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Angel Popularity on the Rise

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

Anyone who knows what is going on in America must admit that angelic popularity is growing by leaps and bounds.

There was a time when angels were simply pictured winged creatures on Christmas cards. The dictionaries would use the word “angel” to describe a very kindly person.

But things have changed; we may speak of angels having infiltrated our popular culture, as the expression goes, “big time.” From traditional Christians to New Agers, people are looking for comfort from what they believe are heavenly helpers in the trials and suffering of our chaotic world.

Popular songs about the angels have become a staple diet of the communications industry. Hit melodies include “Earth Angel,” “Angel Eyes,” “Johnny Angel,” “I’m Living Right Next Door To An Angel,” “Where Angels Fear to Tread,” “You Are My Special Angel.” An exhaustive study in a book called “Angels: An Endangered Species”, estimates that over the last thirty years one in every ten pop songs refers to an angel. In recent years, however, angels have moved from the field of popular music into the mainstream of American society. Some of the nation’s largest circulating magazines are featuring stories about the angels.

Let me quote one short paragraph from a recent Time magazine article:

In the past few years (angels) have lodged in the popular imagination, celestial celebrities trailing clouds of glory as they come. There are angels-only boutiques, angel newsletters, angel seminars,…A Time poll indicates that most Americans believe in angels. Harvard Divinity School has a course on angels; Boston College has two. Bookstores have had to establish angel sections…In Publisher’s Weekly’s ‘Best Seller’ list five of ten paperback books are about angels.

It is no wonder that commentators on the American scene are now writing about “Today’s angel craze.” Many are asking why are angels so popular in our day? What has brought on the incredible, as they call it, “angel mania” that is sweeping our nation.

Some are saying that this fascination is more emotional than theological; a grassroots revolution in which all kinds of people are raising all kinds of questions about the angelic world.

Non-Catholic Christian believers are excited about angels because angels are so prominent in the Bible. On these grounds, the rise in angel popularity is a result of a growing interest in understanding the scriptures.

One observer of this phenomenon claims, “Angels are popular today because they allegedly offer humankind a form of spirituality that does not involve commitment to God or the laws of God.” Another commentator puts it more bluntly, “For those who choke too easily on God and His rules...the angels are the handy compromise, all fluff and meringue, kind, non-judgmental. And they are available to everyone like aspirin.” Finally it is suggested that “Angels too easily provide a temptation for those who want a ‘fix’ of spirituality, without bothering with God Himself.”

It is impossible to exaggerate the widespread interest in angels in a country like the United States. Our task is to sift this avalanche of literature and media production. How much of it is psychological emotion or even positive error? And how much is consistent with the teaching of authentic Christianity?

Psychological Reaction

In so-called developed countries like our own, the material world of space and time has become normative of reality. Without a second thought, we use expressions like, “It does not matter,” or “It is immaterial to me,” or “As a matter of fact,” or “What really matters.” A standard definition tells the readers, matter is “to be of importance,” or “as distinguished from nonsense or drollery.”

Inevitably there has been a powerful rejoinder. Except for hard-core Marxists, most of the thinking world has reacted against this practical materialism. Instinctively the human mind realizes there is more to reality than what we can touch and taste and feel; more than we can experience with our bodily senses of sight and sound.

The problem is that this spontaneous reaction to widespread materialism has not always been, to put it mildly, consistent with objective fact. Thus we find writers, professional teachers, and television characters talking about the angels without realizing what they are saying.

Angelic literature has developed its own vocabulary. There is angelic channeling, angelic visualization, angelic crystals, and angelic occurrences. Angels are said to be “brain program editors.” They can help us evolve and there is an elaborate twelve-step program for making psychological contact with the angels.

A few sample quotations from these angel enthusiasts will give us some idea of how far their fervor leads them. One New Age author tells his readers that a “cherubic crystal” can be of great benefit in making contact with the angels. A cherubic crystal has been charged by the Cherubim. Here is what you do after you have such a crystal.

Once you have selected the crystal, hold it between the palms of your hands. Ask out loud for the wisdom vibration emanated by the Cherubim to flow through you and into your hands, so that the stone will become charged with the Cherubim’s vibration. Prepare the crystal once in this manner and you will never have to do it again, unless someone tampers with it or changes its program.

Another author tells readers that the color of your clothes is most important in attracting the attention of the angelic world. Healing angels like deep sapphire blue, Seraphim angels like crimson red, Cherubim angels like blue, the Archangel Michael likes deep blue, vivid blue, gold, and rose, whereas Gabriel is attracted to tans, browns, and dark greens. It is important for angel-seekers to be selective in the colors they wear.

All of this could be dismissed as the ramblings of misguided devotees. However, the fact is that interwoven with the rambling are elements of revealed truth. Anyone who is going to talk about the angels today had better know what he is saying and how much of what he says is pious fiction or provable fact.

Positive Error

Implied in what we have so far said is the need to carefully sift the library of angelic books. National and even international associations have been formed to provide “assistance” and “guidance” for the growing multitude of “angel lovers.”

It is easier to assess the validity of what people like the New Agers are teaching their followers about the angels. It is more subtle to evaluate the angelic writings of leading Protestant authors like Billy Graham and Ron Rhodes.

As might be expected, Protestants who write about the angels must be divided into those who believe in divine revelation, and those, call them liberals, for whom there has been no supernatural communication to the human race.

For those who do not believe that there is a revealed word of God, angels are at best pious fancies, and at worst symptoms of psychopathology.

Among believing Protestants, there is, to put it mildly, a flood of publications: books and brochures, pamphlets and magazine articles all dealing with the angels.

Consistent with their rejection of Sacred Tradition as a valid source of inspired truth, they concentrate on the Bible. Billy Graham is a prime example. I happen to know that Billy Graham inherited a large collection of Catholic books. Graham asked for these books and, over the years, I am sure has been deeply affected by his reading. His sermons reflect a strong Catholic orientation for which I can only thank God.

Billy Graham introduces his classic book on Angels with a quotation from John Calvin. Says Calvin, “The angels are the dispensers and administrators of the divine beneficence towards us; they regard our safety, undertake our defense, direct our ways, and exercise a constant solicitude that no evil befall us”(Institutes of the Christian Religion, I).

Throughout his book on the angels, Billy Graham assumes what John Calvin taught. There is an absolute predestination for angels and men. As the Calvinist Westminister Confession declares, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestined and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished”(Chapter 3, III-IV).

The implication of this teaching is obvious. Once you claim that God from all eternity has predestined some people for heaven and others for hell, irrespective of their free will, there can be no question of invoking the angels, asking the angels to help us, begging their assistance in the trials of life.

Billy Graham does not budge on this Protestant presupposition. His book on the angels is beautiful. He tells his readers that the angels are for real; there is an angelic organization; the angels protect and deliver us. All of this is inspiring and marvelously uplifting. Graham closes his book by reminding the reader that, “When my time to die comes an angel will be there to comfort me. He will give me peace and joy even at that most critical hour, and usher me into the presence of God, and I will dwell with the Lord forever. Thank God for the ministry of His blessed angels!”

One thing, however, is missing. There is not a word about our devotion to the angels, or invoking the angels, or asking them to intercede for us from the mercy of God.

Ron Rhodes is not as famous as Billy Graham. His specialty is Christian research. His book Angels Among Us is a carefully footnoted volume on “separating truth from fiction” regarding angels and demons.

What is especially important for us Catholics is the author’s heavy emphasis on what he calls “Celestial Quackery.” Like Graham, all his sources for angelology are from the Bible. Moreover, there are no references from the books which are missing in the Protestant Scriptures. Thus the book of Tobit, which has over twenty references to the angels, especially the Archangel Raphael, is simply ignored.

But more serious is our author’s excluding prayer to the angels as a form of “Celestial Quackery.”

Many of today’s angel authors say angel contact often comes through prayer. Terry Lynn Taylor is representative in saying that “Prayer is a way to communicate with the angels.” She advises, “Prayer is the way we talk to angels”…Notice that she speaks of prayer that is directed towards angels and not to God, which directly violates scriptural instructions on prayer.

Supposedly, angels can also make sure that whenever you choose to pray to God your prayers will actually reach Him.

The same author classifies meditation on the angels as “Celestial Quackery.” He quotes one of these “quacks” as saying, “Angels are always on call, and meditation is one of the best ways by which we can communicate with them.” This is absolutely wrong. It is not biblical meditation. “Biblical meditation - in contrast to the mysticism and emptying of the mind that is characteristic of Eastern meditation - involves objective contemplation and deep reflection on God’s word.” On these terms, meditation on the angels is a form of pantheistic self-reflection.

The worst kind of prayerful communication, we are told, is using the imagination to help us make contact with the angels. This is supposed to be very perilous. Why? Because “Man’s imagination has been terribly marred by sin. Beyond this, we must recognize that guided imagery can induce an altered state of consciousness that can have extremely dangerous consequences. The fact is, any kind of activity that leads to an altered state of consciousness can make a person vulnerable to demonic affliction.”

Needless to say, this is not the faith of the Roman Catholic Church.

Authentic Christianity

It is heartening to see the popularity of the angels rising in countries like our own. No doubt one reason for this phenomenon is the influence of Catholic teaching on our separated brethren.

However, let us be clear. The growth of interest in the angels is surely encouraging. But we had better understand what are the authentic Christian principles of angelology.

In my next conference, I will speak at length about “Devotion to the Angels.” As Christians we are to be devoted to the angels, but as Catholics we had better understand who the angels are. They are not only created spirits whom we are to admire and for whose assistance we should thank the Lord. They are also to be invoked because of their powerful intercession at the throne of God.

Although human reason may conjecture the existence of a created world of spirits, it required divine revelation to establish the fact as certain. Indeed, a good index of a person’s faith in God’s revealed word is the acceptance of angels, made by God out of nothing, and now living in two states of being: those in heaven who also serve our human needs; and those in hell, who are demons and deliberately trying to seduce the human race from its allegiance to God.

Sacred Scripture witnesses not only to what the Church has formally defined but to many features of angelology that are part of historic Christianity.

When speaking about the angels, we should keep two things in mind. There was a real development of faith as the biblical revelation on the angels unfolded. There has also been a marvelous development of doctrine over the centuries, in the Church’s deeper and clearer understanding of the angels and their role in salvation history.

Biblical Development. The early books of the Old Testament speak of angels, but in such a way as not to encourage the Hebrew’s notorious tendency toward idolatry. This was an ever-present danger in view of the rampant polytheism among the nations surrounding the Israelites. Before the Exile, therefore, angels are so closely associated with God that some have mistakenly identified these heavenly spirits with God, as merely divine attributes or symbols of the Divinity.

As late as the time of Christ, the Sadducees denied the existence of all angels or heavenly spirits created by God.

After the Exile, however, the angels appeared in their first full splendor, notably in the books of Daniel and Tobit. In Daniel, certain angels are given names for the first time: Gabriel, who foretold to Daniel the coming of Christ as the “anointed Prince;” and Michael, “who mounts guard over your people.”

The book of Tobit, through eight of its fourteen chapters is the narrative of the angel Raphael, who delivered Tobias’ wife from demonic obsession, safely led him over a haphazardous journey, cured his father Tobit, of blindness, and then delivered a stirring injunction to “Bless God, utter His praise before all the living for all the favors He has given you.”

In the Gospels, an angel appears to Zachary to foretell the birth of John the Baptist, and to the Blessed Virgin to announce the mystery of God becoming man; an angel appears to Joseph to instruct him about the miraculous conception of Christ and to tell him about King Herod’s death. Angels appeared to the shepherds at Bethlehem, announcing the birth of the Savior.

Angels minister to Christ after His temptation in the desert, and appear many times to announce His Resurrection from the dead. Moreover, according to Christ, there are more than twelve legions of angels in heaven; the angels of little ones continually behold the face of the Father; angels will separate the wicked from the just on the last day, and the children of the Resurrection will be equal to the angels.

The Acts of the Apostles and the letter of St. Paul are filled with references to the angels.

Doctrinal Development. With the completion of divine revelation at the end of the first century, the Church has often and at length taught the doctrine of angelology.

Basing herself on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Church tells the faithful to honor the angels whom God has given us to guide and guard us on the road to eternity. It is certain that each of the faithful has a personal guardian angel.

Otherwise than the saints who are also intercessors for us before God, angels are specially appointed to guard and direct their charges on earth. That is one side of their ministry, from God to us which is to guide our minds and direct our wills. The other side is from us to God, and this is the angels’ power of intercession. Because of their nearness to God and their holiness, the angels are powerful pleaders on our behalf.

That is why, as Catholics, we are told to invoke the angels on both counts. We are to solicit their continued enlightenment so we might know the divine will and understand how to fulfill it. We are also to ask for their prayers so we might have the courage and generosity to put the will of God into practice. As St. Ambrose puts it, “The angels should be entreated for us, who have been given us to guard us.” The Church not only encourages us to pray to the angels but enjoins us to do so. To believe this and act accordingly is to be a Catholic. No one else is.

The phenomenal increase of interest in angels in our day should tell us something. More than ever before in Christian history, we are to deepen our knowledge of the angels.

We are to promote devotion to the angels. Why? Because the angels are given to us by God to protect us from the power of Satan and teach us the Good News that Jesus Christ, the living God became man to bring joy to the whole world.

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica

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