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Vol. XIV, September 2008

 

Saint Paul and the creation of the Angels

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We considered in the last meditation the presence of the angels in the life of St. Paul. It showed us the breadth of Paul’s heart. He was threatened with death by men and the extreme forces of nature, and consoled by his angel; he “was caught up to the third heaven, … heard things that cannot be told” (2 Cor 12:2,4) and is sensitive to the groaning of the whole creation (cf. Rom 8:22). The sharpness of his objective reasoning stands on the side of interior mystical experience. He looks forward in time to the second coming of Christ and back to creation in and through Him.

1. “In Him all things … in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible”
In the Letter to the Colossians, St. Paul offers a beautiful hymn on Christ and teaches about the creation of the angels: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities” (Col 1:15-17). On another occasion he borrows from the Psalmist two images which express the angels’ love, submission and disposition: “Of the angels He says, ‘Who makes His angels winds, and His servants flames of fire’” (Heb 1:7).

St. Paul was converted through the unforgettable encounter with Christ before Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-25; 22:1-16; 26:9-18; Gal 1:12-17). How deeply St. Paul was touched, will never be known: all his future life and teaching have their origin in that original encounter (Compare the effect of Ignatius’ vision near Manresa; cf. The Pilgrim, 31): Christ, the One they killed, is really alive, He is risen, appeared to Paul and identified Himself with the Christians.

St. Paul refers to the creation of the Angels, but precisely for the sake of the greater praise and glory of his Lord and God. In the solemn hymn on Christ above mentioned, he expressed his faith in Christ as the true and eternal Son of God. He is, with the Father and the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 13:13), divine, eternal, all-powerful, the One Creator: “In Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17; cf. Heb 1:1-3). The formula “heaven and earth” reminds us of the very beginning of Sacred Scripture: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). St. Paul calls for the whole of creation to give testimony to the greatness and majesty of Jesus. The Church expresses this solemnly in the Liturgy of the holy angels:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, We do well always and everywhere to give You thanks. In praising your faithful angels and archangels, we also praise Your glory, for in honoring them, we honor You, their Creator. Their splendor shows us Your greatness, which surpasses in goodness the whole of creation. Through Christ our Lord the great army of angels rejoices in Your glory. (Preface of the Angels)

It is worthwhile to remark that the Liturgy is primarily characterized by this direction, the praise and glory of God: “Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is Yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever.”

Every creature, just by existing, gives testimony of the greatness of God, His infinite wisdom and power, His love and attention towards the greatest and the smallest things.

2. The angels in the presence of God

One may be surprised, that St. Paul calls upon “heaven”, that is the pure spirits in order to describe and explain who Christ is. However, when he described the incarnation of Christ to the Philippians, he also ended with a universal exhortation:

He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

a) “In the presence of God.”

What greater testimony for Christ can we find than the humility and adoration of the pure spirits and their self-less disposition to take on any service for Him! St. Paul does not describe them further; but St. John gives us an idea who they are, describing one as “wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face…like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire” (Rev 10:1; cf. Ez 10:2-3). The holy angels bow their knees before God and before Christ, the Son of God. They are in awe of Him, they do not want to know anything more than their Lord and God. To be “in the presence of God” is like the identity card of the faithful angels.

St. Raphael said to Tobit and his son: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who…enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One” (Tob 12:15). St. Gabriel also says: “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God” (Lk 1:19). And Jesus Himself confirms, “in heaven their angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10). The Seraphim were seen by Isaiah with “the Lord sitting upon a throne… Above Him stood the Seraphim… One called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:1-3). With regard to the Cherubim, God Himself gave Moses the order about the mercy seat:

Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. (Ex 25:18-21)

St. John also writes: “I saw the seven angels who stand before God” (Rev 8:2).

The decision of the angels in their test was precisely this: To be or not to be in the presence of God, to give or not to give Him the due honor in adoration, to bend or not to bend the knee before Christ, the eternal Son, One with the Father. The holy ones want to be and are His living glorification.

b) “Walk before Me, and be blameless.”

St. Paul points to the faithful adoring angels: “Let all God’s angels worship Him.” (Heb 1:6) This angelic response should be a light for man. He too has to recognize God as his creator and give Him a complete response. This was already recognized by the patriarchs, and handed down through history under the ideal of “walking in the presence of God”; it became a synonym for holiness. It is first mentioned of Enoch who “walked with God” (Gen 5:22); then of Noah (cf. Gen 6:9) and Abraham: “The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless’.” (Gen 17:1) Jacob referred twice to this ideal: “The Lord, before whom I walk, will send his angel with you…” (Gen 24:40), and at the end of his life “He blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, … bless the lads” (Gen 48:15f; cf. 1 Kg 8:25; 2 Kgs 20:3; 2 Chron 6:16: Ez 28:14). To live in the presence of God means to benefit from all His love and attention, or, as the Psalmist puts it: “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy, in Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps 16:11).

Without doubt, St. Paul stands in this tradition; he does not see the angels except in their total surrender to God, through Christ to the Father. This contributes also to his fervent zeal for God. When he saw the altar to the unknown God in Athens, he immediately spoke to them of “the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, … (who) gives to all men life and breath and everything… is not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’.” (Acts 17:24-28; cf. Rom 1:19-20; about this quote from Seneca cf. Benedict XVI, Audience of 2 of July, 2008). God is great, infinite and yet near us; everything lies open before Him, who tries “minds and hearts” (Ps 7:10) and every one has to give an account to Him.

3. Created for adoration

St. Paul concludes his presentation of Jesus with the admonition: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). Paul trembles with holy fear in the presence of God. It is a help to him to know that God sends His holy angels to us: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14; cf. Lk 1:19; Gen 24:40).

The creation, existence and adoration of the angels reminds us that we too only exist to glorify and adore Him, “to acknowledge Him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love.” (CCC 2096f). We exist and live for His greater glory, “We praise You for Your glory” (cf. Gloria of the Holy Mass). In the words of Saint Paul, we are supposed to pray unceasingly: “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7)

Therefore, “We give thanks to God always …” (1 Thess 1:2), “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16-18). “Be constant in prayer” (Rom 12:12), “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18), because “we…have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory” (Eph 1:11-12). Rom 15:16 according to the Holy Father points out to “the cosmic liturgy in which the world itself is to become worship of God, an oblation in the Holy Spirit. When the world in all its parts has become liturgy of God, when, in its reality, it has become adoration, then it will have reached its goal”; therefore we have “to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ” (Benedict XVI, June 29, 2008).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In Christ, through Him and for Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth … in Him all things are held together. This is the great call to holiness, to walk in the presence of God, to pray unceasingly. God, Who began the good work will bring it also “to completion one the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). Before Jesus had sent out the apostles, “He appointed twelve, to be with Him” (Mk 3:14; cf. Jn 12:26; 17:24) like the angels who “always move in God” (Benedict XVI, Homily to priests on Sept. 11, 2006). “With an awareness that action follows being and that the soul of every apostolate is Divine intimacy” (cf. Congregation for Clergy, Appeal for Eucharistic adoration, 8 XII, 2007), let us reach out for the help of the holy angels in the presence of God, that they may bring us through Christ to the Father.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC