Angels Among Us: A Survey of the Heavenly Host
Have you ever had a premonition of something that came true, or mostly true? Have you ever avoided catastrophe just by what you thought was sheer luck? What about that little voice in your head, the one either screaming or whispering, “Don’t do that” or “Maybe you should do this”? It is probably your conscience, right? What about your guardian angel? Maybe it is a mixture of both. Do you believe angels are real?
I have always had a hard time believing in things I could not see or perceive with my own senses. I thought that if it could not be touched, tasted, observed, heard, measured, manipulated, et cetera, that it probably did not exist. Therefore, all this mystical hullabaloo these religious fanatics were touting was just so much fantasy, something to quell their fears of the unknown, to assuage the uncertainty of life after death, and all the other superfluous platitudes you could think of to discredit their agenda. That was me.
However, after many (okay, three) decades of study and self-reflection, I came to the conclusion that I was arrogant to assume that physical reality was the only possible reality. Henceforth, Intelligent Design found its way into my reasoning and I stopped my habit of restrictive thinking. The point I am trying to make is that after I accepted God’s existence, I still had a hard time with things like miracles, the Holy Spirit, Purgatory…and angels. So to conclude this monologue of explanation, I wanted to open up my mind and cast aside my penchant for restrictive thinking and learn more. I needed a more plausible view of angels outside of the popular description of beautiful, harp-playing, humanoid creatures with white robes, halos, and wings. When I learned more, I realized the general consensus on angels, as well as my own thinking, was way off.
The overview I am going to share with you is not fully taught by the Church, but many of its scholars and doctors concur on the information. Most all of this I have gleaned from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and from excerpts taught by Dr. Mark Miravalle, via Catholic Lighthouse Media. I cannot do sufficient credit to Dr. Miravalle’s credentials in this essay; please research him if you feel the need.
To start, I will clear up some common misconceptions regarding angels.
~Angels are not divine; they are not “extensions” of the Holy Trinity, extensions of God. They are creatures, just like us. They are, however, creatures without bodies, pure spirits, but created nonetheless.
~They do not reproduce, nor take one another in marriage. The reason is that they are not mortal.
~They are not created from people who die and “go to heaven and get their wings”. Humans are humans; angels are not humans, they are angels.
~Angels can have “wings” but they are primarily symbolic as to illustrate their ability of flight or movement. They do not have bodies and therefore do not conform to a “shape” as in a humanoid appearance; although they can take the form of human bodies, if indeed their missions require it as Messengers of God : i.e., the Annunciation, and other Biblical examples, primarily with Gabriel. According to St. Thomas, they do this for familiarity, to allow humans to have an intellectual companionship with the spiritual, a foretaste of the afterlife. Taking the shape of a human is not their primary nature; I would speculate that our fleshy brains could not comprehend which “shape” these creatures might hold, or what they truly look like, or if indeed there is a shape to which they might conform.
~They occupy space, but they are not contained by that space. For example, when you open the shades, daylight comes in. When you close the shades, you have not trapped the daylight. That is how St. Thomas describes the manner in which they occupy a given space.
There are three hierarchies of angels, and three Choirs per hierarchy:
Seraphim. These excel in love of God. Sometimes they are explained as having six wings, three pairs; two to cover their face, in humility to God; two to cover their feet to show their modesty, and two to represent flight—their ability to move, using their will.
Cherubim. These excel in knowledge of God. St. Thomas believes this is the Choir from which Lucifer came, for it is easier to sin against God out of knowledge and pride than to sin against God out of love. When the Cherubim take a shape, they are said to be manlike, with four wings. They obtain Light and knowledge of God from the Seraphim. You might remember a Cherub was assigned to the Tree of Knowledge with a flaming sword. Also, two Cherubs are found on the original Ark of the Covenant.
Thrones. These excel in humility; they are the overseers of matter. They illuminate the lower Choirs with their knowledge, and provide an access to God for the lower Choirs.
Dominions. These angels are the leadership, making known God’s commands and delegating angelic duties. They receive their illumination from the upper Hierarchy, mainly the Thrones.
Virtues. These angels are the ones responsible for miracles and the governing of all nature. They assist in courage and valor and receive illumination from the upper Choirs.
Powers. These angels are warriors against evil spirits, defenders of humans and the cosmos. They receive their knowledge and illumination from the upper Choirs, as do the lower Hierarchy and Choirs.
Principalities. These angels apparently had the highest population of defectors who chose Lucifer over The Son after the moral testing. They (the benevolent population who remained faithful) are primarily responsible for the guardianship and care of human beings. They could be likened to “generals” in an army, and intercede for obedience to proper authority.
Archangels. The Archangels would be akin to the “officers” in the army of angels, in respect to the upper Principalities Choir. They preside over the watch of human beings and direct commands to the Angels below them. St. Michael (which means “Who is like unto God?”) was taken from the Archangel ranks to command the army of angels against Lucifer, now Satan. During the moral testing, Lucifer, a Cherub, refused to serve a “God-Man” (Jesus) because humans were lower in the level of Creation. He cursed when he learned that this God-Man would be borne of a woman. That is when Michael spoke up and said, “Who is like unto God?!”, as in, “How dare you question the commands of God!”. At this, a field promotion was in order, and henceforth, St. Michael is now the Commander of the Heavenly Army of Angels.
Angels. These are the workers; these Angels carry out the duties and commands of God, receiving their direction and illumination from the higher Choirs, namely the Archangels. The vast majority of Guardian Angels come from this Choir. Their purpose is to guide mankind back home to the Father, and through prayer we can connect with them and ask for their assistance.
The concept of a Guardian Angel is what I had the hardest time understanding. I could not imagine every human being having a spiritual protector, so to speak. However, having been released from the cage of restrictive thinking, this concept is now a bit easier for me to accept. Especially after reading St. Thomas’ treatment on the Angels in his Summa.
When I look back at all the imminent death circumstances I have found myself in, it truly makes one wonder if there was something supernatural responsible for keeping me alive. I have had numerous occurrences, too many to list here, which might well have been the work of my own Angel.
You might wonder, “Why then, don’t other Guardian Angels protect their charges? Many people are victims of evil or catastrophe.” These and the many other questions of nonbelievers, atheists, and agnostics cannot easily be rationalized.
But surely it is not that God or His angels are impotent; it is not that He or they do not care. Human beings create many of their own maladies, and out of selfishness inflict harm and suffering upon others. I can only speculate that those of us who have experienced the protection of our Guardian Angels are not yet needed in the afterlife, and that we are to continue with whatever we are called to do. Sometimes that includes suffering, something we can all relate with in varying degrees. And who knows how many unknown dangers we have escaped, thanks to an Angel’s help? All mysteries will be revealed at the end of time.
By Eric Moody