The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 66, No 4, July-Aug. 2013
Men and Angels
By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
FREE WILL: A GIFT & ITS CONSEQUENCES, I
Our faith presents us with a number of moral
standards, some to imitate and some to shun. The
angels are splendid representations of these standards,
and the wise child will have no difficulty discerning
which example to embrace. Our faith presents the
"good" angels as our models in obedience, for they
illustrate the principle that our happiness lies in making
proper decisions and surrendering to God's plan. Our
Catechism reminds us,
The beatitude we are promised confronts us with
decisive moral choices...It teaches us that true
happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in
human fame or power or in any human achievement...
or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the
source of every good and of all love.... (CCC, #1723)
THE EXAMPLE OF PRAYER
When we desire something we not only will what
we desire, but whatever enables us to achieve our
goal. God wills us to be saved, so He gives us the
commandments by which we reach our salvation. When
we pray to do God's will, we ask to share the life of the
saints; this much is very clear. What we may overlook
- or fail to consider - is that to pray for a goal is to pray
for all the steps necessary to reach the goal. To see
an example of this we need only consider the words of
the Lord's Prayer.
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us we do not urge
God, "Do your will on earth," nor do we say, "Let us do
God's will." The first would appear to leave us out of
the equation; the second to ignore God's contribution
to our salvation. St. Augustine taught, "He who
created thee without thyself will not justify thee without
thyself." Therefore, when we say, "thy will be done" we
acknowledge that our salvation is a project in which
we will cooperate with God, asking God to provide the
grace we need to achieve the full human potential of
St. John Chrysostom made the same point, in one
of his homilies on St. Matthew gospel. He asks, "See
how He has taught us also to be modest, by making it
clear that virtue is not of our endeavors only, but also
of the grace from above?"
To speak, as we do, of heaven and earth when we
pray the Our Father, refers not so much to places as
to the individuals who inhabit those places. We ask
God to enlist us and to work with us in the quest for
perfection, so that we sinful citizens of earth may
embrace God's will as completely the righteous have.
This reconciliation of the realms of heaven and earth
becomes a sign of God's seeking to restore the human
race to the dignity and harmony it enjoyed before our
First Parents sinned.
CHOICE: THE PATH TO HAPPINESS
Because everything flows from God's will, everything,
in its own way, comes from and is drawn toward the
good. Plants are drawn to light naturally, without any
knowledge of what they do. Dogs and cats may not be
able to reflect on what they are doing, but they will make
choices among foods because they understand, through
their senses, that some things taste better than others.
Other, higher, beings choose among options because
they realize and acknowledge some superior aspect of
goodness that enables them to make choices among
various options. This capacity is the intellect. We see
the intellect at work, for example, when we say, "This
book is better than that." The beings capable of making
discreet judgments can also apprehend good in general.
We say light is better than darkness, warmth better
than cold, and life better than death. We are naturally
drawn to what is good in these realties, and we call the
capacity to appreciate these universal values the will.
THE CAPACITY TO CHOOSE
When we refer to "higher" beings, we describe only
two: angels and humans. What sets us and angels
apart from the rest of creation is our capacity to perceive
good with our intellect, and to embrace it with our will.
We humans learn to make these judgments through a
process of sense perceptions that enable us - this does
not take long - to reach universal conclusions. Angels
do not have bodies, so they depend upon direct and
immediate knowledge they receive from God.
In God, the intellect and will are identified, for God wills
nothing beyond Himself, because he is goodness itself.
Obviously, this is not how choice operates with angels
- or with us. The human intellect and will seek union
with the good things we apprehend in the world around
us. We know something to the extent the thing known
becomes part of us. But we achieve this knowledge
in different ways. Our intellect seeks to grasp what is
outside it and make it a part of us. We might think of
this is terms of some food we particularly enjoy - or
the above-mentioned book. When we particularly enjoy
one or the other, we say we "devour" it.
THE CHOICE OF THE WILL
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that our will, by contrast,
"extends itself to what is beyond it and seeks to unite
itself with the outside object." (ST I. 52.2) When we fall
in love, for example, we throw ourselves altogether at
the other person; we say we "lose" ourselves.
For angels and for us, free will is an essential
characteristic of our dignity. Unlike animals, which act
from natural judgments implanted by nature, we act
because our intellect allows us to choose freely among
good things. Our theology teaches that wherever there is
intellect there is free will. Because the angels' intellectual
perfection surpasses ours, we must conclude they, like we,
possess - and to a higher degree - free will. (ST I. 52. 3)
Like ours, the angels' will is directed toward things in
keeping with their nature. To reach above that nature
- for example, to seek life with God - both we and the
angels must be supported by grace, which enables us
to look, see, and reach above our nature.
The difference is that we have our reward to look
forward to in the future, in heaven; the angels, who
see God face to face, already possess it. To be sure,
the Scripture says "there will be joy before the angels
of God upon one sinner doing penance," (Lk 15.10) but
St. Thomas Aquinas remarks this is an extra, marginal
joy, and a rather minor one, added on to the beatitude
the angels already enjoy in God's kingdom. (ST I. 62.9)
THE GRAVITY OF CHOICE
In the Garden, Adam's spirit was, initially, wholly subject
to God, with the result that our fi rst ancestor experienced
no confl ict between his body and his spirit. Human fl esh
was so (happily) subject to the human soul that it was not
moved by passion. Nor was the body subject to illness
or death. Sin, as we know, overturned that harmony.
For the soul to turn against God was a catastrophe;
so were the consequences, which our First Parents
did not immediately see. Once the soul was no longer
a mediating force between God and the human body,
human flesh turned against the soul. The result was
death, infirmity, and the ongoing struggle between the
soul and the senses that is a common - and sad - fact
of our human experience. St. Paul eloquently sums
up the case when he writes, "I behold another law in
my members, warring against the law of my mind" (Rom
7:23) and "the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit
against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17).
St. Augustine echoed St. Paul (and anticipated St.
Thomas Aquinas) when he wrote
...it is thoroughly in accord with both our faith and
hope, that we are to take heaven and earth in the
sense of spirit and flesh... let the will of God be done
on earth. as it is in heaven; i.e., in such a way that...
as the spirit does not resist God, but follows and does
His will, so the body may also not resist the...soul,
which at present is harassed by the weakness of the
body, and is prone to fleshly habit.
CREATION OF THE ANGELS
Scripture does not mention the creation of the angels,
and the early Church Fathers are divided in their opinion
on when God created them. St. Gregory Nazianzen
(329-390) taught that the angels were the first acts of
God's creation. Gregory is the only one of the Fathers
no one ever contradicted, so this gives his opinion a
certain weight, but Thomas Aquinas politely suggests
an alternative hypothesis - that angels were created
at the same time as the other creatures. The reason,
he argues, is that angels are a part of creation, and no
part of a whole is perfect if it stands alone.
WHICH ANGELS SINNED?
If we ask which of the angels sinned, St. Thomas
Aquinas replies that charity is incompatible with sin
because its fire of love can only lead to God. Knowledge,
on the other hand, is capable of leading individuals
into any number of follies. (ST, I. 63. 7. ad 1) Therefore,
he concludes, the angels who sinned were Cherubs,
angels of the intellect. Moreover, he adds, the highest
angel who sinned was the highest angel of all. The
reason for this is the connection between pride and
excellence. St. Thomas bases his conclusion on the
logic of the early Church Fathers, who argued that the
most splendid of the angels could not be content with
second place. (ST I. 63. 7)
THE ANGELS' CHOICE: PRIDE
St. Augustine teaches that pride is unique among
sins because every other sin takes pleasure in doing
something that is wrong. By contrast, he says, pride
is taking inordinate pleasure in doing something good.
Angels do not have bodies, so a number of sins are
not within their grasp, but two of them are - pride and
envy. Pride because it is the choice not to submit to a
superior when submission is due, and envy because
it grieves at another's good fortune, which it views as
a barrier to its own. Aquinas teaches that the Devil's
sin was, unquestionably, seeking to be like God. Not
in equality, which he would have immediately realized
was impossible. But he sought to be like God in selfsufficiency.
He wanted to be subject to no one, and he
wanted to dominate over others.
Here we should note that Pride is a sin of the Intellect.
So, too, is its remedy, humility. Humility has nothing to
do with a poor self-image; it is acknowledging God as
the source of everything we have and everything we
are. And this may be a good place to remark that the
sins most apt to damn us are precisely the intellectual
sins - and part of the reason is simply because we have
to work so hard at them. We can easily overeat or fail
in chastity; pride and envy require true cultivation.
A FATAL CHOICE
Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-604) calls the angels
"the holy spirits of our homeland in heaven." We might
reasonably ask how some of them, at least, spirits who
enjoyed so much, could possibly have sacrificed such
happiness? Thomas Aquinas responds that sin is a
deliberate turning away turning away from the rectitude
or right-ness an act ought to have, and because all
rational creatures have free will, any rational creature,
unless protected by a special grace, can sin.
THE ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES
Are the demons sorry for their sin? The answer to this
question is yes and no. To be sorry for sin is a sign of the
goodness of the will. Once God has rendered fi nal judgment,
it is too late for the will to express remorse for sin. On the
other hand, the demons certainly lament the punishment
they are forced to endure, for every will naturally desires
happiness, and the very notion of punishment is repugnant
to the will. The demons also envy the good fortune of those
who do not suffer as they do. So, they may bewail their
punishment, but they cannot express sorrow for the sin that
merited it, for such sorrow would bear no fruit.
HELL: AN ETERNAL DIVISION
And part of the demons' punishment is the awareness
that they are eternally locked into their choice. This is
not simply a speculative reflection. Thomas Aquinas
teaches that the will is a two-fold operation, natural
and deliberate. The natural will is God's gift to us and,
therefore, it must be good and seek good. The deliberate
will is what we do with this gift. For an individual to turn
his will to sin and find himself in Hell is sad enough.
But once there, the natural will eternally reminds the
individual he does not belong there.
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