Vol. VI, June 2000


The First Instruction of St. Raphael (cf. Tob 6: 4-9)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Tobias went with his companion to Media in order to fetch the money his father had deposited with his relative. On the first evening they camped beside the Tigris River. A fish lunged forward trying to catch hold of Tobias’ foot. Tobias, scared at first, reacted instantly to the word of Raphael, he "seized the fish and hauled it up on the shore" (Tob 6: 2-4).

1. Unexpectedly, he had a tasty supper: "he broiled and ate part of the fish; the rest he salted and kept for the journey."

a) When we ask for the guidance of our holy guardian angel, sometimes we can realize right away that he is acting and how he acts. At other times we have to wait to perceive his initiative. On other occasions, we simply remain in the dark with regard to his response. Perhaps this befits our present text, where apparently only after having traveled on towards Media (6:6) did Tobias advert to the fact that he did not understand the specific purpose of the entrails he had removed from the fish at Raphael’s behest, and so he "asked the angel this question: 'Brother Azariah, what medicinal value is there in the fish's heart, liver, and gall?'" (v.7). It was important, that in the given hour he had obeyed the angel, "he put aside the gall, heart and liver", even though he had not known their purpose.

b) The angel, then, gave him his first instruction: "As regards the fish's heart and liver, if you burn them so that the smoke surrounds a man or a woman who is afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, the affliction will leave him completely and no demons will ever return to him again. And as for the gall, if you rub it on the eyes of a man who has cataracts, blowing into his eyes right on the cataracts, his sight will be restored'" (vv. 8-9). While elsewhere in Scripture the angels appear for a single purpose and rather briefly, here the angel remains at Tobias’ side, giving him orientations on various aspects of life. He explained what man so often does not realize or takes for granted: while it is true that the devil is fighting for man's soul, it is equally true that whenever man strives to live in the presence of God, all the evil he may bear turns out to serve his good! St. James explains: "Be subject therefore to God, but resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you! ... Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and he will exalt you" (4: 7-8; cf. Ez 47: 9). Let us consider this more closely.

2. The angel shows and explains to Tobias the universal truth concerning the sovereignty of God in this incident.

a) The threatening fish ended up serving, first, as food, supplying an essential means for the sustenance of life. Secondly, this fish, or parts of it, were set aside to be used against the fallen spirits to counteract their deleterious effect upon man: By means of a certain ritual, the smoke produced by placing the heart and liver upon a coal the demon was driven away from Sarah. In the third place, another part of the same fish will help cure the physical defect of Tobit, namely, his blindness. We see in this once more a vivid interrelation between the three orders of creatures — angels, men and nature -- with harmony as the final effect, provided, of course, that the angel’s instructions are followed.

b) St. Augustine sees Christ in the living fish, coming forth from the water. He explains that Christ's heart would be consumed in the fire of his Passion, and by that fire (just like the heart and liver of the fish burnt in the fire) would make the devil flee (cf serm. 4 De Petro et Paulo; cf Lk 24: 42; Jn 21: 9.13).

This points to the economy of grace on another level: Christ gained our redemption through his Passion. This is communicated to man through the sacraments which have to be celebrated in a certain liturgical form and by which man is healed from sin and helped to develop his spiritual life. In this way, then, and thirdly, is reestablished the perfect harmony in the entire creation by reciprocal exchange.

When we consider how insecure man is and how he fumbles about and often does not reach more than presentiments, the certainty with which the angel expresses himself may surprise us. The angels behold with great lucidity the clear order and harmony in all that God created and disposes in the material creation; he shares his thoughts and intents with them regarding its use. And they, in turn, exercise their ministry with precision according to the sublime plan of God.

3. St. Raphaels answer nearly provides the basis for a "theology of material creation". Analyzing more closely his instructions, we can distinguish a natural and supernatural level. On the natural level there is a static and a dynamic dimension, while on the supernatural level we perceive a divine and a human dimension.

a) God reveals himself in the natural static dimension of material creation: By their own being "with its own stability, truth, and excellence, its own order and law" (CCC 339) "all creatures bear a certain resemblance to God ... The manifold perfections of creatures -- ... their goodness, their beauty -- all reflect the infinite perfection of God" (41; cf. 341). Creatures reveal not only the "almighty power" of their Creator and his wisdom through which creation is perfectly ordered, but also his perfection and love, the solicitude of his concrete and immediate providence and loving care, his infinite and unimaginable beauty and glory (cf. 293-305).

Beyond this we can distinguish a dynamic dimension. "God speaks to man through the visible creation" (1147) and what occurs in and through her. We can discern a special revelation in the "solidarity among all creatures" which arises, according the Catechism, "from the fact that all have the same Creator and are all ordered to his glory" (344). After the treatises on the single type of creatures, St. Thomas Aquinas discusses at the end of the first part of the Summa Theologica the government of creation. There he treats the reciprocal influences of angel and man and the material creation (I,103-119). Today, more and more attention is being given to this natural reciprocity among creatures; it is seen as reflection of the Three distinctive principles, the Divine Persons, who are one God by perfect and totally sharing Love. So we read in the Catechism: "Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity" (292). "However each Divine Person performs the common work according to his unique personal property" (258). Doing so, he "left traces of his Trinitarian Being in his work of Creation" (237). Hence, "Creation is ... the first and universal witness to God's all-powerful love" (288).

b) On the supernatural level of the "theology of material creation" we ought to first speak of "the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God" (337), which cannot, of course, be perfectly attained except by the grace of God, and whose ultimate degree comes with the assumption of human nature by Christ in his Hypostatic Union.

We distinguish a supremely "divine" dimension in the sacraments, where by the ministry of the Church God instrumentally and efficaciously produces grace through the sacraments in souls that place no impediment to this sanctifying grace (cf. 1128). Again in the sacraments, material creation contribute to the sanctification of man.

Whereas in the sacraments the efficient causality of Christ’s divinity is paramount, in the sacramentals of the Church the meritorious causality of Christ’s humanity stands, in a certain sense, in the foreground. The Church as treasurer of the graces and merits of Christ, both head and body, institutes sacramentals as means of actual graces in order to help draw the faithful more fruitfully to the sacraments of grace. In the case of the sacramentals, their efficacy depends much more on the interior participation of the individual souls, their personal faith and love for God, as is evidently the case in the use of holy water or the wearing of a blessed medal etc. (cf. 1667-1673, 1677-78). Similarly, the faithful draw material creation in some way into their offerings of prayers or sacrifices to God as the angel taught the children in Fátima: "Make of everything you can a sacrifice", that is, raise it up from the purely natural level into union with God. In these ways material creation achieves the purpose for which it was originally "fashioned [namely], ... for the worship and adoration of God" (347; cf. Rom 8:21).

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood, even we priests, the ministers of Christ, find in St. Raphael’s first instruction to Tobias a useful revision of a particular section of theology and a renewed impulse for our priestly ministry.

We are reminded: the final goal, the adoration of God, is one and the same for all creatures; therefore, the consecrating power from above is extended to all creatures and none is excluded, that is to say, everything can be blessed. The holy angels, who already enjoy the goal of beatitude in their vision of God, clearly see the final goal of the material creation too; they are able to open our eyes for these different dimensions of the material creation, and want to awaken our interest for the raising up of material creation through prayer and the blessings of the Church.

In great opposition to the workings of the holy angels, in the hands of the fallen spirits the ‘fish’ (material creation) becomes an instrument for the enslavement and destruction of man, as we can see in natural catastrophes such as the horrible storms, the extensive fires, the destructive earthquakes and vast floods.

May this reflection challenge us to renew our zeal for the administration of the sacramentals as great means for the sanctification of the material world and for the defense and sanctification of man. The angels, who care for the entire universe, will rejoice over our collaboration.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC