Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


Psalm 90:11-12 "For 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."

Psalm 102:20 "Bless the Lord, all ye His angels: you that are mighty in strength,
and execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders."



From the very first Book of the Bible --

Genesis 3:24
And [God] cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

-- to the very last --

Apocalypse 22:1-5
And he [an angel] showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street thereof, and on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him. And they shall see his face: and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more: and they shall not need the light of the lamp, nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall enlighten them, and they shall reign for ever and ever. .

-- angels are present. In between Genesis and the Apocalypse of St. John, they are shown helping, guiding, teaching, revealing, and interceding for and punishing man in accordance with God's will. Cherubim guarded Eden after the Fall to ensure man could not re-enter it, and they later guarded the Ark of the Covenant. Angels appeared to Abraham, Agar (Hagar), Lot, and Gideon. Jacob dreamed of them climbing and descending a stairway to Heaven. The archangel Raphael travelled with Tobias. The archangel Gabriel taught Daniel and announced the birth of St. John the Baptist and Our Lord. An angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream, telling him that the Child Mary is carrying is of the Holy Ghost and will save His people from their sins. Another angelic dream ensured that St. Joseph fled with the Holy Family to Egypt before Herod carried out his Slaughter of the Innocents. Angels appeared to the shepherds to proclaim the birth of Jesus, stayed with Our Lord during His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, and announced His Resurrection to the women who came to annoint His Body with spices. It was an angel sent by Christ who pulled back the veil and revealed Heaven and the future to St. John the Evangelist, recorded in his Apocalypse -- and in that vision angels are seen implementing God's judgment, while other angels stand before the throne of the "Ancient of Days," adoring Him day and night. Who are these creatures? What are their powers? What are they like, and how are we to interact with them?

Everything but God is a creature 1 -- that is, the result of God's creative work. Only the Most Holy Trinity exists Uncreated and has existed since before time itself, since before "the beginning." Then, Immutable in His Divine Essence, complete in Himself and needing nothing, the Ancient of Days brought forth the created world ex nihilo -- out of nothing -- thereby starting the story that we are a part of.  Imagine it! There was nothing but Being Itself, Being Himself, and then the great I AM spoke into existence everything from willow trees to stars to dolphins!

Now, Moses tells us in Exodus 20:11 that "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them." From this we know that the angels, too, were created during those six days (whether those "days" were literal, 24-hour days or metaphorical isn't the point of this article). Futher, the angels were  created before the earth was made, as Job 38:1-7 speaks of how the "sons of God made a joyful melody" when the "corner stone" of the earth was laid. What must be believed, then, is that the angels were created by God, in time, and at some point before the creation of all other things. 2

So, before He created the natural world that we can readily see and touch and hear and taste, He created the praeternatural realm -- the realm inhabited by the creatures we call angels. They were created to adore God, implement His will, and to reveal His will to men. This last purpose is the origin of the very word "angel," which comes from the Greek "aggelos," meaning "messenger" ("malak" in Hebrew).

They are  beings without bodies like ours. The Fathers and Doctors disagree as to whether they are absolutely "pure spirit," like God, and so are completely bodiless, or whether they possess "subtle matter," 3 but in either case they can sometimes be seen, either because of the nature of subtle matter, if that is the case, or, as St. Thomas Aquinas believed, in the same sort of way that "air" can seem to "condense" to form clouds. 4

In either case, angels were created immortal, and with great power and intelligence -- an intelligence so great that angels are sometimes referred to as "intelligences." They are not omniscient, however, but according to St. Thomas Aquinas, God infuses them with knowledge according to their rank (see below). Neither can they read our minds, but God may reveal to them our secret thoughts -- and they are able to perceive the material world and to understand our thoughts by the things we do and the way we appear.  As an example, most of us are unable to read others' thoughts in some telepathic way, but we are quite able to see sadness in someone's face. Angels can do this, too, but are able to discern such things much better than we because of their astounding intelligence.
They are able to act on our imagination, senses, and the intellect, but not directly on our will.

They are able to affect the material world, too, just as you and I can, only with much more strength. Remember how, on Easter morning, it was two angels who rolled away the great rock that was placed in front of Our Lord's tomb by Joseph of Arimethea. The stone was so "very great" that the three women who went to the tomb were wondering how they could move it -- but they arrived to find it moved away, and a "man" sitting on it, with another "man" inside the tomb.

Mark 16:1-5
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun being now risen.And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And looking, they saw the stone rolled back. For it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished.

The appearance of these "men" was so awesome, that it struck the guards with terror:

Matthew 28:1-5

And in the end of the sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulchre. And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror, and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you; for I know that you seek Jesus Who was crucified.

Brilliant, powerful, awesome in appearance, and they are numerous, like the stars. Psalm 67 tells us how the "chariot of God is attended by ten thousands; thousands of them that rejoice." Daniel 7:9-10 describes God, the Ancient of Days, and how "thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him." St. John writes in his Apocalypse:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the living creatures, and the ancients; and the number of them was thousands of thousands.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Our Lord asks St. Peter when he drew his sword against the Roman soldier,

Thinkest thou that I cannot ask My Father, and He will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels?

At Holy Mass, we praise God by singing the Sanctus which refers to Him as "Důminus Deus SŠbaoth" ("Lord God of 'hosts'," meaning "multitudes" or "armies").

Yes, they are many. And there is an order to them in terms of rank. About these multitudes, Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote:

We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tell us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians [Ephesians 1:21] enumerates four orders when he says: "above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination"'; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: "whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers" [Colossians 1:16]. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels [St. Jude and 1 Thessalonians 4:15], Cherubim [Ezechiel 1, 10] and Seraphim [Isaias 6], we find nine Orders of Angels.

The nine orders or "choirs" of the angels in a table format so you can visualize it all more clearly:

1st triad

Angels, Archangels, and Principalities: concern themselves with the minute ordering of the universe and specific causes, including the welfare of people. Each human being, each church, and each country has a Guardian Angel. 
The 2nd triad Powers, Virtues and Dominions: known as the "angels of creation" because they concern themselves with the ordering of the universe and a plurality of causes.
3rd triad
Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim: concern themselves with contemplating the glory of God. To read descriptions of the Cherubim, see Ezechiel 1 and Apocalypse 4. It is the 6-winged Seraphim -- "The Burning Ones," aglow with Love for God -- who sing the Sanctus, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts" (Isaias 6:3).

A mnemonic you can use to remember the angelic orders in ascending order:
AN ARmy PRivate POker VIrtuoso DOminated THe CHampionship SEries


St. Hildegard von Bingen's drawing of the choirs of angels.
Click to enlarge.

Guardian Angels
It seems that when most people think of guardian angels, they think only of little children and the classic prayer they're taught to say just before getting tucked in at night:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love commits me here,
ever this night be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

But guardian angels are not a matter of pretty little "fairy godmother stories" we tell kids in order to comfort them and make them cozy. They're real. Quite real. Lord Christ Himself, when, speaking of the evil of spiritual pride, told His disciples that they must become like little children to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and said of children that "their angels in Heaven always see the Face of My Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 18:10).

No, guardian angels aren't just for children; each baptized person has one (theologians differ as to whether each human being, baptized or not, has one).
St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews that such angels are "ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14). Psalm 90:11-12 puts it very clearly, "For 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."

Think about it! Perhaps you're reading this late at night, alone in your room. The house is dark but for the room in which you're sitting. Alll is quiet aside from the occasional bark from a dog down the street. But even now, in the dark and quiet, you are not alone. You have a guardian angel with you, now -- right now -- protecting you, looking out for you -- and your angel not only sees you, but sees the Face of Our "Father Who is in Heaven."  Imagine the power of this Heavenly mediator! It's the job and happiness of each of us to develop a relationship with our angel, to honor, pray to, and rely on him. Daily prayer to your angel, expressions of gratitude, asking your angel to be with and protect you and pray for you are all very important.

Guardian Angel

Pope St. Leo the Great advised us to "confirmate amicitias cum sanctis angelis" ("Make friendships with the holy angels"), but we can also call on the Guardian Angels of others to watch over them, an especially important and beautiful thing for parents to do for their children, or for a family member to do for a loved one going through some sort of crisis. In a crisis, we can also request that our Guardian Angel give a message to the Guardian Angel of another, with the prayer that that message is relayed somehow to the other person and that some wholesome action follow.

The life of Padre Pio is filled with such stories. In one instance, a woman went to meet with him very late at night, but found his Capuchin church closed. She prayed to her Guardian Angel to alert Padre Pio's Guardian Angel that she needed to talk to him now, as her sister was in grave danger of death. Suddenly, Padre Pio appears at the window, yelling out, asking who it is who is calling him.

Once a California man who used to ask his Angel to send messages to Padre Pio was able to receive Penance from Padre. Afterward, he asked if Padre Pio actually heard his requests through his own Angel. Padre Pio responded with, "Do you think I am deaf?" -- and then proceeded to relate to the Californian the content of his messages.

Our angels are our "spirit guides," but care must be taken to not fall into occult practices while "making friendship" with them. With the rare exception of obviously gifted and saintly folks, such as Padre Pio, who did see his Angel, we're not to resort to human mediators who claim to see these spirits without strict spiritual guidance from a holy priest (one obvious clue: if the person isn't deeply Catholic and living a holy life, or if he is charging you money to bring you messages "from your angel," stay away!). We're not to deal with "channelers," to use ouija boards to commune with spirits, or employ any other occultic tools designed to put us in touch with the spirit world. Nor are we to give names to our angels. Keeping in mind our angels' existence, and simple prayer -- requests for guidance, protection, and help, and expressions of gratitude -- are all that's required, along with remembering the Feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2. The attitude to have toward our Guardian Angels was described by Padre Pio to one of his spiritual daughters, Raffaelina, in 1914:
O Raffaelina, how consoling it is to know that we are always under the protection of a heavenly spirit, who never abandons us, not even (most admirable fact!) in the very act by which we displease God! How sweet this great truth is for the believing soul! What can the devout soul fear that is diligent in loving Jesus, and that always has such a distinguished fighter present by its side? Oh, was he not perchance among those many who, together with St. Michael the Angel there in the empyreal heights defended the honor of God against Satan and all the other rebellious spirits, finally reducing them to perdition and casting them into hell?

Well then, know that he is still powerful against Satan and his satellites. His charity has not grown less, nor will it ever fail to protect us. Form the beautiful habit of thinking about him always. How close to us stands one of the celestial spirits, who from the cradle to the grave never leaves us for an instant. He guides us, he protects us like a friend, like a brother. This ought to be, moreover, a constant consolation for us, especially in our saddest hours.

Know, O Raffaelina, that this good angel prays for you: he offers to God all your good works that you accomplish, as well as your holy and pure desires. In the hours in which you seem to be alone and abandoned, do not complain about not having a soul-mate to whom you can open (your heart) and to whom you can confide your sorrows: - for the love of God, do not forget this invisible companion who is always present to listen to you and always ready to console you.

O delightful intimacy, O blessed companionship! Oh, if only all men knew how to understand and appreciate this very great gift that God, in the excess of His love for men, has assigned to us this celestial spirit! Recall frequently his presence: you ought to fix your mind's eye upon him. Thank him, pray to him. He is so finely mannered, so discreet: respect him. Have continual fear lest you offend the purity of his gaze.

Invoke frequently your Guardian Angel, this benefactor angel. Repeat often the beautiful prayer: "Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom the heavenly Father's bounty entrusts me here; enlighten me, guard me, guide me now and forever." How great, my dear Raffaelina, will be the consolation, when, at the hour of death, your soul will see this angel, who is so good, who has accompanied you throughout your life, who was so ample in his maternal care! Oh that this sweet thought may make you, may render you continually more fond of the Cross of Jesus! This is namely what your good angel desires! May the desire to see this inseparable companion of your entire life enkindle in you that charity which moves you to desire soon to leave the body.

  Note that we honor our Guardian Angels liturgically on the Feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2.

The Seven Archangels

Special mention must be made of the angels known as "the seven Archangels," but who are actually seraphim in terms of their rank. They're called "archangels" informally and in the sense that the prefix "arch" means "above." We know there are seven of them because of Tobias 12:15: "For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord." Three of their names are given in Scripture:

  • Michael (mentioned in Daniel, Epistle of St. Jude, Apocalypse of St. John), whose name means "Who is like unto God" and whose Feast, Michaelmas, is September 29. He is the one we call on most in our fight against evil, especially with the Prayer to St. Michael. He is pictured with a sword in hand, fighting Satan, or often holding the scales of Justice, weighing souls. He is our angelic fighter.
  • Gabriel (mentioned in Daniel and Luke), whose name means "Strength of God" and whose Feast is March 24, the day before "Lady Day" (the Feast of the Annunciation). Gabriel is the one who approached Our Lady to tell her she will bear the Son of God. He's most often depicted in art standing before her, often holding a lily. He is our angelic messenger.
  • Raphael (mentioned in Tobias), whose name means "Medicine of God" and whose Feast is October 24. He is described in the book of Tobias as the one who helps Tobias (aka "Tobit") catch a fish, and prepare a salve from it which healed Tobias's father's theretofore blind eyes. He's often shown holding a fish and/or accompanied by a dog. He is our angelic healer.

The three archangels mentioned in Scripture

The three Scriptural Archangels: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel


The apocryphal Book of Enoch lists not only the Scriptural archangels, but the other four, and names them thus:

  • Uriel (chapters IX, X, XIX, XXI, XXVII, LXXIX, LXXX)
  • Raguel (chapters XX, XXIII)
  • Sariel or Saraq‚Íl (chapter XX)
  • Jeramiel or Remiel (chapter XX)
The twentieth chapter of the Book of Enoch describes all of the archangels like this:

1. And these are the names of the holy angels who watch. 2. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and over Tartarus. 3. Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men. 4. Raguel, one of the holy angels who takes vengeance on the world of the luminaries. 5. Michael, one of the holy angels, to wit, he that is set over the best part of mankind and over chaos. 6. Saraq‚Íl, one of the holy angels, who is set over the spirits, who sin in the spirit. 7. Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who is over Paradise and the serpents and the Cherubim. 8. Remiel, one of the holy angels, whom God set over those who rise.

Of these archangels, it is St. Michael who typically plays the largest role in the lives of Catholics. He, along with our Guardian Angels, is the one we call on when dealing with temptation and evil. He's God's soldier, and because we belong to God, he is our soldier, too. Much more will be spoken of him in the section on spiritual warfare.

Not all of God's angels are good, however. Some rebelled against their Creator and are now committed to taking with them to Hell as many souls as they can.

1 In modern English, we tend to think of the word "creature" as pertaining to "living things," but traditional use of the word refers simply to anything that is created. This is why you will hear, for ex., in the exorcism of salt, a reference to "creature salt" or, in the blessing of holy water, to "creature water."

2 For St. Augustine's thoughts on when the angels were created, see Book XI, Chapter IX of his "City of God." 

3 St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics that followed taught that angels are pure spirit and not corporeal in any way. The earlier, more Platonic belief of most of the Church Fathers is that only God is pure Spirit, and that, though angels are not corporeal in the way that we are, they are, in a limited sense, "corporeal" in that they are made, in part, of "subtle matter" which is unlike matter in the physical world. Most Catholics tend to believe that angels are totally incorporeal, a belief that stems from the fact that this is what was taught in the good ole "Penny Catechisms" of better times, but a Catholic may believe that angels possess subtle matter. 

4 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-I-51-2: "Although air as long as it is in a state of rarefaction has neither shape nor color, yet when condensed it can both be shaped and colored as appears in the clouds. Even so the angels assume bodies of air, condensing it by the Divine power in so far as is needful for forming the assumed body." 

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