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The Angels in Sacred Scripture

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Before we continue on our meditations on the angels, I think we should pause on this one mediation to see that angels are not merely Christian piety, or Christian poetry, or Christian devotion. The angels are not a luxury to Christianity. Angels belong to the heart of our Catholic faith. In other words the existence, the nature, the purpose, the role of the angels, is an essential part of our faith. Only those who believe in angels are Christians.

The angels therefore belong to the mystery of Christianity. Deny their existence, function, or our devotion to the angels and it would be heresy. This is why it is so important to see what Divine Revelation in Sacred Scripture tells us about the angels. As the meditation goes on we will look more closely and more extensively on these numerous revelations on the angelic creatures.

For the present we will take a panoramic view of what Sacred Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us about these creatures and the angelic world.

Needless to say, we will be covering in this meditation will be exhaustive. We will cover the Old and the New testaments and will see how in the first and the last books of Sacred Scriptures, the angels are a part of God’s providence. Our purpose therefore is to see how far, then how they are made, and how a country like the United States, is strictly occupied with matter. Our very language says that if something is important it is material. Dear God! The Divine Trinity, the angels are immaterial. They are pure spirits, immaterial. We are living in a dream world if we are to believe that reality is only material reality.

What we will concentrate on is the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament an angel is called a ‘moloch’. In the New Testament, originally in Greek, it is ‘angelos’. Both words mean messenger. The word angel therefore, does not identify who an angel is. An individual intelligent being, a person with a mind and will. The word ‘angel’ identifies what the angels do. They are messengers from God to us.

As we read the Old Testament we are told in one book after another, that the angels are messengers of Yahweh, messengers in numerous ways. An angel prevents Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac. Angels appear to Moses in the burning bush. Angels appear to Elijah the Prophet. Angels lead the Israelites, miraculously to the red sea. Angels slay the enemies of the chosen people. In almost the whole book of Tobit or Tobias, it is described in great detail how an angel helps Tobit and his son.

The Old Testament especially features the angels as adorers of Yahweh. They are in another words, the host, the heavenly army of the adorers of the Almighty. It is the angelic world of adoring God which is the principal theme of the Psalms. The angels, we are told surround Yahweh, they form nothing less than a heavenly army. They are the Divine Retinue which serve and praise God, and their numbers are beyond counting.

The New Testament might almost be called the angelic part of Sacred Scriptures. From the beginning of the gospel of St. Matthew to the closing of the book of Revelation, the angels are featured as a part of God’s mysterious providence over the New Israel. Our Lord Jesus Christ often speaks of the angels. Referring to the children whom the disciples wanted to drive away. Now says our Lord. “The angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father.”

As we have seen in more detail during the retreat, the principal role of the angelic hosts is to honor, praise and adore God. They, in Mark’s gospel, our Lord foretelling the state of human beings in heavenly glory. “No more marrying in heaven, no more begetting of children. The number of the predestined will be completed,” says Jesus. In heaven they do not marry. They are like the angels. Each angel is an individual person, and individual species, according to our Catholic theology. There are no angel fathers or mothers for the obvious reasons, they have no bodies.

The angels appear at the beginning and at the end of Christ’s visible stay on earth. An angel announces the conception of the Savior. Angels appear to the Shepherds to tell them the Messiah is born. And when the disciples on Ascension day, kept looking up and staring, “Where did Jesus go”. The angels of the disciples told them that was enough looking and to stop. They told them that Christ will come, but, in His majesty.

Saints Peter, John, and Paul, are three principal New Testament spokesmen for the angel. They wrote extensively on the angels not only during Christ’s visible stay on earth not only during apostolic times, not only until the end of the first century of Christian history, but they foretell how the angels just as they had been with Christ on His physical stay on earth, so they will stay with His Church until the end of Time.

Among the Jews as we know, all the Sadducees denied the existence of angels. Over the years in both teaching Judaism and knowing Jewish people, the same distinction can be made today. The truly believing Jews believe in angels. The Sadducees, as in first century Palestine, deny the existence of Angels.

What do Sacred Scriptures tell us about the nature of the angels? A great deal. In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, he describes the angels as spirits. St. Luke said that the angels have no bodies. St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, identified the angels as creatures. Time began when the angels were created. St. Matthew made sure that believers in Christ believed that the angels had no gender. There is no male or female among the angels, again for the obvious reason, the angels do not have bodies. St. Luke again tells us that the angels are immortal. Once God creates a spirit, whether the angelic spirit of an angel or our immortal spirit, neither the angel nor our soul will die.

Like the angels we are immortal. We were created for eternity. St. Paul again, this time to the Ephesians, speaks at great length about the wisdom of the angels. Wisdom as we know is that knowledge in the mind that provides great joy and happiness to the will. One reason again as we shall see in greater detail we should ask for the angel’s intercession with God. Angels’ intercession with God has to do with a profound reason.

Again St. Luke in the letters to the Evangelists about the angelic world stated that the angels have a free will. They had a free will when they were first created and those now in heaven still have a free will. Of course the only choice they make now in the beatific vision is to choose to love God. The angels, we are told by St. Matthew, see God. How we better make this clear. We not only believe in God, we accept on faith His existence. But the angels see Him face to face. There is no intermediary. There are not even ideas standing between the angelic mind and the Holy Trinity. They see Him directly, intuitively, immediately.

Finally, as the whole Bible but especially the closing book of the New Testament tells us, the angels are holy. Holiness means God-likeness. The angels are most like God. Angels are spiritual beings like God. And they are like God because their will are united to the will of the Holy Trinity.

Does Sacred Scripture tell us something about the number of the angels? There is no specific enumeration. The Bible tells us there are legions, and ‘legion’ in sacred scripture means a countless number. The New Testament tells us the angels form a multitude. St. Paul tells us there are many thousands. And in the closing book of the bible, which talks about the angels in the first closing chapter of the Apocalypse, angels are part of the life of the mystical body and will be an essential part of the eternal destiny to which we are looking forward.

Says St. John, “There are thousands upon thousands of angels adoring God”. Just a word of explanation. Can we really talk about the number of angels if they have no bodies? For example, I can say there are three pieces of paper in front of me. Or I can say there is a glass of water. Can we speak of the number of the angels if they have no bodies? Yes. Yes. Numbers have nothing to do with bodies. There are three persons in the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity is surely infinite, uncreated, divine, spiritual being.

Why can we speak about the number of the angels? Because each angel is an individual. Each angel is a person. Each angel is distinct from another angel – separate from another angel.

The Sacred Scriptures tell us something about the hierarchy of the angels. Hierarchy means holy. Angels are holy. Hierarchy also means classification.

Are all the angels equal? No. Are there some angels higher than others? Yes. In Sacred Scripture we find in the Old Testament seven categories or classes of angels. They are identified as: angels, powers, and virtues. In the New Testament they are identified as principalities and dominations, as thrones and archangels. In the Old Testament they are identified as two main classes, the cherubim and seraphim.

Over the centuries the Catholic teaching on the angels, called angelology, theologians divide these three time three categories, make it nine, on the angels. The highest category are the cherubim, seraphim and the thrones. The next category are the dominations, power, and the virtues. And the last, shall we say the lowest category are the principalities, archangels, and angels.

A lesson for us, I think, is crucial. Does God love all of us? An emphatic yes. Has God gifted all human beings equally? No two people are equal. The hierarchy among the angels, the differences, and not just differences in function, but differences in the gifts which they received from God, teach us that among human beings, there are some who are gifted naturally and supernaturally.

Although the angels differ so widely in function and in the gifts they receive, there is never any envy among the angels. The angels know there is a hierarchy among human beings, not just in Church, there is a hierarchy in the whole human race. No two human beings are equally gifted by God. And all the while we believe that God wants us to love those who may be more gifted than we and not envy them, or less gifted than we and not dominating them.

In Sacred Scriptures, we are told at great length that the angels have a very special function in their relationship to God. Two words recur in Old and New Testament. Angels worshipped God. Angels obeyed God. Those who deserved Heaven obeyed God and are now in heavenly Glory. And the angels praise God. We are told by St. Paul that this is the language of the angels, to praise God. One more area of angelic revelation in Sacred Scripture.

The angelic relationship to Jesus Christ. They announced His conception, His birth. The angels have been worshipping Christ since He was conceived in His mother’s womb. The angels minister to Jesus. Let us not forget, especially in the desert. The angels, what mysterious words, the angels strengthened Jesus Christ during His Agony in the Garden in His humanity. The angels were heralds of His Resurrection. They were witnesses of His Ascension. And the angels, we are told by Sacred Scripture, will announce His final coming. When Christ, who was crucified for our salvation, will come in majesty, and then no longer submitting to the humiliation of the Crucifixion, escorted by the angels, will come to judge the living and the dead.

Lord Jesus, Master of the angels, help us. Help us to recover what we had lost and strengthen where we are weakened in our realization of the vast angelic world. Deepen our appreciation of the angels who pronounced your birth to the shepherds and through the shepherds to us, the Good News of our Salvation.

Dallas Carmelites, Conference #3, Saturday 2/24/96, 4:30 PM

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica






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