Bible Angels: Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Bible Angels

Bible Angels - 2Drawings of Angels

Attributes of the Angels—Incorruptibility and 
Relation to Space

The attributes of the Angels, like the nature of their substance, are to be determined by a comparison with the attributes of God on the one hand, and with the attributes of man on the other. As creatures, the Angels partake of the imperfections of man; as pure spirits, they partake of the perfections of God.


I.        The angelic substance is physically simple—that is, not composed of different parts; but it is not metaphysically simple, because it admits of potentiality and actuality, and also of accidents (§ 63). It is, moreover, essentially immutable or incorruptible; Angels cannot perish by dissolution of their substance, nor can any created cause destroy them. For this reason they are essentially immortal, not, indeed, that their destruction is in itself an impossibility, but because their substance and nature are such that, when once created, perpetual conservation is to them natural. As to accidental perfections, Angels can acquire and lose them. Observe, however, that the knowledge they once possess always remains, and that a loss of perfection can only consist in a deviation from goodness.
Angels differ from the human soul in this, that they neither are nor can be substantial forms informing a body. When they assume a body, their union with it is neither like that of soul and body, nor like the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ. The assumed body is, as it were, only an outer garment, or an instrument for a transitory purpose.

Relation to Space

II.         As regards relation to space, Angels, having like God no extended parts, cannot occupy a place so that the different portions of space correspond with different portions of their substance, nor do they require a corporal space to live in, nor can any such space enclose them. On the other hand, they differ from God in this, that they can be present in only one place at a time, and thus can move from place to place. Their motion is, however, unlike that of man; probably it is as swift as thought, or even instantaneous.

The Natural Life and Work of the Angels

Life of the Angels

I.          The life of the Angels is purely intellectual, without any animal or vegetative functions, and therefore more like the Divine Life than the life of the human soul. The whole substance of an Angel is alive, whereas, in man, one part is life-giving and another life-receiving. The angelic life is inferior to the Divine in this, that the Angel’s life is not identical with its substance; and also in this, that it is susceptible of increase and decrease in perfection. So far all Theologians agree. But they differ very considerably as to how Angels live—that is, how and what they think and will. Leaving aside the abstruse speculations on this subject, we shall here only touch on the few points in which anything like certitude is attainable.

Intellect and Knowledge of the Angels

II.         It is certain from Revelation that the natural intellect of Angels is essentially more perfect than the human, and essentially less perfect than the Divine Intellect. Thus Scripture makes the knowledge of Angels the measure of human knowledge, e.g. 2 Kings xiv. 20; and in Mark xiii. 32, Christ says that even the Angels—much less man—do not know the time of the last judgment. The Fathers call the angels intelligentias,—that is, beings possessed of immediate intuitive knowledge; but man they call rationalis—that is, a being whose knowledge is for the most part inferential: whence the superiority of angelic knowledge is manifest. Compared to the Divine Knowledge, the imperfection of the angelic, according to Scripture and the Fathers, consists in this, that the Angels cannot naturally see God as He is, by immediate, direct vision; that they cannot penetrate the secrets either of the Divine decrees, or of the hearts of man, or of each other; much less do they know future free actions.

The Will of Angels

III.         As to the will of the Angels, we can only gather from Revelation that it naturally possesses the perfection of the human will, but at the same time also shares to some extent in the imperfections of the latter. The angelic will is free as to the choice of its acts, and is able to perform moral actions and to enjoy true happiness. But it is not, by virtue of its nature, directed to what is morally good; its choice may fall on evil. This much can be gathered from what is revealed on the fall of the Angels.

External Power and Activity of the Angels

IV.         It is evident that the Angels are able to perform all the actions of man, except those which are peculiar to man on account of his composite nature. Revelation, moreover, introduces Angels acting in various ways: they speak, exhort, enlighten, protect, move, and so forth. It is also beyond doubt that the power of Angels is superior to that of man, both as regards influence on material things, and on man himself. As to the mode of action, we know, but little with certainty. The Angel acts by means of his will, like God; but he neither creates out of nothing, nor generates like man. The only immediate effect an Angel can produce by an act of his will, is to move bodies or forces so as to bring them into contact or separate them, and thus to influence their action. Bodies are moved from place to place locally; spirits or minds are only moved “intentionally;” that is, the Angel who wishes to act upon our souls or upon other spirits, puts an object before them and directs their attention towards it. The power of Angels over matter exceeds that of man as regards the greater masses they are able to move and the velocity and exactness or appropriateness of the motion. These advantages enable them to produce effects supernatural in appearance, although entirely owing to a higher knowledge of the laws of nature and to superior force. As this power belongs to the angelic nature it is common to both good and bad Angels.
Angelic speech would seem to consist simply in this, that the speaker allows the listener to read so much of his thoughts as he wishes to communicate. Hence Angels can converse at any distance; the listener sees the thought of the speaker, and thus all possibility of error or deception is excluded.

Power of the Angels over Man

V.          Angels have over the body of man the same power as over other material bodies. Over the human mind, however, their power is circumscribed within narrow limits. They cannot speak to man as they speak to each other, because the mind of man is unable to grasp things purely spiritual. But, by their power over matter, they can exercise a great influence on the lower life of the soul, and thus indirectly on its intellectual life also. They can propose various objects to the senses, and also move the sense-organs internally; they can act on the imagination, and feed it with various fancies; and lastly, as the intellect takes its ideas from the imagination, Angels are enabled to guide and direct the noblest faculty of man either for better or for worse.

Source: Wilhelm, Joseph and Thomas B. Scannell. A Manual of Catholic Theology: Based on Scheeben’s “Dogmatik”, Volume 1. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Lt., 1906.

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