Angels - Part III
by Mark Shea
The Church's tradition is chockablock with all sorts of devotions to angels, prayers to angels, and pleas for angelic intercession. One of the most common is the St. Michael prayer, which reminds us that, as Ephesians 6 tells us, we are living in a cosmic war zone. This means that the true nature of the conflict is not liberals vs. conservatives, or based on race, class, and gender. It is not about religion or politics or riches. It is not between humans at all ultimately (though, of course, humans were sucked into the war when our First Parent listened to the Fallen Angel—the Great Serpent who is called the Devil and Satan—and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).
But as that story makes clear, the war is older than humanity, for evil was already in the Garden before we got here. That war is not, as countless people think, a war between two equal and opposite foes called God and Satan. Rather it is a revolt by Satan and the demons against a God who is infinitely more loving, powerful, glorious and wise than the angels. Indeed, that is what makes sense of the temptation of Adam and Eve: when you cannot hurt the strong man, you hurt the ones he loves. There is no more exquisite form of revenge for a weakling than to simultaneously turn a good person's children against him and then engineer their destruction. That is what the Fall is, from Hell's perspective. The devil hates us because he hates our Father.
Curiously, Scripture tells us that the battle is fought on two fronts. In one battle, the combatants are not Satan and God, but Satan and St. Michael (cf. Revelation 12). That matters because part of the definition of God is "He who has no opposite". The demons, the powers and principalities, the spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places, are immensely powerful and clever superhuman spirits, but they are still creatures and they have no power over God at all—except what he gives them.
On the second front, the battle is waged, not so much against Satan as for us—and that by God himself. Our faith says that God gave the devils power over him when he became human in Christ Jesus. Not in the sense that he obeyed them, of course, but in the sense that he allowed them to do their worst: temptation, thirst, hunger, derision, hatred, betrayal, flogging, shameful death—Hell was allowed to pull out all the stops in its battle to finish what it attempted in Eden, the complete destruction of Man in the person of the Son of Man.
On both fronts, the demonic powers are defeated—ultimately by themselves—through the cross and our participation in it. That is why we are encouraged by Holy Church to make prayers to our guardian angel and to the various angels—Gabriel, Raphael, Michael—who are mentioned in the Tradition. The labor of spiritual warfare continues to this hour and includes not merely the defeat of the power and principalities, but the redemption, illumination, salvation, and divinization of the human race.
This is, of course, accomplished through the Jesus Christ, who has not only redeemed us from the sin and death which came into the world through the devil's envy (Wisdom 2:24), but who has given us something the angels themselves lack: the grace to participate in his divine nature.
That is what St. Paul is getting at when he says that we shall judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3) and when he says that he was given grace to preach the gospel to the world "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens" (Ephesians 3:10). In a profound and mysterious sense, angels are not simply our superiors sent here to help us, nor are devils simply impervious to us as they seek to work our woe. The angels and devils are looking on in wonderment at us who, by grace, are now their superiors! They too shall hear "inasmuch as you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me". And the nature of their judgment will be, as it is with us, that they shall experience the fruit of their own sin or sanctity full grown. To those who chose the horror of self alone, self—alone—shall be theirs for eternity. For those who chose the self-forgetting ecstasy of the Triune God of love and his creatures, they shall have that, and know forever the love and joy of God and his gloriously redeemed, odd little creatures called human beings.
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'Sheavings' reproduced with permission from Mark Shea
. Copyright © Mark Shea. All rights reserved.