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Vol. XV, June 2009

St. Paul 11: “every tongue confess: Jesus is Lord” (Phil 2:11)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! 

St. Paul is generally characterized as one who harbored great reservations with regard to the angels. After our meditations on his teaching on the angels we are able to make two observations. First, on the basis of his letters He does offer sufficient doctrinal material to develop an angelology—which covers both the holy faithful angels as well as the fallen spirits. Then, in all things, he always sees and shows them subordinated to Christ. 

Let us conclude our summary of Pauline angelology with a reflection on Christ as the Creator and Head of the angels. Christ avails himself of their ministry, and more fundamentally, He receives now and at the end of time their unending praise in heaven. 

1. Christ is the Savior.  

a) “Be strong …” Man finds himself placed in the midst of a spiritual battle. And no one insists on this more than St. Paul. He urgently called upon the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God”, because “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:10-12). In this text alone he expressly refers to the enemy four times under four names or titles. Is this not exaggerated, one may ask. Does he see things too “black”? St. Paul insists so much because he himself was often confronted directly by the force of the fallen spirits, and, what may even be a stronger motive: he himself was walking in the dark, as if he would have been also a victim of their misleading ideas. 

b) “Be strong in the Lord!” St. Paul’s first line of defense is Christ Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ, “who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:3-4), “He will strengthen you and guard you from evil” (2 Thess 3:3). This counsel is based on Paul´s own experience because it was Christ Who suddenly stepped into his life, was at his side, showed him the truth and gave him the strength to recognize and adapt Himself to it. It was Christ Who converted him. At that moment he gained the deep personal conviction: Christ is the Lord! Christ has the power also over the fallen spirits. They are and remain under His power and command, even while they flee from Him. This state of affairs, today and for all eternity, remains a substantial part of their hell (cf. 2 Thess 1:8). Jesus Himself said to Paul: I Myself and “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9).

2. Christ is the unifying principle.

To understand Christ’s supreme sovereignty recall first that St. Paul presents Him clearly as the One “in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19), as “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). 

a) Christ holds all together. The confession of Christ’s divinity is St. Paul’s point of departure: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Consequently, “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16), so that He is the absolute center of all creation, also of the angelic world. “He is the beginning” (Col 1:18). Moreover, He also continues to keep all together: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold” constantly, “together.” 

b) Christ brings all together. Some angels accepted the authority which God gave the Man, Jesus Christ, over them, recognizing as they did His divinity. Their humility before the Will of God, already anticipated Christ’s “little Way”. Although such a “kenosis”, such a self-emptying may be incomprehensible in the “eyes” of pure spirits, they accepted it supernaturally in faith. In this way they became so similar to Him, that St. Paul—but not only he, also Jesus Himself, cf. Lk 9:26, and St. John, Rev. 1:4-5—sees them united with the Son, and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So deep is their immersion by grace in the mystery of God and Divine Providence, that they even come to representatively stand in the place of the Holy Spirit in certain texts which refer to His efficacy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without favor, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim 5:21). 

This grace is offered also to man and precisely through Him: In Him, the sons of God find their way to each other; He causes the union among them. St. Paul confesses first: God “has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). Then, freed from the dominion of the fallen angels, Christ reconciles men and angels in spiritual friendship: “Through Him” were reconciled “to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20). The fallen angels, however, will then be judged as enemies even by men accepted in the Communion of Saints: “Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1Cor 6,3; cf. Heb 2:5).

c) Takes them all into glory. “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory…accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule (principality) and authority (virtue) and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and He has put all things under His feet and has made Him the head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph 1:17, 20-23). He brings all together in His Church for ever, throughout all time and for ever to come; it will be so: “He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent” (Col 1:18). “For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in Him, who is the head of all rule (principality) and authority (virtue). In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:9-12). We can understand that St. Paul exclaimed once, seeking for all opportunities to praise his Lord, Christ Jesus: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16).

3. Christ is all. 

The authority of the Son of God over all creatures is not a theoretical fact. It has practical consequences. It is manifested by our liberation from the evil and becomes still more evident at the end, when all is fulfilled. 

a) “He has put all His enemies under His feet.” St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Then comes the end, when He delivers the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25). The angelic choirs, which St. Paul mentions here, refer to fallen spirits. He affirms clearly Christ’s authority over them. Clear is also, that all the faithful angels submit themselves freely and forever to His authority, they are His servants: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14). 

b) Christ returns with His angels. He calls for their service at His second coming: “When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess 1:7-8). “And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of His mouth and destroy him by His appearing and His coming” (2 Thess 2:8). Yes, “for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess 4:16; cf. Dan 10:13; Jos 5:13-15).

c) Christ’s sovereignty: The Christ-centeredness of the angels leads finally to one of the most beautiful testimonies of Jesus, when the Father honors Him and all creatures surround Him: “The Father of glory… made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:17, 20) “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6-7). There, in the glory of the Father, He will still receive the honor of all, all in heaven and on earth: 

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; cf. Heb 1)

Finally, St. Paul sees clearly that all glory goes to the Father: “When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be everything to every one” (1Cor 15:28).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Pauline Years is about to end. We had asked what the great apostle could tell us for the pilgrimage according our call and spirituality. We thank him for having set before the Church a balanced angelology. We may call it a “typical Catholic view” of reality, one of realistic optimism: while pointing to the height of our call in Christ, he did not hesitate to show us frankly the diabolic dangers that beset our life. He made us aware of our responsibility and showed us the constant help of the holy angels in Christ. All is centered in Christ, and He wishes to lead us, together with all the rest of sanctified creation, physical and angelic, into the blissful glory of the Father, the living and forgiving God, Whom we are allowed to preach and present to this world, like Paul.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC
ASSOCIATION OF PRIESTS
IN THE WORK OF THE HOLY ANGELS