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Angels: Origin and Nature - Part 1

Updated on October 17, 2016
An Angel...
An Angel...

The exact time at which the angels were created is not specified in the scripture. The creation account in Genesis does not in fact mention anything in this regard. Later Old Testament texts hardly make any effort to tell us how angels came to be. Their existence as God's messengers and members of the heavenly court was simply taken for granted. The New Dictionary of Theology edited by Komonchak and others offers the following clue:

"angels are immaterial spirits or pure intelligence created by God prior to human creation, to regulate the order of the world and specifically to serve as messengers".

The above citation gives an idea of when and why the angels were created, and brings us nearer to an understanding of why they were created. It corroborates the point which Micheal Schmaus makes clear that angels are not to be seen in the sense of numberless spirits in unchristian literature who run a parallel kingdom to that of God, rather, they were made by God in time and are subject to the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

It is profitable to undertake an inquiry into the nature of angels from an etymological point of view. The term, angelos is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew malak. Both words mean messenger. In the dictionary of Biblical theology, Dafour defines angels as:

"spirits destined to serve; sent on missions for the good of those who should inherit salvation ... angels escape our ordinary perception and make up a mysterious world."

Angels are pure spirits (Hebrews 1:13 - 14, 2 Maccabees 3:24). This fact that angels are immaterial, purely spiritual beings, is opposed to the views championed by some heretics in the early church who erroneously interpreting Genesis 6:2, taught that angels had material bodies which enabled them to have sexual relations with the daughters of men and thus produced a line of giants who were destroyed at the flood in Noah's days.

The correct teaching on the immateriality of the angels has developed through the works of the early Church Fathers, the medieval theologians and scholars into orthodoxy. The fourth Lateran council and the first and second Vatican Councils also agree that angels are pure spirits.

From a document of Vatican 1, we read: "this one and only true God who from the beginning of time made out of nothing the two orders of creatures, the spiritual and corporal, that is, the angelic and the earthly..."

Apart from not belonging to the corporal, physical world, what else does it mean for a being to be an angelic spirit? In other words, what constitutes the internal structure, fundamental nature or quintessence of angels?

Schmaus opines that to answer this question, Aquinas is the best point of departure. according to Thomas Aquinas, pure spirituality naturally implies subjectivity and personality; that is, self possession and self transcendence. Since as Schmaus admits, our own bodies are the only embodied spirits that are assessable to us, the human spirit - soul, becomes a model; the examination of which can lead us into and understanding of the nature of beings whose nature are purely spiritual.

Now the human soul according to Aquinas has intellectual, volitive, and emotive faculties. This means; it has the capacity for knowing, willing and feeling, or, simply put, being in relationship. It does all these functions through the human body in which it is incarnated, and being therefore in time and space, is limited thereof.

Applied analogously to our inquiry into the nature of angels, this Thomistic idea of the human spirit - soul brings us to an understanding that angels have the capacity to know, will and be in relationship as is proper to the nature of spirits.

The compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church finely puts it in the following words:

"the angels are purely spiritual creatures, incorporeal, invisible, immortal, and personal beings endowed with intelligence and will. The ceaselessly contemplate God face - to - face and they glorify Him. They serve him and are His messengers in the accomplishment of His saving mission to all."

The above elaborated on Prof. Parente's opinion on the same subject. According to him, "All the angels are endowed with intellect and free will, no pure spirit is conceivable without these natural faculties."

Do you belief in the existence of angels?

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Cruz, J. C., Angels and Devils, Rockford Illinois, USA, Tan Books and Pub, Inc. 1993.

Igba, P., Angels of God in the Service of men, Lagos: Patovie Nigeria Limited, 2002.

Lean Dufour, Xavier (ed), Dictionary of Biblical theology, London: Burns & Oates, 2004

Parente, Paschal, The Angels: the Catholic Teaching on the Angels, Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Pub, Inc. 1994.

Kormonchak, J. A. et al, The New Dictionary of Theology, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982.

Prayer to St. Micheal -


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