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Vol. IX, January 2003

 

“By the Word of Yahweh the Heavens Were Made”
(Ps 33:6)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last meditations on Psalms 17 and 29 we were led to praise God first for His protective power against our enemies, and then on account of His beauty and perfection which shine through His creatures. Once more we find the invitation to praise the Lord:

“Shout for joy, you upright; praise comes well from the honest.
Give thanks to Yahweh on the lyre, play for Him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to Him a new song, make sweet music with loud shouts. (Ps 33:1-3)

What is the reason for it this time? Psalm 33 wishes to lead us to praise God for the fact of creation itself and God’s presence in it at every moment. “The word of Yahweh is straightforward...By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth all their hosts!” (vv.4,6).

1. The very fact of the creation of the “heavens” is for the Psalmist cause of joy! This might surprise us, at least at first sight. But after all, Genesis begins: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth!” The heavens in a special way demonstrate the omnipotence of God. But the text here understands more by “heavens” than the starry skies above.

a) That angels exist seems to be accepted naturally for everyone. Should the creation of the angels be an issue if almost all religions believed in the existence of spirits? Why should the existence of the angels not be taken for granted when someone in an interior experience even seems to be able to identify angels, which he never has seen before? So, for example, the mother of Samson “told her husband, ‘A man of God has just come to me, who looked like the Angel of God, so majestic was he’.” (Judg13:6).

But is it not true as well that man cannot experience naturally and immediately the existence of the angels because they are incorporeal and so by nature invisible to him? Should not, therefore, the creation of the angels be the very first question of all about them?

b) In our text the creation of the angels is not made a proper theme to be discussed. It just recalls the fact that “By the Word of Yahweh the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth all their hosts!” (v.6). We find the same sobriety in the Creed (cf. the Creed of the People of God by Paul VI, § 8; also CCC 325) and in the declarations of the Councils: “God ‘from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly ...’ (Lateran Council IV)” (CCC 327). Similarly, the Catechism raises the question of the existence of the holy angels only in order to affirm their existence: “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” (CCC 328). It raises the question, of course, because the modern, rationalistic world has frequently questioned the existence of the created spirits, in much the same way as did the Sadduccees in the time of Christ.

Whatever is taken as a single phrase calls for our attention. In any case, the angels exist! They are not just a pious fantasy of some devoted souls. They are not just an idea and logical conclusion of some philosophers, considering them as a harmonious link between the material creatures and the spiritual, uncreated God. The holy angels are real; we can really, that is, in reality or realiter, trust in them. Though we do not see them, they are there; even though we do not hear the sound of their voice, they communicate with us inaudibly.

2. Now really, why does the Psalmist speak here about the creation of the angels? The intention is twofold: first, to offer a clearer knowledge of God in His omnipotence as Creator; and secondly, in view of man’s response.

a) Taking a closer look at the text, we see it affirmed that the angels were created “by the Word of Yahweh”. This recalls the first narration of creation, where is said, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Gn 1:1). God is their effective cause; God made them. God is the only Lord over their being. “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, there is no other God except Me... I form the light and I create the darkness” (Is 45:5ff.). No one else, therefore, can give existence or withdraw it once it exists. Each creature, therefore, is a proof and gives an evident testimony of the Creator, of God’s own existence, for there cannot be an effect without a similar or higher cause.

And if we further consider the effortless “breath of His mouth” on one the one hand and “all their [imposing] hosts” on the other, then we see even greater emphasis of the fact that in creation the infinite God is contrasted to His limited creatures, God’s freedom to the dependent creation, which He freely decided should be! This shows us how much each and every creature is a beautiful testimony of God’s free “Yes” to creation, a testimony of His power, of His goodness and gratuitous love towards creatures. Being created means being made by a personal, conscious act of God, which is a personal, pure act of love. It means being esteemed, appreciated and having received being as the most precious gift, which only God can give. Every creature reflects God, reveals Him to the others and so becomes also a guide to God for His Glory!

b) Herewith we understand already why the Psalmist does not linger over the fact of creation as such. The creative act cannot be understood except as referring to God. It is “by the word of Yahweh” that “the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth all their hosts!” They “were created through and for Him (Christ): ‘for in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth’ (Col 1:16)” (CCC 331). It is clearer the other way around: the better one understands the creator, the better one understands creation, its greatness, depth and graciousness.

This “word of Yahweh”, by which “the heavens were made” (v.6) “is straightforward, all He does springs from His constancy” (v.4). “Yahweh ... frustrates the counsels of peoples” (v.10), “... sees all the children of Adam” (v.13; cf. v.18), “understands all they do” (v.15), and “loves uprightness and justice” (v.5). God’s “Yes!” is permanent. He does not make mistakes. Therefore He does not have to repent nor to destroy what He once decided to make. He stays with His work as long as it lasts.

His love is constant. It also includes the future: “He watches over those who fear Him, those who rely on His faithful love, to rescue them from death and keep them alive in famine” (vv.18-19). “Yahweh’s own plan stands firm forever, His heart’s counsel from age to age” (v.11).

c) Being created or called into existence “by the Word of Yahweh” means, therefore, to have God forever “at one’s side”. In this sense, the “sun” of God’s love never sets. This is such an unbelievable truth that we comprehend the elicited response: “Let the whole earth fear Yahweh, let all who dwell in the world revere Him” (v.8), for “it is in Him that we live, and move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). “Yahweh is,” on earth and with His creatures, “in His holy Temple: Let the whole earth be silent before Him” (Hab 2:20). Further, in this God “our heart rejoices, in His holy name we trust. Yahweh, let Your faithful love rest on us, as our hope has rested in You” (vv.20-22). This ending of the psalm recalls its beginning: “Shout for joy, you upright; praise... Give thanks to Yahweh..., play for Him ... Sing to Him a new song, make sweet music ...” (Ps 33:1-3). In fact, would one glance at an angel cause every man to rejoice and make him praise God? How much more such a blessed glance at God!

3. A firm affirmation of the existence of the angels has brought us nearer to God as it shows us His actual nearness to us.

a) It is subjectively important to believe actually that, “By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made”. For moments may arise along our spiritual path in which we have to cling to the witness of others. If this is already true with regard to the very existence of God when He leads us into moments of spiritual darkness, how much more are we dependent upon the witness of others (especially that of the saints, indeed, of the Church) when it comes to the contingent existence of the invisible angels, created freely by the word of His mouth!

b) Objectively, it is indispensable to believe in the existence of the angels; this is a “truth of faith” (CCC 328). We can see the importance of their existence better from the negative side, thinking of their absence. How different the world would be if they would not have been created! St. Thomas teaches, “The spiritual creatures were created to have some relationship to the world of bodies, and indeed to govern it as a whole” (S.Th., I,61,4c); and shortly before he writes, “they do not constitute a universe on their own, but they are corporeal natures unite in constituting one universe. This stands in evidence from the relationship of creature to creature, because the mutual relationship of creature to creature makes up the good of the universe” (ibid., a. 3c)! Would the whole universe keep its order so firmly as it does now without them? Could many individuals be of one and the same species? Could the atoms and molecules remain so firmly together, etc.?

The existence of the angels might seem to some theologians to be a question of a secondary importance, but it remains always one of primary importance ontologically speaking. To be sure, the spiritual life would be completely different without them, for “The whole life of the Chruch benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of the angels” (CCC.334).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

There is no doubt that one of the essential concerns of the holy angels is to lead man ever nearer to God, to make him defend, love and adore God’s majesty and holiness, His greatness and omnipotence, His wisdom and goodness, His trustfulness and fidelity, His love and justice, His incomprehensibility as well as His mercy.

Once more we see how important a solid catechesis is for our people, a catechesis about God and about His entire work. Only in this way shall we overcome the spiritual blindness of today’s materialists and offer help to the discouraged, faint-hearted people of today. “See how Yahweh watches over those who fear Him...to rescue them from death and keep them alive in famine...Yahweh, let your faithful love rest on us, as our hope has rested in you” (vv.18-22).

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC