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God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural
Part Two: Creation as a Divine Fact

Section One: Angelology

There exists angels, who are pure spirits; of whom some persevered in grace and entered heaven while others sinned and were damned. The good angels are sent as guardians, but demons tempt men to sin.

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

Although human reason may reasonably conjecture the existence of pure spirits, it required divine revelation to make the fact absolutely certain. Indeed a fair index of fidelity to supernatural religion is the acceptance of angels as created by God and now living in two states of being, those in heaven who also minister to the needs of men, and those in hell who are demons and bent on the destruction of the human race through estrangement from God.

If an apology is necessary for treating of the angels in theology, it is only because of the preoccupation with human psychology and physiology, and the practical absence of any concern for or interest in a whole world of reality which is at once intelligent and deeply involved in the affairs of men. Even in Christian circles, the complaint has been justly made that “the angels have taken flight from Catholic schools of thought,” with only token attention from professional theologians.

Yet angels play a major role in the history of God’s dealings with the human race, from the dawn of creation when the evil spirit successfully tempted our first parents, through the Incarnation announced by the Angel Gabriel, to the centuries-old conflict between the Church and the spiritual powers of evil as foretold in St. John’s Apocalypse.

Moreover in the practical ascetical field, we know the stress that St. Ignatius placed on our awareness of the two kinds of spirits, good and evil, that inspire or instigate and that we must be able to distinguish at the risk of blind unresponsiveness to divine grace or naïve deception at the hands of the devil. The cardinal meditation on the Two Standards has meaning only in the light of faith which teaches that the service of Christ demands not only self-conquest but conflict and victory over the fallen angelic world that by God’s permissive will struggles against the followers of the Lord.

In the present thesis we seek to establish and explain six distinct propositions of faith: that God created an angelic world, composed of beings that are pure spirits; that among these some remained faithful to God and reached their supernatural destiny in the beatific vision, while others, though gifted with grace, lost it and were thereby condemned to eternal punishments in hell; that it is part of God’s ordinary providence to have the heavenly spirits minister to man’s needs and assist him to reach heaven; and correspondingly it is part of divine permissive providence to allow demons, or the spirits of evil, to try and tempt mankind into sin in order to keep us from our eternal destiny.


Angel from the Greek angelos etymologically means “one who is sent” or a “messenger.” Consequently Scripture sometimes calls “angels” the men who are sent by God on a special mission, as St. John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10) or the bishops of the Church (Apocalypse 2-3). And Christ Himself is seen by many commentators as prophetically called the “Angel of the testament” or “Messenger of the covenant” in Malachy 3:1

In common usage, however, the term “angel” is reserved for spiritual creatures, especially those in glory, who are superior to man and often commissioned by God for certain duties on earth. “The name angel,” says Augustine, “belongs to his office, not to his nature. You ask what is the name of his nature. He is a spirit. You ask what is the name of his office. He is an angel.”

Commonly, therefore, the name is applied only to the good spirits. But in theology the term “angel” refers to all spiritual creatures, whether in glory with God or eternally separated from God in hell.

We may define angels as purely spiritual created substances, where each word in the definition has special significance.

They are substantial beings, that is, beings existing per se, and not mere personifications of divine operations.

While substantial, they are created, to distinguish the angels from God and specify their essentially contingent nature which was brought into existence and is conserved in the same by the power of God.

Yet they are spiritual substances, and as such both different from and superior to men, whose natures are a composite of matter and spirit. Men, otherwise than angels, are rational animals. And of course angels are still farther removed by their spirituality from all material beings not endowed with intellect and will.

Finally angels are purely spiritual substances, to further distinguish them from men, who are not purely spiritual but also material; and to specify this distinction even as applied to disembodied human spirits, which still have an aptitude for reunion with a body and which we know, on faith, will be so reunited in the final resurrection.

Grace as used in the thesis is sanctifying grace, namely, a permanent supernatural gift of God, which confers participation in the divine nature along with adoptive divine filiation and a title to inherit the Kingdom of God in the beatific vision. Connaturally associated with sanctifying grace and implied in our thesis are the infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, together with a right to those actual helps which are necessary to preserve and increase the supernatural life.

Entrance into heaven for those who persevered and damnation for the others implies that the angels were on probation in via, and therefore freely determined their eternal destiny by cooperating or resisting with respect to the grace they received. In other word heaven for the good was a reward, and for the wicked hell a just punishment. No figures, even comparative are attempted on the number of the saved and damned spirits, although it is commonly held that an immense number proved unfaithful and a correspondingly great multitude serves at the heavenly throne of God.

Damnation for the evil spirits is understood as eternal in duration, but its nature is not further examined in the thesis beyond the general fact that documents imply essentially the same kind of punishment for the demons as for the lost souls in hell. The latter will be analyzed with more detail in the treatise De Novissimis.

The mission of the good angels, expressed by the term “sent,” is technical and includes two elements: 1) a going forth from God as sender, and 2) a new kind of presence with respect to the visible world.

Actually the angels have a variety of offices, with relation to God, to Jesus Christ, to one another and to mankind. With regard to God, their office is to praise, bless, adore and respond with perfect obedience to the will of God. With regard to Jesus Christ, their office is to serve Him, even as man, as indicated in St. Paul, that “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10); and “when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘And let all the angels of God adore Him’” (Hebrews 1:6). Among the angels themselves, the office of the superior is to enlighten those who are lesser. Their office in relation to man is expressed in the thesis.

The guardianship of angels is stated generically, as comprehending both directly spiritual interests and those material factors in men’s lives which are connected with their heavenly destiny. It is also stated universally, to mean that men in general are objects of angelic guardianship, and also that men in particular are under this providence, including both believers and infidels, adults and those who have not yet reached the use of reason. Further specifications are handled separately in the body of the proof.

Demoniac temptations of men are only one, although the most common, form of diabolic attack or assault which is permitted by God. The three generic ways in which devils assault men are by temptation, obsession and magic. While we do not go into analysis of all three types, it is worth placing them here in context and thus distinguishing more clearly the notion of temptations properly so called.

In general temptations may be either probative or seductive. The first is directed to our moral benefit, and comes either from God, the good angels or from men. The second is intended to seduce or lead to moral harm, to cause us to sin; and this is properly speaking diabolical. In either case, temptation carries the connotation of putting a man to the test, to find out something about him, to his spiritual benefit or injury as the case may be.

Theologians distinguish diabolical temptations which are internal and not sensibly perceptible, from those which are sensibly perceptible, whether internally or externally. The former take place through direct action upon the sensitive faculty or the imagination, the latter take the form of apparitions, diabolical locutions, hallucinations and the like. Our concern is only with the first type, which the sources of revelation primarily intend when they speak of being tempted by the devil. The others are quite extraordinary.


  1. Against the existence of angels are all Materialists who, ex hypothesi, deny all spiritual reality or at least the real distinction between matter and spirit. And correspondingly Monists or Pantheists, whether classic or modern, allow no place for created spiritual beings.

    Also opposed to the existence of angels are Rationalists, like the ancient Sadducees among the Jews; the Socinians in the Middle Ages; and the so-called Anabaptists in the sixteenth century, who regarded angels as only metaphorical personifications of divine power. Modern Rationalists unanimously reject the idea of an angelic world, since they deny or doubt the existence of an order of reality which transcends the purely natural. They claim the concept of angel is either a fruit of ignorance, or the vestiges of primitive religion, or a modified form of polytheism. Some say that the Jews borrowed the idea from the Babylonians and after the exile concretized the borrowing in their sacred books; and if there is reference to “angels” in the earlier writings, these should be understood as men who were denominated angels because of some special mission they served. The New Testament “angels” in this theory are accommodations to the Old Testament mythology.

    Spiritualists, who believe in responsive communication with the souls of departed human beings, normally equate these spirits with the angels of Catholic theology.

  2. Regarding the spirituality of the angels, some Fathers of the Church attributed to them some kind of body, although extremely subtle and ethereal. Among others, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary and Origen believed that finite spirits required bodies as a kind of principle of individuation or limitation. Even in scholastic times, the degree of immateriality that belongs to finite spirits was disputed. Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) was one of the last prominent theologians to still speak of a “subtile corpus nostris sensibus ignotum, corpus simpex ac incorruptibile, natum moveri localter ab anima ad omnes differentias positionis absque repugnantia aliqua ex natura corporis” (In Epheseos 2:1), although elsewhere in his writings his idea of angelic spirituality is correct and has no admixture of ethereal bodiness.

  3. The supernatural elevation of the good angels is admitted by all who accept their existence. But there was some doubt about those who are now demons. Thus Peter Lombard, Alexander of Hales and St. Bonaventure questioned or denied what is more common teaching, that all the angels were not only extrinsically destined to a supernatural end but were intrinsically gifted with sanctifying grace. Baius and his followers denied that the angelic elevation to grace was truly supernatural.

  4. The fall of the angels and their damnation is denied by all who deny the existence of devils, like Materialists, Rationalists and Spiritualists. Origenists who exploited and perverted the weaker parts of Origen’s teaching held that the demons would not remain in hell for eternity. Among the ancients, the Manicheans and certain Satanists to the present day do not regard demons as morally evil, but either consider them as absolute principle (contraposed to the deity) or as forms of lesser gods.

  5. Angelic guardianship is explained by Rationalist exegetes as a Judaic derivative from pagan mythology, or a residue from primitive polytheism, where protective deities were a familiar type that was still prevalent among the Mediterranean religions at the time of Christ.

  6. Temptations by the devil are consistently denied by all those who reject the existence of angels or demons. But in modern liberal Protestant thought, an issue is made of this fact and what Catholic theology holds as a matter of faith, liberalism makes out to be a mythological expression of naiveté; we personify our own inner tensions and call them diabolical temptations.

Dogmatic Value

Each part of the thesis has its own dogmatic value, ranging from defined doctrine to more probable theological position.

  1. The existence of angels is defined doctrine in the IV Lateran Council (DB 428) and in the Vatican (DB 1783, 1805).

  2. Their spirituality, without qualification, is defined as above. But it is certain and common doctrine that they are pure spirits, i.e., even without the “corpus subtile” described in some of the Fathers.

  3. Regarding the angels’ elevation, several distinctions must be made. It is De Fide ex Jugi Magisterio that at least the good angels were raised to the supernatural order, and theologically certain that they received sanctifying grace. The more probable doctrine is that grace was infused at the moment of their creation.

  4. About the elevation of the angels who fell, it is De Fide ex Jugi that they were at least extrinsically destined to a supernatural end. The common teaching is that they received at least actual supernatural graces in order to dispose themselves for the beatific vision through salutary acts. However, it is also likely, and hence communior among theologians, that they received and indeed were created in sanctifying grace.

  5. The IV Lateran has defined that demons had sinned, and were therefore punished with eternal damnation (DB 428-9). Correspondingly both IV Lateran and Trent have defined that men are tempted by the devil; Adam is referred to in Lateran and other men in Trent (DB 428, 907, 909).

  6. It is De Fide ex Jugi Magisterio that the good angels are sent by God to act as guardians of men; and theologically certain that all believers have guardian angels. Theologians hold as common and certain that at least for believers and others have each their own guardian angels, from birth at least for believers. Moreover it is probable that one’s own guardian spirit never becomes guardian of someone else; and equally probable that not only individuals but countries, dioceses, parishes, religious orders and communities, and public personages all have special guardian angels.

Theological Proof

Part One: “There exist angels.”

  1. Ecclesiastical documents

    1. The Fourth Lateran Council defined against the Albigeenses that the three persons of the Trinity are “the one and only principle of all things- Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal, and who, by His almighty power, from the very beginning of time, has created both orders of creatures in the same way out of nothing, the spiritual or angelic world and the corporeal or visible universe” (DB 428).

    2. The Vatican Council repeated the Lateran definition, stating that God “created both orders of creatures in the same way out of nothing, the spiritual or angelic world and the corporeal or visible universe” (DB 1783).

  2. Sacred Scripture

    The pages of Scripture from Genesis to the Apocalypse are a tissue of testimony to the existence of angels. Belief in angels permeates the entire Old Testament. The Cherubim are present in paradise after the fall and receive the commission to watch over the garden of God. In the company of two angels, Yahweh appeared to Abraham at the terebinths of Mamre; the angels then went on to Sodom. Angels appeared to Jacob and were also prominent in the lives and writings of the prophets or of the sacred writers in the period after the exile. At the time of Christ only the Sadducees denied their existence.

    Specifically the Scriptures give us illustrative evidence of all the principal phases of angelic existence:

    1. The angels are intelligent, substantial beings since they are often described as dealing with men in the manner of men, i.e., as intelligent persons - speaking, correcting, leading and seducing, teaching, announcing, admonishing, ministering, instructing, and seeing God. Thus Matthew 18:10.

    2. They are created by God and inferior to Him. St. Paul expressly says they were created (Colossians 1:16), inferior to God (Ephesians 1:21, Hebrews 1:4-14). They adore God and bless Him (Psalm 96:7, 102:20).

    3. They are distinct from men. For although invisible by nature, they may become visible (Tobias 5). Yet there is no distinction of gender among the angels (Matthew 22:30). They are also exempt from the ordinary physical laws of gravity and impenetrability which affect men (Daniel 14, Matthew 28, Luke 1).

    4. However they are superior to men. St. Paul, for example, seeking to prove the sublimity of Christ and establish His superiority to all creation, compares Him with the angels. He therefore presupposes that angels are by nature higher than men (Hebrews 1:4-14). By the same token, when Scripture wants to declare the greatness of man, it likens him to the angels (Psalm 77). And according to St. Peter angels are expressly said to be greater than men (II Peter 2:11).

  3. Theological Reason

    Although we cannot prove the existence of angels from reason alone since there are no natural effects in the world from which to argue necessarily to an angelic cause, yet, given revelation, we may reflect on the propriety of God’s creating the angels.

    There are various grades of being in the world of different perfection: the merely corporeal without life, the vegetative and the sentient. Essentially superior is man, who combines in himself body and spirit. At the head stands the infinite Being who is God, pure act without potentiality. Given the existence of angels, the hierarchy of beings is completed, since they are purely spiritual yet created, and thus as spiritual they are above all material entities, including man, but as created they are below God.

    Moreover once we see that God created the world for His glory, and admit that the glory He wants is formal, He had to make intelligent beings endowed with mind and free will to make this glory possible. The question arises whether in creating only men, God would be receiving the amount and kind of glory He could if He had not also created an order of intelligent persons who are more perfect than men, superior in intelligence, capable of greater love and altogether above men by reason of their higher natures.

    Then, according to St. Thomas, what God primarily intends in the created world is the good which consists in assimilation to God. This assimilation of effect to cause is perfect when the effect imitates the cause in the way in which the cause produces the effect. Since God produces creatures by His intellect and will, the perfection of the universe “requires” that there be creatures who are purely intellectual and volitional beings, namely, angels. We might add, however, that this argument is only one of propriety, since God is not bound to create the most perfect possible universe.

Part Two: “The angels are pure spirits.”

  1. Ecclesiastical documents

    The spirituality of the angels is specifically defined by the Fourth Lateran and by the Vatican Councils. However we cannot argue from these documents to the angels being pure spirits. Lateran had in mind only the Albigensian heresy which questioned whether all creatures were made by God.

    There has been considerable doctrinal development in angelology since the Lateran Council, to clarify and specify the pure spirituality of the angels. What follows is an argument on which theologians build, drawing from Scripture and Tradition.

  2. Scripture and Tradition

    Basically the argument derives from the term “spirit” which is regularly used in Scripture to describe the angels and denominate them. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” asks St. Paul (Hebrews 1:14); and Christ is said to “drive out the spirit by a word” (Matthew 8:16).

    We therefore reason, first negatively, that if the angels were not pure spirits they would be composite beings, like men, with their own bodies and immaterial soul. But Scripture says nothing about angels having their own bodies but at most bodies which they assume. Likewise there is no mention of “the souls of angels,” nor of anything that would suggest that angels are composed of body and spirit.

    Positively we appeal again to the term “spirit,” which properly describes the nature, whereas “angel” is only the name for an office. Given, therefore, the repeated use of “spirit” to identify the angelic essence, we say that it could not consistently be used for a nature that was also composed of matter, which is naturally quantified—no more than man could logically be called a “soul” since he also has a body. Or we may approach the subject from a different angle. Three types of intellectual beings are spoken of in the Scriptures as “spirit,” namely, the human soul, God and angel. But when the soul is called a spirit, the term is not without a context which implies relation to a body, as “the spirit of man…our spirit…the spirit which is in man.” Whereas the term is used of God without qualification, “God is a spirit” (John 4:24), and consequently when used of angels, also without qualification, we may logically conclude that the spirit in question is without bodily composition.

  3. Patristic Evidence

    In view of the ambiguity of some of the Fathers on the pure spirituality of the angels and the open claim of others that they had (ethereal) bodies, it is well to see that there was also a Patristic tradition which simply declared that angels are pure spirits.

    According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, “All rational creation is divided into the corporeal and the incorporeal nature; the incorporeal is angelic, the other is we men” (On the Lord’s Prayer, 4).

    St. Gregory the Great asks, “Who could rationally say that spiritual beings are corporeal?” And again, “An angel is only spirit, whereas man is both spirit and flesh” (Dialogues, 4:29; Moralia, 4:3).

Part Three: “The angels who persevered in grace were raised to the beatific vision.”

  1. Ecclesiastical Document

    The essential element in this part of the thesis is that some of the angels enjoy the beatific vision. The doctrine is a matter of faith ex jugi and derives from the Church’s perennial teaching that there are angels in heavenly glory, who are to be worshipped and invoked. Among other significant documents, we read in the Constitution of Benedict XII on the beatific vision, that the souls of the just “have been, are, and will be in heaven . . . joined to the company of the holy angels” (DB 530).

    Reflecting on the Church’s belief that there are angels in glory, Catholic tradition posited the further fact that originally these angels were in grace but on probation, and by the right use of their free will merited to enter heaven. The holy angels, says Augustine, “stood firm by that same free will through which other angels fell. Therefore they merited to receive a due recompense for their perseverance” (De Correptione et Gratia, 11:32). Implicit in this judgment is the angelic state of grace while on probation, in order to make merit possible.

  2. Theological Reason

    It is certain that all the angels were not created in heavenly glory, otherwise they could not have sinned—as some of them did. Nor may we say that some were created in beatitude and others not; since there is no reason in revelation to suggest this and every reason against it, namely, the consistency of divine economy which endows rational creatures with freedom of choice and places them on probation. Hence we should conclude that all the angels were created with liberty to choose between good and evil, and thereby decide their eternal destiny.

Part Four: “Some of the angels sinned and were damned for eternity.”

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    The documentary tradition on the demons is ancient and clear. In the texts which follow, one or another aspect of demonology is specified.

    1. Provincial Council of Constantinople (543), confirmed by Pope Vigilius, condemned the Origenists, declaring, If anyone says or holds that the punishment of devils or the ungodly will be completely restored to their original state: let him be anathema” (DB 211).

    2. The Council of Braga in Spain (561), condemned the errors of Priscillian, a devotee of Manicheism: “If anyone says that the devil was not first a good angel made by God, or that his nature was not the work of God, but claims that the devil sprang from the darkness and had no creator at all, rather that he is himself the beginning and substance of evil, as Manes and Priscillian have said: let him be anathema” (DB 237).

    3. Innocent III prescribed a profession of faith for the Waldenses (1208) in which they are required to subscribe to the proposition: “We believe that the devil became evil not by nature (per conditionem) but by choice (per arbitrium) DB 427.

    4. The Fourth Lateran Council defined against the Albigenses that, “The devil and the other demons were created by God good according to their nature, but they made themselves evil by their own doing” (DB 428).

    5. Clement VI wrote in 1351 to Mechitar, the highest bishop of the Armenians, in which, among other articles of faith to be accepted by the Armenians as a condition for unity with Rome, he stated that, “The angels were created good by God” (DB 574a), implying that when they fell it was through their own fault.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    There are two classic texts on the sin of the angels. St. Peter writes that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but dragged them down by infernal ropes to Tartarus, and delivered them to be tortured and kept in custody for judgment” (II Peter 2:4). And St. John calls sinners children of the devil, “He who commits sin is of the devil; because the devil sins from the beginning” (I John 3:8).

    We also have two outstanding passages on the eternity of the devils’ punishment, both in the context of comparing fallen men with the demons who seduced their victims. In foretelling the last judgment, Christ quotes Himself as saying to the wicked, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). St. John in the Apocalypse describes the fate of the demon who led sinners away from God: “The devil who deceived them was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where also are the beast and the false prophet; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Apocalypse 20:9-10).

  3. Patristic Evidence

    Running through the writings of the Fathers are certain common elements in their teaching on the fallen angels. They affirm, without qualification, that some of the angels sinned gravely and were therefore punished with eternal torment; they studiously justify the gravity of the penalty by stressing the seriousness of their sin; without attempting to number the fallen spirits, they say it was a great multitude; they further emphasize that the angels who sinned had no time or opportunity for repentance, and in this mankind is shown to be more fortunate; and finally they point out that the angels sinned in spite of their extraordinary natural perfections and supernatural graces from God.

Part Five: “The good angels are sent as guardians to men.”

  1. Ecclesiastical Tradition

    Over the centuries, the Church has consistently encouraged the faithful in their belief that angelic spirits guide mankind throughout life. This takes on a variety of forms: bidding the people to invoke their guardian angels; formulating prayers to guardian spirits and enriching these prayers with indulgences; making devotion to the angels part of her liturgy, where their protection is requested; instituting the feast of the Guardian Angels; dedicating churches and institutions to the guardian spirits.

    The argument is that unless this were a matter of faith the Church would not so universally and insistently promote the cultus of the angels as our guardians and protectors through life.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    Among the passages in Scripture which refer to angelic concern for men, some pertain to the protection which they afford a man who trusts in God, as “He has given His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 90:11). Others are a description of their office in favor of the elect, as St. Paul says to the Hebrews, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent for service, for the sake of those who shall inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).

    More often the angels are described as performing some special office for men. Thus the Archangel Raphael cares for the temporal needs of Tobias and his family. The Apostle Philip is told by “an angel of the Lord” to “arise and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza: where he met the eunuch whom he baptized (Acts 8:26). The centurion Cornelius is informed by “an angel of God” to send after Peter, who then received him into the Church (Acts 10:3). And the common belief of the primitive Christians is reflected in the statement about Peter the Apostle, as he stood at the door of the house of Mary after deliverance from prison. “It is his angel,” they told the maid (Acts 12:16).

    In addition to the many references to angelic ministrations in the Gospels—Zachary, the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and Christ in the agony—we have the celebrated statement of Christ, warning the disciples, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you, their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

  3. Theological Reason

    The teaching of Catholic theology goes beyond saying merely that the angels exercise some kind of care over human beings. It spells out this custody, as indicated above, and bases the doctrine on Christian tradition, as derived from revelation.

    1. Every Christian has a particular guardian angel. From the moment of Baptism, a Christian is given his own guardian spirit. According to Suarez, “Although not expressly contained in Holy Scripture, nor yet formally defined, it is received by universal consent in the Church and has such a solid foundation in Scripture, as interpreted by the Fathers, that it cannot be denied without temerity and even error” (De Angelis, 6:17).

      The Scriptural foundation for this doctrine is the familiar one quoted above, where Christ speaks of children having “their angels,” i.e., the angels of these children. Moreover in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter is said to have “his angel,” in the case of mistaken identity previously described.

      In their interpretation of these and similar passages, the Fathers leave no doubt that all the faithful have guardian spirits. St. Basil says, “That each one among the faithful has an angel, who directs his life as a guide and shepherd, nobody can deny who remembers the words of our Lord, ‘See that you despise not one of these little ones’” (Adversus Eunomium 3:1). “Two angels,” writes Origen, “are at the side of each person, the one of justice and the other of iniquity. If holy thoughts arise in our heart. . . we may be sure the angel of the Lord is speaking to us” (In Lucam 12); and again, “Each of us, even the lowliest, has an angel by his side” (In Numeros 20). St. John Chrysostom carries the doctrine into the Old Testament, “Each faithful Christian has an angel; for every righteous man had an angel from the very beginning, as Jacob says, ‘The angel that nourishes and delivers me from youth’ ” (In Colossenses 3:4).

      Origen’s reference to a demon tempting each Christian is quite singular and, among others, was rejected by Bellarmine as inconsistent with a benevolent Providence.

    2. Unbelievers and sinners also have each a guardian angel. Suarez considers this proposition as stating “the common teaching of theologians and Fathers” (Ibid.) Accordingly every human being has a guardian angel in so far as he is human, and not as a result of baptism or the state of grace. St. Jerome therefore says that this custody begins at birth. “What great dignity,” he exclaims, “belongs to souls, that each has an angel delegated to watch over it from the moment of its birth” (In Matthaeum 18:10).

      Scholastic theologians have been guided in this matter by the teaching of Saint Anselm, that “every soul is committed to an angel at the moment when it is united with the body.” St. Thomas’ teaching follows Anselm and is commonly held among Catholic writers. “Those benefits,” says Thomas, “which are conferred by God on man as a Christian, begin with his baptism; such as receiving the Eucharist and the like. But those which are conferred by God on man as a rational being are bestowed on him at his birth ...Among the latter benefits we must court the guardianship of angels…Wherefore from the very moment of his birth man has an angel guardian appointed to him" (Summa Theologiae, I, q.113, a.5).

      The apparent difference of doctrine that every Christian and again that every human being has a guardian spirit may be resolved by the distinction which St. Thomas makes. In the case of Christians, the function of the angel is (primarily) to lead the soul to heaven; his guardianship, therefore, is directly supernatural in purpose and correspondingly positive, without excluding subordinate purposes. Whereas a human being at birth is assigned angelic custody "in as much as they (the angels) ward off many evils." Moreover, "the ministrations are not so efficacious as to bring the persons to salvation" (Ibidem).

Part Six: “The demons tempt men to sin.”

  1. I. Ecclesiastical Documents

    Along with the constant teaching of the Church that men are tempted by the devil are several documents of ecumenical councils to the same effect. Before examining, these data it is well to keep in mind the basic distinction which scholastic theologians make between two kinds of temptation. Tentatio probationis aims at proving man's will, whereas tentatio seductionis has for its ultimate object the ruin of the soul. Clearly God cannot seduce men to sin. When He is said to "tempt" a man, He simply tries his faith, or confidence or love, as in the case of Abraham. But Satan and his demons, on the other hand, constantly strive by lies and insinuation to seduce men to commit sin and thereby lose their souls. It is this second kind of "seductive temptation" that the documents describe.

    1. The IV Lateran Council declared, against the Albigenses, how differently the angels and man came to sin. "The devil and the other demons were created by God good according to their nature, but they made themselves evil by their own doing. As for man, his sin was at the prompting (suggestione) of the devil" (DB 428).

    2. The Council of Trent, in speaking of the necessity of watchfulness, says that men "should be in dread about the battle they must wage with the flesh, the world and the devils" (DB 806).

      Again, in explaining the function of Extreme Unction, Trent says that, "Even if our adversary seeks occasions throughout the whole of life and goes about that he may devour our souls in any way he is able, there is no time at which he is more vehemently intent on using all the forces of his cunning to destroy us completely and, if possible, to disturb our trust in the divine Mercy, than when he sees the end of life approaching us" (DB 907).

      Finally, according to Trent, identifying the special effects of Extreme Unction, namely, that "the sick man more easily bears the inconvenience and trials of his illness and more easily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel”, (DB 909)…we see that Christ instituted this sacrament with the express purpose of meeting diabolic temptations at the time of grave illness or at the moment of death.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    The pages of Scripture are filled with testimony to the efforts of the evil spirit, often successful, to lead men into sin.

    In Genesis, 3:1-6, under the figure of a serpent, the devil tempts Eve and she in turn leads Adam into disobedience. Significantly the evil spirit is not directly identified in Genesis, although so understood, as we see from the later statement that "Through the envy of the devil, death came into the world" (Wisdom 2:24).

    As regards Old Testament demonology, several items bear emphasis. The idea of a creature hostile to God who tries to turn men away from God was current from ancient times, as the Genesis account shows. Nevertheless our now familiar distinction between God's direct causality and His permissive providence was not so clear. The few passages which indicate such a distinction only point up the truth that man is wholly subject to God, and also is always able to resist evil. Thus among the Jews the idea never gained ground that Satan's power was irresistible, while the opposition between good and evil was put into sharper relief. If Satan is relatively seldom mentioned in the Old Testament, one reason may have been to guard against the false idea that he is ultimately (and solely) to blame for violations of God's commandments.

    Correspondingly we see quite a difference between the Israelitic and other contemporary peoples, attitude towards evils. In Babylonia, for example, all evils, especially disease and death, were attributed to demoniacal influences. It was held they could afflict men with or without the permission of the gods. So they were all feared greatly and the pagans sought to break their power by incantations and magic, and by amulets for protection against attack. While incantations formed a large part of official Babylonian cult, such practice among the Israelites was a grave sin. The Pentateuch had severe laws against incantation and magic; and Israelitic devotion had no sanctioned prayer formulas against demons. The Jews were to cry out to Yahweh against them. Customs which originally may have been connected with demons, were directed to Yahweh, to eliminate the danger of contaminating the Mosaic religion. No doubt spirits could lead men into evil ways, but then punishment was also meted out by angels sent by God.

    In the New Testament, diabolical temptations are woven into the fabric of the Gospel narrative. The Synoptics describe in some detail the temptation of Christ in the desert, variously identifying the demon as "devil…tempter…Satan" (Matthew 4: 1-11). Also the Synoptics, in explaining the parable of the sower, compare the word of God with the seed, which "the wicked one comes and snatches away" (Matthew 13:19); which "Satan at once comes and takes away"(Mark 1: 15); which "the devil comes and takes away" (Luke 8: 12).

    Christ rebukes Simon Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22: 31). According to John, it was the devil who put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ (13:2-27).

    In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter says that Ananias was tempted by Satan to lie about the price of the field. (5:3). And in the classic passage of his first Epistle, he warns the Christians, “Be sober, be watchful! For your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same suffering befalls your brethren all over the world”, (I peter 5:8-9). St. Paul is equally explicit, “Be strengthened in the Lord,” he says, “and in the might of His power. Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

  3. Theological Reason

    Since the doctrine of St. Thomas on this subject practically summarizes catholic teaching about diabolical temptations, the following paragraphs cover the main areas dealt with in the Summa, I, q. 114.

    Two things are to be distinguished in the assault of the devil, the assault itself and its purpose or direction. The assault as such is due to the malice of the evil spirits, who through envy try to hinder man's spiritual progress, and through pride usurp a semblance of divine power, by deputing certain agents to assail man, even as the angels of God minister to our salvation. But the direction of the assault is from God, who knows how to make orderly use of evil by ordering it to good. In this respect the good angels differ from demons; with the angels, both their guardianship of man and its purposefulness are from God as their first author.

    The devils assail us in two ways. They instigate us to sin; and in this they are not sent by God to assail us, but only sometimes permitted to do so according to God's just providence. At other times their assault is a punishment for sin, and in this case they are sent by God, since punishment must be referred to God as primary author. However the devils who are sent to punish, do so with a different intention than that for which they are sent. For they punish from hatred or envy, whereas they are sent by God on account of His justice.

    If we analyze the concept of “temptation,” we find that, properly speaking, to tempt means to make a trial or test of something. This in turn means to seek to find something about the person or object in question. Hence the immediate purpose of every “tempter” is knowledge. Sometimes, however, another purpose, either good or bad, is sought through the knowledge. The purpose is good when, for example, a person wants to know of someone, what sort of a man he is as to knowledge or virtue, with a view to his promotion. The purpose is bad when that knowledge is sought in order to deceive or ruin the object of inquiry.

    From this we can see how different persons are said to tempt in different ways. Man is said to tempt sometimes merely to know something, and for this reason it is a sin to tempt God; being uncertain, as it were, he presumes to make an experiment of God's power. At other times he tempts in order to help, or again in order to hurt. But the devil always tempts in order to hurt by urging man to sin. In this sense we may say it is his proper office to tempt; for although men also may tempt maliciously, when they do so it is as ministers of the devil. God is said to tempt that He may know, in the same sense as he is said to know who makes others to know. Hence we read in Scripture that, “The Lord God tries you, that it may appear whether you love Him ” (Deuteronomy 13:3)

    Traditionally we are said to be tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil - but in different ways. The flesh and the world are said to tempt as the instruments or matter of temptations; since one can know what sort of a man someone is, according as he follows or resists the desires of the flesh, and according as he despises worldly advantages and adversity. And although the devil may tempt us quite independently of the world and the flesh, he also uses these to seduce people into sin.

    An apparent difficulty arises from the fact that to tempt suggests a degree of ignorance, whereas the demons know what happens among men. The fact is, however, that although the devil knows what happens externally or outwardly among men, the inward disposition of man is known to God alone. It is this inward disposition that makes one man more prone to one type of sin than someone else to the same vice. And so the devil tempts us to find out this inward disposition, so as to urge us to that which we are most inclined to commit.

    Moreover temptation is the road to sin, and sin resides in the will. Since therefore the demons cannot change man's will, it seems they cannot really tempt us to sin. This difficulty is not specious. It is certainly true that the devil cannot directly change our wills, whose freedom is under our mastery. But he can, to a certain extent, change or affect other, inferior powers of the soul, e.g., the imagination. Through these powers the will cannot, indeed, be changed, but it can be heavily inclined; and this is the devil’s intention in tempting.

    As formidable as the devil is, we should not attribute all temptation to diabolical agency, except in two senses; originally sin came into the world through the devil's instigation, since he successfully tempted our first parents, from whose sin (through Adam) resulted a proneness to sin in the whole human race; and indirectly, as noted above, even where temptations come from the world and the flesh, these may be exploited by the evil spirit to lead men into sin. Actually, though, even if there were no devil, men would have concupiscence (given original sin) and they always have a free will with the power of choosing moral evil, and hence they would be liable to temptation.

Kerygmatic Development

There is no aspect of Catholic devotion or spirituality which is not affected by the faith in angels, good and bad, and their correspondening influence on human lives. Significantly the Demythologists have singled out the biblical accounts of angelic presence and intervention as specially in need of re-adjustment to meet the current, non-Christian prejudice against the supernatural.

  1. Angels as part of Supernatural Providence. It is a commonplace in theology that God's universal providence works through secondary causes. Thus the world of pure spirits stretches between the divine nature and the world of human beings. Thus divine wisdom has ordained that the higher should look after the lower, and as part of this plan, therefore, the angels minister to the needs of our salvation. In the words of St. Thomas, "they are our guardians, who free us when hindered and help to bring us home" (In Sententiarum, 2, 11, 1).

  2. Angelic Intercession. According to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the love which the angels have for men "prompts them to pour out their prayers for those countries over which they are placed, as well as for those whose guardians they are, and whose prayers and tears they present before the throne of God…We should therefore invoke their intercession, because they always see the face of God, and are constituted by Him the willing advocates of our salvation" (Part III, 1).

    It is this aspect of angelic intercession which is at the basis of so much of Catholic devotion to the angels. Otherwise than the saints who are also intercessors for us before the throne of God, the angels are specially appointed to guard and direct their charges on earth, but not only this. There are two phases to angelic ministration, the one is from God to men, which is properly custodial; the other is from men to God, and this is petitional or intercessory. We therefore invoke the angels on both counts, to solicit their continued protection, and to ask for their prayers in our regard. St. Ambrose had this double function in mind when he wrote that, “The angels must be entreated for us, who have been given us to guard us.”

  3. Protection from Sin through the Angels. The Breviary hymn for the Feast of the Guardian Angels was composed by St. Robert Bellarmine. Two stanzas in it point up the Church's belief in the value of angelic assistance against temptations of the devil and all kinds of sin: "Angel guardians of men, spirits and powers we pray, whom our Father has sent, aids to our weakly frame, heavenly friends and guides, help from on high to bring, lest we fall through the enemy's wiles…King of kings and Lord most High. We beg this of your great love: May your guardian angels, who are near us, keep us from all sin this day.”

    This is still another aspect of angelic protection that should be known. The guardian spirits are sent, among other things, to ward off or help us meet the assaults of the devil; and one of their main offices in our regard is to keep us free from sin. But the general law of supernatural providence remains. Although this assistance is assured and promised us, its efficacy and degree of success will depend in no small measure on our prayer to receive angelic help and to respond to it as we should.

  4. Discernment of Spirits. The Rules for the Discernment of Spirits reveal St. Ignatius as a diagnostician of the spiritual life, whose principles of analysis were born of the interior struggle he experienced, which ended in his conversion and began his dedication to the service of God. Though autobiographical, the Rules are of universal application. In the spirit of the Exercises, they bring the Two Standards out of the realm of history into the private life of every sincere follower of Christ.

    St. Ignatius' Rules presuppose three kinds of interior movements which a person may experience. The first type is produced by the person himself and arises from the innate powers of his own mind and affections. The other two are induced by intelligent powers outside the person, and may be either good or evil.

    If good, the operating agent is God or one of His obedience spirits; if evil, it is the devil in some form or another.

    Consequently two kinds of discernment are logically demanded in the spiritual life. We should be able to distinguish our native thoughts and sentiments from those produced by forces outside of ourselves, and among the latter know the difference between inspirations that originate with God and temptations which come from the devil. The first discernment is not so important because all our interior movements are subject to the influence of God and are never completely isolated from the contrary activity of the devil. On the other hand, it is highly practical to be able to judge between alien personalities operating on our minds and wills, and know how to resist the machinations of the evil spirit.

    In speaking of “movements” in the soul, we can refer to those which precede a deliberate action of the will, those involved in the actual choice itself, and those which follow. The discernment of spirits most properly refers to the antecedent motions of mind and will which, in a sense, impel the appetitive faculties in the direction of good or evil. It makes a world of difference whether these impulses are from God or one of His spirits, or from the devil. Without forcing the will, they solicit my consent, and consequently my decision, for or against a given impulse, will be objectively good or bad according as the spirit which suggested the choice was divine or diabolical. In a subordinate way, the movements which follow an act of human choice are also worth discriminating as valuable signs that my choice was correct or otherwise; if correct, to repeat and confirm the decision, if wrong to change or revoke what I had decided.

    While other principles are involved in the Rules for Discernment, perhaps the most fundamental is that “God and the angels, and the devil, act according to their respective natures - with contrary purposes in view as regards mankind.”

    Experience tells us that persons who are similar in character easily get along together, whereas opposite temperaments tend to grate on each other. The same holds true between human beings and the invisible characters of the spirit world.

    Four combinations are possible: the human person may be good or bad, and in each case he may be acted upon either by the good spirit or the powers of evil. In two cases, the combination is compatible and the consequent reaction agreeable. Thus “in souls that are progressing to greater perfection, the action of the good angel is delicate, gentle, delightful. It may be compared to a drop of water penetrating a sponge.” And conversely, “in souls that are going from bad to worse,” where “the disposition is similar to that of the (evil) spirits, they enter silently, as one coming into his own house when the doors are open.” But where opposites meet, the reaction is entirely different. When a God-fearing man is assailed by the devil, “the action of the evil spirit is violent, noisy, and disturbing. It may be compared to a drop of water falling on a stone.” Correspondingly when the good spirits are trying to shake a sinner out of his lethargy, “they enter with noise and commotion that are easily perceived” as alien to their nature.

    More than just acting according to their respective natures, the good and evil spirits operate on human souls for diametrically different ends. The good spirits are uniquely interested in guiding men to their eternal destiny in the beatific vision. All the light and inspiration they offer are intended to lead us closer to God. The devil and his minions intend the very opposite. Condemned to hell themselves, they envy our lot as heirs of heaven. In the permissive will of providence, they can incite us to sin and, if we allow them, cause our destruction by death in the enmity of God.

    Consistent with God's intention of leading us to Himself, one means He employs (either directly or through His ministering spirits) is to give us consolation in His service. Assuming, therefore, what has been said about the habitual disposition of a soul, intent on serving God, the good spirits appeal to the fundamental instinct in human nature, which desires "joy, peace and quiet," first to wean us away from creatures and then invite and attract us to the love of heavenly things.

    Equally consistent with his intention, among the obstacles which the devil places to impede our progress in virtue are the whole complex of negative sentiments which St. Ignatius calls by the general name of desolation, and which he describes as "darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness arising from many disturbances, and temptations which lead to want of faith, hope and charity." The soul is "wholly slothful, tepid, sad and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord." Ascetical writers consider this the most valuable weapon in the devil's armory, to make the service of God appear burdensome and discourage our perseverance in good.

Study Questions

  1. Why is it impossible to prove the existence of angels from reason alone and with absolute certainty?

  2. What is the etymology of the term "angel," and how is it used in Scripture, i.e., to what different kinds of persons is it applied?

  3. Give a theological definition of "angel," and briefly explain each term in the definition.

  4. What are the offices of angels, with respect to God, to Jesus Christ, to one another, and to mankind?

  5. Briefly explain the difference between diabolical temptations which are internal and those which are sensibly perceptible.

  6. Who are the principal modern adversaries to the existence of angels and their providential function with relation to man?

  7. What was the position of the ancient Sadducees and, in early Christian times, of the Origenists with regard to angels?

  8. Give the dogmatic value for each of the main parts of the thesis.

  9. What elements of the thesis, i.e., what aspects of angelology, can be proved from the IV Lateran Council?

  10. Cite one text each from Scripture, showing that angels are: persons, created by God and inferior to Him, distinct from men, and superior to them.

  11. How do we argue from the hierarchy of being to the plausible existence of angels?

  12. How do we reason to the pure spirituality of angels from the concept “spirit” which is used in Scripture and Tradition to describe these beings?

  13. What is the Patristic problem regarding the spirituality of angels?

  14. How do we establish theologically that the good angels were on probation and persevered in grace to merit the beatific vision?

  15. Name the principal documents regarding the sin and fall of the demons.

  16. Comment on the text in Matthew 25:41 regarding the punishment of the fallen angels.

  17. What are the dogmatic grounds for believing that angels are sent as guardians of men, i.e., what principle is appealed to?

  18. Prove from Scripture that men are given guardian spirits by God.

  19. Quote one text from the Fathers to the effect that all Christians have guardian angels.

  20. How do we explain the difference in function of angels as regards all mankind and only those who are baptized?

  21. Distinguish between “tentatio probationis” and “tentatio seductionis.”

  22. What is the pertinent text from the Council of Trent regarding diabolical temptations?

  23. Briefly explain the main lines of Old Testament demonology.

  24. How did contemporary pagan religions differ from the Jewish with regard to evils and evil spirits?

  25. Give and briefly explain a text from the New Testament showing that men are tempted by the devil.

  26. Explain the different ways in which God, men and devils are said to tempt.

  27. Since “temptation,” strictly speaking, refers to knowledge, how can the devil be said to tempt us to sin which has to do with the will?

  28. What evidence do we have that the angels have two offices in our favor, one of custody and the other of intercession?

  29. In what sense may we say that all temptations come from the devil, and in what sense is this not true?

  30. In the Discernment of Spirits, what exactly is a person trying to discern? Explain.

  31. What are the basic norms for discerning between the good and evil spirit, as understood by St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises?

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