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Angels: A Biblical and Theological Exploration



The theological study of created spiritual beings through what the bible reveals to us and our own human experience is referred to, or more commonly known, as angelology. It is the study of what angels are, what they do, their role in humanity, and their tasks given by God. “It is a science,” as Peter Kreeft says in his book Angels (and Demons), “It gathers data and formulates theories to explain that data.”[1] From their creation, angels have been tasked with specific and essential roles from God that help to govern and run all of the universe and creation, from the elements of nature and the moving of the planets to the prayer life of a child or the community of a church. Angels are found in every aspect of both material and spiritual creation; as the opening introduction of Mike Aquilina’s book Angels of God says, ‘Angels are everywhere, they are everywhere in Scripture, and in our prayer.’[2] From the very beginning of creation, “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), and with that, every angel. This blog aims to introduce the angels of God and their counterparts, demons, who they are, what they do, why they do it, and what they mean to us as humans.


Angels are ‘immaterial’[3] and, in that way, are like God; however, they are created and finite, and just like humanity, ‘they had a beginning, and they are free.’[4] The nature of their spirituality rests on ‘the power of thinking, and the power of willing and choosing and deliberately loving.’[5] These are not in the sense of how bodily sensory functions work, though, like seeing and understanding through the sight of an eye or through appetite in hunger. It is important to note that since angels are purely spiritual, immaterial beings, they have no bodies. A common misconception about angels is that they have bodies, and wings, and halos. Because of their nature, angels have no ties or restrictions to matter, and much of their presence in our lives and on earth is invisible to our eyes. However, angels have been seen and experienced at length in Sacred Scripture, especially in the book of Tobit. How? When angels do appear in the assumption of bodies, they are merely masks to be visible and approachable to humans. These purely spiritual beings receive their name from a ‘common Greek word angelos which means ‘messenger’’[6], and in the words of St. Augustine, “for what is called an ‘angel’ in Greek is called a ‘messenger’ in our language. Therefore, it is the name of the action.”[7] Let us break this open by looking at three angels we know by name from Scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.


Michael the Archangel is the most well-known and least understood of all of the angels, which we will discuss a little later on. Michael’s name first appears in the book of Daniel: “His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the noise of multitude” (Daniel 10:6). Michael’s visit to Daniel was to ‘reveal a history of the future in a figurative language’[8] ultimately assuring Daniel that he would keep Israel safe. Michael is Israel’s guardian angel, the protector of God’s people. Like the name angel, Michael, too, has a significant meaning. It ‘means “Who is like God?” or “Who is as God?” His name is a battle cry; both shield and weapon in the struggle and an eternal trophy of victory.’[9] His name refers to the moments of the Devil’s rebellion in heaven with 1/3 of the angels, Michael led the remaining 2/3 of the angels against the Devil with that battle cry, banishing the Devil to hell. Michael’s actions in Scripture give some confusion as to his true ranking in the heavenly host, as in archangel Michael would be in the lower rankings of the choirs yet his presence and names, such as “Angel of the Lord,” lead some theologians to believe his ranking is with the Seraphim (highest ranking).


Like Michael, Gabriel is first introduced in the book of Daniel, after ‘Daniel has a shocking and strange vision Gabriel was the one to explain it.’[10] “When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was frightened and fell upon my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end” (Daniel 8:15-17). Later on, Gabriel comes ‘announcing the birth of John the Baptist to Zachary, as well as his most memorable appearance to the Virgin Mary to announce the birth of Christ’ (Luke 1:19, 42). Gabriel’s name ‘is composed of two Hebrew words, gebher: man, and el: God. It means, therefore, “Man of God,” or, “Strength of God.”[11] Gabriel later comes to warn Joseph of Herrod and to flee to Egypt. He is mentioned in the writings of St. Luke and St. Paul, especially when ‘St. Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ at the end of the world, when Michael’s struggles with Satan are over, and the need for Raphael’s physical and spiritual remedies are no more. Gabriel is the one who with a mighty voice will call the dead to life and to judgment.’[12] “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” (I Thessalonians 4:15).


Unlike that of Michael and Gabriel, Raphael is first mentioned in the book of Tobit. In the despair and trials of Tobit and the journey to be undertaken by his son Tobias, Raphael is ‘assumed under the name and the form of a beautiful young man, Azarias.’[13] Azarias accompanies Tobias on his journey and along the way Azarias (Raphael) performs many miracles and healings to keep them safe and out of danger. Not until the end of the story does Raphael reveal his true self: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Lord” (Tobit 11:15). Raphael’s name comes from the Hebrew rapha’: to heal, and el: God, meaning “God heals,” or the “Divine healer.[14] Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are all called archangels, which in the angelic hierarchy is the second lowest rank.


The angelic hierarchy’s first commentary was formed by a sixth-century Christian, commonly known as St. Denis, who wrote under the name of “Dionysius the Areopagite” (Acts 17:34) an Athens citizen that later became a disciple St. Paul. He ‘coined the word hierarchia (literally, “sacred order”) to describe the rankings of angels. ‘God established this order, top to bottom, for the sake of service’ Scott Hahn explains in his book Angels and Saints ‘those who are the highest ranks must serve all those who are in the lower ranks and bring them to greater knowledge of God.’[15] St. Denis’ work laid the foundation for the masters of angelology such as St. Gregory the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas.’[16] St. Thomas Aquinas, through extensive study and research, eventually grouped all angels into three hierarchies composed of three orders each. The angels are ranked according to how close they are to God, the highest rank being the closest; the ranks are as follows: First Hierarchy – Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. Second Hierarchy – Dominations (or Dominions), Virtues (or Authorities), and Powers. Third Hierarchy – Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. It’s important to note that each of these nine choirs of angels have specific roles given to them since their creation, as mentioned earlier. Their roles can be grouped as well to the separate hierarchies; for instance the First Hierarchy deals primarily with God, while the Third deals primarily with humanity.


At the beginning of time, as we learn from Revelation: “There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who deceives the whole world. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:7 – 9). The dragon referred to in the passage, better known by his other ‘names of Lucifer, Satan, and the devil, seems to have been extremely powerful. He seems to have had a very high “rank” in the hierarchy of angels,’ Anthony DeStefano elaborates in his book Angels All Around Us, ‘indeed, this angel seems to have been the brightest and most brilliant of all angels. Why then did he choose to rebel against God?’[17] From the book of Isaiah we learn “How you have fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the dawn! You have said in your heart. ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12 – 15). Lucifer’s pride to be powerful like God, his arrogance and self-love, and his unwillingness to serve led him to bring 1/3 third of the angels, as we read in Revelations 12, in a war against Michael and the remaining 2/3 of angels, hence the meaning of his name “Who is like God.”


The angels that fell into eternal suffering with Lucifer lost their titles and became demons. Satan and the demons were thrown from heaven into hell, ‘a place of ultimate suffering, unlimited torment, unquenchable fire, and eternal darkness; a place of “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” a place without one single, solitary inch of sunshine and joy, a place of pain.’[18] The fallen angels, demons, and Satan seek the ruin of souls and separation of others from God’s graces through temptation, indifference, and fear. ‘Satan offers over and over the temptation: If there really is a good God, surely he wouldn’t let bed things happen to good people. And if bad things do happen to good people, that means…’[19] These attacks are the real spiritual warfare raging in the world and ‘one of the first aspects under which angels appear in humanities spiritual life, no sin can suppress the assistance that the angels give to each soul.’[20] As Mike Aquilina says later on in his book, “Behind the scenes of Creation, history and everyday life, a battle is raging. Angels from heaven and hell (demons) fight for every soul. We are caught up in a battle, whether we are aware of it or not.”[21] The spiritual warfare of angels and demons has taken place in every moment in history since the beginning of time and still continues today. Who then wins this war? Revelations tells us, “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven” (Revelations 12:7 – 8).


‘It is a sheer gift, a sheer grace’[22] that angels exist. Their roles effect every aspect of creation from the physics of the universe to the guarding protection of a soul. ‘Angels are everywhere’[23] and what is revealed through the angelology, in what the bible and human experience tell us, sheds a greater light on the knowledge and understanding of angels: who they are, what they do, why they do it, and what they mean to us as humans.


Todd Mesler, Jr.





Bibliography

· Augustine, Sermons, Sermon 7, no. 3 (Patrologia Latina, 38.64), author’s translation.


· Aquilina, Mike. Angels of God: The Bible, the Church, and the Heavenly Hosts. Cincinnati, OH: Servant, 2009. Print. xii-xiii.


· Daniélou, Jean. The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1987. Print.

· DeStefano, Anthony. Angels All around Us: A Sightseeing Guide to the Invisible World. New York: Image, 2011. Print.

· Hahn, Scott. Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones. Print. 77.

· Kreeft, Peter. Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them? San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995. Print.

· Parente, Pascal P. The Angels: The Catholic Teaching on Angels. Rockford, IL: Tan, 1994. Print. 90.

[1] Kreeft, Peter. Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them? San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995. Print. 28. [2] Aquilina, Mike. Angels of God: The Bible, the Church, and the Heavenly Hosts. Cincinnati, OH: Servant, 2009. Print. xii-xiii. [3] Hahn, Scott. Angels and Saints: A Biblical Guide to Friendship with God's Holy Ones. Print. 77. [4] Hahn. 77. [5] Kreeft. 50. [6] Aquilina. 1. [7] Augustine, Sermons, Sermon 7, no. 3 (Patrologia Latina, 38.64), author’s translation. [8] Aquilina. 62. [9] Parente, Pascal P. The Angels: The Catholic Teaching on Angels. Rockford, IL: Tan, 1994. Print. 90. [10] Aquilina. 69. [11] Parente. 96. [12] Parente. 100. [13] Parente. 101. [14] Parente. 101. [15] Hahn. 80. [16] Aquilina. 36. [17] DeStefano, Anthony. Angels All around Us: A Sightseeing Guide to the Invisible World. New York: Image, 2011. Print. 63-64. [18] DeStefano. 66. [19] Aquilina. 87. [20] Daniélou, Jean. The Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1987. Print. 83. [21] Aquilina. 83. [22] Kreeft. 37. [23] Aquilina. xi.

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