Dionysius, in this case Hierarchy implies a holy order, a special knowledge, and a specific activity which, so far as possible, “participates in the Divine Likeness and is lifted up to the illuminations given it from God, and correspondingly towards the imitation of God…. The aim of the Hierarchy is the greatest possible assimilation to and union with God…. Also it molds and perfects its participants in the holy image of God like bright and spotless mirrors which receive the ray of the supreme Deity which is the source of light, and being mystically filled with the gift of light, it pours it forth again abundantly, in accordance with God’s law, upon those below itself.”

Hierarchy, a sacred authority, generally speaking, implies some common sphere of activity and influence; Orders, among Angels, imply gradual rank of both natural perfection and supernatural grace and glory. This is the meaning of Saint Bernard’s consideration: “The citizens of that country are spirits, mighty, glorious, blessed, separate personalities, of gradual rank, from the beginning standing in their own order, perfect of their kind.”

As we have noted before, all the names of the Angelic Orders, or Choirs, are found in Sacred Scripture; they are not an invention of Dionysius. The distribution of the nine Choirs into three distinct Hierarchies is a theory he derived ultimately from Neo-Platonic Philosophy prevalent in his time. According to Proclus: “The progressions of beings are completed through similitude. However, the terminations of the higher orders are united to the beginnings of second orders . . . and thus all things are in continuity with each other.” Dionysius develops these basic ideas both in his Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies. He confesses his inability to give us a clear picture of that wondrous organization of the Angelic world when he writes: “I hold that none but the Divine Creator, by whom they were ordained, is able to know fully the number and the nature of the celestial Beings and the regulation of their Hierarchies…. We could not have known the mystery of these supercelestial Intelligences and all the holiness of their perfection had it not been taught to us by God through His ministers who truly know their own natures. Therefore we will say nothing as from ourselves, but being instructed we will set forth, according to our ability, those angelic visions which the venerable theologians have beheld.”

According to Dionysius, a Hierarchy is a threefold order and a co-equal unity. The most exalted Hierarchy, that of the Orders of Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, is the most fully Godlike, the most closely and immediately united to the first Light of the Godhead.

The first and the second Hierarchy possess all the illumination and the power of the lower Hierarchy, that of the Principalities, the Archangels, and the Angels. This, according to Dionysius, is the reason why all the blessed spirits, including those of the highest Choirs, are rightly called Angels—the name of the lowest Choir—because they all possess, in addition to their own personal perfection, the illumination and the power of the common Angel, but the Angels themselves do not participate equally with those above them.

It is well known how the concept of the heavenly Hierarchy was accommodated, by the same author, to the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy. Here, too, a member of the highest Order, a Bishop, has all the sacred power and sacred knowledge of any member of the lower Orders, the Priests, the Deacons, etc., but these do not share equally with him in that power. The Angelic Choirs, or Orders, exercise their power by means of illumination and purgation, enriching and perfecting the Angelic or human intelligences that are immediately below themselves according to their receptive capacity. By analogy, the same functions of purging, illuminating, and perfecting are attributed to the various Orders of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy by Dionysius. This is indeed a very harmonious and beautiful conception of God’s family in heaven and on earth, a family in which all are joined together in charity among themselves and all are united in God with divine love.

“The first Hierarchy of the celestial Intelligences is purified and enlightened, being ordained by the first perfecting Cause, uplifted directly to Himself, and filled, analogously, with the most holy purification of the boundless light of the supreme perfection, untouched by any inferiority, full of primal light and perfected by its union with the first-given understanding and knowledge.” According to this principle, the Choirs of the first Hierarchy receive, in proportion to their Order and personal perfection, illumination and purgation directly from God; the others indirectly, that is, through the members of the Choir and Hierarchy immediately above them, except, of course, for the supernatural light of grace and glory which is given to all directly from God.

It is practically beyond our power of comprehension and comparison to balance one against the other, the highest in the Order of Seraphim with the lowest in the Choir of Angels, in the third Hierarchy. The highest in the Choir of Seraphim must have been the most brilliant, most perfect and glorious creature of the spirit world, a bearer of light and beauty, the ideal of creation. According to Sacred Scripture the apostasy of the fallen Angels must be attributed to one of the most exalted spirits. He sinned by pride and seduced the others by his example and his lies.

The Fallen Angels

We have an eye-witness account of the fall of this supreme Angel in the words of Christ, the Son of God: “I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven.” What happened to this towering glory of creation to fall so low from such an exalted position? The same Divine Savior reveals something of the cause of his fall: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof.” He is called a murderer, from the beginning, because he destroyed, by his example and seduction, the life of grace in his fellow Angels and, later, in our first parents; he is depicted as the great liar, because blinded by pride he attributed to himself those marvelous gifts that God had graciously and most generously showered on him. To him, therefore, the words of Isaias have been aptly applied, and Lucifer has become a synonym of Satan: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? how art thou fallen to the earth? . . . And thou saidst in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven. I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High. But yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, into the depth of the pit.” These words of Isaias are a parable alluding directly to the King of Babylon but indirectly to Satan whose spirit and actions were reflected in that King’s conduct. Another tyrannical ruler, the King of Tyre, gives Prophet Ezechiel the opportunity for another description of Satan before and after his fall: “Thus saith the Lord God: Thou wast the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou wast in the pleasures of the paradise of God. Every precious stone was thy covering: the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper, the chrysolite, and the onyx, and the beryl, the sapphire, and the carbuncle, and the emerald: gold the work of thy beauty, and thy pipes were prepared in the day that thou wast created. Thou a Cherub stretched out, and protecting, and I set thee in the holy mountain of God, thou hast walked in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day of thy creation, until iniquity was found in thee. . . thou hast sinned, and I cast thee out from the mountain of God, and destroyed thee, O covering Cherub, out of the midst of the stones of fire. And thy heart was lifted up with thy beauty: thou hast lost thy wisdom in thy beauty, I have cast thee to the ground.”

The name Lucifer, the comparison with the Cherubim, the exalted beauty and wisdom of this spirit before his fall, all these seem to be sufficient indications leading to the conclusion that Satan, most probably, was the supreme Angel in the Choir of Cherubim.

Both Fathers and Theologians quite generally hold that the sin of the fallen angels was pride. Pride is a false estimation of oneself; it is a lie, just as humility is truth. Pride is the root of disobedience, the instigator of seditions and rebellions. In that period of probation one of the supreme Angels recognized his exceeding power, beauty, and knowledge but failed to give thanks and glory to God. He became envious and intolerant of God’s supreme dominion and thereby he constituted himself as the adversary of God: he became Satan. Like a sinister flash of lightning his evil mind was made manifest in the spirit world. Because of his exalted position many Angels followed him in his mad campaign of hate and rebellion. It was then that a cry and a challenge was heard in the heavens, and a leader was seen to rise from the lowest Hierarchy, from the Choir of the Archangels. His battle cry: “Who is like God?” was his mighty weapon and it became, later, his own name: Michael. “And 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. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast down unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Just as the Archangel Michael earned his name in the battle of heaven, so did Satan acquire his by the defying attitude he took against God. Satan in Hebrew means the “adversary,” the “accuser.” The Greek version of the Septuagint translates Satan with Diabolos, hence the Latin Diabolus, and all the derived vernacular names, including the English term “Devil.” The Devil is therefore the equivalent of Satan, the leader of the fallen angels. The other fallen angels have no proper name but they are called either “evil spirits,” “spirits of wickedness,” “unclean spirits,” or simply “devils,” because of their association with Satan their leader who is known as “The Devil.” Another name, applied to fallen angels, is common to both Sacred Scripture and pagan literature: the term “demon,” from the Greek Daimon. The Greeks, like Socrates, distinguished between good and bad daimones. In the Bible the word demon has always the meaning of an evil being. The false gods of the Gentiles are called demons: “All the gods of the Gentiles are devils.” Beelzebub, one of the various names of Satan, is called “the prince of demons.”

Evil, in this world and in all of God’s creation, begins with Satan and his associates. “The Devil and all the other demons, as created by God, were naturally good, but they did become evil by their own doing.” All the wickedness and the resulting suffering, misery, and death in this world can be traced back to Satan. He, the old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, “seduced Eve by his subtlety.” This was the beginning of man’s fall, ruin, and death: “For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him, but by the envy of the devil, death came into the world.”

“From the psychological point of view,” writes J. Pohle, “it is a reasonable assumption that the apostasy of the Angels was instigated by one of their own number, most likely by the one who ranked highest both in natural and supernatural endowment, and that consequently the kingdom of evil originated at the very summit of creation and thence spread over heaven and earth.”

The devil sinned with perfect knowledge and complete freedom, without any bad example or seduction, consequently his sin was inexcusable. With the exception of Salmeron and very few others, the theologians believe that, unlike man, Satan and the fallen angels were given no time for repentance. This opinion seems to be firmly based on the words of the Scripture that reveal the fall of the angels, like: “God 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.” In these words, like in the following ones taken from the Apocalypse, there seems to be no time left between sin and punishment, the punishment being eternal damnation and the torments of hell. “Michael and the 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.”

It has been pointed out before that perhaps one third of all the inhabitants of the spirit world followed the example of Satan and were expelled from heaven with him: “His tail (the dragon’s) drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.”

There were defections, probably, from almost every Choir of the heavenly Hierarchies. Saint Paul mentions Principalities and Powers among the fallen angels, who try to seduce man with their deceits: “Put you on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against Principalities and Powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” As Saint Paul never gives a complete enumeration of all the Choirs of the good Angels at one time, we may surmise that he follows the same rule with the fallen angels. The mention of Principalities and Powers in this passage should not be taken as complete and exclusive, but only as more representative and as implying the great natural power and cunning of our adversaries. Even though deprived of all supernatural grace and superadded gifts, the fallen angels retain their natural power which, in itself, is far superior to the natural power of man. For this reason the Apostle demands that the faithful put on the “armor of God” and “the shield of faith” in order to be able to resist and to conquer. Yet, in view of the fact that in another list of fallen angels, the Apostle mentions again only these two Choirs: Principalities and Powers, we believe that the largest number of fallen angels must have come from them. Speaking of Christ’s victory over sin and the Devil, Saint Paul says: “Despoiling the Principalities and Powers, he hath exposed them confidently in open show, triumphing over them in himself.”

With the fall of Satan and his angels, the good Angels closed their ranks: “Neither was their place (Satan’s and associates’) found any more in heaven.” It was then, we believe, that the good Angels who had stood their test and devoted themselves irrevocably to God’s service and love, were admitted to their eternal reward in the glory of heaven and began to enjoy the Beatific Vision without fear of ever losing it. The heaven in which the big battle took place between Michael and Satan was not the heaven of glory and Beatific Vision, but the heaven of the spirit world during the period of probation; for no sin is possible in the land of the Blessed nor war in the house of peace.

The good Angels became the court of the most High King of Heaven, God’s army against all the legions of the rebel spirits, and God’s messengers to men.

It was here on earth, after man’s creation and fall, that the good Angels met their fallen comrades of old. On many occasions Satan’s path crossed that of Michael the Archangel. One of these occasions has been revealed and recorded for us by the Apostle Saint Jude: “When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the Devil, contended about the body of Moses, he did not venture to accuse him insultingly; he was content to say, May the Lord rebuke thee.”

The war against God has been taken down to earth and directed against man. The Angels of heaven can sin no more and Satan would waste his time trying to seduce them now. But man, who even after his fall, has a chance for conversion and salvation, because of Christ’s redemptive work for him, can be made to fall again and again until he rises no more and is lost. The Devil who was “a murderer from the beginning” has continued his murderous activity with the children of man. Ever since original sin he has exercised a reign of death — the imperium mortis — over mankind, so that in a spiritual sense he became “the prince of this world” by making man the slave of sin. Satan with the assistance of his demons extends this “reign of death” in three principal manners: by seductive temptations; by diabolical obsessions and possessions; by all sorts of black magic, spiritism, and the superstitions of idolatry.

The reality of diabolical activity in this world is so plainly and so strongly emphasized in the Scriptures of both Testaments that it would be superfluous for us to prove it. The diabolical perversity and cruelty, manifested by so many people in this present generation, living in the most enlightened period of human history, cannot be explained without the presence, in our midst, of an evil genius who delights in man’s suffering and despair. This unseen evil genius is Satan. But why hate man? The obvious answer is that Satan hates God and anyone made to His image; much more so since God Himself assumed a human nature. Some theologians believe that one of the reasons of Satan’s rebellion and disobedience was the fact that God revealed to the Angels the great things He had in store for man, elevation to the supernatural order, the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Hypostatic Union, the Virgin Mother of God, Mary. God commanded all the Angels to adore the Incarnate Word, as Saint Paul writes: “When He bringeth in the first begotten into the world, He saith: And let all the Angels of God adore him.” Envy and pride were, it seems, the cause of Satan’s rebellion and fall. Man reminds him always of his fall and his misery, hence his hatred and the relentless campaign against man with the intention of making him an associate of his own misery and despair. This campaign will last to the end of the world. At the final Judgment, Satan, his demons, and all lost souls will hear the eternal condemnation already announced by Christ: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” No repentance, therefore, and no salvation for the Devil, the adversary and the enemy of God, as, once, Origen and, lately, G. Papini dared to affirm.

Many other problems are connected with the fallen angels, but they belong to a different treatise, to Demonology. Our task, at present, is limited to the good Angels and their activity in this world.

Angels and Their Names – The Common Names

Whether or not every Angel has a proper name whereby he is distinguished from other heavenly spirits of the same Order or Choir we do not know. Each name that Scripture and Tradition have given to individual Angels and Angelic Choirs, reflects some of the particular duties assigned to them, either in the Court of Heaven or on their missions to men here on earth. Such names are indicative of Angelic activity rather than of Angelic nature, but because operation is always in proportion to nature some aspect of the Angelic nature is revealed by such names, in a manner comprehensible to man. If they actually have proper names that fully express their nature, such names must be too wonderful for mortal man to understand. This is probably the reason why the Angel who appeared to Samson’s mother, very carefully evaded her curious questioning in this regard. “A man of God came to me, having the countenance of an Angel, very awful. And when I asked him who he was, and whence he came, and by what name he was called, he would not tell me.” When the same Angel appeared to Samson’s father, he too pressed the heavenly spirit for his name: “What is thy name, that; if thy word shall come to pass, we may honor thee. And he answered him: Why askest thou my name which is wonderful?”

The patriarch Jacob had no more success with the Angel who wrestled with him: “Jacob asked him: Tell me by what name art thou called? He answered: Why dost thou ask my name? And he blessed him in the same place.” In both these instances the Angel does not deny the fact that he has a name, by which other Angels call him in heaven, but that name is too wonderful for man to hear. The name of a purely spiritual nature must be expressed by such exalted concepts as to be entirely ineffable in human terms. We believe that the danger of idolatry, which was very close in those days, was an added reason for the Angel not to give any name. The Holy Angels were always very careful in preventing man from offering sacrifices and divine worship to them. Manue, Samson’s father, was about to make a sort of sacrificial offering to the Angel who had just spoken to him, when the Angel stopped him, saying: “If thou press me, I will not eat of thy bread, but if thou wilt offer a holocaust, offer it to the Lord.” Saint John the Evangelist was prevented from adoring an Angel: “And I, John, who have heard and seen these things. And, after I had heard and seen, I fell down to adore before the feet of the Angel who showed me these things, and he said to me: See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them that keep the words of the prophecy of this book. Adore God.” It is a very consoling thought to know that we are fellow servants of the Angels, if we serve God faithfully, like the prophets and the Apostles.

The Name eLOHIM

Because of the superior attributes of splendor, beauty, wisdom, and power manifested by the Angels on their various apparitions to man, it was natural that at the very beginning of revelation, man would regard the Angels as divine beings. As a matter of fact, one of their names, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, is Elohim, the very same name which was given to God, to God-like beings, and to false gods. This name, in the sense of heavenly spirits, is found in several passages in the book of Psalms: “Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols. Adore Him, all you his Angels” (elohim – the gods). Again, “I will sing praise to thee in the sight of the Angels” (elohim – the gods). In these and similar passages the probable translation is, God, or gods, but from the context it appears that, more probably, Angels are meant here by elohim. This is exactly how the Vulgate and other ancient versions, like the Septuagint, understood it. When the Angels are called gods, the word must be taken in a sense similar to that whereby saints and prophets are called gods: “I have said: You are gods, and all of you the sons of the most High.” Our Divine Savior fully approves this expression, in the sense of a just man and a saint being a partaker of the divine nature, adding that “the scripture cannot be broken.” The parallelism of the second stich: “and all of you the sons of the most High,” clearly explains the meaning of the term “gods,” in the first stich, namely, gods as adoptive sons of God; gods not by nature but by grace and adoption.

The Name “Sons of God” (BeNEY eLOHIM)

This name, like the preceding one, is applied to both Angels and just men. We have met this title before, at the very beginning of this book, and we have discussed its meaning with reference to Angels. Because of the sanctifying grace which is in them, they are deified and children of God by adoption. This supernatural, divine element of sanctifying grace joins together Angels and just men into one family, God’s family, making them all children of the same Father. The fellowship of grace and glory makes Angels and Saints Sons of God, and, therefore, brethren according to grace, if not according to nature.

The Name “Messenger” (MALeAKH)

This is the most common name given to all the heavenly spirits. The title is obviously taken from the most frequent and best known duty of the Angels, that of acting as God’s messengers and legates to men. As explained before, this title is used both as a generic and a specific appelative; first, it refers to all the heavenly spirits of any rank or Choir, secondly, it is the proper name of the spirits of the last Choir in the last Hierarchy.

The Name “Mediators” (MELIS)

This and the following titles, common to all the Angels, are descriptive rather than nominal, and they are found only in the Scripture of the Old Testament. An example of this title is found in the book of Job: “If there shall be an Angel (a mediator) speaking for him, one among thousands, to declare man’s uprightness.” The good Angels, especially our guardian Angels, are our mediators, those who speak for us before the divine throne of God. The Archangel Raphael was such a mediator for old Tobias, as it appears from his own words: “When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them at night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord.” This offering of man’s prayers and good deeds to the Lord is an act of mediation. Before the Savior’s Ascension, before the gates of heaven were opened to redeemed mankind, the Holy Angels were man’s only mediators and intercessors in Heaven. Their mediation did not cease after our Redemption by Christ, when the Queen of Heaven and all the Saints became our intercessors in union with Christ our Divine Mediator. On the contrary, the Angelic mediation became more incessant and efficacious because of the example of the Son of God. In the sacred liturgy of the Mass, the Church expresses this idea of Angelic mediation in the following beautiful prayer: “We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, bid these our offerings to be brought by the hands of Thy holy Angel unto Thy altar above, before the face of Thy divine majesty.” All this is in accordance with Saint John’s apocalyptic vision: “Another Angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the Angel.” As mediators the Angels prove themselves to be man’s most interested and sincere friends.

The Names “Ministers” (MeSARETH), and “Servants” (‘EBHEdH)

Doing always the will of God and ministering to Him is the main duty of the Angels, hence one would expect that the Scripture occasionally call them Ministers and Servants of the Lord. This is the case especially in poetic books, as for example:

“Bless the Lord, all ye his hosts: you ministers of his that do his will.” “Behold in his servants he puts no trust, and in his Angels he finds folly.” According to the law of poetical parallelism, here the terms hosts and ministers, servants and Angels are synonyms. Under the aspect of ministers and servants the Angels offer a luminous example to man, and particularly to priests as ministers of the Church and dispensers of the mysteries of God. The priest, according to Saint Paul, is “a minister of the holies and of the true tabernade, which the Lord hath pitdhed, and not man.”

The Name “Watcher” (‘IR)

It is only in the book of Daniel that we meet this appellative for the Angels. The watcher is always called a holy one in these passages. “I saw in the vision of my head upon my bed: and behold a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven.” “And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one come down from heaven, and say: Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth.” The name “watcher” is very appropriate, for the heavenly spirits never sleep or rest but are ever vigilant and ready to carry out God’s commands while beholding the life-giving splendor of His glory.

The Name “Host” or “Army” (SABHA)

The term Host, as applied to Angels, is usually found in its plural form SeBHA’OTH. and in connection with the word heaven, as in the following passage: “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the army (host) of heaven standing by him on the right hand and on the left.” A direct parallelism between Angels and Hosts is manifest in the following verse: “Praise ye him, all his Angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.” In these and similar passages the terms Hosts, Army, do not necessarily give the idea of a warlike preparation for military strife, they rather imply a well-ordered and well-organized multitude of heavenly spirits, most powerful and ever ready to obey God, the King of heaven, the Lord of Hosts.

The Name “Holy” or “Holy Ones” (QADHOS)

The qualification of sanctity expressed by the name Holy is based upon the supernatural and blessed life of the Angels in heaven. Sanctified by the infusion of divine grace from the beginning of their creation, perfected in it by their individual cooperation and their perseverance during the period of their probation, the Holy Angels are now confirmed in grace and they enjoy the never-ending Beatific Vision of God. They are truly saints, sons of God, ministers of the Court of Heaven, members of God’s household. They are the assembly of the saints whereof the inspired Psalmist sings: “The heavens shall confess thy wonders, O Lord, and thy truth in the assembly of the saints. . . . God who is glorified in the assembly of the saints, great and terrible above all them that are about him.” “The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with him.” The prophet Daniel refers to Angels when in his vision he hears saints talking to one another: “And I heard one of the saints speaking, and one saint said to another, I know not to whom that was speaking.”

The infinite sanctity of God is revealed to His Angels in the glory of heaven; they almost breathe it, and they reflect it in themselves according to their capacity. That sanctity is reflected in all their apparitions to men here on earth.

The Three Archangels

The Sacred Scriptures have revealed the proper names of only three Angels, all of whom belong to the Choir of the Archangels. The names are well known to all, namely: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. Ancient apocryphal literature of the Old Testament contains several other names of Archangels in addition to the three just mentioned. Like the sources themselves, these other names are spurious. Names like Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jeremiel are not found in the canonical books of Sacred Scripture, but in the apocryphal book of Enoch, fourth book of Esdras, and in rabbinical literature. The Church does not permit proper names of Angels that are not found in the canonical books of the Bible. All such names that were taken from apocryphal writings were rejected under Pope Zachary, in 745. There must have been danger of serious abuses in this regard during that century, because a similar step was taken in a synod held at Aix-la-Chapelle in 789.

The Archangel Michael

Michael from the Hebrew “Mikha’el”, meaning: “Who is as God?” His name is a battle cry; both shield and weapon in the struggle, and an eternal trophy of victory. The popularity of this name in the Old Testament appears from the fact that no less than ten persons bearing the name of Michael are mentioned in the sacred books, like: “Sthur the son of Michael.” A similar name is found also in the Accadian language with a meaning identical to that of Michael; the Accadian equivalent is Mannuki-ili.

As the proper name of one of the great Archangels, the word Michael appears for the first time in the book of the prophet Daniel, where he is called: “Michael, one of the chief princes,” and again: “At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people.”

The name “Archangel” is given only to Saint Michael, even though sacred tradition and the liturgy of the Church attribute the same title to Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael: “When Michael, the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” In spite of such an explicit testimony of the Scripture, a few writers have maintained that Saint Michael, because of his exalted position among the Angels, must belong to a much higher order, perhaps to that of the Seraphim, rather than to the order of Archangels. We do not believe that this opinion can be defended. The exalted position occupied by Saint Michael can be explained by the fact that, even though he belongs to a relatively low order by nature, his outstanding zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of his fellow Angels, at the time of Satan’s rebellion, merited him such glory and power as to equal and even to excel through grace such celestial spirits that belong to a much higher Choir by nature. If we remember, ie Angels lived through a period of probation during which they could merit each according to his works. The great variety of merit explains, in addition to other natural elements, the great difference in their glory and in their power.

Father Joseph Husslein points out that the Church calls Saint Michael “Prince of the heavenly hosts” – Princeps militiae caelestis, adding further: “The fact that the three Angels I have just mentioned are spoken of as Archangels need not imply more than that they were entrusted with extraordinary missions. Michael is the only one to whom the Scriptures apply this title, but there is good reason for the opinion that he may be the very highest of all the angels.” Saint Michael is indeed a prince of the heavenly hosts, but this is sufficiently explained by the power granted him by God and not necessarily by superiority of nature. We believe that a power of that sort would not be conferred upon Seraphim and Cherubim who are the living throne of God, but rather upon those who belong to the order of ministering spirits, namely Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, who “are sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation.”

According to Gustav F. Oehler, “this name: Michael – Who is as God? – of the prince of the Angels does not imply merely a humble acknowledgment on the part of the Angel, but it is rather an actual assertion concerning the Angel himself. The name thus expresses the irresistibility of him to whom God gives the power to execute His behests.”

Saint Michael has always been the warrior Angel, fighting first Satan and his demons from the beginning, then, in the course of time, all the enemies of God’s own People. He is “the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people.” As of old, so today, Saint Michael is the great defender of the Church of Christ on earth.

The now famous problem, “The Angel of the Lord,” Malakh Yahweh, that has engaged the attention of Scripture scholars for decades, may perhaps be solved by admitting that this mysterious Angel of the Lord (who in various books of the Old Testament is represented as acting in ie name of God Himself, and is often received and honored as God would), is none other than the Archangel Saint Michael, God’s own legate to His people. The words of the prophet Daniel seem to insinuate this: “None is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince.” “At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people.” A legate can speak and act in the name and by the authority of the supreme ruler who sent him and whom he represents. This seems to have been Saint Michael’s position with the children of Israel; he was both the heavenly Prince representing the King of Heaven and the heavenly protector of God’s own people against both human and diabolical enemies.

Saint Michael who had defended and protected God’s children in the spirit world, was to extend the same protection to the human children of God here on earth. Surrounded and threatened as they were by hostile pagan nations, over which Satan had established his tyrannical rule, Saint Michael could not remain indifferent to this new form of seduction and rebellion introduced by his archenemy among the children of men. As long as Satan persists in his attacks, the heavenly champion, the Prince of the heavenly hosts will continue to shatter his plans with the war cry of old: “Who is as God?” In the Old Testament, therefore, Saint Michael is the Angel par excellence, the Angel of the Lord, the national Guardian Angel of the Israelites.

At times, especially in the book of Exodus, this “Angel of the Lord” is called simply, the Lord; as for example in this passage, “And the Lord went before them to show the way by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that he might be the guide of their journey at both times.” He who is called “the Lord” in this passage, is mentioned again in the same capacity as the “Angel of God” in the following passage: “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, leaving the forepart, stood behind, between the Egyptian camp and the camp of Israel, and it was a dark cloud, and enlightening the night.” This very clever military maneuver dearly shows the strategy of the Prince of heavenly hosts.

As the national Guardian Angel of the Israelites, and God’s special legate to His people, Saint Michael is introduced with words which reveal the great divine love and solicitude of the Lord, together with man’s duties towards Guardian Angels in general: “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. Take notice of him, and hear his voice, and do not think him one to be contemned, for he will not forgive when thou hast sinned, and my name is in him. But if thou wilt hear his voice, and do all that I speak, I will be an enemy to thy enemies, and will afflict them that afflict thee.”

The other opinion which holds that the expression the “Angel of the Lord” is not really an Angel, or Saint Michael, but the Word of God (the Logos) God Himself, is now regarded as a mere conjecture and a rather obsolete opinion.

Several apparitions of the Archangel Michael have been reported during the Christian centuries. One of the most outstanding of all such apparitions is the one which is commemorated in the universal Church on May 8. The Archangel Saint Michael appeared on Mount Gargano in Apulia, South Italy, in the days of Pope Gelasius (492-496). A shrine was erected in the cave of the apparition and it became the goal of devout pilgrimages in subsequent centuries. Another feast in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel, on September 29, formerly known as Michaelmas, is the anniversary of the Dedication of the former basilica of Saint Michael and all the Angels on the Salarian Way in Rome. An apparition, similar to that of Mount Gargano, was honored in the great shrine called Michaelion, near Constantinople, according to the historian Sozomenus, who wrote about the middle of the fifth century, a century of great devotion to the Holy Angels in general and to Saint Michael in particular.

In the liturgy of the Mass Saint Michael is regarded as the Angel who leads the souls of the faithful departed to heaven: “Deliver them from the lion’s mouth, that hell engulf them not, that they fall not into darkness; but let Michael, the holy standard-bearer, bring them into the holy light.”

Saint Michael is invoked in a particular manner in the prayers recited at the foot of the altar after Mass: “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, etc.” This particular prayer is a condensed form of the general exorcism against Satan and all the evil spirits, published by Pope Leo XIII.

As long as God’s children are exposed to the attacks of Satan in this world, Saint Michael’s battle cry: “Who is like God?” will continue to scare and shatter all the forces of evil, and his powerful intervention in the struggle in behalf of the children of God will never cease.

The Archangel Gabriel

The name Gabriel seems to be composed of the Hebrew words, gebher: man, and ‘el: God. It means, therefore, Man of God, or, Strength of God.

Practically all the missions and manifestations of this Archangel are closely connected with the coming of the Messias. The most accurate prophecy regarding the time of the coming of Christ was made by Saint Gabriel through the prophet Daniel.

Immediately before the coming of Christ we meet the Archangel Gabriel in the temple of Jerusalem, announcing to Zachary the birth of a son, John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ: “I am Gabriel, who stand before God, and am sent to speak to thee, and to bring thee these good tidings.”

The greatest and by far the most joyful message ever committed to an Angel from the beginning of time, was the one brought by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, announcing to her the Incarnation of the Word of God and the birth of Christ, the Savior of mankind. The simplicity and heavenly grandeur of this message, as related to us by her who was the only witness to Gabriel’s good tidings, should be read in full in order to understand the sublime and delicate mission of Gabriel in the work of human redemption.

It is the first time that a prince of the court of heaven greets an earthly child of God, a young woman, with a deference and respect a prince would show to his Queen. That Angel’s flight to the earth marked the dawn of a new day, the beginning of a new covenant, the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people: The Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

Heavenly wisdom, tact, adroitness are evident in Gabriel’s conversation with the Virgin Mary: “The Angel being come in said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Gabriel must overcome Mary’s reaction of surprise at both his appearance and especially at his “manner of salutation.” He has to prepare and dispose her pure virginal mind to the idea of maternity, and obtain her consent to become the mother of the Son of God. Gabriel nobly fulfills this task: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” He calls her by her own name in order to inspire confidence and to show affection and solicitude in her perturbation. The great message is presented to her as a decree of the Most High God, a thing ordained in the eternal decree of the Incarnation, predicted centuries before by the prophets, and announced now to her as an event of imminent occurrence depending on her consent: “Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.” From these words of the Angel, it became very evident to Mary that her son was to be the promised Messias, the Son of David. But she did not know how to reconcile her vow of virginity with the promised motherhood, hence her question: “How shall this be done, because I know not man.” Gabriel’s reply shows that God wanted to respect Mary’s vow of virginity and thus make her a mother without a human father, in a unique and miraculous way: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.”

As a last word of encouragement and, at the same time, a most gratifying information, the Archangel reveals to Mary that her elderly and barren cousin Elizabeth is now an expectant mother in her sixth month of pregnancy. This final argument was offered in order “to prove that nothing can be impossible with God.”

Mary, unshaken in her profound humility, replied: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” This reply was Mary’s consent, a consent awaited by heaven and earth. The Archangel Gabriel departed from Mary to bring to all the Angels the glorious tidings of the Incarnation of the Word.

It seems very probable that Gabriel, the Archangel of the Annunciation, was given special charge of the Holy Family of Nazareth. He was probably the Angel who brought “good tidings of great joy” to the shepherds “keeping night watches over their flock,” the night that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. We notice, on this occasion, the same procedure of first assuaging fear and surprise, as had been the case at Mary’s Annunciation by Gabriel: “Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…. This day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” Who else could be the messenger of such good tidings, but he who had promised them through the prophet Daniel, and announced them to Mary, Gabriel the Archangel?

Having delivered the joyful message, the Archangel is joined suddenly by a vast multitude of the heavenly hosts, singing for the first time in this valley of tears the canticle of the celestial Sion. It was fitting that the Archangel of Redemption should intone the canticle of human redemption: “Suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”

Gabriel’s duties towards the Messias did not come to an end with his birth. Gabriel was probably the Angel who “appeared in sleep to Joseph,” first in Bethlehem when he warned him saying: “Arise, and take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell you. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” After the death of Herod the Angel appeared to Joseph again in Egypt to tell him to bring the child and his mother back into the land of Israel.

Gabriel who is “the strength of God” must have been the Angel mentioned by Saint Luke, in his narrative of Christ’s agony in the garden: “And there appeared to him an Angel from heaven, strengthening him.” It was fitting that the Angel who had witnessed the Savior’s agony, and who had announced His coming to both the Old and New Testament, should also be the first to announce to the world the Savior’s Resurrection, His triumph over sin and death on Easter morning: “An Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow.”

It is very probable that the Archangel Gabriel is meant when Saint Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ at the end of the world, when Saint Michael’s struggle with Satan shall be over, and when all the physical and spiritual remedies of Saint Raphael are needed no more. It would seem that of the three

Archangels known to us, Saint Gabriel is the one who with a mighty voice will call the dead to life and to judgment: “The Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first.” The voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God seem to be the same thing, having the purpose to convey the divine command to the dead to rise again by the power of the Almighty God. The resurrection of “the dead who are in Christ” is the harvest, the gathering of the fruits of Redemption. Gabriel, who helped along during the long day of man’s life on earth, in preparing man for the work of Redemption by the Messias, would seem to be the first among the Angels who are sent out to gather the elect from the four corners of the earth.

The Archangel Raphael

Raphael, from the Hebrew rapha’: to heal, and ‘el: God, means “God heals,” or the “Divine healer.”

The history of Tobias, father and son, contains the grandest angelophany of the whole Bible, and it all revolves around the manifestation of the Archangel Raphael under the assumed name and form of a beautiful young man named Azarias. At the very end of his long mission the Archangel revealed his own identity and his real name, together with the actual purpose of his mission: “And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son’s wife from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord.” In this angelophany, Saint Raphael reveals himself as a divine healer not only of physical infirmities, the blindness of old Tobias, but also of spiritual afflictions and diabolical vexations, as in the case of Sara, young Tobias’ wife. Had not the Archangel resorted to an assumed human form and personality, it might not have been possible for him to consort in such a familiar way with men, for several consecutive weeks, because of the instinctive fear that man experiences in the presence of celestial beings. Had either father or son, or both, known the real identity of the stranger, from the beginning, the Angelic mission could not have been accomplished in the charming human way in which it was actually carried out. However, the assumed form, and especially the assumed name and paternity – “Azarias the son of the great Ananias” – has been regarded by some as a sort of deception and a lie. However, the perfect sanctity of the Angels is opposed to even the appearance of sin and deception, even to what we call a white lie. In order to carry out his mission, it was necessary for the Angel to assume a form perceptible to man, a human form and a human name. In this case he assumed the appearance of an Israelite, a young relative of Tobias himself. By divine command the Archangel was to act as proxy for that young Israelite, Azarias, whose name he took; hence there was no lie on his part when he gave the name of the person he was representing in his human form. His true identity was revealed at the close of his mission, and whatever misconception had been created in the minds of the various persons he had met, was completely removed, and these were then grateful to the Archangel not only for his many benefits but also for his consideration in dealing with them like a human being. Besides, the Archangel was not hiding a human name and personality and giving another instead; in taking the place of Azarias he could in all truth call himself Azarias.

The story of the Archangel Raphael and the two Tobias’ is too beautiful and too instructive for us to dismiss it with a simple reference: it reveals how Angels act when in human form; their Angelic nature, their power, wisdom, holiness are made manifest in the various incidents of this charming narrative. The Archangel is God’s legate, he carries out God’s plan acting as an instrument of Divine Providence, and Divine Goodness.

The old, charitable, and pious man Tobias is blind and feels that his days are numbered. He gives his young son Tobias some godly admonitions and tells him of some money he had lent to Gabelus of the city of Rages in Media, many years back, for which he had a regular note with Gabelus’ signature. He wants his son to go and collect that money, but he first wants him to find a man to accompany him on the long journey: “Go now and seek thee out some faithful man, to go with thee for his hire, that thou may receive it, while I yet live.”

While this was going on in Tobias’ home, Heaven was listening in and preparing the companion, the “faithful man” young Tobias was looking for. The Lord gave the Archangel Raphael the command to appear as a young man named Azarias, to accompany young Tobias to the land of the Medes, and to bring peace and happiness to two God-fearing but very unhappy families. As the young man stepped out of his house in search of a companion, one morning, the Archangel Raphael was there as if waiting for him, in the disguise of “a beautiful young man.” “And not knowing that he was an Angel of God, he saluted him, and said: From whence art thou, good young man? But he answered: Of the children of Israel.” In a very short time the Archangel informed young Tobias that he knew the road to Gabelus, and knew Gabelus himself, having spent some time there; he knew all that country very well. Tobias could hardly believe in such a happy coincidence. Immediately he took his new friend and companion and returned to his blind father. The Angel who well knew the purpose of his mission, implicitly announced it in his words of greeting directed to the blind old man, when he said: “Joy be to thee always!”

Not knowing who was he who wished him joy, old Tobias replied: “What manner of joy shall be to me, who sit in darkness, and see not the light of heaven.” Here the Archangel Raphael became more explicit, making both a promise and a prophecy: “Be of good courage, thy are from God [God heals, was Raphael’s own name] is at hand.” He could not say more without engendering suspicion and betraying his own identity. Old Tobias regarded those kind words as an expression of good will and paid no particular attention to them; he had heard such expressions so often in the past. His interest is now in the voyage of his son, and he wants to know in whose hands he is committing the life of his only child and part of his own fortune. Upon hearing that the young guide is no less than Azarias, the son of the great Ananias, he remarks: “Thou art of a great family.” Old Tobias, like his kinsman Gabelus, later on in this story, expresses his belief in the protection and guidance of guardian Angels. Not knowing that an Archangel is actually accompanying his son, he says: “May you have a good journey, and God be with you on your way, and his Angel accompany you.” Had this circumstance been known to him, both he and his wife would have been spared all the worry and the sleepless nights during the long absence of their son. One thought, however, sustained the mind of old Tobias during his waiting: “Our son is safe: that man with whom we sent him is very trustworthy.”

How carefree, and how joyful must have been that journey for young Tobias. To travel in the happy company of an Angel! He knew the road so well. He was never in doubt about anybody or anything they met on the road; always cheerful, never tired or sleepy; so sweet and kind in his conversation, yet always full of respect and attention. He was deeply spiritual and profoundly devout in his prayers, pure in all his words and actions. How true and inspired were the words of old Tobias when, comforting his weeping wife, he said to her: “I believe that the good Angel of God doth accompany him, and doth order all things well that are about him, so that he shall return to us with joy.”

The sacred text remarks that when young Tobias started on his journey with his Angel companion, his pet dog followed him all the way to the East. Tobias was one of the thousands of Israelites living in the Babylonian captivity. Some of them had settled down in neighboring provinces, such as Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Media. It was exactly in this last province of Media that Tobias’ kinsman Raguel lived with his family. This was not really the goal of his trip to the East, but it was here that God and His Angel wanted him to go; whereas his father had sent him to collect his money from Gabelus in the city of Rages in the mountains of Ecbatana, in Media. The Angel by diverting his trip accomplished more fully his mission, bringing unexpected joy and happiness to three families.

Having left his home town, the great city of Ninive, that morning, Tobias and his guide reached the river Tigris just before dark. They decided to spend that night by the bank of the Tigris. Here the Archangel Raphael began to reveal medical knowledge and experience. At the same time he provided food for that evening and for the rest of the journey. Weary of walking all day, young Tobias went to wash his feet in the cool water of the river before retiring. Here the sight of a monstrous fish that seemed to be coming up to devour him, frightened him exceedingly and made him cry for help: “Sir, he cometh upon me !” The Angelic guide, without coming to his rescue, instructed him on what to do, both giving him directions and inspiring him with confidence. At the end of the first day young Tobias had not yet acquired familiarity with his guide, so he calls him, Sir. Later he will call him brother. When the monstrous fish had been successfully drawn out of the river, it was cut open, roasted, and salted. “Take out the entrails of this fish,” ordered the Angel, “and lay up his heart, and his gall, and his liver for thee, for these are necessary for useful medicines.” These, no doubt, may have seemed strange medicines to young Tobias and he wanted to know when and how to use them. Here he begins to show more confidence and affection for the heavenly guide: “I beseech thee, brother Azarias, tell me what remedies are these things good for, which thou hast bid me keep of the fish.” The Angel explains the medical virtue of those parts of the fish. More practical details are imparted as the proper time for their use approaches. The liver of the fish was needed as a material ingredient for an exorcism in order to free Tobias’ future wife Sara from the evil influence of the devil; the gall was to be used for the cure of the blindness of old Tobias.

The Archangel Raphael had been sent by God to cure and comfort two afflicted souls, old Tobias and Raguel’s young daughter Sara, the widow of seven husbands, all of whom had died on the first night following their wedding to her.

As night was falling, at the end of another day of their long journey, young Tobias turning to his guide asked him the customary question: “Where wilt thou that we lodge ?” Here begins the first part of Raphael’s mission. He must induce young Tobias to marry Sara, Raguel’s daughter, and at the same time deliver her from all diabolical influence and vexation. This was a very delicate matter, for sinister rumors about this young dame, as being the cause of death to seven husbands, had reached Ninive and young Tobias himself knew all about her and was deathly afraid of associating with her. At the question of where to lodge for the night, Raphael had proposed to put up at Raguel’s and for Tobias to propose to Sara, his own cousin. “I hear,” answered Tobias, “that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died; moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them.” Imagine this young man, now, going to ask for the hand of such a dame! The Archangel Raphael obtained just that, and what is more, their marriage was a very happy one, blessed with good health and long life, so that they both saw their children’s children to the fifth generation. The instructions on marital union given by the Archangel Raphael to young Tobias on this occasion remain an ideal of moral perfection for married couples for all time. Prayer, continence, and pure intention dispose the soul for God’s blessings and thwart all influence of the evil spirit. Young Tobias listened intently to his heavenly guide and later carried out his instructions most faithfully, first repeating them to his bride: “We are the children of the saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.”

Amid the charming and intimate family reunion in Raguel’s home, described in chapter seven of the book of Tobias, an unseen struggle goes on in the spirit world. Young Azarias (the Archangel Raphael) absents himself for a very short while from the gathering of the family and friends in order to attend to a very important business of his own. During those few minutes, Raphael, in the name and with the power of God, “took the devil, and bound him in the desert of upper Egypt.” This devil Asmodeus, who had caused so much sorrow to Sara and her family, was Satan himself. With the exile of the spirit of evil, joy, peace and all blessings came to Raguel’s home. Having attended to his business, young Azarias returned and took his place at the wedding feast, while actually contemplating the face of the Father Who is in heaven. The following morning, leaving Tobias there with his happy bride, he continues on the journey, accompanied by four servants and two camels. He finally found Gabelus and collected the money for old Tobias and, on his return, he took Gabelus to the wedding feast of his kinsman young Tobias.

The last part of the mission entrusted to Raphael the Archangel was now to follow. Having brought joy and happiness to Sara and all her family, it was time to bring a similar and even greater joy to old Tobias and his wife. The slow pace of the caravan that accompanied the bride to Ninive did not suit the Archangel who well knew the pain and the worries of Tobias’ old parents: “Brother Tobias,” said the Archangel, thou knowest how thou didst leave thy father. If it please thee, let us go before, and let the family follow softly after us, together with thy wife and with the beasts.” Tobias agreed and taking with himself the gall of the fish, he and the Angel began to advance with much greater speed, the dog following them. It was time now to give the final instruction as to the use of the gall: “As soon as thou shalt come into the house, forthwith adore the Lord thy God, and giving thanks to Him, go to thy father and kiss him, and immediately anoint his eyes with this gall of the fish…. Thy father shall see the light of heaven, and shall rejoice in the sight of thee.”

In the meantime Tobias’ old mother was waiting for her son, sitting daily on top of a hill, scanning the horizon for a sign of her son and his guide. Finally one day Tobias’ pet dog, running ahead brought the joyful news to the afflicted parents by his fawning and wagging his tail. All these human and earthly elements blend beautifully with the heavenly in this charming story of Angels and men.

Everything happened as promised by the Angel. Old Tobias regained his sight. At this point the heart of young Tobias was filled with gratitude, love, and admiration for his wonderful guide; so many and so great were the benefits received through him. Having witnessed the miraculous cure of his father he could find no words to express his feelings: “We are filled with all good things through him,” he kept telling his father. Old Tobias understood that it was God Who was actually working all these marvels through young Azarias, and thus, full of reverence, he calls the young guide a holy man: “What can we give to this holy man, that is come with thee?”

The Lord never permits man to remain in error because of the disguise assumed by His ministering spirits in any of their apparitions. Sooner or later the truth about them will be made manifest. For several weeks in succession, the Archangel Raphael had been acting under assumed human form and human name. Now that his mission has been happily completed, he begins to prepare his two friends, father and son, for a great surprise, the revelation of his real self. At the moment that they both humbly approach him offering one half of everything that had been brought home as payment for his service, young “Azarias” answers with a wonderful explanation of why God has so blessed them. He recalls to the mind of old Tobias all the good he did in his days, his charity, his mercy, his patience, his alms, and his tearful prayers. Thus he begins to reveal himself gradually in order not to frighten them with a sudden disclosure. The enumeration of all the good deeds and of secrets of conscience known only to God are the first step in this revelation; the second is the statement: “Now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son’s wife from the devil.” The third and final step was liable to trouble and frighten them, hence he begins with comforting and reassuring words: “Peace be to you; fear not.” As he said this, both father and son fell upon the ground on their faces, for suddenly the human form of Azarias was transfigured into that of an Archangel of light and beauty, and the final revelation came: “I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord . . . when I was with you I was there by the will of God: bless ye him, and sing praises to him.” This is the only reward that he will accept, but none of the material things, money and cattle and clothes offered him generously by his good friends. Yet, these could still entertain some doubts, because they had seen him eat and drink like any other human being, and Angels do not eat and drink as men do. To this secret doubt he answers with saying: “I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you, but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men.” Now that his work has been done, and that they know that God has sent His Angel to fill them with blessings, it is time for him to return to Heaven: “It is time therefore that I return to him that sent me; but bless ye God, and publish all his wonderful works.” Here the Archangel returned to his invisible form, and from the company of men returned to that of the Angels.

Raphael, the Divine healer, seems to have been at work at Jerusalem, in the days of Christ our Lord, in the pool called Bethsaida by the Sheepgate. In the five porticoes surrounding that pool there was a multitude of sick people, waiting for the action of the Angel upon the water of the pool, an action which cured immediately any person who first descended into the pool: “An Angel of the Lord used to come down at certain times into the pool and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pool after the motion of the water, was cured of whatever infirmity he had.”

The health-giving ministry of Saint Raphael may still be seen in the miraculous cures that have taken place up to our own times in many of the sacred Shrines throughout the Christian world.