A lot of Christians already know of the existence of the good and bad angels, and many are quite aware that the bad angels were once good, but as a result of their rebellion against God (described in the famous ‘war in heaven’ – Rev. 12), they were expelled from ‘heaven’ by the power of God through Archangel Michael and the other good angels. However, many are quite unaware/ignorant of the nature of this angelic war in heaven – what exactly led to it, how it happened and the emergence of Archangel Michael. Till date, many still think it was brought about by ammunitions/weapons (swords, arrows, spears, etc.) as famously depicted in Christian Arts/paintings. However, that was never the case because angels are pure spirits and these weapons would be redundant. These artistic representations only speak metaphorically of the angelic war but should not be taken literally. Many also did not know that the angels were not created in the empyrean heaven (highest) heaven where God dwells but in the ‘atmospheric heaven.’ Some do not even know of the categories of heaven – first, second and third heavens, as the Scripture reveals to us. In this article, therefore, Fr. Chinaka exposes the “Angelic world” as explicitly taught in Angelology, illustrating how all these (stated above) happened.
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Working biblical references:
1. Revelation 12:1-10ff
2. Hebrew 1:6
When were they created?
First, it cannot be disputed that the angels were created by our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Colossians 1:15-17 and John 1:3, among other Scriptural verses. Thus, God created the angels before the creation of the world. The Bible tells us that the angels were witnesses to the creation of the world, which indicates they were created long before that great event. God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:1-7). Other versions use the terms “morning stars” and the “sons of God” to denote the angels. Above all, according to the Catechism, CCC #332: “Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan.” Thus, God created the angels before He created and placed Adam on the earth. They existed even before the foundation of the earth was laid. They shouted for joy when they first saw the earth in all its perfection.
Where were they created?
We must note that the Angels were not created in the highest heaven (empyrean heaven) where God dwells. If they were created in the highest heaven, then, it would not have been possible for some of them to have sinned (see Rev. 21:27 – “nothing unclean shall enter heaven”). And if some of the angels were noted to have sinned, then, they would not have been before the presence of the All-righteous God (beatific vision), because God is love and the fount of all holiness. It would have been impossible for “the angels” to have sinned in his presence. If this is true, then, where were they created and where did they dwell before the fall of some of them? St. Augustine remarks in his work (Gen. ad lit. iii, 10), that the angels were created in the “upper atmosphere”: therefore, not in the empyrean heaven (that is, highest heaven). For if the angels were created in the empyrean heaven, it would make no sense for Lucifer to say that he would ascend to the highest heaven as stated in Isaiah: “I will ascend into heaven” (Isaiah 14:13). This brings us to the categories of heaven. Biblically, there are three kinds of heaven, viz: the first heaven, second heaven, and the third heaven. St. Paul speaks of the third heaven (empyrean heaven), the highest heaven where God dwells (see. Deut. 10:14; 2 Cor 12:2). If the third heaven is the dwelling place of God, the second heaven is known as the outer space – the sky, where the moon, stars, and other planetary bodies dwell – the ‘starry heaven’ (cf. Deut. 17:3). Recall that prophet Jeremiah talks about a pagan “queen of heaven” (Jer. 7:18) which must be understood as “queen of the sky,” similar to what we have in our African folklore as “goddess of the sky.” The queen of the sky which Jeremiah condemned was the pagan Astarte, a reference to Venus (planet). This has nothing to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary, considered as the Queen of Heaven because she is the “Queen Mother” of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings. The first heaven is the first layer of the atmosphere where we have clouds, etc., where the birds fly (cf. Gen. 2:19). Thus, to say that the angels were created in the “upper atmosphere” indicates the second heaven. In Hebrew, the term “heaven” is known as “Shamayim” (שָׁמַיִם), literally heavens in the plural form). Therefore, it could be said that at the time God created the angels, they were not beholding the face of God (beatific vision) in the highest heaven, but dwelled in the second heaven where God communicated with them through some revelations they could comprehend. At this stage, they needed to prove worthy their love for God before they would be allowed into the empyrean (highest) heaven where God dwells, for God is love.
Nature of Angels
The existence of angels – a truth of faith, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. CCC #328-330, states: “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. 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.’ With their whole beings, the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they ‘always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven’ they are the ‘mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.’ As purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.”
Thus, they are superior to humans in nature – intellect, strength, will, beauty, etc.
How many are there?
There are vast multitudes of them in heaven, known as the heavenly hosts. (Cf. Ps. 68:7, Lk 2:13, Dan 7:10, Rev. 5:11), little wonder God is called “Lord of Hosts” (in Hebrew, “Yahweh Sabaoth”) over three hundred times in the Old Testament (particularly in the books of the prophets) and twice in the New Testament (Rom 9:29 and Jas 5:4). Although, the angels cannot be quantified by human standards; however, we could say that there are trillions of trillions of them at the time of creation.
Are they all equal and the same?
God did not create all the angels to be of equal rank – God does not create things equal. He makes varieties. Some are higher, more intelligent, more beautiful, more powerful, more glorious, etc., than others. According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, in His “Summa Theologica” 1a: “In bodily substances, we distinguish their species or essential kind, and their status as individuals of that kind. For example, we distinguish in a man, (a) what makes him a human being, and (b) what makes him this one human being. Now, that which constitutes a thing in its species or essential kind is called the principle of specification. And that which constitutes a thing as this one item or instance of its kind is called the principle of individuation. In all creatures, the principle of specification is the substantial form which makes the creature an existing thing of its essential kind. And the principle of individuation is matter or bodiliness inasmuch as it is marked by quantity. Since angels have in them no matter or bodiliness at all, for they are pure spirits, they are not individuated. This means that each angel is the only one of its kind. It means that each angel is a specie or essential kind of substantial being. Hence each angel is essentially different from every other angel.” Thus, just as a dog is different from a cat, so also is the uniqueness of each angel.
Having stated that they are not of equal rank, we can contemplate their hierarchy this way: the ones at the highest rank (9th rank) contemplate the revelation of God more clearly than the rest, and they pass the idea unto the ones directly below them (next rank), and so it goes continuously to the last rank. This brings us to the choir of angels. Let us briefly examine the choirs of angels.
Choirs of angels
There are nine choirs of angels. Put differently, St. Gregory the Great teaches, based on Saint Paul’s writings, that there are nine orders of angels: “We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominions, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels, nearly every page of the Bible tells us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim (Ezk 10:14 etc) and Seraphim (cf. Isaiah 6:1-7). St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: ‘above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Dominion’; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: ‘whether Thrones, or Dominions, or Principalities, or Powers’. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels.” (Hom. 34, In Evang.) St. Thomas Aquinas also teaches the same nine-fold pattern at Summa Theologica I, q. 108. Thus, relating this in ascending order, we have: Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. Thus, from the choirs enumerated above, we could say that angels have their respective functions in line with the respective choirs they belong. The Seraphim choir is the highest rank, and in fact, the devil (before his fall) who was known as Lucifer was the greatest/outstanding/most beautiful, etc., in this Seraphim choir. It was after his fall that he became known as satan or devil or any other evil name he could be associated with. In Hebrew, Lucifer is known as “Heyleel” (hey-LEYL), meaning, “shining one,” or “morning star.” The word “Lucifer” can also function as an adjective, meaning: “light-bringing”. In Greek, it is known as “heōsphoros” a name, literally “bringer of dawn”, (that is, for the “morning star”).
It is pertinent to note that the angels in contact with humans and other creatures are those in the lower ranks (Principalities, archangels, angels, etc.). The lowest choir in the first order are the “Angels.” The word angel means “announcer” or “messenger.” It is a function common to all the nine choirs, but what is common to all is here appropriated specifically to the lowest of the angelic hosts. From this first choir are chosen the guardian angels of men. And it was of these blessed spirits that Our Lord spoke when concerning the little children He said, “. . . for their angels see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 18:10)
How can an angel suffer?
Since they do not have material bodies because they are pure spirits, they cannot suffer by physical combat or be inflicted by physical weapons, etc.; rather, they suffer when they are deprived of ideas of Truth. Christ says that He is the Truth; in fact, the Way and the Life, as well. (cf. John 14:6). This (Truth – Jesus) was what brightened over the angels or was being communicated to them from the Father. It was through Christ (the Way) that they had access to the revelation of God Father; as Christ added: “no one can come to the Father except through me.” As a matter of fact, the “Life” that was communicated to them which they enjoyed was that of Christ. Thus, if they are deprived of these ideas, they would begin to suffer and fade away. Since their expulsion from heaven, the demons (evil spirits) cannot support the truth. They suffer when we put the truth before them. The truth really does attack them severely.
The Angelic time
Since some of the angels were said to have sinned and expelled, then there must have been an “Angelic Time” which was quite different from what we are experiencing now. Each angel had its own respective time before they were admitted into the highest heaven to dwell in eternity with God. We (humans) live in common/shared time, but angels lived in individual/respective time, such that what was considered a second for one angel could last an hour for another. How could we understand this? We do not know because we don’t have the experience. Thus, before they were admitted into the “beatific vision” of God; that is, before they came to see God face to face, they needed to pass through trials in relation to the time they possessed; or better still, prove their love for God, because God is love, and if you must dwell with Him, your love must be purified – thus, gaining love’s high reward (very important)!
What led to the war in second heaven?
The Second Heaven is not the highest heaven where God dwells, as we stated earlier. The angels were created in the upper atmosphere – the sky, which was referred to as the place of the moon, stars, and other planetary bodies. Thus, before being admitted into the dwelling place of God, they had to pass through a trial to prove their love for God. Again, God is love, and if you must dwell with him, your love must have been purified – you must gain love’s high reward and it must be purified. Just as we are passing through our own trials too in this world. The angels had all passed through theirs and have been already judged and proved worthy of God before entering the main (highest) heaven where God dwells to contemplate Him, face to face.
The trial was God’s revelation to the angels that lower beings called humans would be created in His image and likeness, and that they would be at the service of men. God revealed also that His Son (the Eternal Word) would become man to redeem humanity by His death and resurrection, and that they would adore Him in the Person of His Son who would be made man. This revelation was a shock to them. Lucifer, who received the clearest of God’s revelation was bewildered and was not comfortable with that revelation. Why should God make a lower creature (man) in His own image and likeness, while they (angels) of superior nature without God’s image/likeness? Also, how could the angels adore God in the flesh of a lower creature? These were going through the mind of Lucifer. Before they could still get over this, God also revealed that above all the angels would be placed a woman through whom His Son would be born, she would be their queen, and superior to them. This actually “broke the Carmel’s back,” and as a result, Lucifer was soaked in pride and began to revolt. How did he rebel against God? Because Lucifer occupied the highest of the angelic ranks, and in fact, the most intelligent, beautiful, etc., of them all, and whatever idea he communicates to those of lower ranks is what they would perceive. So, Lucifer began with his “seeming intelligent” arguments driven by pride, that God cannot be adored in the flesh, for the obvious reason that Angels are superior to men; and that a woman cannot be placed above them. This was his apparent attempt to ascend the highest heaven and overtake the Most High (cf. Is. 14:13). Thus, he polluted the ideas he received from God unto those of the lower ranks, trying to convince and confuse the other angels to do the same. The Book of Revelation gives us a clue. Let us now return to the two principal texts we cited at the very beginning of this lecture (Rev. 12 and Hebrews 1:6).
Transcending beyond the literal interpretation of Revelation 12, we read of the rage of the dragon who opposed the emergence of the Son of God in the flesh already in the womb of His Blessed Mother, Mary; put differently, the dragon confronting the pregnant woman of the Book of Revelation; its tail dragging down a third of the stars, etc… This was the war itself, THE WAR OF THE MIND/IDEAS; polluting the divine truth and confusing other angels as well, i.e., dragging a third of the stars; the ‘stars’ here are the angels.
How did Michael emerge?
When confusion set in, a little angel of lesser importance and lower rank refused to be confused, because he knows and loves God the more; and thus, he rejected the false ideas communicated by Lucifer, and gave a loud cry: WHO IS LIKE GOD?! In Hebrew, the expression goes, thus: מִיכָאֵל (Mikha’el), which translates itself as MICHAEL. This is a rhetorical question, implying that there is no person like like God. This angel was Michael, and that having communicated this undiluted truth/idea, the other confused angels that were already getting darkened by the lies of Lucifer became illumined/brightened up. Thus, Michael began refuting all the false ideas and claims of Lucifer. Lucifer could have repented at this time but because of his pride, he “fought” back with his false arguments, and managed to drag one-third of the angels (stars) with him to “fight” back with false ideas and lies. Nevertheless, the truths communicated by Michael struck Lucifer so deeply in his mind that it hurt him badly. Lucifer then became so horrible and lost all his beauty, glory, etc., and his time has come to an end. Now, if the angels were 3 trillion (for instance), he was able to gather one trillion to join him in rebelling against God. In the end, Michael, together with the other angels defeated Lucifer and the angels he dragged with him (now demons) and sent them out of the sky (second heaven). This way, God simply turned His back against them, and they became eternally damned.
Admittance into the beatific vision of God – the empyrean heaven.
So, after this trial, the good angels that proved their love for God were admitted into the highest heaven, into the presence of God to contemplate His face (the beatific vision). God exalted Archangel Michael and he became known as the “PRINCE OF THE HEAVENLY HOST.” Thus, when the Son of God (Jesus) was born in the flesh, God asked all the angels to worship Him (Heb. 1:6), and they did.
Michael knows more of God than the intelligent Lucifer because he loves God the most. Love makes us achieve knowledge. If you want to know more of God, you must love Him more; you don’t need God to prove His love for you before you love Him.
CONCLUSION: “A luta continua” (The struggle continues) for man
The struggle is now left for us humans to face. Just as some angels rejected God, and they were cast out, and those who proved their love for God were admitted into heaven, so also, some men would reject God by their freewill and be condemned at the last day, while others would prove their love for Him and be admitted into heaven at the end of time.
Dear friends in Christ, what the devil does is to drag many men as much as possible as he did to the one-third of the angels. This he is doing by his lies, deception and falsehood today. He is busy communicating confusion into our hearts today that Jesus is not to be adored, that Jesus is not God; and already many are believing in him. Satan is the father of lies as Jesus says: “He was a murderer from the beginning; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all. When he lies he is speaking true to his nature, because he is a liar, and the father of lies.” (Jn. 8:44). He is also ‘the accuser’ (cf. Rev. 12:9). What he does is to pollute the divine ideas and confuse many. That is why St. Paul says that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). Here, Paul refers to a part of some of the choirs of angels deceived and dragged by satan during his rebellion; therefore, apart from having the good Principalities and Powers (Ephesians 1:18, 20-21; Colossians 1:16), we also have the evil ones as described by Paul. This kind of wrestle is not achieved by physical strength but by the spiritual grace that comes from God. That is why it becomes questionable when one tries to use his physical strength to confront satan or demons at deliverance.
Satan is still powerful and very intelligent, such that he is capable of destroying all of us (humans) but he is unable to because God does not will it. If any evil comes from satan, it is because God wills it, and that God has seen it yielding a greater good; otherwise, He will not will it. The only power satan uses is his intelligence to deceive and seduce us to turn away from God. Let us all be mindful of him, stand up to him (resist him), strong in faith as Peter advises because he is like a roaring lion; he only roars and looks for someone to eat, but cannot do more than that (cf. 1Pet. 5:8). Let us not be afraid of satan, for “our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps. 124:8).
Above all, the feast of the Archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael is carefully selected, dating from August 15 (the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary) to September 29 to give us a total of 40 days. This is so because it was originally used to honour St. Michael the archangel as the “Lent of St. Michael the Archangel” (Quaresma de São Miguel, Arcanjo, in Portuguese). The origin of this devotion is linked to the life of intense penance of St. Francis of Assisi. When he converted, he did public penances. One of the several special periods in which Francis was mortified was precisely the forty days before the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. It was during this time that at the end of his life, he received the holy stigmata from God.
Let us Pray:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Questions from our readers:
1. Why can’t satan be given a second chance or would God forgive Him if he repents?
Ans: Satan can no longer repent because his angelic time had elapsed and his eternal fate had been decided. He could have repented if he wanted to (within his angelic time), but he refused and rebelled; and thus, his action was an irrevocable one. Just as there would be no more repentance for us after death or at the last day (because our time would have elapsed by then and our eternal fate decided).
2. Can the concept of time be applied to spiritual beings like angels?
Ans: Time is only applied to created beings. Angels and humans are created beings, created in time. If we cannot apply time to the angels, then it would mean that they were created in eternity, which would make them equal to God, and they would no longer be angels, but Gods, which is not the case. The bible says, “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). This talks of the idea of time already – “beginning”. That was the commencement of time. When we say God created the heavens, this includes angels as well. However, at the time of their creation, the angels were not permitted to contemplate the glory of God in the highest heaven – so they lived in time in order to prove their love for God, just as we are living in time now. It was after the proof of their love for God that they were admitted into eternity (transcending the realms of time) to be with God, while the others were cast out. The same would be our lot too. Some would go into eternity with God, while others with the devil.
Therefore, the angels in heaven now are not bound by time and space because they are already in God’s presence, before then, they were bound by space and time. God is the only SPIRIT that is not affected by time and space, for he has no beginning nor would He have an end.
3. Why did God not create the angels in the highest heaven and allow them to behold his glory?
Ans: The implication of not creating them in heaven to enjoy the beatific vision immediately would result in a deprivation of their freewill, and there would not be a proof of love. Hence, God does not create robots; He creates beings with freewill, with the ability to choose/decide for itself. So, it is by creating them with freewill that they would be able to prove their love for Him before becoming worthy to contemplate His Face, the essence and source of all love – God is love.
4. Can imperfection arise from perfection, since the very first creatures of God were imperfect, coming from a perfect God?
Ans: The Bible repeats frequently that everything God created was good…including the angels (since they are part of God’s creation). In relation to perfection, we turn to the catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power, God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness, God freely willed to create a world ‘in a state of journeying’ toward its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan, this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good, there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection” (CCC #310). Also, CCC #302 stated that: “Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created ‘in a state of journeying’ (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call ‘divine providence’ the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection: By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, ‘reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.’ For ‘all are open and laid bare to his eyes,’ even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.”
5. Is the book of revelation an account of things that had happened or future events?
The Apocalyptic Literature (book of Revelation) has 4 basic methods of interpretation: historical, idealist, futurist, and preterist.
The historical interpretation reflects the book of Revelation as a symbolic prophecy of the entire history of the Church from the Incarnation to the return of Christ to establish His eternal reign. The idealist interpretation sees a symbolic portrayal of the spiritual cosmic conflict between the kingdom of God and the powers of evil. The futurist method of interpretation also sees the book not as what was future to John and is now past or present to us, but as what was future to John and still future to us. It contemplates Revelation as having to do with the future of the world. Finally, the preterist interpretation regards the events symbolized in Revelation as having occurred already in the past.
So, it is best to keep these four methods in the mind while reading this apocalyptic literature.
- This exposition drew its inspiration from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas reflected in his “Summa Theologica ” and also from the writings of St. Augustine.
- José Antonio Fortea. History of the world of angels (trad. Laura de Andrade). São Paulo: Palavra & Prece, 2012. (Original text in Portuguese)
- Catechism of the Catholic Church
- Sacred Scripture
(Dedicated to St. Michael, the Prince of the Heavenly Host)
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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