JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Angels.

154. The Angels are frequently mentioned in the Holy Scriptures; they have often been sent as messengers from God to men, hence their name (aggelos, a messenger). They were probably created when "in the beginning God created heaven and earth"; the word "heaven" thus signifying both the place and its inhabitants. The Nicene Creed refers to them, when it says that God is the Maker of all things visible and invisible, material and spiritual. Their number is vast; Daniel speaks of ten thousand times a hundred thousand standing before the throne of God (VII, 10).

155. They are known to be superior to men; for the eighth Psalm says of man: "Thou hast made him a little less than the Angels". Like our souls, they are spirits; that is, simple beings endowed with intellect and will. But, unlike our souls, they are pure spirits; that is, totally independent of matter, not in their substance only, but also in their actions; while the human soul is in many of its actions dependent on matter, with which it forms a complete substance. The natural working of their intellect is supposed to be different from our mental process, the Angels intuitively beholding the essences, and thus understanding the effects which those essences must, in given circumstances, necessarily produce. But they cannot thus know the free acts of other Angels or of men. Nor have they the power of knowing our inmost thoughts; since this power is spoken of in Scripture as exclusively possessed by the Lord. For Solomon prayed: "Render Thou to every one according to his ways, which Thou knowest him to have in his heart; for Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men" (2 Par. VI, 30). Still, since the Angels are superior to us, and are, to some extent, entrusted with our welfare (n. 158), they must have natural means of learning much about our free actions; perhaps they can discover such of our thoughts as are accompanied by corresponding bodily changes. Of future free acts they have none but conjectural knowledge. They must have means of communicating their thoughts to one another; and this power may be called "speech": in this sense St. Paul refers to "the tongues of the Angels" (1 Cor. XIII, 1).

156. Seeing that science reveals to us the existence of at least one hundred and fifty thousand species of plants, and as many of animals, we may well conjecture by analogy that there are many varieties among the Angels. St. Thomas of Aquin thought on philosophical grounds, that each individual Angel differs specifically from all the rest. It is certain that there are at least nine Choirs of Angels, because so many are named in Holy Writ. These appear to be be distributed into three Hierarchies; but the exact meaning of these terms is not known to us: the divisions are supposed to he connected with the functions assigned to each class. The Angels, Archangels, and Princedoms, or Principalities, make up the lowest Hierarchy; the Powers, Virtues, and Dominations, the middle; the Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim, the highest.

Of the individual Angels only three are known to us by their proper names; and we are not allowed to invoke the names of any others. St. Michael, the Archangel, is the chief of all the Angels; his name means "Who is like God?" Formerly the guardian of the Chosen People, he is now the protector of the Church. St. Gabriel, "the mighty man of God", is the Angel of the Incarnation; St. Raphael, "the Divine healer", conducted Tobias on his journey, and healed his father's blindness.

157. All the Angels were created good; it is most probable that they were from the beginning constituted in sanctifying grace. They were to merit the beatific vision of God by their free compliance with some command laid on them. Those who obeyed, now enjoy the vision of God: "Their Angels in Heaven", said Christ of the little children, "always see the face of My Father who is in Heaven" (Matt. XVIII, 10). But many of these spirits, -- some interpreters conjecture oiie third of all (Apoc. XII, 4), -- rebelled through pride; for "pride is the beginning of all sin", says Ecclesiasticus (X, 15). These with their leader Lucifer were cast out of Heaven; for Christ said: "I saw Satan, like lightning, falling from Heaven" (Luke X, 18). They were cast into "everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. XXV, 41). If fire cannot torment spirits naturally, it may receive supernatural power to do so; for all things are possible with God (n. 137). There is no trace in Scripture of repentance and pardon being offered to the fallen angels; it is natural for them to be immovably fixed in the resolve of their will. The eternal condition of the good and the bad angels is substantially the same as that of good and of bad men.

158. Since God is one, we may expect to find unity in creation. Thus the Angels are not total strangers to us: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" (Hebr. I, 14). The charity of the Guardian Angels towards their wards is beautifully portrayed in the Book of Tobias, whose Angel had assumed a human form. How they can act on matter, we do not know; they certainly cannot do so unless they be present to it. Their presence in a place, however, is not like that of bodies; but they are whole and entire in each place in which they act.

They show their love for us in various ways: 1. They pray for us: "When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead . . . I offered thy prayers to the Lord", said St. Raphael to Tobias (Tob. XII, 12). 2. They exhort us to do good; thus an Angel directed Cornelius, the Centurion, to send for St. Peter (Act, X). 3. They protect us against evil of soul and body: "An Angel of the Lord went down with Ananias and his companions into the furnace" (Dan. III, 49); and we have the direct statement: "He has given His Angels charge over thee to protect thee in all thy ways" (Ps. 90).

159. From the text of St. Paul to the Hebrews just quoted (n. 158), it is clear that all the faithful who will eventually be saved have Guardian Angels: this is the unanimous teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. And there are few writers of weight who do not believe that the same blessing is enjoyed by all men from birth until death. For Christ said that the children round about Him had Angels (Matt. XVIII, 10); why they, if not all men? We may reasonably suppose that the benefits actually conferred upon each of us by our Angels depend, to a great extent, on our prayers for their assistance, and on our care to profit by it.

160. While the good Angels thus aid us to secure eternal happiness, the evil angels are allowed to tempt us, with a view to drag us down to their own condition of rebellion and ruin. God allows them to do so in order that, by our faithful conduct under trial, we may earn a richer reward; if we succumb, He knows how to draw good out of evil. The temptation of Adam and Eve is, in some way, repeated in the case of all who reach the age of reason: "The devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. V. 8). We see from the Book of Job that the evil one cannot injure us without God's permission (I, 2, II, 6). His temptations are usually internal, produced, it would seem, by affecting our imagination. But besides this, St. James tells us that "every man is tempted by his own concupiscence" (I, 14). Still, if we pray as we ought, we can always overcome with God's grace; for "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will also with temptation make issue that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. X, 13).

161. All means of producing effects by the aid of evil spirits are called magic. The name is derived from the Magi, a class or caste of sooth-sayers who enjoyed great influence in the Median Empire, on account of the more than natural powers with the possession of which they were credited (See Rawlinson, "Ancient Monarchies" III, 125). Similar castes to-day are the Shamans in Northern and Central Asia; such too were probably the Druids. The Roman Empire swarmed with Magian adepts, who pretended to cure and to poison with charms.

That magic has been used is plainly attested in Scripture (Ex. VII, VIII; 1 Kings, XVIII; Acts, VIII, etc.), and by an unbroken series of writers from the earliest times. Suarez holds that its existence is part of the Catholic faith. Satan at times hides and at other times displays his power. But before pronouncing an alleged occurrence to be diabolical, account must be taken of the possibility of mistake or falsehood in the reporter, or self-deception or conscious fraud in the operator, of mere coincidence, and of the existence of true miracles.

The realty of diabolical possession is also clearly taught in Scripture. By it an evil spirit controls the body of a living man, and compels him to utter its own words, and perform actions at its choice. Mention is repeatedly made of Christ and His disciples casting out devils; and the power of doing so is promised to His apostles and "them that believe" (Mark, XVI, 17). All three synoptic Evangelists relate that devils were allowed to enter into a herd of swine. It belongs to mystic Theology to discriminate between possession and such diseases as may resemble it. The will of possessed persons remains free; and they may refuse assent to their bodily actions; for which they are then irresponsible.

At present Satan's work in Christian lands appears to be chiefly directed to discredit dogmatic religion, especially the Catholic Church; and, in particular, to destroy belief in eternal punishment, in the Incarnation, and in true miracles. This is the uniform tendency of Spiritism; it leads also to inordinate pride, and to gross immorality. No one is justified in trifling with such risks. Besides, it is impossible always to decide where imposture ends and where deviltry begins; also to distinguish what is simply silly from what is foully wicked (n. 312).

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