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.”