Thursday, July 01, 2010

Notes from the Angels Workshop

St. Gabriel the Achangel (the "Strength of God") appeared to the blessed Virgin Mary, saying "Hail, full of grace!" and announced to her the incarnation of the Son of God.

Gabriel instructed Daniel (Daniel 8:16), though he is not called an angel, but "the man Gabriel" (9:21). The same heavenly spirit announced the birth of St. John the Baptist and the Incarnation of the Redeemer, while tradition ascribes to him both the message to the shepherds (Luke 2:9), and the most glorious mission of all, that of strengthening the King of Angels in His Agony (Luke 22:43).

St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel.'" With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word." As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness. It was God who created all things, both “visible and invisible.” As his heavenly host, the angelic spirits form a part of the great invisible portion of the cosmos referenced in the Nicene Creed.

The angels were created in vast numbers by God before he made humans. They are separate from humans. They were made without gender, do not procreate, and never die or cease to exist. While normally invisible, they can assume a physical form to carry out the mission God gives them. Sometimes humans are granted the vision to see them. The angelic spirits are arranged in a hierarchy of form and function. While the angels are pure spirits of consciousness and will as is God, they are not omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent like God. Yet, the angels do have abilities far above even the saints in heaven.

The number of the angels is frequently stated as vast—“thousands upon thousands”, innumerable angels” (Daniel 7:10; Apocalypse 5:11; Psalm 67:18; Matthew 26:53). From the use of the word host (sabbaoth) as a synonym for the heavenly army it is hard to resist the impression that the term "Lord of Hosts" refers to God's Supreme command of the angelic multitude (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2; 32:43). There is a difficulty is speaking of angels in terms of numbers. We count people by their bodies. How do we count angels? They have no bodies to count. They are distinct by their intellect, character, and will. Aquinas argued that each angel was its own species.

As the prince of the seraphim, St. Michael the Archangel (meaning "Who is like unto God?") led the heavenly host in the battle against the rebelling spirits.

" 'But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come." While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, 'I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.' Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 'Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,' he said. 'Peace! Be strong now; be strong.' When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, 'Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.' So he said, 'Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince' " (Daniel 10:13-21).

HOLY MICHAEL, ARCHANGEL, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

O prince most glorious, Michael the Archangel, keep us in remembrance: here and everywhere, always, entreat the Son of God for us.

St. Raphael the Archangel (the "Remedy of God") healed Tobit and delivered Tobiah’s wife from demonic obsession (see the Book of Tobit). "The angel Raphael (Tobit 12:12) says: "I offered thy prayer to the Lord." Raphael is also commonly associated with the angelic trembling of the waters in the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-4).

Throughout the Bible we find it repeatedly implied that each individual soul has its guardian angel. Thus Abraham, when sending his steward to seek a wife for Isaac, says: "He will send His angel before thee" (Genesis 24:7). The words of the ninetieth Psalm which the devil quoted to our Lord (Matthew 4:6) are well known, and Judith accounts for her heroic deed by saying: "As the Lord liveth, His angel hath been my keeper" (13:20). These passages and many like them (Genesis 16:6-32; Hosea 12:4; 1 Kings 19:5; Acts 12:7; Psalm 33:8), though they will not of themselves demonstrate the doctrine that every individual has his appointed guardian angel, receive their complement in our Saviour's words:

"See that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of My Father Who is in Heaven" (Matthew 18:10). These are words which illustrate the remark of St. Augustine: "What lies hidden in the Old Testament, is made manifest in the New." St. Jerome in his commentary on Mt 18:10 wrote: "The dignity of a soul is so great, that each has a guardian angel from its birth."

The general doctrine that the angels are our appointed guardians is considered to be a point of faith, but that each individual member of the human race has his own individual guardian angel is not of faith (de fide); the view has, however, strong and consistent support from the Doctors of the Church.

In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance in the funeral liturgy's In Paradisum deducant te angeli:

Into paradise may the angels lead thee;
and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee,
and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." The Bible represents the angels not only as our guardians, but also as actually interceding for us. Indeed, the book of Tobit provides the perfect example.

St. Uriel the Archangel (the "Light of God") is the guardian of the sun and of knowledge.

Devotion to the angels is thoroughly biblical. Perhaps the earliest explicit declaration of it is to be found in St. Ambrose's words: "We should pray to the angels who are given to us as guardians." The church has always condemned the worship of angels (or anything else other than God alone). Devotion to the angels must be governed by Christian tradition. We should not invoke the manifestation of angels as spirit guides (New Age) as it invites demons disguised as angels. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14)

The Church Fathers taught that it is the angels who put into execution God's law regarding the physical world. The Jews believed that all the orderly harmony of the universe, as well as interruptions of that harmony, were due to God as their originator, but were carried out by his ministers. This view is strongly marked in the "Book of Jubilees" where the heavenly host of good and evil angels is every interfering in the material universe. Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar Maimonides is quoted by St. Thomas Aquinas as holding that the Bible frequently terms the powers of nature angels, since they manifest the omnipotence of God.

These hosts of heaven are ordered in what we commonly call the “nine choirs of angels.” These are divided into three triads (groups of three). The first angelic triad continually worships God in his immediate presence. These spirits consist of the exalted love of the fiery seraphim, the complete intuition of the cherubim, and the perfect power of the thrones. The primary function of their being is the perpetual adoration and praise of the divine substance. The second triad extends this divine praise and love to the creation. The spiritual dominions, princedoms, and powers execute the love, knowledge, and power of God relative to the general structure, order, and governance of the cosmos. The last triad serves the divine love towards human beings when the virtues, the ruling archangels, and the angels come to serve and care for people on earth. Angels then truly become “messengers” (angeloi in Greek) of divine favor. It was the Archangel Gabriel who gave the message of the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin Mary.

Overall, the heavenly hierarchy moves from the freedom and might of contemplative adoration (by the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones) through principled order and sovereignty (ruled by the dominions, princedoms, and powers) to active service toward others in a spirit of compassion and care (exercised by the virtues, archangels, and angels). The earthly life was designed to follow this cosmic harmony. We were created to enjoy complete and perfect goodness in returning thanks to the source of our happiness. Our worship must mirror heaven. The fullness of our being is to join in the heavenly chorus which forever sings: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). Inspired by his love, we must also care for the creation entrusted to us, and reach out to others in service.

After Adam's fall Paradise is guarded against our First Parents by cherubim who are clearly God's ministers, though nothing is said of their nature. “So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24)

Only once again do the cherubim figure in the Bible, viz., in Ezekiel's marvelous vision, where they are described at great length (Ezekiel 1), and are actually called cherubs in Ezekiel 10.

"In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. On the fifth of the month—it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin--the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him. I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north—an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another. Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved. Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body. Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces. This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures moved, they also moved; when the creatures stood still, they also stood still; and when the creatures rose from the ground, the wheels rose along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1).

The Ophanim are one of a class of celestial beings described in the Book of Enoch with the Cherubim and Seraphim as never sleeping, but watching (or guarding) the throne of God. The word ophan means "wheel" in Hebrew so the Ophanim have been associated with the description in Ezekiel 1:15-21 and possibly again in the Daniel 7:9 (mentioned as gagal, traditionally "the wheels of gagallin", in "fiery flame" and "burning fire") of the four, eye-covered wheels (each composed of two nested wheels), that move next to the winged Cherubim, beneath the throne of God. The four wheels move with the Cherubim because the spirit of the Cherubim is in them. These are also referred to as the "many-eyed ones" in the Second Book of Enoch.

The Ophanim are also equated as the "Thrones", associated with the "Wheels", in the vision of Daniel 7:9. They are the carriers of the throne of God, hence the name. Traditionally, they are identified with the same Thrones (Gr. thronos) mentioned by St. Paul of Tarsus in Colossians 1:16.

The seraphim explicitly appear only in the vision of Isaiah 6 and are mentioned as the heavenly creatures nearest to the throne of God, who "is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). Seraphim literally means "burning ones" in the Hebrew.

"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.' And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, 'Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.' Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, 'Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.' Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' Then said I, 'Here am I; send me' " (Isaiah 6:1-8).

The Seraphim are also likely referred to in Revelation 4:4-8, where they are forever in God's presence and praising Him constantly: "Day and night with out ceasing they sing: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.'"

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy, helped fix the fiery nature of seraphim in the medieval imagination. It is here that the Seraphim are described as being concerned with keeping Divinity in perfect order, and not limited to chanting the trisagion. Taking his cue from writings in the Rabbinic tradition, the author gave an etymology for the Seraphim as "those who kindle or make hot." He wrote, "The name seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all-consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness."

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae offers a description of the nature of the Seraphim:
"The name 'Seraphim' does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius (Coel. Hier. vii) expounds the name 'Seraphim' according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things. First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God. Secondly, the active force which is 'heat,' which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat. Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). The angels of the Bible generally appear in the role of God's messengers to mankind. They are his instruments by whom he communicates his will to men, and in Jacob's vision they are depicted as ascending and descending the ladder which stretches from earth to heaven.

It was an angel who found Agar in the wilderness; three angels visited with Abraham (pictured above) and foretold the birth of Isaas; angels drew Lot out of Sodom; an angel announces to Gideon that he is to save his people; an angel foretells the birth of Samson (Judges 13).

The spiritual nature of the angels is manifested very clearly in the account which Zachariah gives of the revelations bestowed upon him by the ministry of an angel. The prophet depicts the angel as speaking "in him". He seems to imply that he was conscious of an interior voice which was not that of God but of His messenger. The Massoretic text, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate all agree in thus describing the communications made by the angel to the prophet. Modern translations obscure this trait by persistently giving the rendering: "the angel that talked with me: instead of "within me" (cf. Zechariah 1:9-14; 2:3; 4:5; 5:10).

Many of the angels fell from this high estate with the rebellion led by Lucifer, highest of the angels. The rebellion spawned by the jealousy and pride of Satan was defeated by the Archangel Michael and all the hosts of heaven (Rev 12:7-12). Unlike us, the fallen angels (called “devils” or the “demons”) enjoy no possibility of redemption.

The Revelation of St. John the Divine tells us that they were expelled from heaven and cast down to earth where they assault the brethren and thwart the will of God. They know their time is short before the last judgment and that God will have the final victory.

The power of God is always stronger that the forces of darkness. Through prayer, grace, and the intercession of the angels we have God’s protection against the crafts and assaults of the devil. Many more angels remained faithful to God than rebelled against him.

". . . 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 leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

'Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.' When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring—those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 12:7-12).

Among those who chose to serve and not rebel, all angels are Christ’s angels! Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him." They belong to him because they were created through and for him: "for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him." They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?"

The Archangel Gabriel foretold the birth of St. John the Baptist, and announced to the blessed Virgin Mary the Incarnation of God. When God brought the firstborn into the world, he said: "Let all God's angels worship him." Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church's praise: "Glory to God in the highest!" Angels ministered to Jesus in the wilderness; angels strengthening Jesus in his agony; angels appeared at his resurrection; angels comforted the disciples at the ascension; angels ministered to the heirs of salvation (e.g. releasing Peter from prison); angels will come with Christ when he returns in glory.

St. Francis' first biographer, Thomas of Celano, reports the stigmata (pictured above) as follows in his 1230 First Life of St. Francis: "When the blessed servant of God saw these things he was filled with wonder, but he did not know what the vision meant. He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly. Thus Francis rose, one might say, sad and happy, joy and grief alternating in him. He wondered anxiously what this vision could mean, and his soul was uneasy as it searched for understanding. And as his understanding sought in vain for an explanation and his heart was filled with perplexity at the great novelty of this vision, the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them slightly earlier in the crucified man above him. His hands and feet seemed to be pierced by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing in the palms of his hands and on the upper sides of his feet, the points appearing on the other side. The marks were round on the palm of each hand but elongated on the other side, and small pieces of flesh jutting out from the rest took on the appearance of the nail-ends, bent and driven back. In the same way the marks of nails were impressed on his feet and projected beyond the rest of the flesh. Moreover, his right side had a large wound as if it had been pierced with a spear, and it often bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood."

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