The Association of Priests in the Opus Angelorum is for those who feel called by God to pastorally assist the faithful of the OA in their region and/or for those who want to find some spiritual support in their priestly ministry through clerical reunions of prayer and retreats. The monthly Circular Letter with meditations on the angels in Scripture is intended as an (unofficial) instrument of common formation and as a help towards deeper communion with the holy angels and among ourselves. It is directed to all bishops, priests and deacons who are particularly interested in collaborating with the holy angels and to the members of the Association itself.

XXIV, Jan./Feb. 2018

“The darkness has not overcome It.” (Jn 1:5)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

To further cultivate our openness for the invisible world let us continue our reflections on “the Angels in the holy Gospels”, now in the gospel of St. John. “The Eagle” is the Living Being, the Cherubim, who accompanied St. John in his vocation as Evangelist, according to an old tradition, dating back to St. Irenaeus. Eagles with their sharp eyes soar high in the sky, and so gain the proverbial eagle’s global vision of things here below. This characteristic invites us to seek behind the concrete letters and events in St. John’s gospel in order to discern the divine intention and reference to the invisible spiritual world. The angels belong to that world. They are part of creation and surround us even more effectively and actively than the visible world.

1. The universal view

If we attune our eyes beyond the express material dimensions, we can discern the presence of the Angels already in the very beginning of this fourth gospel.

a) The real horizon of the prologue

The opening of the fourth gospel is a “song” as some say, a praise of the “Word made flesh”, the Son of God who came to redeem mankind.

We are familiar with the Divine view in S. Scripture (cf. the parables of the Kingdom, Mt 13 or St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in its universal dimensions, Phil 2,6-11). Therefore, it should not surprise us when we see that St. John opens his gospel with a universal view. “In the beginning” he says and chooses herewith the same words with which the first Book of Sacred Scripture opens, the book of Genesis (Gen 1:1). He underscores the equality of the Son -- here identified as the “Word” -- with GOD: “The Word was God.” (Jn 1:1) Then he tells us that “All things came to be through him”, (that is to say, were created by him); and finally, he became man, “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14). Then he leaps forward to Christ’s state of victory -- “his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) -- and to the efficacy of His grace in us who have “all received, grace in place of grace” (Jn 1:16; cf. CCC 2001).

b) The presence of the Angels

If John’s Prologue opens such wide vistas of light and truth before our eyes, we can also seek and find implicit references to the angels therein. The first line in the Book of Genesis reads: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). St. John develops this, saying: “In the beginning was the Word, … and the Word was God… All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3), that means, “all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible,…” (Col 1:16). “What came to be through him was life” (Jn 1:3-4), everything from “the Angel to the small worm” (St. Augustine, In John, I, 13), that is in all the “different levels of life in the world: plants, animals, humans, and angels” (F. Martin and W. Wright, The Gospel of John, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2015, p. 34). Therefore, in this general and universal statement the angels are included. This explains Gabriel Amorth’s statement: “Theology will be unfinished and incomprehensible until it focuses on the world of the angels.” (An Exorcist tells his Story, pag.25).

2. “The darkness”

Then follows the mysterious reference to “darkness” – not affirmed as created or made by the Word, but again in parallel to the opening of Genesis. There we read: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was.” And the text continues, “God then separated the light from the darkness.” (Gen 1:3-4) And St. John: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:4-5).

a) “… neither overpower the light nor understand”

With the rejection of light, (in the Greek, “katalambanein”), translated with “overcome”, is emphasized the real, moral opposition between light and darkness. “The verb translated ‘overcome’ can also mean ‘comprehend.’ The spiritual darkness can neither overpower the light nor understand the light and its ways.” (Martin and Wright, p. 34; cf. C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 19).

Consider how these two translations reflect the two spiritual faculties of angels and men: the intellect and will (cf. 1 Cor 1:23). Consider, further, that St. John mentions other two rejections. One he attributes to the – entire – “World”, the other, to “His own,” (i.e., the Chosen People Israel): “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own did not accept him.” (Jn 1:9-11) Surely, this is not a mere repetition. If we look backwards, from Israel, “his own”, to the “world” or all mankind, then it follows logically that the first refutation was done by the angelic malice, “the darkness,” (Jn 1:5), “the liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8,44).

b) A confrontation at the beginning

To understand this let us recall: The greatness of the rational creatures, created in God’s image and likeness, consists precisely in their freedom in the choice of the good. Concerning them the Church tells us: “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love.” (CCC 311)

The Catechism continues: “They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world.” (CCC 311) Does this bring light upon our text, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)? Exegetes wonder about the present indicative tense in the first part of the phrase and about the past aorist tense in the second phrase: This light refers to “God and his plan” (CCC 414) with “the human race”. For, God put mankind in the center, as the focus of all creation, uniting in him the material and spiritual world. God’s light, his plan is eternal, of course, and therefore “shines” perpetually into creation. In fact, we know today through the Magisterium, that “God created the world for the sake of communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by the ‘convocation’ of men in Christ, and this ‘convocation’ is the Church. [Therefore,] The Church is the goal of all things, and God permitted such painful upheavals as the angels’ fall and man’s sin only as occasions and means for displaying all the power of his arm and the whole measure of the love he wanted to give the world.” (CCC 760)

So, we may affirm, that the “darkness” which opposed the WORD as “light of the human race” refers first of all to the perverse will of the fallen angels. When God exposed his plan to them at the beginning or after their creation, some rejected that light and recoiled in aversion away from the Light into darkness. Herewith entered an opposition into the history of salvation which marks the entire gospel of St. John, “the battle between the light and the darkness, a theme which is presented in a progressive ‘crescendo’ throughout the entire book. We will understand the Prologue only after having read the entire book,” says Frei Alcindo da Costa in a note to his translation (Novo Testamento, Lisboa, 1988, 323). Its origin dates back to the angels, beyond “man, (who was) enticed by the Evil One, (and thus) abused his freedom,” so that it came to “a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness” (II Vat., GS 13; CCC 1707; cf. 1851). St. John writes in his first letter: “Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn 3:8). “Jesus knows He is sent against Satan” (R. Guardini, The Lord, II,7; cf. IV, 3).

3. “The story of dour combat with the powers of evil”

We are told that what happened at the beginning lasts in its consequences until today. “This dramatic situation of ‘the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one’ (1 Jn 5:19) 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.” (II Vat., GS 37; CCC 409)

a) Awareness of the battle

Seeing this clearly, we need not wonder anymore why neither the “World” nor “his own” people failed to accept the Word, the Creator. One was blinded in its mind, “did not know him;” the other did not want him, “did not accept him.” (Jn 1:9-11). We too belong by nature to this race. Therefore, we should be aware and accept that we are “in the midst of the battlefield” (CCC 409) and have to struggle. To water down the difference between light and darkness, through relativism, is just one more of the many maneuvers of the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44), aim to seduce and lead us there, where he suffers forever. “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet, and sweet into bitter!” (Is 5:20).

b) “But to those who did accept him …”

How often, people ask: How is it possible to say “No!” to God? Of course, they do not advert to the distinction between God in his Glory and of his Will presented as “the light of human race”, which, as a light of faith, is perforce obscure. Correct in that questioning, though, is this: The more we recognize the greatness of God, his infinite wisdom, power, beauty, goodness, the more we admire God’s perfection and transcendent holiness, and say with St. Michael: “Who is like God!” …, the less the incomprehensibility of the plan of God will disorient and disturb us, and the easier it becomes to confidently surrender in holy obedience to his will, for “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8,28).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We cannot reflect sufficiently nor be grateful enough for the promise with which St. John concludes this opening passage of his gospel: “To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God.” This WORD will make “his dwelling among us,” and we will see “his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:12,14) It seems, that every time we reflect on references to the angels in the gospels we grow deeper and deeper in the knowledge of our vocation. May we respond generously to God’s call with the help of the faithful angels, especially at the hand of our own Guardian Angel. May we also with ever deeper conviction proclaim this call to glory to all entrusted to our care.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


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