by Rev. Roderick MacEachen
Besides man, God created other rational beings. These are pure spirits called angels. They were created before man. When God cast out Adam from the Garden of Eden, "He placed before the paradise of pleasure cherubims."
The angels minister to God. They are often sent to instruct and assist man. "The Lord, said he, in Whose sight I walk, will send His angel with thee, and will direct they way."
The angels are superior to men; they have a higher intellect. "Thou art wise, O King," said the woman, "according to the wisdom of an angel of God, to understand all things upon earth." The angels possess greater powers than man. They are not subject to the laws of gravitation nor to the physical laws. "Thou hast made him (man) a little less than the angels."
There is no explicit mention of the angels in the description of creation given in Genesis. However, "God made Heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them." This, undoubtedly, includes the angels. The Roman Catechism says: "By the words 'Heaven' and 'earth' is understood all that they contain . . . for God created out of nothing both spiritual nature and the innumerable angels."
St. Augustine says: "Though the angels do not appear to us, yet by Faith we know that they exist and we read that they have appeared to many." It is but reasonable to suppose that God created pure spirits, even though we did not know it by Faith. The existence of pure spirits perfects the work of creation, as it were. For there are then material, composite, and spiritual beings.
Though angels have often appeared in a visible form, they have no bodies. God can easily permit the angels to use the form of a body so as to become visible to human eyes when He wishes them to appear to man., Since the angels are pure spirits, they are immortal and incorruptible. They are not composed of parts. They could not be destroyed except God annihilate them.
The angels are not boundless in their presence like God. Though they are not circumscribed by definite measurement, their presence is local. They can pass from one place to another. Thus if an angel is sent to earth it is no longer in Heaven. If it is in Heaven it is not on earth.
An angel exists in space as the human soul exists in the body. Yet it is finite. Hence it is confined within certain fixed limits of space. Though the angels have a high order of intelligence, they do not know the secrets of men's hearts nor future contingencies. "Thou only (O God) knowest the heart of all the children of men."
The angels possess freewill; their will is very perfect, but not indefectible. The decisions of their will are made not after deliberation, but instantaneously. The angels can converse amongst themselves. As pure spirits they do not require words. Their converse is direct from mind to mind without the need of language.
When St. Paul says: "If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels," he does not mean that the angels have a language. He would say: "If I speak as the angels converse."
The multitude of angels is very great. It is sure that the angels far outnumber the human race. The angels are divided into different orders. The angel Michael is called "one of the Chief Princes." Hence it is supposed that there are different ranks of superiority. Amongst the names mentioned are, the Cherubim, Seraphim, Archangels, Angels, Powers, Virtues, Principalities, Dominations and Thrones. Thus nine different choirs or orders of angels are given.
The angels are divided into three hierarchies: The Cherubim, Seraphim and Thrones from the highest. They assist at the Divine Throne and are illumined immediately by God. The next are the Dominations, Powers and Virtues. They are sent and illumined by the higher angels and they, in turn, send and illumine the third order. The Principalities, Archangels and Angels form the third hierarchy. They are engaged principally in the care of mankind.
God elevated the angels to the supernatural order. However, the angels were not admitted to supernatural beatitude immediately after their creation. At least they did not enjoy the beatific vision. They had to undergo probation. Since the angels do not live in time as man, this probation needed only to last for an instant.
Many of the angels sinned. It is commonly taught that the angels sinned by pride. The fallen angels were thrust out of Heaven and cast into hell. They are called demons, bad angels, wicked or impure spirits and devils.
The leader of the fallen angels is called Lucifer, or Satan or Beelzebub. He is also called the devil, the dragon, the old serpent, and Belial.
The fallen angels were condemned to hell for all eternity. "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels."
God gave fallen man the opportunity to repent. Man possessed the elements of weakness in his nature. The angels were of a higher order and thus their sin was greater. "God spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, into torments."
The bad angels, out of hatred for God and envy for man, tempt us to sin. "Your adversary, the devil, goeth about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour." God permits the devils to tempt us by their own natural powers. The devils use external agencies, such as wicked men. They produce phantasies in the mind. They appeal to our lower nature y exciting the nerves and humors. The devils are sometimes permitted to do us physical harm. "Satan . . . struck Job with a very grievous ulcer." "A devil named Amodeus killed Sara's husband." Many cases are related in the Gospels.
Possession by the devil is often mentioned in the Bible. The devil can enter into the body. He can take complete control of it. In this state the person can scarcely act of himself. Yet in no case does the devil gain full control of the person's will.
The devil can also attack the body. He allows him to attack the soul. Thus the devil tempts us to sin. It is not strange then that he may sometimes disturb the body.
Demoniacal possession makes us realize the malice of the devil. It makes us shrink from his suggestions. Perhaps this is why God permits it.
Possession is by no means a personal union between the devil and the one possessed. It bears no resemblance to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in us. The devil can never enter the depths of our hearts.
Man can enter into relations with the devil. He can worship him and obtain help from him to commit crimes that are beyond ordinary human powers. Christ foretold this: "There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders."
In the Scriptures idolatry is mentioned as the worship of devils. "They shall no more sacrifice their victims to devils." But the things which the heathens sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God."
Intercourse with the devils is a form of superstition. However, the mysterious feats of unholy men are not easily to be attributed to the influence of demons. Many performances of spiritists and magicians that would seem to be the work of demons are wrought by natural resources. It is certain, however, that men can enter into pacts with the devil. It is sufficient for us to know that intercourse with the demons is possible. The individual cases are to be referred to the decision of ecclesiastical authority.
God has appointed angels to watch over us. They are called our guardian angels. "He hath given His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all they ways." "Great is the dignity of souls," says St. Jerome, "That each one should have, from the moment of birth, an angel delegated for his guidance."
Though the Church has never defined this teaching, she has embodied it in the breviary. That each has a guardian angel has been believed by the whole Church from the beginning. The testimony from Scripture is based upon special cases. Angels came to the assistance of Moses, Judith, Tobias, and three youths in the fiery furnace, the Prophets, the Machabees and the Apostles. Theologians teach that but one angel is given the care over each human being. Everyone has his guardian angel. Even the wicked have guardian angels.
Our guardian angels protect us from dangers to both soul and body. But pious thoughts they prompt us to good. They offer our prayers to God and intercede for us. They lead the souls of the dead to Heaven or visit them in Purgatory. "May the angels lead thee to Paradise," says the Roman Ritual in the burial services, "May the choir of angels receive thee." It is commonly taught that the angels cannot operate directly on our intellect. They excite good thoughts objectively and thus influence our will to good.
Like a loving parent, our Heavenly Father sends us a companion to guide us on the perilous journey of life. It is but fitting that this protector should be an angel. If bad angels can infest us with their malice, surely the good angels can watch over us with their love. We are destined to dwell with the good angels for all eternity.