Part 4:
The Nature of the Angels
They were created in time, not from eternity; though any attempt to prove this statement is foredoomed to failure. This is one of those truths that are not material for proof but for belief; obviously, if the temporal beginning of the universe cannot be proved, the existence of any one thing in it cannot be dated with the stamp of eternity or time. Proceeding on faith's solid assurance of the temporal beginning of Angelic life, theologians have no hesitation about plunging into the question of the relative time of the production of the Angels: were they produced before, after, or simultaneously with the physical world? Again, reason cannot get very far. From the language of the definitions of the Church, and because they are such an integral part of the natural universe, St. Thomas concludes that the Angels were created together with the physical world. Here reason is left entirely to itself; walking alone in this territory, it rapidly loses its swagger, its voice sinks to the whisper of an opinion and, while the darkness endures, humility is no effort. Thomas' opinion is reasonable where decision is impossible; though he stands opposed to the Greek Fathers, he is not alone, for his opinion is the quite natural universal opinion of the Latin Fathers.

Their simplicity

Those superior intellectual substances which we call Angels do exist. What are they like? The picture that reason draws of them is necessarily negative. At least it is clear that they are not bulky giants whose great strength makes men look anemic. There can be no question of bulk in an Angel for there is nothing material in an Angel. Moreover the possibility of ever dissecting an Angel is precluded by the fact that they are without matter: there is no inside and outside, top and bottom, fore and aft, arms and legs to an Angel. This spiritual being, precisely because it is spiritual, is completely simple, utterly devoid of parts. In fact, an Angel has not even that essential composition of matter and form so universal in all of nature beneath the Angelic order; and this is no more than to insist again that these beings are spiritual, completely spiritual, altogether independent of the material. True, this conception comes hard to us because our minds are necessarily entangled in the material; as much as we agree that the Angels are spiritual substances, subsisting forms, the flavor of matter haunts our consideration of the Angels like a disembodied memory of a vague perfume. It is somewhat of a help to remember that the Angel's normal existence is like that of the soul of a man after death and before the resurrection of the body; though, of course, the human soul has a lonely incompleteness about it in this state which is altogether absent from the full life of the Angels.

Their incorruptibility

There is nothing in an Angel that might fall out, come loose, or be cut off. An Angel is totally incorruptible. Being completely simple, it cannot break up into parts; nothing of its nature can be lost for there is nothing composite about that nature. In simple terms, the Angel does not go through that dress rehearsal for death which we call a change; above all it does not have to play the leading role in the drama of death. Thomas, rightly, says that every change is a kind of death; for in every change some thing is lost, even though something is also gained.

Corruption, as we understand it, is the result of the separation of the principle of unity and life from the matter it unifies and vivifies. Obviously this implies at least the fundamental complexity of form, or unifying principle, and of matter. Looking at it in the concrete, we can destroy a fresco by scraping it off the wall or by tearing down the wall it beautifies; that is, either by destroying the thing itself or that upon which it depends. There is no chink in the armor of the angels into which we might plunge the lance of destruction. The Angel cannot be taken apart or erased; it cannot be destroyed by destroying that on which it depends, for it depends on nothing but God. God could, of course, destroy an Angel; not by a blow of an almighty fist or the roar of a thundering fiat, but by the simple recall of the loaned existence the angel enjoys. In common with every other creature, the Angel is not self-sufficient, its nature is not its existence; it lives by a borrowed, a participated existence. It too continues in being only because of the sustaining hand of God; there is no positive action necessary on the part of God to annihilate an Angel, merely the withdrawal of that conserving hand without which an Angel, and indeed a universe, falls into the nothingness from which it sprang.

They are agile and are often represented with wings to denote their swiftness. They can pass from place to place in the twinkling of an eye, without any intervening lapse of time. Their power and strength also are inconceivable. To sum up all their wonderful qualities, these bright spirits may be called pure and lustrous mirrors reflecting the infinite perfections of God.

The saintly Father Olier says that the Angels taken all together represent the Immensity of God by their unlimited number and variety, whilst each choir and each Angel in particular mirrors one of the divine attributes, such as God's love, His goodness, His strength, etc. Each Angel by the very fact of his creation and existence, must first adore, honor and love a particular Divine perfection; at the same time he is predestined to communicate to us something of that special character and grace with which he is endowed. "No two Angels are alike; no two are equal. God's perfections are But what is of paramount importance to us is that the holy angels seek in every possible way to share with us the immense ocean of love and happiness which they themselves enjoy. Their generosity knows no bounds. We have only to ask for their assistance and favors. Speaking of their ministry towards men, the Catechism declares, "To angels is committed by the Providence of God the office of guarding the human race and of protecting men from any serious harm." And Holy Writ confirms this statement: "He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." [Ps. 40: 12]

Unfortunately, far from corresponding with their efforts for our welfare we constantly impede them by our sins and imperfections. Were we to know them better and love them more, and were we more docile to their constant inspirations, our happiness would be unspeakably great. It may be said that the angels are passionate lovers of men. They never cease to do us good, neglecting nothing to secure for us the inheritance of glory which has been purchased for us by the Precious Blood of Jesus. It is indeed an indescribable joy for them when they are certain that the merits of the redemption through the Divine Blood of Christ will not be lost on the souls committed to their care.

As messengers of God and executors of His orders, the Angels exercise a great empire over our souls and bodies and over the material world.

Concerning the power of the Angels over the world, the Catechism of Perseverance teaches that "there are Angels who impart motion to it. Material creatures inert of their own nature, are set in motion by spiritual creatures, as our bodies are by our souls. Such is the strength of the Angels that one of them is sufficient to put the whole planetary system in motion and to carry the most enormous bodies wherever it desires with a rapidity that baffles all calculation." According to St. Augustine, there are Angels who preside over every visible thing and over each different species of creatures in the world, whether animate or inanimate. If God were to open our eyes and show us the Angels under sensible forms, what wonders we should discover! Let us consider that all the comfort and benefit we derive from earth, air, water and fire, from the heavens from animals-----in fact from every creature, comes to us through the agency of the holy Angels, who are God's faithful ministers.

St. Thomas incidentally gives us another proof of Angelic strength. He teaches that each great star, planet and sun, every heavenly body, even the greatest, has its own Guardian angel to keep it in its course and to prevent any possible aberration. What prodigious energy and power does not such control demand! It is true that the stars and heavenly bodies by the natural direction given them by God pursue their several courses; but these great worlds are material and, therefore, as the Angelic Doctor points out, are liable to decay and deterioration. To prevent disorder and confusion in the thousands of heavenly bodies whirling through space with inexpressible speed, God gives each one, in His all-wise Providence, an Angel to keep it in its course and avert the dire calamities that would result were it to stray from .its allotted orbit.

Few people think on this when on beautiful, starlit nights they gaze on the heavens and the myriads of stars. "The starry world," writes Father Faber, "is an overwhelming thing to think of . . . Mary's Son is the King of stars." How fitting it would be to salute the countless angels who guard these stars and who look down upon us with love and tenderness.

"Whenever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most gracious and holy Beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect are, as it were the skirts of their garments, the waving of the robes of those whose faces see God in Heaven." [Card. Newman]

But the special object of the Angels' care is the human race which they are appointed to guard. In the opinion of St. Clement, St. Gregory the Great, Origen and other holy writers, every country, every city, town and village, and even every parish and family has a special Guardian angel. Believing this firmly, St. Francis Xavier invoked the Guardian angel of every country and city in which he preached the Holy Gospel, and when he left one place to preach elsewhere, he never failed to commend to the protection of the holy Angels the new congregation he had won to the Faith.

So, too, altars, churches, dioceses and religious institutions have their own Guardian angels. Every church has special Angels to guard it from desecration and every altar has thousands of Angels to adore the God of heaven and earth concealed in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

According to the testimony of the learned historian, Baronius, Angels protected the churches of Constantinople and the palace of the Emperor against the attacks of the Arians. The same historian relates that when the Saxons entered a church dedicated to St. Boniface, they were repelled by two Angel-warriors, who appeared in wondrous beauty and strength.

Blessed Peter Faber, a renowned missionary of the Society of Jesus and the companion of St. Ignatius, its founder, brought many souls to God by his work of evangelization in Germany. While traveling through the diocese of his birth, he received innumerable consolations from the Guardian angels of several parishes. On repeated occasions he received most sensible proofs of their protection. Sometimes these holy Angels preserved him from the fury of heretics; at other times they rendered souls more mild and tractable to receive from him the doctrine of salvation.

Lastly they guard each one of us. "Every man has a Guardian angel appointed to enlighten, defend and guide him during the whole course of his mortal life. This consoling truth is, next after dogmas expressly defined, one of the best founded in Scripture and Tradition." Even pagans seemed to have retained something of the original Tradition on that subject and one of the earliest Greek poems contains this remarkable passage:

Upon the thickly-peopled earth,
In ever ceaseless flow,
Full thrice ten thousand deathless beings
Pass lightly to and fro.
Keepers, unseen, of mortal men,
In airy vesture dight,
Their good and evil deeds they scan,
Stern champions of the right.

Suffice it to say with Father Faber, that "all these marvels of the broad world of Angels belong to the empire of the Precious Blood. There is not a corner of God's creation, which is not more or less benefited by the Precious Blood." Let us then never cease to thank the Divine Blood with our whole hearts for all It means to Angels and men.