Tuesday, 29 September 2009

St Michael and All Angels

There have been ages of the world, in which men have thought too much of Angels, and paid them excessive honour; honoured them so perversely as to forget the supreme worship due to Almighty God. This is the sin of a dark age. But the sin of what is called an educated age, such as our own, is just the reverse: to account slightly of them, or not at all; to ascribe all we see around us, not to their agency, but to certain assumed laws of nature.

From the sermon ‘The Powers of Nature’ by John Henry Newman (1831)

If you were to ask me if I believe in angels, then I would have to give you a very qualified answer. White nightgowns and wings, no. New agey spiritual guardian stuff with fairy glitter on the pictures, certainly not! But heavenly powers not of this world...yee-es, but with a due dose of caution about those who ascribe their fate to their positive or negative intervention on a routine basis.

To me, an angel is 1st and foremost what it is in the NT: a messenger. Human in form, divine in inspiration. For most of us, our angels are very much here and now: they are people who God sends into our paths and into our lives bearing a message, be it a challenge, a warning or a gift of healing. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael often wear cloth caps or curlers..or Prada!

The Heavenly beings bit leaves me slightly iffy in that I am the product of a scientific age and education. But I take Newman's point seriously: we can veer too far from the medieval worldview to modern scepticism and miss out truths. We can put everything in life good or bad down to natural laws or assorted "ologies". In days of yore it was theology, demonology etc that were blamed or praised and today they stand discredited in the eyes of many. Today, psychology, upbringing and the impact of various traumas and stresses on the mind get given much of the same treatment. So much so, that the newest "ologies" seek to discredit them. Scientology, for example, is very sceptical about psychology and using it as a treatment for illness.

I rather tend to agree with Pope St Gregory the Great who wrote this in a sermon:

You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

The Collect for St Micahel and All Angels:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals:
Mercifully grant that,
as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven,
so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


  1. This might have been more useful than info about Peter O' Toole, father! Just as well I had some ideas spring up in mid think!

  2. Ah, but then it wouldn't have been your sermon in the same way, would it?