Angels in the Writing of the Saints
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The eminent dignity of the holy angels and their importance for our spiritual life has been recognized by many Saints. Here are some selections from just a few of the Saints who have written on the angels.
What the Scriptures teach us concerning the Creation of the Angels
(City of God, Bk XI, ch. 9)
At present, since I have undertaken to treat of the origin of the Holy City, and first of the holy angels, who constitute a large part of this city, and indeed the more blessed part, since they have never been expatriated, I will give myself to the task of explaining, by God’s help…the Scriptures which relate to this point. Where Scripture speaks of the world’s creation, it is not plainly said whether or when the angels were created; but if mention of them is made, it is implicitly under the name of “heaven”, when it is said, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” or perhaps rather under the name of “light”….
Yet, though the fact that the angels are the work of God…it is indeed not explicitly mentioned; but elsewhere Holy Scripture asserts it in the clearest manner. For…here the angels are most expressly and by divine authority said to have been made by God, for of them among the other heavenly things it is said, “He commanded, and they were created” (Ps 148). Who, then, will be bold enough to suggest that the angels were made after the six days’ creation? If any one is so foolish, his folly is disposed of by a Scripture of like authority, where God says, “When the stars were made, the angels praised me with a loud voice.” (Job 38:7).
The angels therefore existed before the stars; and the stars were made the fourth day. Shall we then say that they were made the third day? Far from it; for we know what was made that day. The earth was separated from the water … and the earth produced all that grows on it. On the second day, then? Not even on this; for on it the firmament was made between the waters above and beneath, and was called “heaven.” …There is no question, then, that if the angels are included in the works of God during these six days, they are that light which was called “day,” and whose unity Scripture signalizes by calling that day not the “first day,” but “one day.”
…For when God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” if we are justified in understanding in this light the creation of the angels, then certainly they were created partakers of the eternal Light which is the unchangeable Wisdom of God, by which all things were made, and whom we call the Only-Begotten Son of God; so that they, being illumined by the Light that created them, might themselves become light and be called “day,” in participation of that unchangeable Light and Day which is the Word of God, by whom both themselves and all else were made. “The true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Jn 1:9)—this Light lighteth also every pure angel, that he may be light not in himself, but in God; from whom if an angel turn away, he becomes impure, as are all those who are called unclean spirits, and are no longer light in the Lord, but darkness in themselves, being deprived of the participation of Light eternal. For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name “evil.”
Blessed John Henry Newman
In his poem, Dream of Gerontius, Blessed John Henry Newman describes the parting of a soul into the world of spirits. Rather than Beatrice as in Dante’s Divine Paradise, it is the Guardian Angel who receives the soul and explains to him the new world of life after death. Here we cite a short excerpt from the hymn of praise to God sung by the Angel:
Angel: O Lord, how wonderful in depth and height,
But most in man, how wonderful Thou art!
With what a love, what soft persuasive might
Victorious o’er the stubborn fleshly heart,
Thy tale complete of saints Thou dost provide,
To fill the thrones which angels lost through pride!
He lay a groveling babe upon the ground,
Polluted in the blood of his first sire,
With his whole essence shatter’d and unsound,
And coil’d around his heart a demon dire,
Which was not of his nature, but had skill
To bind and form his op’ning mind to ill.
Then was I sent from heaven to set right
The balance in his soul of truth and sin,
And I have waged a long relentless fight,
Resolved that death-environ’d spirit to win,
Which from its fallen state, when all was lost,
Had been repurchased at so dread a cost.
Oh, what a shifting parti-colour’d scene
Of hope and fear, of triumph and dismay,
Of recklessness and penitence, has been
The history of that dreary, life-long fray!
And oh, the grace to nerve him and to lead,
How patient, prompt, and lavish at his need!
O man, strange composite of heaven and earth!
Majesty dwarf’d to baseness! fragrant flower
Running to poisonous seed! and seeming worth
Cloking corruption! weakness mastering power!
Who never art so near to crime and shame,
As when thou hast achieved some deed of name;—
How should ethereal natures comprehend
A thing made up of spirit and of clay,
Were we not task’d to nurse it and to tend,
Link’d one to one throughout its mortal day?
More than the Seraph in his height of place,
The Angel-Guardian knows and loves the ransom’d race.
St. Padre Pio
Padre Pio to his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina
You tell me that in the midst of the sufferings that oppress you, you often turn to me in your thoughts and you call me. Well, your good Guardian Angel sometimes transmits these necessities of yours and then I, in my unworthiness, always do my duty with Jesus, recommending you to His fatherly goodness. (Letters, Vol. II, no. 30)
Offer to the glory of His Divine Majesty the rest you are about to take, [she was bedridden with cancer at this time] and never forget the Guardian Angel who is always with you, never leaving you, whatever wrong you might do. Oh, the ineffable goodness of our good Guardian Angel! How many times—alas!—I have made him cry for not having wanted to comply with his wishes, which were also God’s. May this, our most faithful friend, free us from further disloyalty. (no. 41)
Oh Raffaelina, what a consolation it is to know one is always in the care of a celestial spirit, who does not abandon us (how admirable!) even when we offend God! How sweet is this great truth for the believer! Who, then, does the devout soul fear, who tries to love Jesus, having always close by such a great warrior? Oh, was he not one of the many who, together with the angel Saint Michael, up there in the heavens, defended the honor of God against Satan and against all the other rebellious spirits, and finally reduced them to perdition and bound them in hell?
Well, know that he is still powerful against Satan and his minions; his charity has not diminished, nor will he ever fail in defending us. Develop the beautiful habit of always thinking of him; that near us is a celestial spirit, who, from the cradle to the tomb, does not leave us for an instant, guides us, protects us as a friend, a brother; will always be a consolation to us, especially in our saddest moments.
Know, O Raffaelina, that this good Angel prays for you; offers to God all the good works you accomplish; your holy and pure desires. In the hours when you seem to be alone and abandoned, do not complain of not having a friendly soul to whom you can unburden yourself and in whom you can confide your sorrows. For pity’s sake, do not forget this invisible companion, always present to listen to you, always ready to console you.
Oh delicious intimacy, oh blessed company! O if all men could understand this great gift that God, in His excess of love for man, assigned to us, this celestial spirit. Often remember his presence. You must fix on him the eyes of your soul: thank him, pray to him; he is so refined, so sensitive. Respect him, be in constant fear of offending the purity of his gaze. (no. 64)
Invoke often this Guardian Angel, this benevolent Angel and repeat the beautiful prayer: Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. AMEN.
What will be, O my dear Raffaelina, the consolation when, at the moment of death, your soul will see this Angel, so good, who accompanied you through life and was so liberal in maternal care. Oh may this sweet thought make you grow always more fond of the Cross of Jesus, this being also what your good Angel wants. May the desire to see this inseparable companion arouse in you that charity which incites you to leave this body quickly.
Oh what a holy and salutary thought it is to want to see our good Angel. It is this thought which should make us want to leave this dark prison in which we are bound. O Raffaelina, where do my thoughts fly to now…? I treat this dear little Angel, I do not say as a friend, but as one of the family. And, to tell you the truth, this little Angel does not seem to be the least little bit offended by my treatment of him. How dear and how good he is. (no. 64)
Invoke your Guardian Angel that he illuminate you and will guide you. God has given him to you for this reason. Therefore use him! ~ Send me your Guardian Angel—he doesn’t have to pay a ticket for the train and he doesn’t wear out his shoes.
Story of Padre Pio and the Guardian Angel
An Italian-American who lived in California sometimes entrusted his Guardian Angel to report some messages to Padre Pio. Once after confession, he asked Padre Pio if he really had received his messages from his Guardian Angel. Saint Pio asked him: “What do you think? Do you think I am hard of hearing?” After that Padre Pio repeated the messages that were sent him some days before by his Guardian Angel.
St. John Vianney
In the following short texts, St. Jean Vianney witnesses to his conscious devotion to the holy angels:
Ah! if we had the eyes of angels with which to see our Lord Jesus Christ present on the Altar and looking at us, how we should love Him!
The first thing about the angels that we ought to imitate, is their consciousness of the Presence of God.
Our Guardian Angels are our most faithful friends, because they are with us day and night, always and everywhere. We ought often to invoke them.
The Angels take great pleasure in helping us with our enterprises, when they are in accordance with God’s will.
If you find it impossible to pray, hide behind your good Angel and charge him to pray in your stead.
We ought to ask the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints to pray for us that we may receive the good God as worthily as it is possible for us to receive Him. (Sermon on Holy Communion)
There is not a single creature which does not provide us with the means of reaching God. If any of them become an obstacle, it is only by our misuse of them.
The devil writes down our sins—our Guardian Angel all our merits. Labor that the Guardian Angel’s book may be full, and the devil’s empty.
If you invoke the Blessed Virgin when you are tempted, she will come at once to your help, and Satan will leave you.
Do not try to please everybody. Try to please God, the angels, and the saints—they are your public.
With what humility should we assist at Mass, if we realized that our Guardian Angel was kneeling beside us, prostrate before the majesty of God! With what eagerness should we not ask him to offer our prayers to Jesus Christ !
Like the saints, let us be very zealous in fulfilling all our duties; let the devil never find us doing nothing, lest we should yield to temptation.
God , the Blessed Virgin, the angels and saints are about our path; they are at our side and see all we do.
After thanking our Guardian Angel who has remained by our side during our sleep, we should ask him for his protection during the day.
How happy is that Guardian Angel who accompanies a soul to Holy Mass!
In the following short texts, St. Jean Vianney witnesses to his devotion to the holy angels and struggles with the devil:
O my God! I desire to love You more than all the angels and all the saints put together. I adore You with them, and unite my love with that which Your Blessed Mother had for You, when she was on earth.
We must take great care never to do anything before having said our Morning Prayers…. The devil once declared…that if he could have the first moment of the day, he was sure of all the rest. (Sermon on the First Commandment)
What a comfort to you it is to know that when we go out of the house, we are never alone en route. (Sermon on the Feast of the Guardian Angels)
When we are walking in the streets, let us fix our eyes on Our Lord bearing his Cross before us; on the Blessed Virgin who is looking at us; on our Guardian Angel who is by our side. (Catechism on Self-Control)
When you awake in the night, transport yourself quickly in spirit before the Tabernacle, saying: “Behold me, my God, I come to adore You, to praise, thank, and love You, and to keep You company with all the angels.”
It is our angels who ask God to grant us a deep sorrow for our sins. (Sermon on Feast of Guardian Angels)
Offer your temptations for the conversion of sinners. When the devil sees you doing this, he is beside himself with rage and makes off, because then the temptation is turned against himself.
Blessed are they who are tempted! It is when the devil sees that a soul is tending towards union with God that he redoubles his efforts. (Sermon on the Parable of the Tares)
If we did like St. Remigius, we should never be angry. Being questioned by a Father of the desert as to how he managed to be always in an even temper, replied: “I often consider that my Guardian Angel is always by my side…..”
If we could only see the JOY of our Guardian Angel when he sees us fighting our temptations! (On temptation)
In the Sacraments, it is God himself who comes to annihilate our enemy. The devil, seeing Him in our heart, throws himself despairingly into the bottomless pit; which explains why he does all he can to draw us away from them, or to make us receive them badly.
All the angels and saints are engaged in trying to prevent us from committing sins.
What happiness it is to a Guardian Angel to have the care of a pure soul. When the soul is pure, all the Court of Heaven looks upon it with joy.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Sermon on the Song of Songs, 7
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, known as the “last of the Fathers” and Doctor of the Church, wrote an extended commentary on the Song of Songs. In this work he frequently meditates upon the angels, their nature and ministry. We cite here his meditation on the nine choirs of angels and their ministries towards God and men.
“Let him kiss me,” she exclaimed, “with the kiss of his mouth.” A sublime favor is petitioned, and hence there is need that the petitioner should be commended by a becoming modesty in the manner of the request. One who seeks access to the interior of the home goes round to the intimate friends or members of the household to attain what he desires. In this present instance who might these people be? In my opinion they are the holy angels who wait on us as we pray, who offer to God the petitions and desires of men, at least of those men whose prayer they recognize to be sincere, free from anger and dissension. We find proof of this in the words of the angel to Tobias: “When you prayed with tears and buried the dead, and left your dinner and hid the dead by day in your house, and buried them by night, I offered your prayer to the Lord.” I feel that you are fully persuaded of this from many other testimonies of Scripture. That the holy angels do condescend to mingle with us when we praise God in psalmody is very clearly stated by the Psalmist: “The princes went before, joined with the singers, in the midst of young damsels playing on timbrels.” He also said: “I will sing praise to you in the sight of the angels.”
For this reason it makes me sad to see some of you deep in the throes of sleep during the night office, to see that instead of showing reverence for those princely citizens of heaven you appear like corpses. When you are fervent they respond with eagerness and are filled with delight in participating in your solemn offices. What I fear is that one day, repelled by our sloth, they will angrily depart. Too late then shall we remorsefully cry out to God: “You have turned my friends away from me and made me repulsive to them;” or again: “You have turned my friends and neighbors from me, my acquaintances from my misery;” or yet again: “They that were near me stood afar off, and they that sought my soul used violence.” It is certain indeed that if the good spirits withdraw from us, we shall not easily withstand the obsessions of the evil ones. And so I must warn the slothful: “Cursed be he who does the work of God half-heartedly.” It is not I but the Lord who says: “Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
Be mindful then of these angelic princes when you go to pray or to sing the Psalms; stand with disciplined reverence and be proud that your angels continuously see the face of the Father. Since they are all spirits whose work is service, sent to help those who will be the heirs of salvation, they bear our prayers to God in heaven and return laden with graces for us. Let us make use of the service of those in whose company our lot is cast, that by the mouths of children and babes in arms praise may be made perfect. Let us invite them: “Sing praises to God, sing praises!” And let us hear them in turn responding: “Sing praises to our king, sing praises!”
We cite here his meditation on The Nine Choirs of Angels and their Ministries towards God and Men.
The Angels (meaning here the ninth choir), looking with undeviating gaze into the profound abyss of the divine judgments, are filled with inexpressible joy at the sight of their supreme righteousness; it is their glory that, through their ministry, these judgments are put into operation and made known to men. For this reason they so rightly love the Lord Christ. Scripture says: “The truth is, they are all spirits whose work is service, sent to help those who will be the heirs of salvation” [cf. Heb 1:14].
And the Archangels — whom we must regard as differing in some degree from those called Angels — experience a delight that is filled with awe as they enter more closely into the counsels of eternal wisdom, and are commissioned to execute them with supreme skill at the proper place and time. Here you have the reason why these in turn love the Lord Christ.
Other blessed spirits are named Virtues because their God-given vocation is to explore and admire with a happy curiosity the hidden and eternal causes of signs and wonders, signs that they display throughout the earth whenever they please by the powerful manipulation of the elements. As a consequence, these naturally burn with love for the Lord of Hosts, for Christ, the power of God. For it is an occupation full of sweetness and grace to contemplate the obscure mysteries of wisdom in Wisdom itself, a source of the greatest honor and glory that the effects produced by causes hidden in the Word of God should be revealed for the world’s admiration by their ministry.
Yet other spirits are named Powers. While these find their happiness in contemplating and praising the divine omnipotence of our crucified Lord that extends so effectively into every place, they are also gifted with the power to overthrow and subdue the hostile power of demons and men in defense of those who will be the heirs of salvation. And surely these have a perfect reason for loving the Lord Jesus.
Above them are the Principalities, who, contemplating Him from their higher vantage point, clearly perceive that He is the source whence all things spring, the first-born of all creation. So great is the princely dignity with which they are endowed that nothing on earth is outside their dominion; and from their exalted seat of power they change and regulate at will the fall of kingdoms and governments and officials of any rank. According to individual merits they place those who are first in the last place and the last first; they pull down the mighty from their thrones and exalt the lowly. This is the source of their incentive to love.
Then come the Dominations, who also love the Lord [Jesus]. And the reason? With a presumption meriting only praise they probe more piercingly and sublimely into the limitless and insuperable lordship of Christ, whose presence and power reach everywhere throughout the universe. With a planned excellence, He bends all things from the highest to the lowest to the sway of His supremely upright will: the succession of the seasons, the movement of bodies, the propensities of the mind. He exercises this control with so provident a care that not one of these phenomena suffers the minutest failure in its functioning, not even by an iota; and He does it with an effort so facile that He feels not the least disquietude or misgiving. Fascinated by the flawless tranquility with which the Lord of hosts governs the universe, they are caught up in a wondrous ecstasy of contemplation that is utterly delightful, utterly intense; and, consciously transported into the mighty ocean of God’s splendor, they find themselves in a secret haven so serenely calm, so completely and securely peaceful, that while they recline there…the other angelic hosts, out of reverence for their prerogative of unimpeachable dominance, perform official services on their behalf.
Next come the Thrones, who are the seat of God. These spirits have a more just cause and more abundant reasons for loving than all the others we have mentioned. For when you enter the king’s palace do you not see that though there are footstools, chairs and armchairs in every room, the king’s throne is on a higher level? You do not have to ask where the king usually sits; you notice at once the seat that is more ornate and more elevated than the rest. And so you must understand that the adorned beauty of these spirits surpasses that of all the others, for upon them by a special and stupendous act of graciousness, the God of majesty has chosen to take His seat. If a seated posture symbolizes the teaching office, one may presume that Christ, the Wisdom of God, our unique teacher in heaven and on earth, although reaching everywhere because of His spiritual power, yet imparts a special light to these in particular on whom He is throned, and from this august rostrum teaches knowledge to angels and to men. The Angels receive knowledge of God’s judgments, the Archangels of His counsels. The Virtues discover the time, place and nature of the signs they are to perform; and all, whether Powers or Principalities or Dominations, learn the extent of their official duties, the privileges of their exalted rank and a caution to which all must pay heed, not to abuse the power they have received for the sake of their own glory or convenience.
Then there are those multitudes of spirits called Cherubim. If we understand them in terms of their title, it seems to me that they possess nothing received from or by means of the others; for they are free to drink their fill from the very fountainhead, under the benign patronage of the Lord Jesus Himself, who leads them on to the very fullness of truth and eagerly unfolds before their gaze the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hoarded in the depths of His being. Neither do the spirits we call Seraphim depend on them for anything, for God, who is Love, has so drawn and assimilated them to Himself, so filled them with the ardor of affection that burns in Himself, that they seem to be one spirit with God, just as fire that flames into the air imparts its own heat and color to it and the enkindled air becomes part of the very fire. The Cherubim’s bent is to contemplate God’s infinite knowledge, the Seraphim adhere to the Love that never ends. Hence they derive their names from that occupation in which each is preeminent: the name Cherub denotes one filled with knowledge, the name Seraph one inflamed with or inciting to love.