Vol. XIV, March 2008


“Michael, one of the chief princes” (Dan 10:13)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Daniel was left alone by “the men who were with” him. They “fled to hide themselves.“ (Dan 10:7). He himself did not flee. “A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, give heed to the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you’.” (v. 10-11).Whoever Daniel was, he stands for the faithful people in foreign land, or, transposed to our times: for Christians in a neo-pagan world. We can also see ourselves in him: His life, as our priestly life was marked by a kind of solitude. There is a further third dimension: the assistance from “above”. His experience confirms the fact of real heavenly assistance. It made him strong in the resistance of evil and firm in his fidelity. Therefore, let us look once more at his exemplary life.

1. A Look Behind the Curtain

The angel brought him the first heavenly breath of peace: “He said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words’.” (v. 12) Daniel is open for God and, hence, for spiritual things, for the mission to which Israel, his people, was especially chosen to live for, namely, for the kingdom of God. Daniel’s faithfulness draws the angelic assistance down to his side.

It is not said, who this “man clothed in linen” (Dan 10:5) is. Some think it is the same “Gabriel” which was called before by name (cf. 8:16). He has the same mission, namely to interpret or explain a vision. Before he started to make Daniel “understand what is to befall your people in the latter days” (v. 10:14), he makes a strange observation: “The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, so I left him there with the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (v. 13).

The “man clothed in linen” speaks of a tension, of an opposition – or should we understand it even as a battle with an enemy which he could not decide in “twenty-one days”; then, Michael came to his aid. A little further he speaks of his return and mentions still another “Prince”: “But now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I am through with him, lo, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.” (vv. 20-21)

2. The Fight Against Princes

Of course, there are interpreters who contend that these princes are just the governors of those particular countries. But was there someone likes this? Was there already a united Greece which could have had such a Prince? And “Michael, one of the chief princes”, when would he have been “your prince” (v. 21), that is the leader of Israel? When would he have been born and where would have been his home? There are some men mentioned in the Old Testament with the name of Michael, like “the sons of Izrahiah: Michael, Obadiah, Joel, and Isshiah, five, all of them chief men” or princes (1 Chron 7:3; cf. e.g. Num 13:13; 2 Chron 21:2), not so, however, with Gabriel. Nevertheless, there is no king of Israel reported with the name Michael. And above all: Who should have come to the help of the “man clothed in linen”, of an angel as all understand, if not another angel?

a) The Spiritual Hosts

As we consider, in harmony with the former part of the Book of Daniel, the “man clothed in linen” as an angel, so we should not hesitate to see here the first explicit reference to the angel, St. Michael, St. Jude speak of him as an Archangel (v. 9). St. John, describes him as the one who won the battle against the dragon in heaven (cf. Rev 12:7-12). We need not   see, as many do, St. Michael in every angelic soldier, for example, in the “commander of the army of the Lord” (Jos 5:14; cf. 1 Thess 4:16), or in the one, who contends with the devil (cf. Sac 3:1-3). However, here Michael is formally identified as one of the “chief princes,” Michael the faithful Archangel.

Similarly, we may reasonably see in the “prince of Persia” and “prince of Greece” some fallen angels. St. Paul exhorts us: “Be strong in the Lord…. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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; cf. 2 Mach 5:2; 10:29-30; 11:6-10; 15:23). The Church continues to teach down to our day: “This dramatic situation of ‘the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one’ (1 Jn 5:19; cf 1 Pet 5:8)    makes man’s life a battle: ‘The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day…’ (Gaudium et Spes, 37).” (CCC 409)

b) “Princes” as Guardians or Enemies of Many

St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this text, and leads us to a solid understanding. He asks, dealing about the Guardian-Angelship, if the task to guard men belongs to the lowest or to a higher choir of the angels (cf. Summa Theologiae, p. I, q 113, art.3). To answer this question, he distinguishes first between a particular or individual guardianship and a universal. He says:

Man is guarded in two ways; in one way by particular guardianship, according as to each man an angel is appointed to guard him … The other kind of guardianship is universal, multiplied according to the different orders. For the more universal an agent is, the higher it is. (cf. also a 8 sc; In Rom VIII, lect. 7 [Ma 728])

St. Thomas affirms herewith that there are larger unities which also enjoy an angelic protection. Countries or kingdoms, families in a small house-community or in a world-wide religious-community, they all can call upon Guardian or Patron-Angel. Now, Tradition attributes to the different angels the power which corresponds to their task and assigns them to the corresponding choir. Thus St. Thomas explains: the particular “guardianship belongs to the lowest order of the angels, whose place it is, according to Gregory, to announce the ‘lesser things’; for it seems to be the least of the angelic offices to procure what concerns the salvation of only one man. … The guardianship of the human race” that is of a larger or universal group “belongs to the order of ‘Principalities,’ or perhaps to the ‘Archangels,’ whom we call the angel princes. Hence, Michael, whom we call an archangel, is also styled ‘one of the princes’ (Dan 10:13).”

As the fallen angels preserved their nature and natural strength, we can apply this also to them. In fact, the Church explains in the Catechism 395 the possibility of an extended effect of their influence, namely that “Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus,” and “his action may cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature- to each man and to society,” that is to entire countries. Even if the fallen spirits may not persevere long time on the same place or occupation due to their pride and inquietude, still this allows to speak of a “prince of Persia” or of a “prince of Greece”.

In this universal sense we speak commonly of “the spirit of a time”—”Zeitgeist”, or, in consecrated life, of the “community spirit” (cf. B. Cole, Christian Totality, Bombay, 1990, 223-226).

3. “Michael, one of the chief princes”

St. Michael, the archangel, is here called “one of the chief princes.” He is “your prince”, that is the Guardian of Israel.

a) Archangel or Principality?

So, we may ask: Is it then correct to call St. Michael both prince and archangel (St. Jude in v. 9 identifies him as an archangel)? “Prince” could indicate here already one of the angelic choirs which St. Paul mentions (cf. Eph 2:21 and Col 1:16), because, according tradition, the angels of the choir of the Principalities are “presiding over the government of peoples and kingdoms” (St. Thomas, ST, I, 108,6c; cf. John Paul II, Catechesis of August 6, 1986). And this choir is above the choir of the Archangels as “’the good of a nation is more divine than the good of one man’ (Ethics I, 2)” (ST, I, 108,6). In this case, he would be called “prince” only on account of this general guardian angelship. It would reasonably follow that St. Michael is an Archangel by nature, and subsequent to some mystery of divine grace he has been assigned a mission that is proper to a prince. And, with the mission comes the grace from God to carry it out worthily.  

b) St. Michael a Seraphim?

Suarez along with other theologians, arguing from St. Michael’s victory over the devil (“Prince of the Heavenly Hosts!”), placed him at the top of the angelic choirs, considering him “one of the highest Seraphim.” However, this does not necessarily follow. First, because God chooses the weak to defeat the strong, in order to show His own sovereignty. He chose David to defeat Goliath, and weak women to defeat the enemies of Israel. He called a handmaid to crush the head of the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15). Our Lady chooses children for her work, and even St. Michael himself acts like this: Leading France, which was consecrated to him, into freedom he chose the young girl, Joan of Arc.

Secondly, because “hosts” is a military term, and does not include all the angelic missions. After the enemy was cast out by a “David” among the angels, his place was found no more in heaven. Hence, St. Michael, as prince of the heavenly, angelic armies, will carry out this mission in the depths where this battle is actually being fought on earth and in the hearts of men. (cf. Rev 12:9,17). Of the military host, St. Michael is first, but the office of adoration and contemplation, proper to the Seraphim and Cherubim, belong to a different and higher order.  

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Daniel has allowed us to take a glimpse behind the curtain. He uncovers the reasons why   some long and hard pastoral efforts fail to bear fruit: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Ps 127:1; cf. Ps 147:10-11). Great pastors like St. Francis de Sales or St. Alphonsus de Ligouri understood very well this spiritual truth, which St. Ignatius expressed in the epigram: “Work as if everything depended on you; pray in the knowledge that everything depends upon God!” “The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear HIM” (Ps 34:7). It is not perchance that these lessons belong to the Psalms, that is, to the recitation of the Divine Office, our first task in favor of the people of God.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC