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Vol. XVII, February 2011

The Angels fight for men (cf. Zac 1:18ff)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The holy angels intercede for us before God’s throne. But they go further: To their words, they add actions. The angels also fight for men. This is shown to the Prophet in the next vision.

And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, four horns! And I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these?’ And he answered me, ‘These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.’ Then the Lord showed me four smiths. And I said, ‘What are these coming to do?’ He answered, ‘These are the horns which scattered Judah, so that no man raised his head; and these have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah to scatter it’. (Zac 1:18-20)

Horns and smiths, scattering and terrifying, nations and Judah, a picture full of dynamic and tension and implicit violence. What does it mean?

1. A battle about Judah

a) The “horns”. A horn, a very natural object in a shepherd nation, is mentioned over 100 times in Scripture, mostly in the Old Testament. The natural place and function the horn has in nature for strength and fighting is also carried over symbolically. Hence the “horns” of the four “horns” at the corners of the altar (Lev 4:18.25 etc), but also negatively: the ten horns of the beast (Dan 7:10). Beyond this, being hollow, horns have a storage and musical capacity. Take, for example, the “vessel” for the oil with which Samuel anointed David (cf. 1Sam 16:13); while the sign for the taking of Jerico were the blasts on the horns of the priests (Jos 6:20). Here “horns” refer to persons acting with power; they “scattered Judah”. Concerning which persons they represent, opinion are divided: They may represent the head of nations, as we read in Revelation: “The ten horns that you saw are ten kings” (Rev 17:12; cf. Dan 7:7f; 8:5-9; Rev 21:24).

But they may also represent pure spirits, fallen or holy ones. As the angels of the churches in chapter 2 and 3 of the book of Revelation are interpreted in Tradition referring to the bishops or the angels of these communities, so we can see them here too referring to the kings or to the angels of their kingdom.

In any case, St. John “saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6); These “seven spirits” are surely seven holy angels. And it seems best not only to attribute to them a share in the power (horn) of the Lamb but also a share in his knowledge (eyes), for the angels do not act blindly in their ministries (cf. also Rev 9:13-15).

The apostle saw also a “great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 12:3) and “the beast with seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:7): Are they just “kings” (Rev 17:12) or subordinated devils? St. John further specifies their activity: “They are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and give over their power and authority to the beast; they will make war on the Lamb” (Rev 17:12-14). He also speaks about “kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5; 6:15; 17:2.18; 18:3.9; 19:19). In itself the expression is ambiguous, since it could mean either the place of their origin, or the place where they exercise power.

b) The “horns” and the “smiths”. In the vision shown to Zachariah the angel explained that the horns “scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem”. They acted against the Chosen People. If they were good angels, they were instruments of the purifying justice of God. If they were fallen angels with hate, then they acted with permission of God for the punishment and purification of His people.

Additionally the prophet saw “four smiths” and wondered, “What are these coming to do?”. The Lord answered: “These have come…to cast down the horns of the nations”. More commonly these smiths are considered angelic warriors for God and His people, “symbols for angelic powers” we read in the notes of the Jerusalem Bible. The similar narration in the prophet Daniel may support it or even have inspired this interpretation. There, Gabriel received St. Michael as helper in his fight against the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece” (cf. Dan 10:13; Circ. XIV, March–May).

2. Life as battle

The people probably understood this prophetic message, because they stand shortly before the return home from the second exportation to Babylon. Therefore, battle and oppression were simply facts of life. The important point, though, is that God is with His people. God fights for them through His angels.

a) I will put enmity. Jesus asked many times the people: “Watch”, “Be vigilant”. He referred even explicitly back to the early time, the time before the flood. Life is a battle that began with the fall of the devils and lasts till the Last Judgment (cf. CCC 409). It is important for man to be aware of this.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed,” (Gen 3:15) are words which echo from paradise. And again, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Mt 11:12). Jesus Himself was exposed to this conflict, from His early childhood on (cf. Mt 2:13); and that is what He foretold His disciples: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:22. And: “Satan demanded to have you” (Lk 22:31).

St. Paul was embroiled in battles from the first days of his conversion (cf. Acts 9:26f). He faced Satan and his followers: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness…” (Acts 13:10) and exorcised people (cf. Acts 16:18). That is the reason why he also warns us all: “Put on the whole armor of God…For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities” (Eph 6:11-12).

b) The soldiers of God. The Lord Himself does not enter directly into the battle except in the weakness of the Incarnation, for moral evil in creation should be overcome by creatures in the power of His grace. He has His soldiers, His heavenly army who fights for His people. This is part of the message of the vision: The battle is being fought, but the people will not be exposed helplessly. The angels of God assist men wherever God send them and, whenever men call to them so that by “the power of God [they might] thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam about the world, seeking the ruin of souls” (Prayer to St. Michael).

What Joshua, the leader of the chosen People experienced is not reserved for him alone: Before the walls of Jericho, “he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; ... he said, ‘...as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come’.” (Jos 5:13-14) It should be clear that by “the sound of the trumpet” as a sign and by the prayers of the people, “the wall (of Jericho) fell down flat” (Jos 6:20) through the angelic assistance (cf. Hophan, Die Engel, 124). Was not the promise given to Moses as leader of the People this: “If you hearken attentively to his (the angel’s) voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies” (Ex 23:22)! Consider also the example of St .Raphael: He gave concrete instructions on how to overcome the devil who had killed the previous husbands of Sara. And when Tobias collaborated, doing his part, then “the demon…fled to the remotest parts of Egypt, and the angel bound him” (Tb 8:3; cf. Gen 19:9-11; Acts 5:19f or Rev 8:6-21).

3. God is with His people, helping them through His angels

The eye-opening vision of the prophet contains the following messages valid till the end of time.

a) The Church amidst the world’s persecutions and God’s consolations. To understand the vision of the Prophet in its largest meaning, we must advert to the Imitation of Christ, not just on the individual plane, but also as a reality for His entire mystical Body, the Church: “The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (CCC 677). Hence, “persecution … accompanies her pilgrimage” (CCC 675). On this way, the Church will find that the angels, as God’s soldiers, are with her (cf. CCC 760). This is the deeper message in this vision of Zachariah.

b) The battle behind mankind. Behind the earthly visible scene is a spiritual world, the good and fallen angels. They are even the main fighters in the history of the world. We saw the angel enter the history of Israel at the end of its march through the desert, similarly the angels entered various times in the posterior history. Constantine, then still a pagan, was assured victory at the Milvian Bridge in the sign of the Cross. During the liberation of Portugal from the Moslems, in 1147, St. Michael assisted the Christians, especially in the conquest of the Castle of Ourem, the town to which Fatima juridically belonged down through the centuries (O. de Jesus REIS, O Grande, o humilde S. Miguel, 1989, 35-38). Even the captured Moslem soldiers confessed to having seen the angelic arm fighting against them on the side of the Christians, just, we may say, like the “smiths” against the “horns”. The angels fight for the people of God, for the Church (cf. CCC 334). They “help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being” (CCC 352).

c) The angels’ love of neighbors. Finally, we should observe, that here we learn about an important mark of the angels: The angels of God do not hide themselves in heaven, egoistically enjoying the vision of Glory, nor fearfully before the hate and anger of their fallen brothers, the devils. They not only turn solicitously to their lower brothers men, but even fight for them. They “have come to terrify them, to cast down the horns of the nations who lifted up their horns against the land of Judah” (Zac 1:20). We can count on powerful angelic help in our daily life. We just need to turn to the angels, to seek their friendship and ask for their assistance. This is shown quite evidently in the miraculous intervention in Portugal we referred to: Before the battle, already in 1140, the first King of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, asked the first Prior of the Canon Regulars of the Holy Cross, Saint Theotonius, to consecrate the country to the Holy Angels, and then he went on to free the country for the faith and had success through them.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood

God expects our trust and fidelity in response to this consoling vision about His assistance through His angels, for the angels fight for us. The Church teaches us this as a characteristic of a true and sincere devotion to the Angels: “Devotion to the Holy Angels gives rise to a certain form of the Christian life which is characterized by … serenity and confidence in facing difficult situations, since the Lord guides and protects the faithful in the way of justice through the ministry of His Holy Angels” (Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory on popular Piety and the Liturgy, 2001, 216). Let us manifest our gratitude daily towards the angelic defense in this our times.

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