Allan Kardec

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Angels According to the Church

1. Materialism, denying the existence of spirit and admitting no other life than that of the

physical organism, has naturally relegated the idea of angels into the category of fiction and allegories. But all religions of the world have proclaimed, under various names, the existence of angels, that is to say, of beings superior to the human race, intermediate between God and humankind. The belief in those beings forms an essential part of the creed of the Christian Church, whose doctrine, in regard to their nature, is summed up in the following statement: *

* The statement quoted in the text is taken from the Lenten Pastoral of the Cardinal-Archbishop of Rheims, Cardinal Gousset, for 1864; but, as the doctrine of the various Christian sects is identical in regard to the nature both of angels and of devils, it may be regarded – like the statement in regard to the latter, drawn from the same source and quoted in our next chapter – as being a summary of the belief of all the Christian sects in reference to the subject we are considering.

2. “We firmly believe,” is the declaration of the Lateran Council, “that there is one sole and only God, eternal and infinite, who, in the beginning of time, drew both together, out of nothing, the two orders of creatures, viz., the Spiritual and Corporeal, the Angelic and the Physical, and who afterwards formed, as a mean between the two, the Human Order composed of body and spirit.”

“Such,” continues the Pastoral from which we are quoting, “is the divine plan in the work of creation; a plan at once majestic and complete, as befits the eternal wisdom. Thus conceived, this plan presents to our mind the beings of the universe at every degree and in all conditions. In the highest sphere appear existence and life of a purely spiritual nature; in the lowest rank appear existence and life of a purely physical nature: and, in the interval which separates the two, a marvelous union of those two substances, a life which is shared by an intelligent spirit and an organized body.

“Our soul is in its nature simple and indivisible; but its faculties are limited. The idea we have of perfection enables us to comprehend that there may be other beings simple and indivisible like our soul, yet superior to it in qualities and in privileges. Our soul is great and noble, but it is associated with matter, served by frail organs, limited in its action and in its power. Why should there not be other natures still nobler, free from this slavery and from these obstacles, gifted with strength and activities incomparably greater? Before God placed human beings upon the Earth to know God, to love God, and to serve God, must God not already have called other creatures into being, to form God’s celestial court and to adore God in the dwelling place of God’s glory? It is from the hands of human beings that God receives the tribute of honor and the homage of the universe; is it strange that God should receive, from the hands of angels, the incense and the prayers of humanity? If the angels did not exist, the grand work of the Creator would lack the crowning perfection of which it is susceptible; this world, which attests the infinity of God’s power, would not be the master-piece of God’s wisdom; our mere human reason, weak and feeble though it may be, might easily conceive of something better and more complete.

“At every page of the sacred books of the Old and New Testaments, mention is made of these sublime intelligences, in pious evocations, or in its historical incidents. Their intervention is manifestly shown in the lives of the patriarchs and the prophets. God employs their ministry, sometimes for the intimation of God’s will, sometimes for the announcement of events to come; God makes them, in almost every case, the organs of God’s justice or of God’s mercy. Their presence is seen in the various circumstances of the birth, the life, and the passion of the Savior; their memory is inseparable from that of the great men and women, and the most important facts of the earliest epochs of the ancient religiosity. It is found even in the bosom of polytheism, and under the fables of mythology; for the belief in their existence is as old and as universal as the world, and the worship paid by the Pagans to good and evil genii was only a false application of a truth, a degenerate reflex of the primitive dogma.

“The declarations of the holy Lateran Council contain a fundamental distinction between the angels and human beings. They teach us that the former are pure spirits, while the latter are composed of a soul and a body; that is to say, that the angelic nature is self-sustained, not only without any intermixture, but also without the possibility of any real association, with matter, no matter how light and how subtle we may suppose the latter to be, while our human soul, though also spiritual in nature, is associated with a material body in such a manner as to constitute, with that body, only a single person; and they teach us that such is essentially the destiny of the human soul.

“As long as this intimate union continues to exist between the soul and the body, these two substances have a common life and exercise a reciprocal influence on each other; the soul cannot disenfranchise itself entirely from the state of imperfection imposed upon it by this union: its ideas reach it through the senses, from the comparison of external objects, and always under images more or less apparent. Hence the impossibility, for the soul, of conceiving of itself or of God otherwise than under the guise of some visible and palpable form. For the same reasons the angels, in order to render themselves visible to the Saints and the Prophets, have necessarily assumed the appearance of corporeality; but these appearances were only aerial bodies which they moved without identifying themselves with them, or symbolical representations in harmony with the mission which they were charged to fulfill.

“Their existence and movements are not localized and circumscribed in any fixed and limited point of space. Not being attached to a body, they cannot be stopped and bounded as we are by other bodies; they occupy no space and fill no void; but, just as our soul is entirely present in our whole body and in each of its parts, so they are in their entirety, and almost simultaneously, on all points and in all parts of the world; more rapid than thought, they can operate themselves everywhere in an instant and can operate of themselves, without any other obstacle to their designs than the will of God and the resistance of human liberty.

“While we are reduced to see, only little by little and within certain limits, the things which are outside of us, and while the verities of the supernatural order appear to us as an enigma and as though seen in a mirror, according to the expression of the Apostle Paul, they see, without effort, everything that they need to know, and are in immediate relationship with the object of their thought. Their knowledge is the result, not of induction and reasoning, but of the clear and profound intuition which embraces at once the principles and the species it contains, the principle and the consequences which flow from it.

“Distances of time, differences of place, multiplicity of objects, can produce no confusion in their minds.

The Divine Essence, being infinite, is incomprehensible; it contains mysteries and abysses that the angels cannot fathom. The private designs of Providence are hidden from them; but the secret of those designs is revealed to them by God, when, under certain circumstances, they are called by God to announce them to humankind.

“The communications of God to the angels, and of the angels to one another are not made, as among us, by means of articulate sounds and other signs perceptible by the senses. Pure intelligences have no need of eyes to see, or of ears to hear, nor have they any vocal organ for manifesting their thought, this habitual intermediary of our communications not being needed by them; but they communicate their sentiments to one another in a way that is peculiar to themselves and altogether spiritual. In order to make themselves understood by one another, an act of their will suffices.

“God alone knows the number of angels. This number, undoubtedly, is not, and could not be, infinite; but, according to the sacred writers and doctors of the Church, it is prodigiously great. If it were natural to proportion the number of inhabitants of a city to its grandeur and extent, we must naturally conclude that, the Earth being only an atom in comparison with the firmament and the immense regions of space, the number of the inhabitants of Heaven and of the air are vastly greater than that of humankind.

“Since the majesty of kings derives its splendor from the number of their subjects, of their officers, and of their servants, what could give us a more fitting idea of the majesty of the King of kings than this innumerable multitude of angels that people Heaven and Earth, the sea and the abysses, and the dignity of those glorious beings who remain forever bowed down, or erect, about God’s throne?

“The Elders of the Church and the theologians teach, in general terms, that the angels are classed in three grand hierarchies or principalities, and each of these hierarchies, in three companies or choirs.

“Those of the first and highest hierarchy are designated according to their functions which they discharge in Heaven. Some of them are called Seraphim, because they burn, so to say, with the flame of charity kindled in their being by their contemplation of the love of God; others are called Cherubim, because they are the luminous reflex of God’s wisdom; others, again, are called Thrones, because they proclaim God’s greatness and are the manifestations of splendor.

“Those of the second hierarchy receive their names from the functions they exercise in the general government of the universe; they are, the Dominations, who assign their various missions and occupations to the angels of the lower degrees; the Virtues, who accomplish the prodigies required by the general interests of the Church and of the human race; and the Powers, who protect, by their strength and their vigilance, the laws which rule the physical and moral worlds.

“To those of the third hierarchy are entrusted the guidance of societies and of persons; they are styled Principalities, the managers of kingdoms, provinces, and dioceses; Archangels, who transmit to the world messages of high importance; and Guardian Angels, who accompany each of us throughout our earthly life, watch over our safety, and aid us in achieving our purification.”


3. The fundamental assumption of the doctrine set forth in the preceding quotation is that the angels are beings purely spiritual, anterior, and superior, to the human race; privileged creatures destined from their formation to absolute and eternal happiness, and endowed by their very nature with the plentitude of virtue and of knowledge, without having done anything to acquire either the one or the other. They constitute the highest rank of the creation, the lowest rank being purely physical life; and between the two, is the human race, composed of souls, that is to say, of beings of a spiritual nature but inferior to the angels, united to physical bodies.

This theory is open to several very serious objections. What, in the first place, is the “purely physical life” referred to? Is it that of inanimate matter? But inanimate matter has no life of its own. Is it that of the plants and animals? But this would be to add a fourth order to the divisions of the creation already established, for it is indisputable that there is, in the intelligent animal, something that there is not in the plant, and equally indisputable that there is in the plant, something that there is not in stone. As for the human soul, it is in direct and immediate union with a body that is merely brute matter, for without a soul, the body has no more life than a clod of earth.

Such a division evidently lacks clearness and does not accord with the results of observation; it resembles the theory of the four elements that has been upset by the progress of physical science. But admitting, nevertheless, the three orders of beings assumed by the theory we are considering, viz., the spiritual, the human, and the physical, we have first to remark that there is no necessary union between these three orders, for they constitute three distinct and successive creations between each of which there is a solution of continuity; whereas everything in nature reveals the existence of an admirable law of unity, the elements of all entities being only transformations of one another, and everything being linked together into a continuous chain. The theory in question is true as regards the existence of the three orders of beings on which it is based, but it is incomplete; for it takes no note of the points of contact between them, as we are about to show.

4. The three orders of created beings are necessary, according to the declaration of the Church, to the harmony of the universe; to suppress any one of them would be to render the work of the Creator incomplete, and to contravene the plan of the eternal wisdom. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental dogmas of the Church declares that the Earth, the animals, the plants, the sun, moon, and stars, and light itself, were created, drawn forth out of nothing, six thousand years ago. Consequently, before that epoch, there existed neither human beings nor any purely physical beings; so that, throughout the whole of the eternity of the past, the work of the Divinity had remained incomplete. The creation of the universe six thousand years ago is so strictly an article of faith among orthodox believers that, only a few years ago, science was anathematized because it had upset the chronology of the Bible by demonstrating the immense antiquity of the Earth and of its inhabitants.

Again; the Lateran Council – an Ecumenical Council whose decisions are accepted as law by the orthodox – says expressly: – “We firmly believe that there is but one sole true God, eternal and infinite, who, in the beginning of time, drew forward together, out of nothing, both orders of creatures, viz., the spiritual and the corporeal.” “The beginning of time” can only be understood, as referring to some epoch in the past, for time is infinite, like space; and “the beginning of time” is therefore merely a figure of speech implying some undefined anteriority. The Lateran Council, then, “firmly believes” that the spiritual and corporeal beings were created simultaneously, and that they “were drawn forth together, out of nothing,” at some undetermined epoch in the past. But, in that case, what becomes of the text of the Bible, which fixes the date of this creation at six thousand (of our) years ago? Even if we admit that date as the beginning of the visible universe, it certainly could not be “the beginning of time.” Which of these two statements are we to believe, that of the Council, or that of the Bible?

5. The same Council, moreover, laid down the following strange proposition: “Our soul,” says the ecclesiastical authority referred to, “equally spiritual (i.e., of a nature equally spiritual as the nature of the angels), is associated with the body in such a manner as to form with it only one and the same person, and such is essentially its destination.” If the soul’s essential destiny is to be united to the body, this union constitutes its normal state, its aim, its end, since such is its “destination.” But the soul is immortal and the body is mortal; its union with the body takes place according to the Church, but once, and even if it were prolonged for a century, what is such a span of time in comparison with eternity? For a great number of human beings, the union of the soul and body is only of a few hours; of what use can so ephemeral a union be to the soul? If, in comparison with eternity, the longest duration of the union of soul and body is a mere nothing, can it be correct to say that its essential destination is to be united with the body? The truth is that the union of the soul and body is but an incident, a speck, in the life of the soul, and not its “essential” state.

If it were the essential destination of the soul to be united to a material body; – if, in virtue of its nature and in accordance with the aim of Providence in its creation, this union is necessary to the manifestation of its faculties – it follows that, without the body, the human soul is an incomplete being; consequently, in order for the soul to remain what it is destined to be, it must necessarily, on quitting its material body, take another body of the same nature, which leads us inevitably to the doctrine of the plurality of existences, in other words, to the doctrine of the reincarnation of the soul, forever, in a succession of material bodies. It is really strange that a Council which is considered to be one of the lights of the Church should have so completely mixed up the spiritual being with the material being that the one cannot be conceived of as existing without the other, since the “essential” condition of their creation is to be united.

6. The hierarchical picture of the angels, informs us that several orders of those beings are charged, in virtue of their attributes, with the government of the physical universe and of the human race, and that they were created for the purpose of doing this work. But, according to the Book of Genesis, the material world and the human race have only been in existence for six thousand years; what then, did the angels do before that epoch, through the eternity of the Past, seeing that the object for which they were created was not in existence? Have the angels existed from all eternity? It is to be supposed so, since we are assured by the Church that they serve for the glorification of the Almighty; for, if they were created at any given epoch in the past, God must have remained, previously to that epoch – that is to say, throughout an eternity – without worshippers.

7. Further on, we find, in the Pastoral referred to, these words: “As long as this intimate union of soul and body lasts.” Does there come, then, a moment when this union exists no longer? But this admission contradicts the declaration of the Lateran Council that this union is the “essential destination” of the soul.

The Prelate, summing up the views of the Christian Church, asserts, still further: “Ideas reach the soul through the senses, by the comparison of external objects.” This is a philosophic doctrine that is true to a certain extent, but not absolutely. According to the eminent theologian, it is a condition inherent in the nature of the soul not to receive any ideas otherwise than through the senses; he forgets the innate ideas, the faculties in some cases so transcendently developed, the intuitive knowledge of certain things, which some children bring with them at birth, and which they manifest without having received any instruction in regard to them. By which of the senses is it that children, who have exhibited the ability of natural arithmeticians and algebraists, and who have excited the wonder of the learned world, acquired the ideas necessary for the almost instantaneous solution of the most complicated problems? The same query has to be answered in regard to the various youthful musicians, painters, and linguists.

“The knowledge possessed by the angels,” says the Pastoral in question, “is not the result of induction and reasoning;” they know because they are angels, without having had any need of learning; God created them like this: the human soul, on the contrary, has to learn. If the soul receives ideas only through the bodily organs, what ideas can be possessed by the soul of an infant who died after a few days of life, if we suppose, with the Church, that he or she will not be born again into the earthly life?

8. We have here to consider a question of vital importance: – Does the soul acquire ideas and knowledge after the death of the body? If the soul can acquire nothing when separated from the body, that of the child, the savage, the idiot, the ignorant, will remain forever just what it was at death; in which case it is condemned to nullity throughout eternity.

If, on the contrary, it acquires knowledge after the close of the earthly life, it is evident that it can progress when separated from the body. The denial of the possibility of the soul’s progress after death leads to absurd consequences; the admission of the soul’s progress after death is the negation of all the dogmas based on the assumption of its stationary condition, of irrevocable condemnation, of eternal punishment, etc. But, if the soul can progress at all after death, what limit is there to its possibilities of progress? If it can go forward a single step, there is no reason why it should not continue to progress until it reaches the degree of angels or Pure Spirits. If the human soul can thus attain to the rank of angelhood, there was no need to create special beings to fill that rank, beings distinguished by special privileges, exempted from all labor, and enjoying eternal happiness without having done anything to earn it, while other beings, less favored only obtain the supreme felicity through long and cruel sufferings, and as the result of heavy trials. God could, doubtless, have created such privileged beings had God chosen to do so; but if we admit the infinity of God’s perfections, without which God would not be God, we must also admit that God does nothing useless, nothing that would contradict God’s sovereign justice and God’s sovereign goodness.

9. “Since the majesty of kings,” continues the Prelate, “derives its splendor from the number of their subjects, of their officers, and of their servants, what could give us a more fitting idea of the majesty of the King of kings than this innumerable multitude of angels that people Heaven and Earth, the sea and the abysses, and the dignity of those glorious beings who remain, forever, bowed down, or erect, about God’ s throne?”

But do we not abase the Divinity by thus assimilating God’s glory to the pomp of earthly sovereigns? The inculcation of such an idea in the ignorant minds of the masses gives them an utterly false impression in regard to God’s greatness; while, to represent that Being as requiring to have millions of worshipers remaining “forever, bowed down, or erect, about God’s throne,” is to attribute to God the weakness, vanity, and haughtiness of Oriental despots. And what is it, in point of fact, that renders even earthly sovereigns veritably great? Is it the number and splendor of their courtiers? No; it is their goodness, their justice, their devotion to the interests of their subjects; it is to earn the title of “Father of their country.” We are asked whether anything “can give us a more fitting idea of the majesty of God, than the multitude of angels composing God’s court?” We reply, Yes, certainly, there is something much better calculated to do so; it is to represent the Divine Being as supremely good, just, and merciful for all God’s creatures, instead of representing God as an angry, jealous, vindictive, inexorable, exterminating, and partial God, creating, for God’s own personal glory one set of creatures whom God loads with the most splendid privileges and favors in every possible way, bestowing on them eternal felicity as their birthright, while God creates another set of creatures under diametrically opposite conditions, compelling them to purchase their eventual happiness at the cost of long and terrible sufferings, and punishing a momentary error on their part with an eternity of torture!

10. Spiritism professes, in regard to the union of the soul and body, a doctrine that is infinitely more spiritualistic, not to say, less materialistic, a doctrine which has, moreover, the merit of being in conformity with what observation has shown us to be the destiny of the soul. According to this doctrine, the soul is independent of the body, which is only its temporary garment; its essence is spirituality; its normal life is the life of the spirit-world. The body is merely an instrument for the exercise of its faculties in connection with the material world; but, when separated from the body, it uses its faculties with greater freedom and wider scope.

11. The union of the soul with a material body, though necessary to its progress in the early stages of its development, only takes place during the period which may be termed its infancy and youth; when it has attained to a certain degree of purification and dematerialization, this union is no longer needed by the soul, which thenceforth continues to progress in spirit-life. However numerous may be the corporeal existences of the soul, those existences are necessarily limited to the life of its successive bodies; and the sum total of those existences only comprises in any case an imperceptible fraction of the life of the soul, which is without end.


12. That there are beings endowed with all the qualities commonly attributed to angels cannot be, for those who admit the existence and progress of the soul, a matter of doubt. The spiritist revelation confirms on this point the belief of all peoples; but it also shows us the nature and origin of those beings.

Souls, or spirits, are created simple and ignorant, that is to say, without knowledge and without the consciousness of good and evil, but with the aptitude of acquiring, in knowledge and in morality, all that they lack, and which they will acquire through effort and labor. The aim of their creation – which is the attainment of perfection – is the same for all; but they attain this aim more or less quickly, in virtue of their free will and in proportion to the amount of their personal effort. All souls have the same degrees to pass through, the same task to accomplish. God does not grant larger means or an easier task to some than to others, because all of them are God’s children, and because, being just, God has no preference for any of them. God says to them all: – “I have established a law that is to be your rule of action; it, alone, can lead you to the aim of your being. Whatever is in conformity with this law is good; whatever is contrary to this law is evil. You are free to obey this law or to violate it; and you will thus be the arbiters of your own fate.” It is not God who has created evil; all God’s laws tend to ensure the happiness of God’s creatures: it is human beings, themselves, who create evil by infringing the laws of God; if they scrupulously obeyed those laws, they would never deviate from the path of rectitude and of happiness.

13. But the soul, in the early phases of its existence, is like a child, lacking experience; it is, therefore, subject to error. God does not give the soul experience, but God gives it the means of acquiring experience; every false step taken by the soul on the road of evil, keeps it back; it undergoes the consequences of this delay, but it is by means of those consequences that it learns, at its own expense, what it must avoid. It is thus that, little by little, the soul acquires development, effects its own improvement, and advances in the spiritual hierarchy, until it has reached the state of fully purified Spirit or Angel. The angels, then, are the souls of human beings who have reached the highest degree of perfection attainable by created existences, and who have entered upon the full enjoyment of the felicity for which they were created. Before attaining to the supreme degree, they enjoy degrees of happiness proportioned to their degree of advancement, but their happiness is never that of idleness, as it consists in the functions to which they are called by the Almighty and which they rejoice to discharge, because the occupations of spirits are, for them, a means of progressing.42

14. The human race is not restricted to the Earth; it occupies the innumerable globes that revolve in space. It has occupied those that have already disappeared in the eternity of the past; it will occupy those that will come into existence in the eternity of the future. God has always created, creates incessantly, and will always continue to create. Consequently, long before the Earth existed, however ancient we may suppose it to be, other spirits had already been incarnated on other globes, had accomplished the same stages of development that we, spirits of a later formation, are now accomplishing, and had thus reached the supreme degree before we had issued from the hands of the Creator. From all eternity, therefore, there have always been “angels” or fully purified spirits; but, as the human phase of their development is lost in the night of ages, it seems to us as though they had always been “angels.”

15. Thus the grand law of the unity of the Creation is maintained inviolate. As God has never been inactive, there have always been fully-purified spirits who had already reached the “angelic” degree through trial, effort, and enlightenment, and had thus become fitted to transmit the volitions of the Almighty for the administration of every department of the universe, from the government of worlds to the management of the minutest details of their economy. There was, consequently, no need to create a class of privileged beings, exempted from the vicissitudes, necessities, and occupations imposed upon all the others; all the beings of the universe have won their respective grades through struggle and as the reward of their own merits; finally, all of them, from the oldest to the youngest, are the artisans of their own destiny. Thus is achieved the sovereign justice of God.

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