Monkey Business, Angels and Apologetics
by John Pacheco
used with permission
It was the summer of 1995, and I planned to make a little trip down the road from Kingston to Marmora to visit the Greenside's Farm.1 During the previous occasions that I visited the Farm, there occurred certain 'irregular incidents' which were not in the normal course of nature. While I do not discount or oppose sceptical inquisition, I am not generally inclined to subscribe to the "it's true for me, but not for you" modernist drivel. My experiences at the Farm were as real as the air I breathe or the car I drive - and I will be happy to challenge anyone who thinks otherwise. These experiences, however, are outside of the scope of this article; this article centers on the popular subject of angels. This particular topic has gained an enormous amount of popularity in recent years, due primarily to the avalanche of supernatural phenomenon that has been unleashed in this decade. The angels to which I refer are, of course, the Real Thing. They are not the mythological 'new age' kind with neither creator nor purposeful existence.
The night before my trip was especially abnormal, to say the least. I found quite strange, for instance, the number of things that kept mysteriously popping up to prevent me from making the trip - from family and friends to other commitments. None were deliberate, yet the number of instances could not be ignored. I honestly did not think much of it at the time, but in retrospect, they turned out to be more than just coincidental.
I own a 1991 Pontiac Sunbird. During the summers of 1992 and 1993, I travelled to Toronto once a week to take some courses at York University. After moving to Ottawa in 1996, I also made frequent business and personal trips to Kingston during 1996 and 1997. In all this time, I never had ANY car problems whatsoever - either on the highway or in city driving. The significance of this fact will soon become apparent.
I started out on Hwy 401, travelling west from Kingston to Belleville. I cannot explicitly recall my spiritual disposition during the trip before the 'incident', but I suspect that I said some prayers early on, and then turned on the radio to listen to some music. Maintaining a speed just under 110 km/hr (65 m/hr) throughout the trip, I was approaching the halfway point of the trip when, much to my astonishment, my car's engine completely stopped. I do not mean a slow, noisy shutdown; I mean a sudden and silent 'cessation of engine activities'.
After expressing my bitter disappointment in the not-so-holiest of languages, I steered the car to the shoulder of the highway while contemplating my next step. My immediate reaction was to dismiss the incident as a rather annoying car problem, but then I started thinking. I thought about the previous night's distractions. I thought about how my car had never (nor has ever since then) had such a problem or any problem, for that matter. I thought about the way the engine stopped. I thought about where I was going. I began to consider the possibility of the supernatural. What if these events were more than just coincidences? A very cold chill - a frigid one, actually - ran down my spine. What if something or some being didn't want me get to the Farm? To even imagine that a demonic force (or fallen angel?) would use physical means to prevent this insignificant monkey (as they might think of us) from doing anything is a fantastical and, to some, absurd thought. Yet, this is what I was slowly starting to believe.
The implication of the supernatural explanation shook me. It shook me a great deal. I wasn't terrified, but I wasn't laughing either. I said a quick prayer to Saint Michael, the Archangel: "Saint Michael, if you want me to get to Marmora, help me now and make this car start." I turned the key over and the car started without a problem. I completed my journey, arriving at the Greenside's Farm without any subsequent problem. I have never had any such car problem since 'the incident.' That day turned out to be a very important day in my life because it was the start of my vocation to explain the Catholic faith. Was there an angelic war going on during the trip? Or was it my rather vivid, pious imagination? A string of coincidences or angelic intervention? I can't say for sure. One thing is for sure, though - my spiritual journey started that day.
A Hierarchy of Truths - yeah, it's a Catholic thing
In Catholic theology, there are certain propositions that the Church considers defined articles of faith. These articles of faith must be believed in order to be considered Catholic. Included in these are the bodily Resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the existence of heaven and hell. These are, of course, common elements of the Christian faith that we share with other Christian Churches. Other binding truths that are particularly Catholic, but not held by other Christians include the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility.
The Catholic Church's teaching on the angels (which means 'messenger' in Greek), is a good example of what the Church calls a 'hierarchy of truths'. There are other propositions of faith that Catholics are free to speculate on such as the existence of limbo - the place where unbaptized babies could be. This is not a defined article of faith (i.e. dogma), and as such, theologians and lay people are free to speculate on its existence.
As well, there are a number of other propositions of the Faith that aren't held with certainty, but about which a general consensus exists. There exist, therefore, grades of belief in Catholic theology.
It may seem that these 'levels of truth' are somehow inconsistent with knowing the full truth of the Gospel. This is not, however, a valid criticism. Christian Truth has never been a matter of knowing the fullness of the truth at one point in time. The Trinity is a perfect example of this. The term 'homo-ousios' ('of the same substance') was not used until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. It represented a better understanding of the Trinity, but it did not contradict earlier beliefs. There is a huge difference between the Church never teaching error on the one hand, and knowing all Truth in its fullness on the other hand. The former is the Church's claim on infallibility - it is the least we can expect from God - while the latter is not taught in either Scripture or Tradition. The following is taken from an e-mail dialogue with a Protestant Apologist that demonstrates the idea of 'defined truth':
"You asked me if I claim an infallible knowledge of the Trinity. Yes, I most certainly do since the infallible Church has defined it. This means that my knowledge is not in error; it is by no means complete and there may be more to learn about the nature of the Trinity, but as far as my current knowledge of the doctrine goes - yes, it is infallible. It is not unlike watching a motor vehicle coming down a road. You recognize it as a motor vehicle, but as it gets closer, it becomes more defined - you see that it is a blue car. You don't know its make or model YET, but that doesn't mean that your earlier observations about the car are incorrect; they are simply incomplete. Perhaps, in the future, you may come to know that it is a Pontiac Sunbird, but that does not contradict the fact that it is still a blue car."
As far as the general subject of angels goes, there are a number of propositions that may or may not be considered binding on Catholics. For instance, the existence of angels must be believed, but the proposition that all of us have a 'guardian' angel is not a binding belief. On the topic of angels, therefore, there are certain beliefs that must be believed, and others that need not be.
Existence and Hierarchy
The belief in the existence of angels is by no means restricted to Christianity. Judaism and Islam share belief in the angels. The Koran, for instance, is alleged to be dictated by the Archangel Gabriel. In Christianity, both the written and the oral tradition of the Church testify to the existence of the angels. There are many references in the Bible, and there are many references from the early Church Fathers. While Saint John the Apostle was still alive, Pope Saint Clement of Rome wrote: "Let us be subject to His will. Let us consider the whole multitude of His angels, how they stand waiting to minister to His will." (Letter to the Corinthians, 80 A.D.). From Sacred Scripture, we know that there is a great multitude of angels. Hebrews 12:22 speaks of 'myriads of angels' in the heavenly Jerusalem, while Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 5:11 speaks of 'thousands and thousands of angels'.
In addition to the existence and great number of angels, there is the issue of gradations or hierarchies of angels. The Seraphim are traditionally held to be the greatest of the angels, and are mentioned in Isaiah's vision: "In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two, he covered his face, and with two, he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, The whole earth is full of his glory'" (Isaiah 6:1-3). The earliest mention of the angels in the Old Testament occurs in Genesis 3:24 where God placed two Cherubim to guard the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Thrones, Dominions, and Principalities are mentioned in Saint Paul's letter to the Colossians (Cf. Colossians 1:16), and Principalities and Powers are listed in his letter to the Ephesians (Cf. Ephesians 3:10). The other classes of angels include Strengths, Highnesses, Archangels, and Angels (Cf. Romans 8:38, Jude 1:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, and Luke 1:26).
This division of the angelic world is not a defined truth of the faith, but is open to theological speculation. The Angel Gabriel (Cf. Luke 1:26) is also an Archangel (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Michael is an Archangel (Cf. Jude 1:9), yet he threw Lucifer, a Seraphim, out of heaven in the celestial war (Cf. Revelation 12). Michael's name, which means 'who is like God', seems to imply that he may be a Seraphim too. Indeed, Christian tradition usually has assigned Michael certain pre-eminence among the angels, and within the hierarchy of the Angels, he is considered a princely Seraph.
There are a number of Church fathers, however, that have held to this hierarchical belief. A Catholic is free to believe in such an arrangement, and indeed, it seems logical given the way the Church is organized. "Even here in the Church, the gradation of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the Scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the Apostles, and who have lived in perfect righteousness according to the Gospel." (Saint Clement of Alexandria, Stormateis, 202 A.D.)
Qualities of the Angels
The angels are by nature immortal: "Depart from me ye cursed, into the everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41)
The angels possess understanding and free will: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell ... " (2 Peter 2:4)
The angels possess a higher perfection of power than other creatures: " ... whereas as angels ... are greater in might and power ... " (2 Peter 2:11)
The angels do not know the secrets of God: "Even so the thoughts of God, no one knows except the Spirit of God." (1 Corinthians 2:11)
The angels do not possess knowledge of the human heart: " ... for thou only knowest the heart of all the children of men." (3 Kings 8:39)
The angels do not have a foreknowledge of the free actions of the future: "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me." (Isaiah 46:9)
Although it is not a defined Truth of the Catholic faith, there is a strong belief in the Tradition of the Church that the Angels were tested in order to merit the Beatific Vision of God. Hence, the angels are believed to have been in a state of pilgrimage at one point in their existence. This inference is drawn from a number of biblical passages including 2 Peter 2:4: "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgement." And Jude 1:6 - "And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgement of the great day." It could be inferred that the mere fact that the angels could fall is incompatible with the idea that they were created in a state of glory. The only way to reconcile the Fall is through this idea of a pilgrimage.
Furthermore, since the serpent tempted Adam and Eve into sin, it can be deduced that he had extreme hatred for them before his seductions. It logically follows; therefore, that there was an occasion before Eden where Man's impending creation insulted Lucifer in some way and caused him and the other angels to rebel. Since Lucifer's sin was pride (Cf. Jeremiah 2:20 - "I will not serve"), it also logically follows that Man's soul was to be placed in a high position, perhaps even over the angels', in God's sight. This view is certainly consistent with many other passages from Holy Writ, most notably, Saint Peter's warning to Christians to "be of sober spirit, be on the alert, your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (2 Peter 5:8). Hence, the spiritual condition of the good and bad angels has been irrevocably fixed for eternity. This is because no creature can turn away from the beauty of God, or change the disposition of a supernatural, spiritual creature who has rejected God.
"How did you come to be thrown to the ground, you who enslaved the nations? You who used to think to yourself, 'I will climb up to the heavens; and higher than the stars of God I will set my throne ... I will climb to the top of thunderclouds, I will rival the Most High.' What! Now you have fallen to Sheol to the very bottom of the abyss!"
- Isaiah 14:12-15
The Efficacy of the Good Angels and Guardian Angels
The primary task of the Good Angels is the glorification and the service of God. The secondary task is to protect man and care for their salvation. The angels have figured prominently in God's plan of salvation. Some of their cameos, include:
- Appearance to Saint Joseph regarding his intent to divorce Mary (Cf. Matthew 1:20)
- Appearance to Zechariah in regards to John the Baptist's birth (Cf. Luke 1:11)
- Appearance to Mary at the Annunciation (Cf. Luke 1:26)
- Appearance to the Shepherds (Cf. Luke 2:9)
- Appearance to Saint Joseph for trip to the Egypt (Cf. Matthew 2:13)
- Appearance to Peter and John in Prison (Cf. Acts 5:19)
- Saint Michael fighting with the devil over Moses' body (Cf. Jude 1:9),
- and warring with Satan in heaven (Cf. Revelation 12:7-10)
The Tradition of the Church has also re-affirmed this belief about the roles of angels:
- "God planted the vineyard, that is, He created people, and gave them over to His Son. And the Son appointed the angels to guard over them ... " (Hermas, The Shepherd of Hermas, 140 A.D.)
- "[The Father] is ministered to in all things by His own Offspring, and by the latter's Likeness: that is, by the Son and the by the Holy Spirit, by the Word and by the Wisdom, whom all the angels serve and to whom they are subject." (Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 180 A.D.)
- "This also is the ecclesiastical teaching: That there are certain angels of God and good powers who minister to Him in accomplishing the salvation of men; but when they were created, or what they are, or how they exist, is not distinguished with sufficient clarity." (Origen, The Fundamental Doctrines, 220 A.D.)
The Church does not hold the teaching that every one of the faithful has his own special guardian angel with certainty, but there are grounds for believing in this doctrine. In fact, not only every baptized person but also every human being, believer or not, has his own personal guardian angel from birth. Christ taught His disciples: "See that you do not despise 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). From Tradition, Saint Clement of Alexandria teaches: "For regimens of angels are distributed over nations and cities; and perhaps some even are assigned to particular individuals (Saint Clement of Alexandria, Stormateis, 202 A.D.).
For Catholics Eyes Only
For both Catholics and Protestants, there should be no problem in reciting the Psalms as prayers since they are the inspired word of God, and are written in such a poetic way that is conducive to prayer. Yet, there is something about two particular Psalms that the Catholic will feel very comfortable with, while the Protestant may not.
Psalm 103:20 says this: "Bless the Lord, all you His angels, Mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word!"
Psalm 148:2 - "Praise Him all His angels; Praise Him all His hosts!"
The Catholic should notice at once that these prayers are INVOCATIONS since they are addressing the angels directly, petitioning them to praise God. Why would King David write these words if it were not proper to pray to beings other than God? The answer is quite simple: praying to angels (or saints) is allowed and encouraged. The Bible says so! And so does the Tradition of the Church:
"So we are called atheists. Well, we do indeed proclaim ourselves atheists in respect to those whom you call gods, but not in regard to the Most True God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is without admixture of evil. On the contrary, we reverence and worship Him and the Son who came forth from Him and taught us these things and the host of other good angels who are about Him and are made quite like Him, and the Prophetic Spirit. We pay homage to them in reason and in truth; and to all who wish to learn, we pass on intact what we have been taught." (Saint Justin Martyr, "First Apology", 148 A.D.) Saint Justin is revealing two truths here: it is proper to pay homage to the angels, and this is allowed because the Apostles and their successors have taught it to him.
Some Final Words
The angels are the creation of God. They are sent to minister and to help us in our quest for salvation. Let us not turn them aside or ignore their most powerful intercession. Let us invoke them often and fervently, knowing that as messengers of the Most High, their petitions will surely not go unanswered. Let us also remember our guardian angels who have been assigned to us, remembering that through the grand and mysterious workings of grace and free will, they stand ready, if asked, to direct us toward the way, the truth, and the life.
1. It is alleged that there have been Marian apparitions at the Farm as well as other supernatural signs. The Church has not yet decided on the authenticity of these alleged supernatural events. All Catholics must abide and submit to the Church's decision on these matters.