Part 6: Their Number and Variety
On the basis of their spiritual natures, we can speak of the Angels as we would of members of the same family, emphasizing common characteristics such as immateriality, simplicity and incorruptibility. That generic sameness must not, however, betray us into conceiving of the angels as indefinitely numerous facsimiles of the one model. There is as much difference between one Angel and another as there is between a horse and a man, for each Angel is a distinct species, complete and entire in itself. In other words, Angelic nature is not said of the Angels in the same way as human nature is said of men; we differ among ourselves only by individual differences, specifically all men are the same. In each Angelic species, on the contrary, there is only the one individual in whom the species is complete.
There is no point in a multiplication of individuals within an Angelic species. In material things, such multiplication is absolutely necessary to assure the continuation of the species, for the individuals, reaching their allotted term of existence, cease to be; in the Angelic order, the incorruptible nature of each Angel is itself a guarantee of the permanency of the species.
It might be argued that God's purpose in creating-----the mirroring of His Divine perfections-----is better served through the multiplication of individuals within a species. But; as a matter of fact, it is by the variance of the species that finite creation achieves some little likeness to the smile of Divinity, not through the material differentiation of individuals within the species.
With one exception, it is true that, throughout the created world, the individual is unimportant but for the part it plays in perpetuating the species. That exception is the world of man. There every individual is of supreme importance, for every individual is possessed of an eternally enduring soul, a soul that will outlast every other species in the material order. Really, the human exception is no exception at all. Throughout all of nature, it is the enduring, the permanent that is the object of nature's ceaseless care; because the individual's spark of life is so momentary a thing, it is unimportant in comparison with the constantly renewed existence of the species. It is on the basis of this identical principle that the human soul is so terribly important-----because it is not destined for the life of a moment, of a year or even of a century, but of all of an eternity. On the same grounds, men who see nothing spiritual, eternally enduring, in themselves arrive, with devastating logic, at the tragic conclusion that individual human life is a cheap, common, unimportant thing.
Even if there were some point in multiplying Angelic individuals within the one species, it could not be done. Let us say we are discontented with our human souls and decide to do something about it. If we remember that our soul, being spiritual, has no parts, we can readily understand that there can be no question of trimming rough spots or rounding off curves. That soul, like all forms in matter and like all substances in the spiritual order, is utterly simple; if we could induce any change whatsoever, however small, we would have changed the whole thing. We might have produced something very pleasing but we would have destroyed a man. Any slightest variation in a substantial form results in a substantial change; and the rational soul of man is precisely that substantial form by which he is differentiated from every other creature in the universe. The Angels are subsisting substantial forms; any slightest differentiation would not mean multiplication of individuals within a species, but a specific, a substantial change. There is, in fact, a possibility of multiplication within a species only when an essential element of that species can suffer modification that is not a substantial modification; or, in plain language, the principle of individuation can be found only in matter. The Angels are completely independent of matter.
The implication of this specific character of every Angel, taken in conjunction with the number of the Angels, is staggering. For their number is beyond all computation. The Sacred Scriptures hint at this in such passages by: "thousands of thousands [of Angels] ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him." It is right, eminently right, that the number of Angels should dwarf the number of all other created things. The beauty of creatures is an imperfect image of the beauty of God and the whole purpose of creation was to mirror in creatures something of that Divine beauty; the more perfect the creature, then, the greater the image, of Divine beauty; the Angels, as the most perfect of all created beings, are the most perfect image of Divine beauty. By their multiplication the Divine purpose in the universe is most effectively attained. Each Angel portrays an angle, a shadow of the Divine beauty, each much more distinct than the fragrance of the locust tree from the blossom of a cherry tree.
The white light of Divine beauty is only partly appreciated by us when it passes through the prism of creatures. There it is broken up into the thin rays of color which alone may seep through to our mind and senses. The terrifying numbers of the Angels give us some little idea of the streaming rays of beauty that pour from the world nearest Divine beauty, the world of the Angels.