Angels in 5 Minutes

St. Michael the Archangel, C. Coello

Happy feast of the Guardian Angels! In celebration of today’s feast, of St. Michael’s last Sunday and of St. Raphael’s which will arrive in 22 days, we challenged ourselves to create a bullet-pointed, handout-worthy, Facebookable version of two articles on angels by Dr. David Arias, professor of philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. The consecutive articles, The Angelic Nature and The Understanding and Action of Angels, appeared in the September and October 2017 editions of Meménto, and gave a fascinating overview of who and what angels are, how their vastly superior minds work and what their role is in our own lives. Since you’re not a Catholic if you’re not an amateur (or professional) angelologist, we shall presume your interest in the subject matter. Here we go.

The Angelic Nature

  • An angel is a created substance that is incorporeal and intellectual (St. Thomas Aquinas).
  • Angels are persons, since everything with an intellect and a will is a person (Boethius).
  • Although we’re both made in the image of God, angels differ from us insomuch as they are wholly incorporeal. Our souls are incorporeal, but the proper function of a soul is to inform a body, and hence it is not a complete substance without its body.
  • Because they are immaterial, angels are naturally incorruptible.
  • In addition, because, unlike us, they have no material as part of their nature (our bodies are created of material that can also be found in dogs, rivers, stars and other humans), they are irrepeatable. They are one-of-a-kind, possessing their nature so totally and completely as to exclude the possibility of another angel being of the same “species.” Each one is essentially unique.

The Angelic Mind

Tobias Meets the Archangel Raphael, Andrea Vaccaro
  • Unlike us, angels have intrinsic and instantaneous knowledge of things. In order to form concepts of things, we have to first experience those things in our senses, then we can begin to understand their nature by considering what they have in common. Angels do not utilize this abstractive mode of thinking; they are infused with all the knowledge they need, and their knowledge of creatures includes knowledge both of a thing’s nature and of the particular examples of that nature. E.g., an angel with the knowledge of dogs understands the nature of a dog and Fido, Rex and Rover insomuch as they are possessors of the canine nature.
  • Angels don’t reason. We humans move from a known concept to an unknown one using our reason, but angels’ knowledge is complete. An angel with the knowledge of triangles need not deduce that the sum of the angles of a triangle is always 180 degrees; he already knows everything there is to know about a triangle (if only, say the Euclidean geometry students).
  • The angels bear a more perfect image of God than we do, due to their superior and more God-like intellect. Sorry, humans.

The Angels in Action

The Archangel Gabriel, as portrayed by Titian
  • Angels often put their angelic understanding of created things to work when they act in the natural world, as we see them do regularly in Scripture.
  • Angels are teachers to us humans, and they do this in two ways, according to St. Thomas:
    • They act on our interior sense powers (such as our imagination) to help us form mental images that help us to better understand things than we would on our own. They can also help us recall things that we already have in our intellect more easily (another tip for the geometry students).
    • They unite their own intellectual understanding to ours to strengthen our intellect and help us perceive concepts better and more clearly. An analogy might be a pot of hot water (our intellect) that can heat pasta, but will do it an awful lot better with a fire underneath it (the angelic intellect).

And there you have it, angels in five minutes! Of course, there is much more to know about angels than we have room to discuss here, more, in fact, than we will have time to think about in this life, but fear not. The angels, and our Guardian Angels in particular, are fully invested in our salvation, and if we avail ourselves of their assistance and friendship, we can continue the conversation in Heaven. +

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

October 2, 2019