THE ROLE OF THE ANGELS
The heavenly movers of the material world
THE modern rejection of the idea of angelic activity in the material world is a fact that need not be argued, least of all to the moderns. They are rather proud of it as evidence of the happy transition of the world from infancy to maturity, putting away poetic and mythical notions to subsist on the solid meat of facts. In reality, this denial of angelic activity is not due to the world’s having grown up so much as it is to the world getting childish.
A modern denial
It is expected that a child will take a fable as a fact and miss the moral it makes, so the moral is carefully pointed out at the fable’s end. Just so some delightful phantasy is taken seriously today and ridiculed; a Christmas card portraying tiny angels going about with tapers to light the stars or playing violins to put music in the wind is smiled at as a pitiful relic of a superstition that is long in dying. As a matter of fact, no one seriously supposes that the stars are like street lamps to be lit at night and extinguished in the morning by sleepy or yawning angels, nor that music is injected into the wind by a kind of super-broadcasting station; even if some men did harbor these fantastic notions, they would not be nearly so close to madness as those who suppose the light came from darkness and the wind from a vacuum. The phantasies, however, are not philosophical expositions or theological tracts; they are phantasies, beautiful phantasies that a normal child is quick to appreciate.
More often this denial of angelic activity is not so much a matter of conviction as of aversion, like a child’s fight against an afternoon nap because it interrupts his play. This modern rejection is not a result of a conviction of the impossibility of the supernatural (absurd as such a conviction may be) but of an aversion to the suprasensible because it interrupts the game of exclusive concentration on the glitter of the sensible world. In speaking of the angels and angelic activity as such, there is never a question of the supernatural, for the angels, as created substances, are part and parcel of the natural order; but there is always question of the suprasensible, for the angels are pure intelligences, devoid of all corporal qualities and characteristics. It is precisely because of this suprasensible character of theirs that the angels have fallen out of favor with the modern world. A suprasensible creature automatically puts a limitation on man’s engrossment with the sensible world, it puts a stop to his childish pretense of having everything in his hands to make or unmake at his scientific hat. As soon as an angel comes in, man has to stop playing God; and he likes to play God.
It was just this absolute devotion to the game of materialism that turned modern philosophy so sharply away from the intellect and that now leaves that philosophy high and dry as neither philosophy nor science but only anti intellectual.
An historical affirmation
Historically, this modern position is an infant in arms. Angelic movers of the universe immediately found their place in Oriental philosophy; Plato placed a spiritual substance over every corporal thing as an integral part of his doctrine of self-subsistent ideas; Aristotle, while disagreeing with the Platonic doctrine of separated forms, admitted the angelic presidency over the material world, though he restricted it to the more universal agents of the corporal world, the heavenly bodies. The Arabic philosophers, with Avicenna, held to the Platonic teaching but made those spiritual substances a conglomerate whole which was called the active intellect. The Fathers of the Church and the scholastics placed different corporal substances under the presidency of different angels, not because of any peculiar affinity in the angels, but because of a definite orderly arrangement on the part of divine providence. But all retained the central notion of spiritual activity in a material universe. It was when the modern world went back to the childhood of Greek philosophy with the re-birth of materialism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that all activity was centered in the material world itself; all existence, all life, all being were centered in the material world when that philosophy reached the full flower it is enjoying today.
The fact of angelic activity in the world: Its proof
The angelic activity in the material world is stated plainly in Holy Scripture; to take just one instance, when the travelling eunuch had been baptized, Philip was moved across the country with the easy speed with which a man’s mind moves from one thought to another. As a matter of fact, this state of affairs is eminently reasonable, indeed, it is demanded by the order of things all about us. In the political world we insist that particular power be ruled and directed by the universal so we carefully distinguish the gradually mounting powers of cities, counties, states and federal government. The idea was not a brilliant inspiration unheard of before in the universe; it was merely another case of man’s genius copying the artistry of nature. In the physical world the particularity of a form is a declaration of its subjection: minerals are subject to plants by reason of the plant’s power to assimilate other forms to their destruction; the plants bow to animals which can assimilate forms by particular knowledge; all physical nature is beneath the dominion of intellect and its power to assimilate all forms.
Every material form is, by the fact of its materiality, particular, limited to the here and now while the angelic forms are universal precisely because they are free of matter. Just as in the material universe the less particular directs and administers the more particular, so the universal spiritual forms should direct the determined and particular forms of material creation. In fact, such administration on the part of the angels seems to be demanded by the effects which, in an earlier chapter, we have called accidents, that is, the effects that are not the direct result of any one material cause but that come by way of surprise from the clash of material causes. In other words, there are things happening in the material world not wholly explicable by material causes alone; and this is particularly evident when we keep in mind the universality of the order in that material world.
Its consonance with the dignity of material causes
This does not mean that the angel’s equipment for government includes an Aladdin’s lamp. An angel cannot change a horse into a cow by a wave of a wand, or by a wave of anything else; in fact, an angel of itself cannot produce a single material composite, not a tree, a rock or an animal. The information of matter by its form is not an angel’s work; that belongs to the material causes or to God Himself. We can think ourselves into a fit of sickness, or drive ourselves on by will power long after the point of exhaustion; but an angel can do no such thing to the material world. The difference is that our soul is immediately united to matter as the form of matter; the angels have no such connection with matter and so have no means of effecting a formal, intrinsic change. What changes they can produce in matter must be made from the outside, by extrinsic causality.
Of course, they can produce some changes in matter. After all, the superior has all the power of the inferior; if a bird can charm a man or a shark can take off his leg, these things are not to be denied to an angel. Indeed, the angel, being superior, has the power of all beneath him in a superior way; he will move corporal agents more smoothly, more efficiently, more powerfully than any material cause. There is no real reason for surprise when the angel produces effects with a material cause that the material agents themselves could never produce; we are not particularly surprised that a cooks working with such clumsy materials as a fire, a barnyard fowl and some stale bread, can produce a beautifully browned roast chicken stuffed with dressing, though we know well enough that the fire, the chicken and the bread could never achieve such perfection left to themselves.
The angels can move bodies with a corporal movement; nor should this have to be argued very seriously. We grant the power to a bull, particularly if the matador is a little slow or clumsy, and surely an angel is superior to a bull. lt is inconceivable that a bull should toss an angel, but quite within the realm of possibility that an angel should toss the bull. Really, this angelic movement of bodies is just another case of the beautifully interlocking hierarchy of being in which the lower, in its supreme activity, touches the higher order. For local movement, as we have seen in considering the grades of life, is the supreme activity of a purely material composite and the activity which should naturally be immediately subject to a higher, a spiritual, nature.
What difficulty there is in this truth is a difficulty of imagination rather than of conception. We can easily understand men throwing a ball with their hands or bumping into doors with their noses; but the activity of the angels in regard to such things seems not so easily grasped. It seems a distinct disadvantage to lack a body, particularly in a game like baseball or football. The difficulty arises from our insistence on carrying over the imagery of human activity into the world of the angels. We argue that because a man cannot throw a ball without hands, of course an angel is just as helpless. The fact is that a body limits and contracts the activity of a spiritual substance rather than aids it; because of its union with the body as its form, our human soul cannot move other bodies except through its own body. The angel, not suffering this limitation to a particular body, can move other bodies freely, without the use of a corporal medium; the very absence of a corporal medium makes it impossible for us to draw imaginative pictures of the process, such as an angel getting set for a blow or swinging in a graceful arc before hurling a ball.
It must be constantly insisted that this angelic activity is within the natural order. It in no way conflicts with nature or the causality of secondary material causes; it is itself a part of nature and a secondary cause. The one thing it does to material causes is to make their operation more perfect through union with a higher cause.
It is completely certain that the angels, of themselves, work no miracles; that is God’s proper field, for a miracle must exceed the whole order of nature. They do things that may seem wonderful indeed to a particular material cause; but then it would seem wonderful to a stone, could a stone enjoy wonder, that so small a boy could impart On it the preternatural gift of flying through the air.
Angelic action in the world of men: Indirect action: on the intellect and will
Coming to the world of men, it should be immediately apparent that an angel can no more pour knowledge into a human brain than can a human professor; for the intellect is one of those intrinsic accidents, inhering directly in the substance of the soul, that no created agent can get at directly, either to read the thought hidden there or to put new thoughts alongside the old ones. If a man wants his guardian angel to know what he is thinking, he must speak out; not even an angel can read one’s thoughts.
Direct action: on the sense faculties
Angels can, of course, teach men in somewhat the same way in which they illuminate inferior angels. The process, however, is not exactly the same. There must be the same comforting or strengthening of the intellect and the cutting of the angelic concept to fit the inferior mind; but this is not quite enough. The human intellect cannot digest raw intellectuality. Its natural way of knowing is by abstracting the idea from the sensible image or phantasm; the angelic idea must be given a coating of the sensible before it can be swallowed by the human mind. It is not necessary that we know an angel has enlightened us for the fact to have taken place: though we must, of course, realize that we have a new idea. Much the same thing happens in human affairs and we think nothing of it; how many employees have dropped a thought on the boss’s brain, then sat back patiently waiting, letting the idea sink in to such a depth that the boss will take it for his own and push it to the limit. Many of the good thoughts we have, the inspirations, resolutions, hopes, kindnesses are not the result of our innate goodness but of the patient labor of a teaching angel, thanklessly repeating the lesson over and over again.
Relation to human dignity, self-sufficiency and freedom
Our will is no less sacrosanct than our intellect. No natural agent, angels included, can force that will to action or move it directly. What is done with a will is done indirectly: coaxing, presenting lovable objects, desirable actions, threatening it, as we wheedle a child with a piece of cake or frighten a criminal with the threat of the electric chair.
The dreams that warned Joseph against Herod were quite ordinary operations of an angel. Not that all dreams are angelic in source or material; but it should not be hard to see that the angels have the power to impress images upon our imagination or to present our senses with external stimuli. We can hurry, shivering, into a theatre in the dead of winter only to have the blistering summer day pictured on the stage so affect our imagination that the air seems sultry and perspiration pours from us. A fairly moderate stomach-ache can start our imagination off on the most woeful series of images; a single buzz of a mosquito is sufficient for us to imagine whole chunks of our legs being bitten off. If the necessarily clumsy make-believe of the stage, a bodily indisposition, or the faint stirring of one of our senses can so vividly affect the imagination, we can be very sure that the angels can do a better job with it.
Both the senses and the imagination are corporal, organic faculties, powers we have in common with the animals and so, of course, under the presidency of the spiritual world, open to spiritual activity. The exercise of angelic activity in these fields demands nothing extraordinary on the part of the angels; if they can move material things locally, they can stimulate our senses and imagination. Unlike the intellect and will, our senses and imagination can be got at from the outside.
Angelic ministers to the material world
Nor is this angelic activity in the world of men an affront to our self-sufficiency, our dignity or freedom any more than the activity of a professor is an infringement on the dignity or freedom of his students. Rather, it opens up a much greater field to human minds, strengthening and uplifting them; this activity is a perfection of human nature within the purely natural field which human nature of itself could not attain.
Assisting and ministering angels
Place of superior angels
While there is no work to be done in the material world so great that the least of the angels could not take care of it, there is an orderly distribution of angelic activity according to divine providence that leaves the first hierarchy of angels exclusively engaged in the courts of heaven. St. Thomas makes the comparison with the regime of a temporal kingdom in which not all of the counselors of the king are ambassadors, some remaining permanently at the court as participants of the secrets and counsels of the king, others receive the royal commands and plans and pass them on to the actual messengers.
Limitation of ministering angels
In the court of heaven, the highest hierarchy (Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones) are members of the divine household whose whole activity is centered on the divinity itself. The first choir of the second hierarchy (Dominions) serve as the medium between the heavenly court and its messengers; while the last two choirs of the second hierarchy (Virtues and Powers) and the third hierarchy (Principalities, Archangels, Angels) have the actual administration of the material world. From the supernatural point of view, inasmuch as all enjoy the beatific vision, all the angels are said to be assisting angels, assisting at the throne of God; but from the natural point of view, the first four choirs (Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions) are assisting angels; the last five (Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels) are administering angels. Of the two groups, the assisting angels are far more numerous, a conclusion reached on the grounds that what is more perfect in the world, what is more directly and fully an image of divine perfection, is more directly the intent of nature and nature’s author. Just as there are many more angels than there are corporal species, so there are many more of the higher angels than of the lower.
The role of angels in the world of men:
Of the good angels — guardianship
The particular role of the good angels relative to the world of men is one of guardianship. This may sound a little insulting to the adult human for it implies protections direction, inspiration, comfort and encouragement. Why should all this be necessary? Isn’t man able to take care of himself; why treat him like an infant?
Subject of this guardianship
The assignation of guardian angels to men, a fact completely certain from abundant places in Holy Scripture, is not a peculiar exception for the case of men by way of precaution against their infantile debility; it is merely an insistence on man’s integral place in a perfectly ordered universe. In that universe, the lower is ruled and regulated by the higher, the movable and variable by the immovable and invariable, the lower material things by the higher material things, the corporal by the spiritual. Certainly man, through his free will, can avoid evil but not perfcctly as the constant victory of passion eloquently testifies so also the universal knowledge of the natural law can guide man to good, but the application of that law to particular cases gives man too frequent an occasion for a bad mistake. In spite of the help that comes directly from God, the help of grace and the virtues, there is plenty of room for the work of the angels in the practical perfection and application of these virtues. There is no need for pride stiffening our necks at the mention of guardianship; look at the human record.
Dignity and distribution of the guardians
Angelic guardianship is not limited to a group, a class or a race; it extends to every individual human being. If we find it hard to believe the extravagance of divine generosity in delegating a heavenly prince to every human being, it is principally because we so consistently underestimate the dignity of the human individual in the scheme of the universe and the plans of the divine architect. On the same grounds, the crucified Son of God was a stumbling block to the Gentiles.
In the material world, divine providence, while extending to the smallest details, evidently intends and extends particular care to that which is enduring. Thus, for example, we see the extraordinary precautions taken by nature to preserve the species and its seeming carelessness towards the individual when it has a spawning fish lay millions of eggs that a few might come to maturity. The human individual, from the point of view of perpetuity or endurance, rates higher than any material species; for his rational soul is by nature destined to an eternal existence. The enduring individual of the human species is the particular care of divine providence, a care which ex presses itself with at least the same emphasis as is given to the material species. Tile individual human being has a particular guardian angel because he is immensely important in the plans of the divine architect.
As a matter of fact, there is probably no man who does not have the help of more than one of these guardian angels because there is no man who is not a part of some larger body, some social organism. As these social organisms, like the laws that govern them, are of their nature perpetual, they have their own guardians; there is an angel guardian of a kingdom, a state, of a city, perhaps even of a diocese, a parish, a religious order or a monastery.
The angelic guardians of individual men are drawn from the lowest choir of the third hierarchy, the choir of the angels. Each angel, of. course, differs from all others as much as a stone differs From a tree; for there is the gap of species between them. Within the choir which furnishes guardians for men there is the same graded order of perfection that is to be found in the whole universe; and that graded order is made use of in the actual assignment of guardianship. The more perfect angel is given the greater work, thus preserving the proportion between the perfection of nature and the perfection of function; for example, the more perfect angels are given as guardians to those men from whom more is demanded in the line of spiritual perfection, such as the saints, of intellectual labors, as the men of genius, of work for the common good, as statesmen, and so on. Where the object to be guarded is more universal, the guardian angel chosen is of a higher choir; so, going up the list of city, state, kingdom and so on, we pass up the line of the angelic choirs destined to guard the world of men.
Coming down to particular cases, St. Thomas denies that Christ had a guardian angel because He was, from the very beginning of His life, in possession of the beatific vision; and it is the work of a guardian angel to lead men to that vision which constitutes their eternal happiness, so the individual man has no guardian angel in heaven or in hell, but rather a companion reigning with him in heaven, or a persecutor punishing him in hell. Christ rather had an angel ministering to Him than a guardian protecting him. Man in the garden of Eden had a real need of a guardian angel, even though he could suffer no danger from the rebellion of his sensitive nature or from the material world in which he lived. As the event proved, there was always the supreme danger of attack from the devil. The infidels, the thoroughly wicked, even anti-Christ himself will have guardian angels, as follows from the general ordering of the universe and of men. Nor is this guardianship in vain; without it, these men would be very much worse. In fact, the loss of a guarded soul is not to be laid to negligence on the part of the guardian angel but to the wickedness of the individual soul which is always free to plunge itself into hell.
The guardianship of the individual soul begins, in the opinion of St. Thomas, at the moment of birth, not at the moment of conception. While it is true that the child in the womb is certainly possessed of human nature, it so intimately belongs to the mother as to be almost a part of her, as the fruit is a part of the tree; during that time, the child is guarded by the guardian angel of the mother, not by its own guardian. Beginning at the moment of birth, that guardianship continues up to the moment of death when human nature is disintegrated by the separation of the body and soul. At no time during the span of human life is a man deserted by his guardian angel, at no time is he without the protection of that heavenly prince. No matter what he does with his life, no man suffers the loss of that unrelaxed vigilance and untiring patience of his angel.
Effects on the guardian
How does the angel feel about it ally Would it not be entirely reasonable if the angel of a first class sinner were to throw up the whole job in disgust? At least the angel would seem to be entitled to a little disappointment or even chagrin at the total waste of his magnificent efforts. As a matter of fact, the angel’s peace of mind and happiness in no way depends upon the activities of man; it is not wearing its heart on its sleeve, that heart has been given to God. The guardian angel is in possession of eternal beatitude and so impregnably protected from all sorrow; its will is in perfect accord with the divine will so that whether man follows the order of merit to an eternal reward or the order of justice to eternal punishment, he cannot cause sorrow to an angel by stirring up a conflict between God and His messenger. There is, however, a real possibility of conflict between the guardian angels of different individuals or of different principalities, as for instance, in the case of war, when the aims or needs of these different subjects of guardianship are diametrically opposed. Here again the conflict is more apparent than real and certainly cannot result in bitterness between the angels involved. Both angels are perfectly united to God, in complete harmony with His divine will and, of course, that divine will is in harmony with itself; the conflict comes from an incomplete knowledge of the divine plans and ceases as soon as those plans are revealed. The angels know this; during the interval preceding such a revelation, they do not sever diplomatic relations, refuse to speak to each other, or contaminate the air with nasty innuendoes. Each does his utmost at his own task, satisfied to be fulfilling the task assigned by the divine Master.
This doctrine of the guardian angels is by no means merely a popular sentiment in the Church, as Calvin thought. The fact of guardianship is absolutely certain and of faith from the Scriptures themselves. That every one of the faithful has his particular guardian angel is quite clear from Holy Scripture and is the universal doctrine of the Fathers of the Church. That not only everyone of the faithful but every human being has his own guardian angel is the common teaching of the Doctors of the Church; that every kingdom, province and city has its own angel seems quite clear from Scripture. St. Thomas thinks that public persons, destined to work for the common good, have another angel commissioned as guardian for these specifically public works. That every parish, order, monastery and so on has its own angel is a probable opinion that seems to follow immediately from the principles behind the general guardianship of the angels.
Of the devils — attack
Besides the good angels there are also fallen angels; which fact would immediately lead one to suspect that angelic activity in the material world is not exclusively of a beneficent nature. These devils harbor no love either for God or man; their very nature gives them the power to act on the senses and imaginations of men, to coax the human wills and to feed human intellects with the material for knowledge. They have the motive for acting and the power to act; the fact is that they have acted in the material universe from the days of the first man.
The fact and causes of hostility
Of course such activities are definite attacks on men, attacks whose history has its roots deep in the beginnings of the universe. There is first of all that terrifying hatred and envy of God that so consumes the devils now. Pride led them to ape the self-sufficiency of God; pride can not now let them forget the shamed exposure of their insufficiency. As it led them to ape the divinity itself, so now it leads them to ape the divine government of the world; Satan’s kingdom sends its own ambassadors into the material world to work to the ends of evil that divine beneficence might be thwarted. Over and above this pride and envy of divine things, there is a definite hatred and envy of men as participants of the divine life and divine happiness, an envy that drives the devils on to every effort to impede that union of God and men.
The devils are not stragglers from a once proud army, plundering where and when they like; they are not guerilla bands that have escaped a pursuing army; nor are they an army of evil that has fought the legions of God to a standstill. They are by no means out of control; rather they are definitely and completely subject to God. The extent and power of diabolic attacks on men are themselves subject to divine ordination; the divine government is wise enough to fit even such things into the working out of the perfection of the universe, for it knows how to use evil by ordering it to still greater good.
Physical attacks of devils: Infestation, Obsession, Possession
Now and then, but rarely, the devil makes a spectacular display by attacking men physically. This might be of great importance for advertising purposes, if the devil needed advertising; it has little importance from any other point of view. Three classes of these physical attacks have been distinguished by theologians, ascending to a climax of impotent fury. The first, called infestation, consists of an attack centering on the surroundings of man rather than man himself; noise-making, throwing things about, breaking articles of furniture, mysterious knocks on doors and walls, and so on. It was this sort of thing that plagued the Curé of Ars night after night for so many years during the pitifully few hours he could set aside for sleep. Obsession, on the contrary, is a personal attack, but essentially an exterior attack directed to physical injury and so to the instilling of terror; in its effects, it does not go beyond the attack that any man might make on another by blows or kicks.
The real crescendo in these attacks is reached in what is called possession. Here the devil approaches internal domination of the person involved for he takes over almost complete control of the lower faculties of the possessed person: imagination, senses, even purely vegetative and animal operations. So much is this true that during the time of possession, the one possessed has no control over these faculties. It must be remembered that this attack is also no more than physical, that it has no moral significance and is without the power to sway the will or act directly on the intellect; that is, it is incapable of forcing a person to commit sin. Sometimes possession is permitted by God with no fault whatever on the part of the one possessed; at others, there are definitely assignable causes from the side of the victim: such, for instance, as openly selling the soul to the devil, weakening the will by constant practise of hypnotism, flirting with the devil, or openly inviting him in, through spiritualistic seances, frequentation of astrologers, fortune tellers and so on.
The moral attacks of the devils are really much more serious; but because they are much more commonplace and not at all spectacular, they are much less feared by men and women. We call them temptations. It is a mistake, of course, to comfort ourselves with the thought that all temptations come from the devil. As a matter of fact, temptations have entirely efficacious causes in the appetites, habits and companions of men; indeed, some of them may come from God Himself. For, after all, a temptation, strictly, is nothing more than an experiment, a trial, to determine the powers of the one tempted. It is this nature of temptation that shows so clearly the difference between temptation as it comes from God, man or the devil.
The temptations from God are rather to show a man himself and others of what stuff this man is made and of what he is capable. Thus, the terrible temptations and trials of the saints were evidences to the saints themselves and to others of how great things they must suffer for God and how utterly dependent they are on God. The temptations that come from men are normally for the purpose of the tempter, to discover things for himself and, perhaps, to obtain things for himself. Thus, for a man to tempt God is a sin because it proceeds from doubt or incertitude of God’s power; a man may tempt other men either to help them or to injure them. When the purpose is injury, the spiritual seduction of others, the tempter is doings the devil’s work for this is precisely the aim of the devil’s moral attacks, to seduce man, to lead him into sin. The passions of man and the world about man are said to tempt man, but only materially, offering him the material for sin. Obviously they have no conscious purpose of temptation behind them unless they are used by a conscious agent such as the devil or another human being, as indeed they often are. Indirectly we might blame all sins and temptations on the Devil insofar as the exemplar of all sin and the corrupter of human integrity came about through the temptation of Eve by the devil. For the most part, however, we get along in sin very well without the devil, even without the help of anyone but ourselves. We cannot do the supernatural work required for heaven without supernatural help; but we suffer no such insufficiency in the order of evil, we are quite capable of sins that damn us to hell without any suprahuman aid. Not all sins are traceable to the devils; but there is no class of sins to which the devil does not tempt men and women.
In the course of such temptation, it is quite possible for the devil to work marvels, just as it is for the good angels to work marvels; but not miracles. The devils have lost none of their natural powers through their sins; but neither have they gained any supernatural powers as a result of their fall. The works of the devils are marvels only from the point of view of the material causes with which they are worked; the serpents produced by the Egyptian magicians, the fire from heaven that consumed the herds and family of Job, the crash of the house which killed his sons — these were not tricks but stern realities with the devil for their author. They were certainly not miracles.
It would seem, granted the natural cleverness of the devil and the clemency of God, that once the devil has been thoroughly beaten by a human individual, he would pretty well abandon that manner of attack on that individual. Usually it works out that way. After all, there is no sense in throwing armies against a fort that has proved invincible. On the other hand, once a weak spot has been found by the devil, it is fairly certain that there will be many future attacks on the same place and along the same line.
Conclusion: Role of the angels and scientific thought
The role of the angels in the government of the material world is not likely to be the subject of a scientific paper within the next few years; it is to be devoutly hoped that no conscience-stricken American millionaire leaves a legacy to set up a laboratory for such an investigation. The results would be doomed beforehand to a most unscientific character. Science has nothing to offer by way of proof of the angelic governors for such a matter is simply not subject to scientific methods of inquiry. By the same token, there are no grounds for scientific attack on the role of the angels in our world. Science and the suprasensible cannot come to grips. If science thinks, at any time, that it is attacking or destroying the notion of angels and angelic activity, it is in the throes of a nightmare. Don Quixote was much more sane, attacking windmills with a lance, than is a scientist attacking the invisible, intangible, immaterial substances of the angelic world with a scalpel or a microscope.
Role of the angels and philosophic thought
Nor can the role of the angels be disproved by philosophic thought. Some philosophers have thought they found a way around this by first strangling the outer guard of the angelic world, the human intellect; unfortunately, with the death of the intellect, philosophy ceased to breathe and the former philosophers were stripped of all but scientific equipment. Facing the facts of the existence of man’s intellect, the order of the universe and the hierarchy of being, the angels and their activity in the material world are demanded; a demand that was recognized as genuine by generations of philosophers.
It is true that the activity of the good angels cannot be demonstrated by the human reason alone; any one of these effects could be produced directly by God Himself. Yet the activity of the devils seems to present us with definite proof of the presence and activity of spiritual substance. It is to be remembered that philosophy and science do not exhaust the possibilities of certain knowledge for man. He can still be told truth by one who knows all truth; he can still receive knowledge in unadulterated form directly from the first truth by way of revelation on the authority of the first truth, Who cannot deceive or be deceived, the role of the angels in the material universe is indisputable.
Role of angels and moral thought:
Appreciation of supra-human aid
The moral thinking of men offers an added source of conviction of the activity of the angels, for it brings home as nothing else can, the need of man for suprahuman aid. Our own human weakness is a splendid reason for the strength and help of the angels. The realization of the hordes of far superior beings on the alert for the downfall of man makes the doctrine of the guardian angels a necessity if terror is not to hold sway over the human heart. With our eyes open to the weakness of man and the strength of the forces of evil, the way is clear for a full flowering of virtues essential to the living of human life. We are quite willing to exercise a healthy caution, not at all resentful of the truth of a wholesome humility; concretely, we are much less likely to flirt with sin, temptation or the occasion of sin on the false assumption that nice people like ourselves do not succumb to the things we are hardly likely to develop, in the moral order, that careless confidence that sends a veteran steelworker hurtling to his death; we shall cultivate a sound, rational fear.
Value of this appreciation
The comfort and courage of the presence of the guardian angels is not an invitation to sluggish mediocrity of effort but an inspiration to outdo ourselves. The importance of man in the universe, underlined by the fact of angelic guardianship, is something to be held fast to as the solid ground of self-respect and evident refutation of the slimy theories that would sink man in a mass. Purity is not nearly so difficult in the presence of angels who stand continually in the presence of God. All of these virtues are obvious conclusions from a man’s admission of the truth of the angelic government of the physical world. Perhaps the most obvious of all is the one that will be most slow in its growth, that graciously human virtue of gratitude. If the angels would only frown at us by way of reminders or stand conspicuously till we were forced to think of a tip, if they would cough, but no, they are entirely unobtrusive. It is entirely up to us to murmur a word of thanks, or go haughtily on taking their indefatigable service for granted.