Will your dance partner be an angel in heaven? Wait! They dance?

Today, the universal Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels. One might think, “What does this have to do with the Theology of the Body?” I would suggest that it is incredibly important since it helps us understand our place in the celestial court.

I am sure that you are very familiar with the tradition of how the angels fell from heaven. That being said, if you would bear with me for a moment or two, I would like to toss out a few more considerations that will help us understand our dignity all the more.

Setting a Firm Foundation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all the angels were created at the same moment of creation with man being created in time and thus “sequentially” after the angelic realm:

The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirms that God “from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then (deinde) the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.” (CCC 327)

Tradition and St. Thomas also teaches us that all the angels were created at once with all the knowledge they need for eternity (Summa Theologica QQ 58.2).

In regards to supernatural knowledge, the angelic intellect is always in actuality as to what it beholds in the divine Word; it may be in potentiality with reference to special divine revelations that may be made to it.[1]

Keep this in mind since it will become important when we consider the consequences of the angelic fall.

Testing the Foundation

In order to get the story correct, I thought that the eminent theologian, Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.  should do the honors:

God first created intelligent beings, He has tested them all. Beginning with the angels, He is now testing us. First observation, the angels were not originally created in heaven, we speak using the words “the angels, some, fell from heaven,” but these words are not to be taken literally. No one who actually ever reaches heaven will lose the celestial beatitude. No less than we, the angels had to earn heaven. They possess what we would call sanctifying grace. Like us after being baptized, they possessed the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. But remember these are virtues to be used, they are graces to be cooperated with. The angels had to merit, or as defined in Latin, “earn,” they had to earn their eternal destiny.

What was the angels probation? We don’t know exactly how the angels were tried. However, it could only be on one of two conditions: Obedience to the God who created them and love of the God by whom and for whom they were made. And these two go together like condition and consequence. But the angels were to love God only in the measure they obeyed Him.

There are some who say that the trial which the angel was to experience was foretold them was news of a lower creature than the angels, namely man, was to be assumed by the Second Person of the Trinity, and they would have to adore this lower creature – God become man. St. Paul stresses the fact that God bypassed the angels and became man. Some were willing to adore this God-man and others were not.

Another explanation of what was the angelic probation was that, as we know, no two angels originally created with the gifts of their angelic nature, some lower, some higher. They were to love one another, be generous towards one another, practice acceptance of one another, in a word, they were to practice ‘angelic charity’. We are not sure what concretely and specifically was the test of the angels, we only know that not all passed the test and remained faithful.

And I will pick up from here…Scripture proclaims:

And a war broke out in Heaven and Michael with his angels attacked the dragon, the dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil, or satan who had deceived all the world, was hurled down the earth and his angels were hurled down with him. Then I heard a voice shout from the heavens, “Victory, power and empire forever has been won by our God and all the authority for his Christ. Know the persecutor who accused our brothers, day and night before God has been brought down. They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and through the witness of their martyrdom because even in the face of death they could not cling to life. Let the heaven’s rejoice and all who live there. But beware for you earth and sea, trouble is coming for the death devil is going down to you in a rage knowing his days are numbered. (Revelation 12:7-12)

For our purposes, we will stick with the more traditional of the theories (Word becoming flesh) because, well, that is frankly what we all were taught. This tradition seems to have developed from the Life of Adam and Eve.[2]

As we can infer, the infused knowledge given to the angels was not enough. Even with their superior intellects and reason, they still were unable to understand the wisdom of the incarnation. What is even more interesting to consider are the implications of the test and the angelic fall.

Firm Enough for a Dance

The first consideration may be stated as such: The angels who passed the test needed to be “redeemed” by Christ. I know it sounds a little crazy but the fact remains that their decision to yield to the mystery was aided through their cooperation with sanctifying grace. It was through the gift of faith, the Son becoming incarnate, that won them eternal beatitude. We usually consider the angels never needing the grace of redemption. In contrast to humanity, this grace was not to restore a fallen nature but a grace to prevent a fallen nature.

The second consideration is the fall of the angels in itself. Scripture shares that a third of the angels fell. We really have no idea if the “third” is meant to express a quantity or a way of saying a substantial number. What we do know is that “third” was vacated. Theologians continue to agree that the numeral “one third” is a mystery. So where did the third come from?

The Jews, in their apocryphal writings, latter inherited by the Fathers of the Church, describe heaven as an eternal dance around the throne of grace.[3] They go so far to even describe it as three sets of rings dancing in opposite directions around the Godhead.

We are familiar with this dance structure as it organizes the nine choirs  into three hierarchies: 1) Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones – those that govern things pertaining to heaven; 2) Dominations, Virtues and Powers – those that govern things pertaining to the material universe; and 3) Principalities, Archangels and Angels – those that govern things pertaining to human affairs.

While discussing the fall I would like to touch on a common fallacy. Demons are angels albeit fallen ones. The result of a glorified nature falling is not the destruction of the nature and its powers but the loss of its glory. A seraphim remains a seraphim with all of its natural powers of will and intellect – just devoid of the grace and light that made them resplendent.

 The third consideration is the most exciting. And here it comes…the Fathers of the Church taught that humanity is meant to fill the void and join in the eternal dance and song of the Lamb. I don’t know about you but that is waaaay cool.

In our homily today, the celebrant spoke of an additional reason why the Church in her third revision of the Roman Missal has corrected the Sanctus wording from “Lord God of power and might” to “Lord God of hosts.” He explained that the term Sabaoth or hosts, does not signify just the angels but mankind as well. The terms power and might tend to be descriptive of angels but the Church wanted to reinforce that our voices blend with the angels in the heavenly worship:

And, so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…[4]

A final consideration is more of a negative reality that we should remember. The anger of the demonic towards humanity is not just because the Son of Man entered into humanity nor that He chose not to be an angel. It is more than the fact that humanity is less than the angels by nature but the confusion that the Blessed Trinity may love “them” more. To add insult to injury, He gives their positions in the celestial court to mere humans. And yet, there is this mysterious attraction. The demonic loks to possess some of mankind. They hate humanity yet seem to want to “experience” matter.

Angelic T.O.B.

All of these considerations are to illustrate that our physical bodies, matter in theology. So much so, that a war broke out in heaven over our nature.  It was inconceivable to the devil that the Son of God would not become a seraphim like himself, much less an angel. Through this great travesty of pride and lack of trust, a third of the angels fell.

We are privileged to join the heavenly dance with those invisible guardians of ours. In the order of creation, the greater serves the lesser and thus our Lord has ordained the angels to assist humanity until we joim in on the eternal dance floor. Somehow, I missed that in religious education and school. We have much to learn from them.

May we honor the Archangels for their continual defense or our humanity and the glory they teach us to give the Lamb upon the Throne!

Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael…ora pro nobis!

 


[1] Paul J. Glenn, Tour of the Summa (St. Louis: Tan Books & Pub, 1978), 29.

[2] Life of Adam and Eve, 14.

[3] In particular, see Dionysius the Areopagite, Athenagoras, Irenaeus and Methodius.

[4] The Roman Missal, Internation Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation, 2010: Preface for the Solemnity of the Nativity, Christ the Light.

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2 Responses to Dancing with the Angels

  1. Pingback: The Q Continuum » Blog Archive » Feast of the Archangels

  2. Ben Trovato says:

    Fascinating post! I was particularly struck by this:

    " In contrast to humanity, this grace was not to restore a fallen nature but a grace to prevent a fallen nature."

    It seems to me that this is just the same as with Our Blessed Mother: she who was free from Original Sin and all actual sin, could still proclaim: 'My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.'

    Understanding how that applies to the Angels can help us to understand how she applied it to herself – and defend her honour against Protestants who use the Magnificat to suggest that she could not have been free from sin.