Category Archives: Angelology

Angelology – The Science of Angels


Stacy Transancos

Perhaps the most vivid image of an angel is that on the German postcard from 1900, the one with the larger-than-life guardian angel hovering over two barefoot children crossing a bridge with no rail and a missing plank. The boy looks ahead in terror; the girl clutches a basket with one arm and the boy’s shoulders with the other. They brave an impossibly grave storm. But the guardian angel looks on serenely, surrounding them with light and ensuring their safe passage. There is a tiny star above her head.

The existence of angels

It is comforting to think we have a guide through life’s broken bridges. But it’s more than merely a comforting thought: although the painting looks surreal, this is not folklore. The Church, following Scripture and Tradition, teaches that angels indeed exist (CCC 328). Furthermore, citing St. Basil the Great from the fourth century, the Catechism assures us, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (CCC 336).

Reason also compels us to accept the existence of angels. In his book Angels and Us, the self-described “pagan philosopher” Mortimer Adler says we have a philosophical obligation to ponder whether minds without bodies are possible. We can deny their existence only if materialism is true, but this requires us to deny our own minds. If nothing exists but the material realm, then we are nothing but matter, and we are left with no explanation for intellect and free will.

Likewise, St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Treatise on the Angels that there must be purely spiritual creatures. God produces creatures by his intellect and will. Therefore, “the perfection of the universe requires that there should be intellectual creatures” (I.50.1I.14.8I.19.4). Since God is not material, the soul, with the power of intellect and will, is not material. The Angelic Doctor makes the distinction between corporeal (material) and incorporeal (spiritual) creatures in the hierarchy of creation. Animals are wholly corporeal. Humans are composite—both corporeal and spiritual. Logically, there must also be purely spiritual creatures.

The imagination

St. Thomas also says that angelic minds are higher than human minds because intellect is above sensory perception. Imagination aids our thought processes. We need images that correspond to the world we see and touch, whereas angelic thought, unencumbered by bodies, needs no such props.

Their purely spiritual nature also means that angels are difficult for us to imagine. Art provides a model for us to appreciate angels, akin to the way chemists draw atoms as round spheres held together by sticks to show how chemical reactions proceed. But just as we know atoms do not actually look like balls, we know angels are not bright and flowing beautiful women who float in the air. Images can mislead, which brings me to the subject of light.

The light of the Word

Scripture refers to angels as light (2 Cor. 11:14). Art depicts them as glowing. It is, therefore, tempting to think of angels as pure energy. (Conversely, in quantum physics, photons and electrons with their mysterious wave-particle duality seem almost to transcend physics into a spiritual realm. But this is not so, and any scientist knows it.) But energy is a property transferred to objects to do work. Energy depends on matter; hence it belongs strictly to the physical realm.

When theologians refer to angels as light, then, they do not use the word in the same sense as it is used in physics. This kind of light is not energy.

In The City of God, St. Augustine interprets the first words in Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” to mean that two realms were created, two cities, first the one of heaven and then the one of the earth (XI, 7).

The first three days of creation when the “earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep” passed without sunlight. The light that kindled the sun, and separates day and night, originated from beyond our senses. This light was first made by God’s command in the holy and eternal city, the City of God.

Augustine calls this holy light the “unchangeable Wisdom of God,” by which all things are made, and whom we call the only-begotten Son of God. Augustine places the creation of the angels on the first day (XI, 9) because they had to be created before the earth was created, and they populated the City of God. The angels were illuminated by the true light that created them, the light that St. John speaks of in the beginning of his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word,” the light that then created everything else, the same light that became man to redeem humanity.

And it all fits together

So, when God said, “Let there be light; and there was light,” there was a progression from the holy light of eternal wisdom that first shone upon the angels to the energy light in the universe. This is one of many areas where angelology gets exciting.

Modern cosmology does not contradict Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis, but the connection is more than that. The creation of angels integrates with modern science in general. Empirical investigation requires that the universe be understood as Christianity describes it, as an ordered creation. The scientific method depends on repeatable, systematic laws of physics. Scientific theories are established on the confidence that in the beginning was the Word of God.

The scientific method is also uniquely human. It relies on human intellect, the human person created in the image and likeness of God, an intelligent soul united with a sensory body. What is the first step of the scientific method? To observe. What do we do next? We design tests, analyze data, and form conclusions—all exercises that require us to take sensory input and process it abstractly in our minds.

This is why apes do not publish scientific journals. This is why angels, unlike Heisenberg and the rest of humanity, may have no uncertainty whatsoever about the whereabouts of photons and electrons. But I digress. Perhaps you understand my excitement, though. A guardian angel can be a most valuable friend to a scientist if God wills specific knowledge of nature to be gained.

For as surely as photons of light stream down from the beginning of time to provide the energy that sustains life on Earth, our guardian angels join us from all eternity to illuminate life’s journey with the light of Christ, past all danger to the City of God, if we but seek it.

Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise Him in the heights.

Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His hosts.

Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you stars of light.

-Ps. 148:1-3

Love,
Matthew

Netflix’s “Lucifer”, logismoi, nepsis & 1 Pet 5:8

This Spring and Summer, so far, I have discovered Netflix.  I recall looking at Netflix and Hulu at an earlier date and being completely unimpressed, their hosting all old, low royalty, programming.  I wasn’t interested.  That may have been just before 2016?

Boy, has Netflix, and hopefully Hulu, been at work.  I have been binge watching Marvel’s “The Iron Fist”, “The Defenders”, “The Punisher”, halfway through “Jessica Jones”, and now DC Comics’ “Lucifer”.

I was trying to understand where “Lucifer” fit, if at all, along the truth meter of Judeo-Christian theology, and I have determined “Lucifer” is really not at all about Judeo-Christian theology, but all a parody of Los Angeles, the advantaged side, culture.

The show uses, to good effect, a single amorphous, tiny-tiny, undefined grain of Judeo-Christian thought, lots of sexual innuendo for comical reasons, and lots of parody of Los Angeles advantaged culture.  It’s entertainment.  It’s hot outside.  And, “mindless” entertainment is my escape from work and my “quarantine bubble”.  I’m at the end of season 2 of 6.


-The Torment of Saint Anthony, Michelangelo, c. 1487–88, tempera and oil on panel, Height: 470 mm (18.50 in); Width: 337 mm (13.26 in), Kimbell Art Museum, Ft Worth, TX

In one of my online catechetical training classes I took, I was invited to read St Athanasius‘ (293-373 AD) “Life of (St) Antony (of the Desert) (251-356 AD)”. Excellent introduction to the earliest Christian eremitical tradition. Highly recommend.


-by Br Cyril Stola, OP

“Satan is an excellent marketer. He does his best to make sin attractive. He introduces maxims like “heaven for the climate, hell for the company” into common discourse, as if sin makes one interesting instead of simply destructive. He makes us love the antihero trope, which does not merely portray the hero’s flaws as tragic, but instead it embraces such flaws and makes that embrace central to the character. He gives us a subversive thrill in vice. Sin, however, is nothingness. Sin is always an emptiness and a void, it gives us nothing positive and has no redeeming qualities. The only attention it deserves is in combating it and healing its effects.

The moral tradition of the Church shines the proper light on sin by helping us understand it. It describes seven capital vices under which all sins and temptations fall: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sloth, envy, and pride. These vices arise from our desires for genuine goods, but, in consequence of the fall, we desire good things in wicked ways. We all have temptations, and categorizing our vices helps us see their inter-relations and unveils the ways in which we may combat them.

Evagrius of Pontus, a 4th century Greek-speaking monk, was the first Christian to categorize vices in this spirit. Echoing St. Peter’s command, “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, solid in your faith,” (1 Pet 5:8) Evagrius gave us perceptive insights on how to understand and battle sin.

The fight against sin, Evagrius writes, is primarily an internal battle that takes place in how we respond to our logismoi, our tempting thoughts. We receive logismoi passively, and so having a perverse image or evil idea pop into our heads does not entail sin. However, if we allow such thoughts into our hearts and entertain them with passion and intent, then we sin, even without carrying out those actions. Only in combating these temptations do we heed Jesus’s admonition, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).

To combat logismoi, Evagrius proposes nepsis or watchfulness. After a period of temptation, we can stop and consider the roots of our thoughts. He advises, “Sit down and recall for yourself the things that happened to you-where you started from, where you went, and the place in which you were caught by the spirit of lust or anger or despair, and how in turn these things took place.” (On Thoughts) We often fall in the same ways, and by watchfulness we can begin to see the patterns and circumstances that antecede sin.

One may note that his gluttony begins with boredom, or that his temptations towards envy or greed begin when he scrolls on social media. Lust may begin with loneliness, slothful distractions may begin with checking one’s email. Anger may follow from recalling an inconsiderate person, pride may arise from noting the flaws of others. Different people are plagued with temptations in individual ways, so each person needs to observe his or her own thoughts to discover how to combat them.

If we know the patterns in our own lives, we can address the roots of our vices. If remembering a certain person leads us to worse thoughts of pride or anger or lust, then we can immediately turn our attention elsewhere when that person pops into our memories. Watchfulness requires diligence and practice, but it works. Watchfulness unmasks the devil’s marketing, helping us combat sin in our thoughts and in our words, in what we have done, and in what we have failed to do.”

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti,
et vobis fratres,
quia peccavi nimis
cogitatione, verbo,
opere et omissione:
mea culpa, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Ideo precor beatam Mariam semper Virginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos,
et vos, fratres,
orare pro me ad Dominum Deum nostrum.

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

===================================================

The fact of Lucifer’s sin has puzzled theologians. For, before he fell, Satan was the highest—the most intelligent—of all creatures. He was more aware of God’s goodness than any of the other angels—he must have seen how, before the goodness of God, all the good things in the created universe pale in comparison. Yet, he willingly turned away from the Lord for a lesser good. How was this possible?

Aquinas takes up the question of why Lucifer rebelled against God in his Summa (ST I, q. 63, a. 1, corpus), and he approaches it from the perspective of conformity vs. nonconformity. “To sin,” he argues, “is to refuse God as the rule and measure of one’s actions.” This means that only God is completely incapable of sinning. For, God Himself is the rule by which all actions are judged.

The same principles can be applied to God: he is the measure by which all things are said to be good or bad, true or false, living or dead. Since God is the measure Itself, he can’t be in nonconformity with it. But creatures can. And this is how we can say that Lucifer’s sin was possible: because he is not a law unto himself. Aquinas later revisits this notion of “sin as nonconformity” when comparing Adam’s sin to that of the Devil’s. He writes,

“Each wished to rely on himself in contempt of the order of the Divine rule” (ST II-II, q. 163, a. 2, corpus).

Love & penance & the joy of knowing Him,
Matthew

Oct 2 – Guardian Angels


-by Br Elijah Dubek, OP

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

This little prayer focuses on four verbs to describe the activity of our guardian angels, and each teaches us something about the role of our guardian angels in our lives.

To light. For millennia the image of enlightenment has been used for instruction and teaching. Saint Thomas reminds us that, in terms of intellect, humans are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Every angel, even the least of them, is categorically superior in intelligence. This means that our guardian angels, even apart from their gifts of grace and glory, can teach us a thing or two. That’s exactly what St. Thomas says they do. Since our minds are weak and can easily fail, our guardian angels help us to hold onto the truth more firmly, and so we ask our guardian angels to enlighten us (ST I q. 113, a. 1).

To guard. True to their name, guardian angels also protect us from the assaults of the enemies of God. Saint Thomas gives this as reason to believe that even Adam, in the state of innocence, would have had an angel guardian (ST I q. 113, a. 4). In the same place, he states that even when we fall (as Adam did) into temptation, our guardian angels keep us from being harmed as much as the tempters want.

To rule. Since our guardian angels are not simply teachers of truth, but ministers of divine government, they never forget that their purpose in teaching is to lead us back to God. In this manner, we ask them not only to enlighten us with teaching, but also to rule and direct us toward the good. For, as St. Thomas tells us, even though we know the natural law, we sometimes struggle to apply it well, needing our angels to assist us (ST I q. 113, a. 1).

To guide. Like guarding, guiding can be understood defensively. For while a ruler might give direction from afar, a guide assists along the way by pointing out pitfalls in the path. While our guardian angels don’t and can’t make our decisions for us, they can give us nudges here and there to keep our feet on the narrow path.

These activities of our guardian angels are not extraordinary or miraculous. Their guardianship belongs to the execution of Divine Providence, much like any parent’s guardianship of children. Let’s make a new effort to appreciate and call upon these faithful angels, who are always willing to help us.”

Holy Guardian Angels!! Pray for & protect us!!!
Matthew