The Angels – Part One
Who are they; how do they differ from man,
and what is their purpose and eternal destiny?
In the first book of Genesis, we read: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” As we read further into the account of creation, we are told of all the living things that God placed on this earth: the birds in the air; the animals that roamed the land; and the creatures that lived in the sea. And then God created an intelligent being, one far superior to all the other creatures: He created man (mankind), and gave him dominion over all the earth.
But in the realm of created intelligent beings, man is not alone, for in addition to mankind, God created the angels, and heaven is their domain. And while they are quite different from us, for they are of a different nature, and far superior to man in most respects, both man and the angels were created to share in a common destiny – eternal happiness, in heaven – with God and with each other. So, let us now look at the difference between these two beings.
Man was created as the union of body and spirit, that is to say he has both a physical (material) component (the body) and a spiritual one (the soul). The soul is the life giving principle of the body, and once created, it will never die. For man, life begins at the moment of conception, when God creates and infuses the immortal soul into the fertilized egg in the woman’s womb. Now at the end of our lives, just the reverse takes place, death is the separation of body and soul. The body dies, but the soul lives on, until it is reunited with our resurrected body on the day of judgment.
Because of this body-spirit composition, man has two sets of properties. The properties of the body are the five senses: touch; taste; smell; sight and hearing, and the properties of the spirit are intellect: the ability to think and reason, and free will: the ability to make decisions and choices.
Angels on the other hand are pure spirits and have no body. It is true that they can assume physical form when necessary, as is evidenced by a number of scriptural references to them doing so, but that is not their normal state. Having no body, they, therefore, have no gender; they are neither male or female. They cannot reproduce themselves as the human race can, so their number was fixed at the time of their creation. Also, being without a body, they possess only the properties of intellect and free will, but to a degree far superior to that of man.
Unlike man who comes into this world as a helpless babe, and must gain knowledge as he grows into maturity, the angels were created in an instant with full knowledge of who they were and why they existed. Their purpose is the service of God, and next to Him, they are the most powerful beings in all creation. As pure spirits, they cannot die, just as the spiritual part of a human person (the soul) will never die.
Based on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas we know that the Angels were divided into three hierarchies of three orders each, for a total of nine distinct levels or “Choirs” as they are commonly referred to. The Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones belong to the first or highest hierarchy, while in the second, we find the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; and in the third, the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
The specific duties given to an angel is determined by where they are placed in this hierarchy. Traditionally they have assisted humanity in a variety of ways: escorting the dead to judgment, carrying prayers to heaven, acting as guardians and messengers to the living, acting as instruments of God's judgment, etc. Scripture is replete with accounts of angels assisting man. Perhaps the best known guardian angel of a country is the Angel of Portugal that appeared to the three children of Fatima prior to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s apparitions to those children in 1917.
As to when the angels were created, there are two schools of thought. St. Jerome, along with many Doctors of the Church believe that the creation of the angels took place before that of the physical world. Other theologians hold that the angels were created at the same time the world was made, but prior to the creation of man. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, stated:
“God, by His almighty power, created together in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were an intermediate creature, composed of body and spirit.”
Part Two - The fall of the angels.
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” ”Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.” Revelation 12: 7- 9, 4
In the beginning, it was the divine plan that all the angels, as well as all mankind would, at some point after their creation, be admitted to the fullness of knowledge and happiness which God had intended for them in heaven. But before they could be admitted to this joyous state, commonly known as the Beatific Vision, both angels and man had to undergo a certain period of probation so as to prove their love for God. At the end of this trial period the will of each, angel or man, would be forever fixed in whatever state they had chosen: immovably confirmed in grace and the love of God or obstinately hardened in evil and hatred of Him.
In the case of the angels, some of them, under the leadership of Lucifer, a Seraphim, rebelled against God. Lucifer and his rebel followers wanted to exalt themselves above God, and so it was their pride that was their downfall, In an address on this topic, given in the summer of 1986, Pope John Paul II said the following:
“The world of the pure spirits is divided into good angels and bad ones. And this division has happened precisely as a result of their freedom to choose. God was present to their intelligence and free will as the Supreme Good. He also wished to give them, through grace, a share in the mystery of His divinity. The good angels have chosen God. But the others . . . have turned against God and the revelation of His grace. Their decision was inspired by a false sense of self-sufficiency, and it emerges as hatred and rebellion against God”.
And so it was that Lucifer, a once shining member of the highest order of angels, fell like lightning from the heights of heaven into the depths of hell, and in doing so he took a third of the angels with him. These once beautiful creatures who had been destined for an eternity of unbelievable joy and happiness in heaven, had now, because of the malice of sin, condemned themselves to an eternity of unspeakable misery in hell. Most hideous in appearance, were we able to see them, and malevolent in nature, Satan and his demonic horde, their wills now forever fixed in opposition to God, fermented a raging hatred against Him and all His creation – especially man.
The fall of Lucifer