Association of Priests

Vol. XVI, October 2010

How the angel communicates with man (cf. Zac 1:9)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The prophet Zechariah explicitly refers to his communications with an angel. Looking through the biblical history, we saw, how every prophetical ministry benefits from a special angelic assistance.

In the last meditation we omitted mentioning a detail of not a small importance. While the translations commonly speak simply of “the angel who talked with me”, the Latin version has “angelus qui loquebatur in me”, or, according the Septuaginta: “ei=pen pro,j me o` a;ggeloj o` lalw/n evn evmoi, – he talked to me, the angel who speaks in me” (Zac 1:9). This leads us beyond the fact that the angel speaks with man. It raises the problem: how does the angel communicate with man or with a prophet in particular.

1. The conversation among angels and man

a) Exterior manifestations. There is no doubt about the active physical intervention by angels in man’s life. When the people of Sodom were about to break into the house of Lot, “the men put forth their hands and brought Lot into the house to them, and shut the door. And they struck” – through some kind of physical influence – “with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great” (Gen 19:10-11). In one “night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies” (2 Kings 19:35; cf. par.). In a peaceful way Raphael was found by Tobias to be just like a normal human person, so that the angel had to explain at the end his real identity: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One... All these days I merely appeared to you and did not eat or drink, but you were seeing a vision” (Tob 12:15,19). And was not St. Gabriel standing before Zechariah, “on the right side of the altar of incense” (Lk 1:12). He spoke to Zechariah (v. 13-17 and 19-20) and Zechariah to him (v. 18). The angel acted upon him so that he was “unable to speak” (v. 20) from that very moment on until the naming of his son John.

Of St. Gabriel is also said that he “came to” Our Lady, and again “departed from her” (Lk 1:28,38). St. Peter thought he was dreaming when “the angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’” (Acts 12:7). It was not until he was left alone standing in the street that he realized this his assume dream was actual reality (v. 10)?

b) Interior manifestations

However, there were also different manifestations. Some really just received communications in a dream or within themselves like St. Joseph. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” speaking concrete words, giving him orders which changed his life for ever, so that they were for him truly real (cf. Mt 1:20-25; cf. 2:13-15,19-23). A similar experience may have been that of St. Paul to whom appeared in “a vision”: “A man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us,’” to which the Apostle reacted “immediately” (Acts 16:9-10; cf. 27:23-27). He could not say how it happened to him when he was taken “up to the third heaven,” namely if it was “in the body or out of the body I do not know … and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor 12:2:4).

c) Experiences in the history of the Church

It is not the purpose of the biblical texts to delve into the ‘mechanics’ of such phenomena; such are the distinctions proper to the science of theology. Some later experiences may complete the spectrum.

St. Faustina reports in her Diary, how, even in the chapel, “Satan took a flowerpot and angrily hurled it to the ground with all his might. … I got up, picked up the pieces of the flowerpot, [and] repotted the flowers” (n. 411-412). Sometimes she had only the impression that he acted, but outwardly was nothing changed: ”Satan seized the screen and began to break and crush it…and yet the screen was not shattered or broken” (n. 713). Once she “saw many ugly monsters” and made only “mentally the sign of the cross and they disappeared immediately” (n. 540).

At the apparitions of the angel in Fatima, it happened that Francisco did observe that the two girls were speaking with the angel, but he himself did not hear him. Some may recall the famous story of the American soldier Mike in the Korean war: When he got separated from his fellow soldiers, he really had suddenly another soldier at his side, with the same name Mike. Seeing the Korean soldiers before him ready to fire, he wanted the other to throw himself to the ground, that he would not get shot. This other Michael, however, not only remained standing upright, but also was not hit by any of their bullets despite the point blank range. Moreover, he dispatched the seven enemy soldiers with his sword.

In fact, the Church teaches us that spirits, good and bad, can, by their natural powers, act in the physical world. Therefore good and evil spirits act “in the world”, and – in case of the fallen angels, -they can “cause grave injuries - of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature” (CCC 395).

2. The adequate way of communication of a pure spirit

Divine Revelation shows the great spectrum of man, body and soul,, outside and inside are fields of angelic action. Let’s listen to the theological reflection about this.

a) They enlighten human mind. St. John of the Cross said once that the influence of our mind is the normal way how an angel communicates with man: “Reflect that your Guardian Angel does not always move your desire for an action, but does always enlighten your reason…” (“Sayings of light and love”, 34). The most noble form of communication with man would be, then, the spiritual interior way. That is, what St. Thomas clearly teaches about the prophecies. He says:

“The Divine ordering, according to Dionysius, is such that the lowest things are directed by middle things. Now the angels hold a middle position between God and men, in that they have a greater share in the perfection of the Divine goodness than men have. Wherefore the Divine enlightenments and revelations are conveyed from God to men by the angels.” (Summa Theologiae, p. II-II, q. 172, a. 2c)

Such angelic communications may or may not also make use of images presented either to the exterior or interior senses. The key to the intellectual light of the Holy Angels is that it strengthens man to make a proper and true judgment about this. This is why the demons prefer to work and impress with phenomena, since they are not interested in leading to the truth, but rather in deceiving.

b) There principles. In another question about “How the angels act on men” (ST, p. I, q. 111), St. Thomas bases his answer on three principles.

The first and most basic principle is this: Every “corporeal nature obeys the angel as regards local movement, so that whatever can be caused by the local movement of bodies is subject to the natural power of the angels.” (Ibid., a.3c)

A second principle is: The human intellect’s nature requires phantasms in order to understand something.

A third principle is this: “The will is moved from without… by the intellect [or] …by the passion” (Ibid., a.2)

In consequence, we can say: the entire human body and through it even the intellectual capacities and the inclinations of the will are submitted to angelic influences or, the entire human organism and interior life can be influenced by the angels. Only this distinction needs to be maintained: whereas the angel can directly move the senses and the mind to a proper perception of the truth, they can only move the will indirectly, either by rational persuasion or by means of the affections. Modern medicine (but is it really just the medicine of our time?) is more and more aware of psychosomatic states – whereby some physical condition can be traced to some spiritual cause. In the gospels we find this many times, for example the “woman… whom Satan bound for eighteen years,” “who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. … Jesus … said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.’ And … immediately she was made straight” (Lk 13:16,11-13).

c) The influence on the lower part of human soul

Following these basic truths, allows St. Thomas to say: “By his natural power… an angel can offer the senses a sensible object from without, formed by nature or by the angel himself, as when he assumes a body… Likewise he can move the spirits and humors from within, … whereby the senses are changed in various ways” (Ibid., a.4c; cf. p. I, q. 51). Applying to our question: The angels can speak to man from without and from within, from without through their real influences on the exterior world, from within through the influence or direct action upon the human body, his exterior senses like the eyes (in the case of “physical” visions) and ears (when someone hears the physical sound of words or voices), but also through influences on the smelling (often significant in some areas of the discernment of spirits!), and through influences upon interior senses like the awakening in the memory images or words from the past, and stirring up imaginations in the fantasy, but also mixing in the humors of the body in order to direct the emotions, attracting to prayer through joy and undisturbed recollection or awakening fear or disgust with life or dislike for everything having to do with God.

3. “The angel who speaks in me”

Between the angelic influence on the material and purely intellectual world, lies the broad area of the exterior and interior senses. St. Thomas deals with all of them and affirms the possibility of the angelic action upon this interior world in man.

Therefore, Cornelius a Lapide can say in his commentary to our text that the angel did not speak to the prophet “with an exterior voice, but through an interior mental or imaginary inspiration”.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

While this closer attention to the Sacred text does not give us any new doctrinal conclusions to our prior meditation on this text, it does lead us to to the prudent conviction that we really should take our interior life more seriously. The world of our imagination and thoughts is not “fantasy”, but is the medium in which God’s servants communicate with us. Like the prophets, we should listen inwardly, and pay attention to the thoughts which come “into our mind”. If we ask sincerely in our morning prayer for God’s guidance in our ministry through our holy Angel, God’s ordinary minister in our interior, and trust in his assistance, then we be attentive interiorly to the “movements” in our soul. Some, of course, are merely natural, others come from above, others from below, and it is our task to discern and respond accordingly.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC