The Angels and the Ages
Walter Farrell, O.P.
A Companion to the Summa, Volume 1
Testimony of Philosophy
As history grew up and began to scribble its account in the copy book that will never be filled, it found the world positively crowded with beings exhibiting these same Angelic characteristics, beings who bore the names of spirits or demi-gods. The richness of Greek and Roman mythologies, to give just one instance, is evidence of this among the people themselves and in the literary expression of this popular attitude. Lest this be discounted on the grounds of popular ignorance, it might be well to notice that the philosophers did not escape this universal belief. Thales and Pythagoras placed them in the vestibule of the Divine world; Socrates talked familiarly with one of them; Plato and his disciples filled the world with separated intelligences or secondary gods; to Aristotle they were the movers of the heavenly bodies. Indeed the Angels are not newcomers to the world of men.
Testimony of History
Putting the popular accounts, mythology and philosophy to one side and coming to strict history, we find the most thoroughly authenticated and extrinsically corroborated of historical books-----the Bible-----parading the Angels across almost every page. It was an Angel that stayed the hand of Abraham, that slew the first-born of Egypt, that led the way to the Maccabean victories; the Angel's message was a little too much for the aging Zachary but not for the maid of Galilee or her trusting husband; God Himself stooped to Angelic comfort after the long days of desert fast and the long hours of Gethsemane's agony. Down through the centuries, the lives of the Saints, not to be sniffed at even by the most historical of noses, have not found room enough for all the Angelic details; nor were their writers seriously disturbed, knowing full well there would be all of Heaven's eternity to listen to the full account.Universality of Belief in Angels:
Testimony of Men
If a Christian must have his Angels, then he must stand off to one side of the modern world, in a sense sharing the banishment of the Angels, isolated. Yet, strangely enough, it is only in these last few centuries that an Angel was made to feel like an outsider or the believer in Angels to feel naively credulous. The anthropological findings on primitive man certainly indicate that an Angel would have been taken for granted in the days of pre-history, at the very beginnings of human life. The belief in beings, superior to man and matter but inferior to God, was then almost universal. Sometimes these spirits were good, sometimes they were bad: at different times they were identified as belonging to a river, a tree, a rock, an animal. But their essential characteristics of immateriality, their superiority to man and inferiority to God, crop up as constant factors.
Explanation of This
It is not the Angels who are lonely in the world of men; rather it is the age that banishes the Angels that finds itself a stranger among its fellows who have harbored human life. Such universal belief deserves better than to be treated contemptuously; surely it is too huge a thing to be cast off like a shawl by a shrug of the shoulders. At the very least, it deserves some examination, and considerable explanation. From the Catholic's point of view, the view of faith, a quite obvious explanation is primitive revelation; an explanation, by the way, that has many a likely looking corroboration in the folklore of primitive peoples with its accounts of a virgin birth, a creation, a flood and so on. This is one way of knowing about the Angels, indeed one of the very best ways of knowing about anything-----being told by the first truth Who can neither deceive nor be deceived and Who is the first cause of everything.
Putting aside the question of a primitive revelation, there are many facts pointing plainly to the existence of the Angels. To the medieval mind, with its solid Catholic outlook on all of life, even Angelic life, there was no particular difficulty connected with such things as Peter's release from prison or the collapse of the chains that had bound him: nor with the case of Peter of Verona whose lonely cell was flooded by brilliant light long before the days of electricity and voices were heard talking to him as he prayed alone in his cell. Quite obviously the Angels were responsible for these things. When one of the brethren was obsessed by the devil, it was not necessarily an epileptic fit nor congenital insanity; for after all there were devils and the fact remained that the afflicted one was returned to perfect normalcy through an ecclesiastical exorcism.
There is at least a suspicion creeping into the cynical modern mind that there is more to the world than bodies, more to thought than measurement, more to activity than the bouncing of electrons. A long established psychical research laboratory in London, and a like institute in Boston, frankly admit numerous examples of things that defy explanation on the grounds of a materialistic philosophy. Indeed some modern scientists have been so overwhelmed by these phenomena as to go to ridiculous lengths of childish credulity in originating a cult that has often been a rich harvest field for knaves and tricksters.
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