Blocking up the scenery, breaking my mind! Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
But, I am not talking about that kind.
There is a fantastic talk about the nine choirs of angels, and I forgot who did it, but I’m certain he’s a Hahn companion up at St Paul Center. I got it from the lighthouse Catholic Media table at All Saints. In the talk, he addresses each choir and the respective roles of each. If you haven’t heard his explanation, though, mine will be pitiful in comparison. But before we go into angels, I am changing the subject back to signs.
Melanie, my awesome wife, had and has a great friendship with her mother, who died in 2008. When she sees a dove or a butterfly or a particular set of numbers, especially if she’s going through some hard time, she believes that the dove or butterfly or the number is a sign from Mom that God is in charge and will take care of her, and Mel gets great comfort in that. And I totally agree with her on this. I believe that supernatural signs can be shown using natural elements. I am not the only one, as secular people often remember their loved ones by signs.
Before you jump to protest, there’s biblical evidence to back it up. Moses, the pillar of smoke, pillar of fire. The presence of the Lord, in the Glory Cloud in the temple. Raphael traveling with Tobias. Jacob wrestling with an angel. Manna. Plagues. The dove settling over Jesus at the baptism, the burning bush. I can go on, but frankly, I don’t know the Bible as well as I should. What about St Anthony preaching to the fish? Shall I go on?
The Israelites wanted signs, physical outward manifestations of a spiritual reality. Why? I am going on a tangent here, but my dad was sharing the comments in the Universalis app for the Divine Office, and Universalis expressed skepticism at the transfiguration! Like they don’t think it happened! I am outraged! That modern skepticism, which starts somewhere in the 1800s, has infiltrated the very fabric of Catholic thought and corrupted the minds of scholars, philosophers, and theologians! And then they bring their disbelief and teach others. Perhaps, however, if we realize that Israel was rescued from Egypt with such great signs as to make neighboring nations fear them, then we can realize why they wanted signs. God had given them signs, therefore if it is of God, it will have a sign.
I can still hear you comment about believing in signs. Well, now that I have got the previous off my chest, I am going to hit you with some knowledge.
In the catechism, starting at paragraph 328, you can read the Catholic teaching on angels. Which is brilliant. I’m going to get Aquinas in here though, the Angelic Doctor himself, who synthesizes the thought of Augustine, Gregory, and other giants of the church. I will keep it brief though, and link here to the whole thing.
112. THE MISSION OR MINISTRY OF ANGELS
1. God sends angels to minister to his purposes among bodily creatures
In Mrs Larsons Greek class, I learned that the word for angel, angelos, means messenger. St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'” Now, to avoid a deep dive, I am going to copy a short paragraph from the Summa and then expound as the talk I mentioned in the beginning.
Let us then first examine the reason for the ordering of Dionysius, in which we see, that, as said above (Article 1), the highest hierarchy contemplates the ideas of things in God Himself; the second in the universal causes; and third in their application to particular effects. And because God is the end not only of the angelic ministrations, but also of the whole creation, it belongs to the first hierarchy to consider the end; to the middle one belongs the universal disposition of what is to be done; and to the last belongs the application of this disposition to the effect, which is the carrying out of the work; for it is clear that these three things exist in every kind of operation. So Dionysius, considering the properties of the orders as derived from their names, places in the first hierarchy those orders the names of which are taken from their relation to God, the “Seraphim,” “Cherubim,” and “Thrones”; and he places in the middle hierarchy those orders whose names denote a certain kind of common government or disposition—the “Dominations,” “Virtues,” and “Powers”; and he places in the third hierarchy the orders whose names denote the execution of the work, the “Principalities,” “Angels,” and “Archangels.”
So in summary, or to paraphrase, the bottom five choirs have their function in the ordering of the world. This includes and is not limited to guardian angels, messages, movement of wind, tide, planets, stars, rivers, trees, etc. And yes, doves, butterflies, and sequence of numerals. For all things are ordered under God’s will, and the angels are given the orders from God and fulfill God’s will on the world. It’s incredibly deep, and even confusing, but it is in the Dogma of our faith that angels are very real. Therefore, as Augustine said, their office is messenger, they must then have a something to message to. In other words, what are they in charge of?
CS Lewis, another favorite, captures separately a unique take on angels. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he references that stars in our world are more than just glowing balls of gas, when confronted with a person who is a star. It’s near the end, so I don’t want to spoil it. And again in his science fiction trilogy, he speaks about the angel of the planet Malacandra, although he never calls them angels. Tolkien too, in the Silmarillion, discusses angels and demons. It’s brilliant, it’s all around! It’s ironic that men so close to both the apostles and the mind of Jesus have a very simple faith, even a romantic image of angels, and the best modern representation comes from fiction writers who have the same faith!
Modern theologians, unfortunately, have embraced skepticism and provable by science natural theories on why the Nile turned red, or there were frogs, or even tried to explain how Jesus didn’t work any miracles. To these so called theologians, stars are balls of gas, everything is set in motion and there are no guiding hands, and if they had their way then Jesus wouldn’t be God. They are so far removed from the understanding that was inherent with the early church fathers, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory, synthesized by Aquinas! We stand on the shoulders of giants and instead of building on that foundation to get to new heights, we choose to start on the ground. How arrogant we are, and how forgetful!
I bring all this up because Mel told me that I better send her signs. We don’t know what my sign would be though. So there is that.
It expanded into this because God is working in the world, through His angels, every second of every day. That is enough for me to believe with faith that a butterfly, rose, number, song, smell, taste, or things we call coincidence, is God giving us messages through His messengers. In fact just yesterday I was reminded of a friend and reached out because I was reminded by something totally off the wall. Again, coincidence? I think not.
So the next time something like that happens to you, and it will, don’t blow it off. Take time to recognize and think about it. Allow your brain to recognize the super natural, and even romanticize it a little bit. You will start to enter into the Mysteries of heaven and earth, and grow closer to the simple understanding that the early church had!