IV, December 1998


Cherubim, "Bearers of God"

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

It was always part of the Christian life to live with the holy Angels, invoking them and calling upon their assistance and help.  However, the ideal of living a life 'like the Angels', as we saw in the case of David, was never a common idea. There are several reasons for this. As a spiritually demanding ideal, the life 'like the Angels', was initially associated with the monks; later it remained restricted to the Consecrated Life with its eschatological character according to Mt 22,30. St. Thomas Aquinas once observed: If we knew the offices of the Angels perfectly, and their distinctions, we would perfectly know what each one of the Angels has as his proper office and his proper order in things (St. Thomas Aq., Summa Theologica, I,108,3). In that case we might also understand better how to live like them. However, we can find indications for this Christian ideal in almost every reference to the holy Angels in Sacred Scripture. These passages tell us much more about their office than about their nature (cf. Catechism 329); they tell us what the holy Angels do and consequently, in what respect we can imitate them, thus living and acting as they do.

1. a) We receive detailed information about the Cherubim in Sacred Scripture. We have already met them twice: first in the 'Gatekeeper' of paradise, the advocate of Divine rights who was filled with zeal for the glory of God (cf. Gen 3,24; Circular II,2); and secondly, as His Body-Guards in the sanctuary, where they guard, adore and defend Him, present in the Ark of the Covenant, in the midst of His people (cf. Ex 25,18-20; Circular III,6; this latter office apparently stands behind the frequent reference to the Lord of hosts, Who is/sits enthroned on the Cherubim as in 1 Sam 4,4; 2 Sam 6,2; 2 Kg 19,15; Ps 80,2; 99,1;Is 37,16; Dn 3,55). In a third mission we see them as companions of God: He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under His feet. He rode on a Cherub, and flew; He was seen upon the wings of the wind (spirit) (2Sam 22,10-11; cf. Ps 18,10).

b) Such are the Cherubim. We see a common characteristic in these offices, namely, their companionship of God in relation to mankind or in His mission. We may justifiably think of the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, of the Son of God, of the Word Who was made flesh. Ezekiel declares: Over their heads was the likeness of a throne,... and seated above the likeness of the throne was a likeness as it were of a human form... and there was a brightness round about Him... Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God (1,26-28). And St. John applies this description to our Lord (cf. Rev 1,15). In fact we can say that He is the gate: I am the door, if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture (Jn 10,9). And He is the Word (Who) became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1,14), the dwelling (or tabernacle) of God with men (Rev 21,3). He touched heaven while standing on the earth for Thy all-powerful Word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne, into the midst of the land that was doomed, a stern warrior carrying the sharp sword of Thy authentic command (Wis 18,15-16).
The proper meaning of the name of these Angels confirms this special relationship with the Son: 'Cherubim' means 'fullness of wisdom' which for us is expressed and shared through words, the Divine Wisdom through the Divine Word, which is the Son. In the light of the evidence of such a link we might call the Cherubim not just 'Theopheros', but 'Christopheros', bearers of Christ. Does not Hebrews 9,5ff associate them to Christ in His sacrifice and victimhood? And are they not the first to adore the Lamb in the Book of Revelation 5,8ff?

2. We have to ask ourselves: What can it mean that 'the Lord rode on a Cherub'?

a) This text certainly does not refer to the omnipresent Almighty God and Creator in Himself, but to a mission or special relation of God to some part of His creation. Here, we have to remember that God and the Cherubim are pure spirits. Hence, the anthropomorphic image of a chariot must needs express some spiritual relationship or activity. The Divine activity is directed to, in and through the Cherubim towards us and not to any part of the material world. We are interested foremost in the relation between the Lord and the Cherubim themselves.

b) The term rode has to be understood as a description of a particular relationship in the union of spirits. God and the Cherubim are related in such a way as are the driver and his car: God revealed Himself and shared His thoughts and His spirit with the Cherubim, in a way similar, though not equal, to His Self-communication to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

A Cherub is open, disposed to receive His Lord and God according to his essence or 'with all his being'. By receiving the Divine Light he becomes a 'seat of Wisdom', full of wisdom as his name expresses. Through such a relationship, the Cherub becomes, first, a dwelling place of God, then, an instrument through which God can be present and communicate His ideas and thoughts, but also His greatness and beauty, His desires and plans to other Angels (cf. Ezek 10,2-7) and to man. These and other attributes of God may be perceived and savored by those who ponder the Word of God in its richness. The lights and inspiration man may receive during meditation are such communications of God through an Angel, ultimately - very likely - through His carrier, a Cherub.

3. Is this the particular characteristic of the Cherubim or does it not apply to all the holy Angels? How can the Cherubim be distinguished from the other pure spirits? We might think of a qualitative and of a quantitative distinction.

a) Of all the revealed word of God we distinguish in Sacred Scripture historical, prophetical and sapiential books; the first may be compared with the human faculty of the memory as the reservoir of all the knowledge which was once acquired; the prophetical books could be compared with the imagination, while the books of wisdom are like the intellect with both the capacity of abstraction from the concrete and of translation form universal principles to the concrete. In a certain way, therefore, we may compare the Cherubim with the human intellect while the Angels from lower choirs, like our Guardian Angels with their practical counsels, are more similar to the memory or imagination. The Cherubim are, according to Dionysius and St. Thomas Aquinas, Angels who posses the fullness of wisdom in regard to four things: the perfect vision of God; the full reception of the Divine Light; their contemplation in God of the beauty of the Divine order; and in regard to the fact that, possessing this knowledge fully, they pour it forth copiously upon others (St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I,108,5 ad 5). Further, their perfection in wisdom shines in this, that they put their knowledge into practice, adoring and defending God!

b) We might distinguish the Cherubim from other pure spirits quantitatively with respect to knowledge. There are different degrees of receiving or being a bearer of the Word. The books of Scripture bear the word in a purely material sense. The scribes were so in a very narrow sense, according to the narrowness of their mind. And the saints are also formed and marked by the Divine Word. But it is the holy Angels who are practically a spiritual realization, personification of the Word of God. Each creature, according to its essence, is the expression of an idea or word of God, each one according to its ontological degree of being and moral purity. Accordingly, among the Angels, an Angel of the ninth choir with his counsels for the daily life is much less so than a Cherub, who can be named fullness of wisdom, for they are at the top of this scale of possession of the Word, being ranked after the Seraphim nearest to God. This, then, explains the expression of the revelation we have before us: He rode on a Cherub, and flew. They receive the Word of God first, and it journeys through them to others.

4. Brothers in the Priesthood, to be such a bearer of the Word like the Cherubim and possess the Divine Wisdom like the Angels is an ideal which must touch us priests more than others! Each Christian receives in the sacrament of Confirmation the consecration to be a bearer of the Word to the world by his testimony. The priest, however, is expressly called ìa servant of the Word of God and is ordained and sent to bring it to the world (cf. Pastores dabo vobis, 26.2; Directory of Priests, 45-47). Among the holy Angels, the Cherubim will be the great helpers for us in this ministry.

We should be experts on the Divine Word eating the scroll from the hand of the Angel in constant spiritual reading (cf. Rev 10,8-11), having our memory filled with Sacred Scripture (instead of the passing news of this world) and pondering it always (e.g. the liturgical readings) in our heart thanks to the faithful exercise of daily meditation.

We should be preachers of the Divine Word which is clear light and firm truth, solid consolation and support in difficulties; we should be like a broadcasting station open to all who want to listen, amplified and accompanied by our angelic friends so that the listeners will come in physical and spiritual touch with the Word of God (cf. Mt 12,34-37).

We should be transparent to the Divine Word, its living representation for the thirsty through a life of the Good Shepherd and the Good Samaritan, and by words marked by God's kindness and goodness, mercy and compassion, longing and love.

Our Lady was a 'Bearer of the Divine Word,' her Son. She adored Him like the Cherubim at the Ark. She protected Him like the Cherub before paradise and brought Him like the Cherubim, to Elizabeth, to Bethlehem, to all mankind and to all creation.

May her intercession and the angelic mediation bring us to that union of mind with Christ which allows Him to come through us to the world; may the holy Cherubim take us more and more under their wings and lead us to a harmony with themselves so that we might join them, first of all, in their unceasing adoration of the Thrice-Holy God.

"We who mystically represent the Cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn
to the life-giving Trinity, lay aside all earthly cares, for we are to receive
the King of the universe Who comes escorted by unseen armies of Angels. Alleluia."
(Excerpt from the Cheroubikón of the Byzantine Liturgy)

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC