Meditation on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not.”

Angels. What are they? Angels are messengers. A good messenger is an evangelist –angel is in the word. Evangelist is the Greek word for the Gospel – the good news, the good message. There is, then, an inescapable connection between Angels and the Gospel.

Angels are a feature of many religions. They are certainly a big part of the biblical landscape. They are a feature of the spiritual landscape of the Jewish or Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians know as the Old Testament, as well as being an integral part of the spiritual landscape of the Christian New Testament. They are also an important feature of the Islamic Qu’ran.

Whether or not one believes in Angels exactly, they are undeniably part of the religious world of Jews, Christians and Muslims. While not a matter of creedal doctrine for Christians, belief in angels is a defining feature of Islam. More importantly, though, is the role and place of angels intellectually or theologically speaking in the three monotheistic faiths. To put it simply, angels belong to the thought-world of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; in short, to the thinking that belongs to these revealed religions. There is a branch of theology that is devoted to angels – angelology. To put it in another way, angels are about our thinking God’s thoughts, the thoughts which come to us from God and our Godward thoughts which are carried on angels’ wings to God.

Angels figure in the drama of creation. “Where were you,” God asks Job out of the whirlwind, “when I laid the foundation of the earth … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Angels are the intellectual principles of the created universe, the thoughts of God in the physical creation and in the moral universe. Like quarks, angels cannot be seen. They can only be thought. They are purely intellectual and spiritual beings. They are part of the company we keep; we who are spiritual beings with physical bodies.

But why angels? From the standpoint of the logic of creation, there are the physical entities – the variety of beings that comprise the natural world, from the utterly inanimate to the vegetative to the animal; there are purely spiritual beings – angels who comprise something spiritually distinct individually, each are their own species, unique and special; and then, there are those creatures who are both spiritual and physical, namely human beings. In a way, all the possible categories of creation are covered. There is a kind of completeness to that larger dimension of reality to which religion so constantly and consistently points us. Angels are an important part of that larger dimension. It is not too much to say that when we are truly thinking, that is to say, thinking thoughts of things that are beyond our own immediate self-interest, indolence and self-indulgence, then we are thinking with the angels.

Ideas matter. There is more to reality than what meets the eye, more than what can be captured and measured quantitatively or numerically. Angels belong to another area of thought and prayer. They remind us of the spiritual fellowship which surrounds us and which we forget at our peril.

Angels are, as Fr. Robert Crouse once memorably put it, “celestial no-see’ums.” They speak to this common religious, philosophical and theological viewpoint, namely, that the intellectual and the spiritual account for the physical and material world and not the other way around. They are a part of the worshipping world which we inhabit. Our praises to God are offered on angels’ wings.

As the collect for St. Michael and All Angel’s reminds us, “the services of Angels and men [have been] constituted in a wonderful order.” We are dwellers all in the same house of prayer; they above stairs and we below, yet dwellers all in the same house of prayer.

And yet, what are they about? Principles. They are the thoughts of God in creation and redemption. They are the intellectual principles of the natural world and the intellectual principles that govern our moral and ethical lives as well. As The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels reminds us, they belong to our understanding of the perennial conflict between good and evil.

“There was war in heaven.” What an amazing concept! And yet the strong point is that there was, not there is, war in heaven. In other words, the power of the good is always greater than the power of evil. And yet, there can be no mistaking the dreadful and destructive course of evil, of all that belongs to the knowing rejection of the goodness of God and his creation. It is not too much to say that this is a large part of the story of the genocides, holocausts and pogroms of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries which far exceed in magnitude the horrors of human death and destruction at the hands of humans, the perennial story of man’s inhumanity to man, by several degrees. Millions upon millions upon millions. Let us not be naive about the potentialities for evil in our souls.

In a way, the feast of St. Michael speaks directly to this aspect of our fallen and broken world. The dragon, Satan, the devil, also known as Lucifer, is depicted in The Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine as being defeated by St. Michael and the angel host and cast forth from heaven. Unlike Adam and Eve, cast forth from the Garden of Eden for their disobedience, there is no hope of redemption, no felix culpa, for the fallen angels. As sempieternal beings, their acts of free-will are definitive and absolute. Lucifer exists, almost simply, we might say, as a standing contradiction.  He denies the source of his own being and literally turns his back on the light of God. He is, thus, the Prince of Darkness and the Father of lies. Lies, however, have no power apart from the truth; darkness, too, is but the privation or absence of light.

The devil is the principle of all that opposes the goodness and the truth of God. The devil thus depends upon that which he rejects. And so it is with all sin and evil. Such is its folly, destructive as that indeed can be. In Dante’s wonderful imagination and image, the devil contemplates forever his self-willed distance from the God who has created him and everything else. He confronts the folly of what he has chosen.

The victory of St. Michael and All Angels, meaning all the good angels, the angels who serve and worship God absolutely, is a strong reminder of the victory of God’s grace and goodness over all that would deny God and his truth. The victory of the angels is God’s victory through them and, indeed, through the Redeemer of the World. As John in his Revelation says, they conquered “by the blood of the Lamb.” This is the good news, the evangelium, of which St. Michael and All Angels, too, are a part.

“Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not.”

Fr. David Curry
Meditation on the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels
September 29th, 2010

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