The Holy Angels:
In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the children meet an old man, a star of the heavens at rest, awaiting his rejuvenation to take his “rising again … and once more ‘tread the great dance’. “In our world,” says a scientifically-minded child, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas”. The old man replies, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”
Thus Lewis neatly disposes of the narrow materialism of our age, its assumption we can account for the whole of reality in terms of atoms and molecules and can explain all human behavior simply in terms of evolutionary adaptation. Such reductionist accounts omit the very things that give meaning to existence and make it bearable: beauty and truth, love and justice. If morality is simply an evolutionary adaptation, then there is no moral order, and there can be no ethical obligation. “That is not what a star is but only what it is made of”.
In the Creed, we confess God as the creator of “all things visible and invisible” – a quotation of Colossians 1:16-17: “by [Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him”. God is Author not only of the material creation but of the spiritual, which consists of the living spiritual powers and principles by which the created order is governed. These have various names in Scripture (seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; dominions, virtues, powers, and principalities) – but they are most commonly known as “angels” (or archangels) from the Greek word for “messenger”, because they impart to men in words what they know directly of God and of his will. Their existence and activity is taken for granted in the Bible, and by Jewish and Christian writers of antiquity. An extended treatment of them was the work of the great angelologists of the Christian tradition, Dionysius the Areopagite, Augustine, Gregory the Great; and Thomas Aquinas. Though the Reformers sometimes reproved the older accounts for “speculation”, they acknowledged the important role of the angels in our redemption. Only in the modern materialistic world have the angels been reduced to saccharine sentimentality.
Scripture testifies that God created the angels (Ps. 148), and that their nature as created was unflawed in its goodness (Gen. 1:31). God moves the holy angels by love of his beauty, as Hooker says in language of remarkable intensity: “for beholding the face of God, in admiration of so great excellency they all adore him; and being rapt with the love of his beauty, they cleave inseparably for ever unto him. Desire to resemble him in goodness maketh them unweariable and even insatiable in their longing to do by all means all manner good unto all the creatures of God, but especially unto the children of men: in the countenance of whose nature, looking downward, they behold themselves beneath themselves; even as upward, in God, beneath whom they themselves are, they see that character which is now where but in themselves and us resembled”.
Having attained “that high perfection of bliss, [the holy angels] are without possibility of falling”. Not so the fallen angels more commonly called demons (after the pagan word for angels) or devils. They were not by nature evil; they became evil through their own choice. Scripture testifies to their fall (Rev. 12:7-9; Luke 10:18). Enraptured by his own created beauty, and forgetful of his dependence upon the Creator, Satan sought to make himself like God, and drew many others after him into his disobedience. The fall of the angels was pride (Isaiah 14:12-15), and in their fall, and in the awareness of the eternal chains that await them in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:17), their wrath breaks out in malice towards his creatures, and especially to the faithful in Christ (Rev. 12:7).
The story of the fall of the angels stirs the imagination and inspired literature like Milton’s Paradise Lost – but it is not a mere myth. Symbolic elements are there in the language of scripture, but what they symbolize is the structure of spiritual reality. The fall of the angels illuminates the nature of evil. Evil is no substance, as good is, it is not an ultimate reality, it exists only as a perversion of the good; and in the end it cannot prevail. God’s good and perfect will shall be done among men on earth as it is already done among the holy angels in heaven. To think otherwise is to open the door to despair. May Michael the Archangel defend us in battle, and be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil!
This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.
(Image: WikiArt.org, Altar of Archangel Michael by Gerard David)