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Quodlibet 38: Guardian Angels

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

QuodlibetsI have difficulties believing in angels. Sometimes I feel people speak about their Guardian Angels when the Spirit is in action. How would you distinguish between these two realities?

When God wants to communicate his blessings to creatures, he very often does so by means of other creatures. This way of relating to creation is even institutionalised in the Church: God gives us forgiveness and the gift of himself in the Eucharist through the hands of bishops and priests; marriage is a sacrament so that the spouses are empowered to bring God’s blessing to one another; we all rely on teachers, preachers, catechists, role models and friends to instruct us in the faith, counsel us to hope, nurture us in charity. So we don’t need to see a conflict between the action of God, and the action of angels, any more between the action of God and that of other human beings who help us along the way. Traditionally, the Old Covenants are understood to have been mediated from God to men by angels (cf. Hebrews 2.2); while the New Covenant gives us some very direct ways of relating to God, this didn’t stop early Christians and Church Fathers like Pseudo-Dionysius seeing the action of angels throughout the world, communicating God’s grace and light in serried array to the here-below.

I suppose angels can be difficult to believe in, because their existence is not something necessary. We can construct arguments which make sense of why we believe in God, but you cannot do the same thing with the angels. The only way you could be sure of an angel’s existence, is if you were to see or hear or have dealings with one – or to accept the claim of someone else to have seen, heard, had dealings with one. That is why the Scriptural and liturgical testimony to angels is, to start with at least, the only secure basis we have for believing in them; but once you accept their existence, and start making an effort to interact (asking your Guardian Angel for help in a tight spot, say), you might find it easier to feel more confident about their existence.

So angels, like us, exist out of God’s sheer creative generosity; and God uses them as ministers of his grace. It is perfectly possible for the Spirit to act by motivating an angel, or in response to an angel’s prayers. In our own lives, I don’t think there is a hard and fast way of distinguishing the direct action of God in the Spirit, from the action of God through an angel, and I’m not sure it is always that important: God is the ultimate source of every good, whatever means he sends it by. The only exception I can suggest, however, is that the Spirit acts directly when the blessing we are given is by a public act of the Church – I am thinking particularly of the sacraments here: at Baptism and Confirmation in particular, we receive a share of the Spirit, and it is the Spirit we receive, not an angel on the Spirit’s behalf.

J. R. R. Tolkien had a deep devotion to his Guardian Angel, and writes in several letters to his children how he imagined this relationship. He talks of a Guardian Angel as “that bright point of power where that life-line, that spiritual umbilical cord” between us and God touches; our angel is “facing two ways, to God behind us in the direction we cannot see, and to us”. Understood that way, the Guardian Angel is “not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God’s very attention itself, personalised”. In Jesus and the Spirit sent by Him God willed that humanity should be brought to heaven with the same unity He had intended for it at the beginning in Adam: we all share one way of salvation. But God’s love for humanity as a whole does not detract from his loving care for each and every one of us individually: our Guardian Angel is to each of us the carrier and expression of that love.

Image: Andrea Vaccaro ‘Tobias Meets the Archangel Raphael’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Br Bede Mullens O.P.

Br Bede was born in Enfield and grew up in Essex. He read Literae Humaniores at St Hugh’s College in the University of Oxford. It was in Oxford that he first met the Dominicans, and he joined the Order in 2017 after completing his degree. The writings of Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger greatly influenced his development in the Faith. He retains a wide interest in literature; among religious authors, he particularly admires St Augustine and St John Henry Newman. | bede.mullens@english.op.org

MORE ON: Quodlibets

It was customary in medieval universities twice a year to subject expert theologians to questions of the students’ choosing. The responses to these points of controversy were recorded in collections of so-called Quodlibetales – from the Latin, “ask what you like”. Following in that tradition, the student brothers invite you to put them to the test with your own questions, which you can submit here.


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