The trouble with angels

Angels are more than guardians of our wellbeing, we need to understand their place in the divine plan, writes Silas Henderson SDS.

I have to admit that I’ve been having trouble with angels over the past several years. First, there was the angel ‘craze’ of the late 1990s and early 2000s, when angels appeared on everything from coffee cups to clothing to kitschy jewellery and so much more. More recently, inspired by the abuse scandals that have ravaged the Church and the Covid-19 pandemic, we find many Church leaders and devotees promoting the invocation of the angels, especially St Michael the Archangel, in defence against what they perceive to be an onslaught of demonic forces.

To begin, please don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in the reality and action of angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear that ‘The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith,’ and ‘the witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition’ (no. 328). In fact, my own religious community – the Society of the Divine Savior – honours St Michael the Archangel as one of our patron saints.

In a reflection on Psalm 103, St Augustine of Hippo remarked that ‘angel’ refers to their office, not their nature. He continues, ‘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.”’1 The angels are servants and messengers of God.

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