Vol. XIV, April 2008


“Michael … came to help me.” (Dan 10:13)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last meditation we came upon the first explicit biblical reference to Saint Michael. The “man clothed in linen,” (who many think is St. Gabriel, the angel of the Annunciation; cf. Jerusalem Bible), referred to St. Michael as his helper in the battle against the princes of Persia and Greece. In Daniel 10:13,20 we found that angelic movement was mentioned four times: “Michael…came to help me, so I left him there” (v. 13); and “Do you know why I have come to you? I will return to fight against the prince of Persia” (v. 20). The “man clothed in linen” had some business in Persia: in order to communicate his message to Daniel, he had to “come” to Daniel in Babylon. At the same time, St. Michael, “your prince” (v. 21), the Angel of the Chosen people of Israel had to go to Persia, to help St. Gabriel in his battle. This raises the question: Do the angels move from place to place? Is this not rather a property of corporeal beings?

1. That the Angels Move

Sacred Scripture, in both the OT and NT, often speaks of the apparition of angels in terms of their “coming” and “going”: “The devil left Him [Jesus], and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” (Mt 4:11)

“The angel of the Lord came [to Gideon] and sat under the oak at Ophrah,” and at the end, “the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight” (Judges 6:11,21). Manoah and his wife witnessed how“the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar” (Judges 13:20). “An angel … “came again a second time, and touched him,” the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:5,7).

The prophet Daniel himself mentioned “the man Gabriel … [who] came to me in swift flight.” (Dan 9:21) Also “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” (Lk 2:13) and “suddenly two men in white were standing beside them,” the apostles (NJB Acts 1:11; cf. St. Peter, Acts 12:10). What kind of coming and going is this?

2. The “How?” of the Angelic Movements

Saint Thomas dealt with this question, and helps clarify the necessary distinctions in the first Part of the Summa Theologiae (Questions 52 and 53).

a) Angels and Space

First, St. Thomas states that space is constituted by the presence of a body or material being “but there is no such quantity in the angels” (q. 52,1,c). How then, can an angel be in a corporeal place? The angels are related to material objects because God has given them charge over the material world and man. Nevertheless, the angels as pure spirits do not occupy space. Rather, they act upon the material objects with their angelic power. “Where the angel operates, there he is” (Damascene in: q. 52, a. 2 obj.3). The effect on the material objects makes the angels’ presence palpably perceptible. In the words of St. Thomas: “theirs [quantity] is a virtual one. Consequently an angel is said to be in a corporeal place by application of the angelic power” (q. 52, a.1). This will always be a limited area, for the angel “is not everywhere” (q. 52, a.2) like God.

b) The Angel’s Virtual (Spiritually Active) Influence

Their virtual influence can easily be verified in many instances. For example, in Gethsemane where “an angel appeared to [Jesus], coming from heaven to give him strength.” (Jerusalem Bible Lk 22:43) Or with St. John, when “God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1). “The angel is indivisible, and beyond the genus of quantity and situation. Consequently … according as to his own free-will he applies his power to a great or to a small body”—“body” here means the whole area, the object upon which the angel exercises his influence (cf. q. 52, a.2). This allows for the conclusion: There can be different material objects moved by one act of an angel—as when a teacher speaks to many students at once, although many, they form one “body”, the one formal object of the one audience.

Also, many angels can act upon a single material object, if it is not under the same formal aspect, for although “there is one proximate form of one thing…” there “may be several remote movers” (52 a.3)—for example when a person in prayer is under the influence of God’s presence in her soul, but also under the influence of the different angels who help her, one keeping the discouraging devil away, a second one placing in her imagination the scene of the Crucifixion, while a third stimulates a response of repentance, while yet a forth influences the understanding, etc.

c) The Angel’s Movement in Time

Are we actually speaking, then, of movement, when the angels act in this virtual, spiritually active way? How far do the angels really move or what type of movement is this which Sacred Scripture describes so frequently?

Having in mind, what was already said, St. Thomas explains: “It is impossible to say that he [the angel] is in any place during the whole time… Some ‘now’ or ‘then’ must be assigned to this angelic activity upon physical creation … But where there are many ‘now’s’ succeeding one another, there is necessarily time; … the movement of an angel is in time. It is in continuous time if his movement be continuous,” as it is the case, when the angel remains at the side of man longer, “and in non-continuous time if his movement is non-continuous” or sudden through the change of his influence from one object to another. The angel’s “movement can be of either kind” (I, 53,3).

We are familiar with the example of Raphael, who stayed with the family for many days, and yet, he told them “All these days … you were seeing a vision…” (continuous time) “Then they stood up; but they saw him no more” (non-continuous time) (Tob 12:19,21).  

In the Fioretti’s of Saint Francis, (n. 4) the visit of an angel in the hermitage in Spoleto, Italy, is described. He knocked on the door and waited to be attended (continuous time). And “on the same day and at the same hour” in which he disappeared there, he appeared to Brother Bernard in Spain in the same figure; he recognized him as an angel. The angel told him, in his Italian language, that he is just came from Italy (non-continuous time).

Applying this to our text, the “man clothed in linen” speaks of a battle with an enemy which is one activity, then he came to Daniel to announce to him future events, which is another activity, and also directed to another person. This is a change of his action, of his influence on different material objects, and to indicate this, we say “the angel moved suddenly”.

3. The Reasons of Angelic Movement

There is still one question left: If the “body” which the angel acts upon is composed of many objects, as the many students of one teacher, what then may be the reason for the movement? Our text speaks of two different angels who change their activity for the time-being. This gives us an insight into two dimensions of the angels’ life and movement. They seem to have a specific qualification determined by their nature and a task within the rest of creation.  

a) St. Michael “ Your Prince” and Warrior (v. 21)

When the “man clothed in linen” mentioned Michael as help, he calls him “Michael, your prince” (v. 21). Tradition considered St. Michael “protector of the People of God; cf. Dn 10:21; 12:1” (Benedict XVI, Homily on Sept. 29, 2007). It is a fixed task, in this case not bound to a local place or space, but to people: Wherever an Israelite is to be found, the influence of St. Michael is present. His virtual movement and presence, moreover, may go beyond the boundaries of Israel, when their defense calls for his intervention anywhere in the world. In the context of Daniel, such an intervention takes place in Persia.

The movements of one angel to Persia and the other from there are not explained by the fact that: Michael was to help in the battle and that the “man clothed in linen” went to Daniel to reveal certain news. None of these motives are linked with their local or fixed tasks. The ability to fight, common to all angels, especially befits St. Michael precisely inasmuch as he is an angel of faith and humility. This is why he is the angel of Israel and the Church. The other angel’s task is more that of a messenger; he came to make Daniel “understand what is to befall your people in the latter days” (v. 14; cf. 8:16 and 9:21-22).

In order to do this, he must withdraw from his defensive activity in Persia while he stays with Daniel. Or can he act upon different objects in different ways at the same time? Although his movement can be instantaneous, he is not able to be everywhere.

b) A Parallel—Guardian Angelship

The sun’s rays causes a variety of effects: heat in some objects, visibility in others: generation in some cases, decay in others. Similarly, in her love a mother knows how to resolve so many difficulties. She solicitously watches after the little baby on the floor, consoles the girl in her arms, speaks to her husband on the phone and prays for the deceased she reads about in the paper, all apparently at the same time, and yet directing her reflective attention to just one, even if her mind goes almost instantaneously from one to the other. Yet, there are moments, when she needs to call a specialist, in one case, a physician, in another a plumber or an electrician, etc. God explained to Moses the different acts of the Angel of Israel: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared…” and to “be an enemy to your enemies” (Ex 23:20-22). Similarly the patron angel of a country cares for many needs of his people. He does not need to move physically, yet he “moves” his mind from one object to another, from one need to another in every possible category of human need. Insofar as they cannot be united in a single angelic ‘concept’, he must deal with them sequentially. And sometimes he too needs to call a specialist from among his angelic brothers. This it is what happened here. And whenever an angel changes the object towards which he directs his influence, we say “he moves”.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood

Besides this lesson on the relationship of the angels to us and their movement, we have also witnessed a beautiful example of union and mutual collaboration among the angels in the battle against the enemies. In our pastoral ministry we should call upon these heavenly pastoral helpers as they do among themselves. Likewise, we can be ready to share more generously our talents where needed, say in parish missions, conferences, confessions, special counseling etc. May the holy angels lead us to an ever deeper union with them and among ourselves.

Fr. Titus Kieninger