Back

Vol. IX, June 2003

 

"God Sits on His Holy Throne." (Ps 46:8)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Often Sacred Scripture speaks about God sitting on His throne. This image has a very significant symbolic value. The throne is, first of all, a symbol for majesty and authority, for the king rules from this place of stability. He who is sitting upon a throne, expresses also peace and tranquility. A king sits on a throne as the head and leader, the father and provider, for the many people in his realm. A judge may also be seated upon a kind of throne, because he represents the universal justice, the law of a state, and the order and harmony of the common life.

According to this sense we also encounter the biblical expression of sitting on a throne. "The Lord sits enthroned for ever, He has established His throne for judgement", says Psalm 9:7. And "God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a Psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne", says the present Psalm (Ps 46:6-8). God is king and judge; His throne is characterized as "holy". That means that it really belongs to Him Who is the only holy one, "wise, terrible indeed, seated on His throne, the Lord" (Eccl 1:8 ff.). Let us try to understand this expression.

1. God and His Throne

The image of a throne can be applied to God, because the natural dignity, authority and power of an enthroned king are even more rightly predicated of God.

a) All Creation As His Throne

God’s throne is called "holy". Holiness can pass from God to creatures only inasmuch as they really belong to Him. It is true, that all creatures are subject to the divine King; however, some subject themselves "by their free choice and preferential love" (CCC 311). These form with the material world His throne. Others are subject to Him by force, and these are called the footstool of the Lord: "The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’" (Ps 110:1).

This is a true and valid aspect of the relationship between God and all creatures: God is the King; He commands all. He is also the judge of all. He will demand an accounting. A "throne" is just one sign of this existential relationship between creatures and God.

b) His Throne According to Sacred Scripture

Sacred Scripture speaks of almost all things as being the dwelling place, the tent or the throne of God. Paradise, that is, God’s creation, was the place where God walked in His garden (cf. Gn 3:8). After sin had entered into this world, God had to send man out of Paradise, that is to say, out of His presence.

Then afterwards, He started again with His servant Moses: "Make Me a sanctuary so that I can reside among them" (Ex 25:8). And later on, "Come back, disloyal children...the time comes, [when] Jerusalem will be called: the Throne of Yahweh, and all the nations will converge in her" (Jer 3:14,17; cf. 14:21; 17:12; Ps 72:2, etc.). And continuing in this reconstruction, Wisdom says, "From eternity, in the beginning, He created Me...In the holy tent I ministered before Him and thus became established in Zion. In the beloved city He has given Me rest, and in Jerusalem I wield My authority. I have taken root in a privileged people, in the Lord’s property, in His inheritance..." (Sir 24:9-12).

Coming to the New Testament, the Son of God will not be born in the temple nor grow up nearby, because His sacred humanity itself is the new temple (cf. Jo 2:19-21). Our Lady, His immaculate virginal Mother, is also considered the "temple of God", and is venerated as the "Seat of Wisdom", the "House of Gold", the "Ark of the Covenant", "Vessel" and "Tower". She is just the first of many in whom the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit will come "and make a home" (Jn 14:23; cf. Rev 3:20; 22:3; Ez 10:1). Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria says, "The throne of God are those who believe in God, who are at the same time holy, so that their sins are extinguished and their hearts anointed by the work and grace of the Holy Spirit, so that they finally participate in the divine nature...To sit on His holy throne means to rest among His familiars, that is, with us and the highest spirits" (On Psalm 46).

2. The Angels as a Holy Throne of God

When St. Augustine asks in his commentary on this Psalm, "On what throne?", his answer is, "Maybe the heavens; that is a good explication. Christ went up, as we know, with the same body with which He was crucified, and sat at the right hand of the Father...The heavens are His holy throne!…Heaven refers to the saints and the ‘place’ of the spiritual creatures, the angels, who surround God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 326).

a) The Angels as the Spiritual Throne of God

Some reflections bring us to a similar conclusion. God’s dominion is of a spiritual kind. His power is invisible and, therefore, also His throne should be spiritual. Just as the quality of the physical throne somehow should reflect the greatness of the spiritual power of its owner, so, too, and even more so, should a spiritual throne reflect the true dimension of God’s spiritual dignity and authority.

Just as the natural solidity of a physical throne lends a sense of confidence and tranquility to the king, even so would we expect a great stability in the decision for God to characterize God’s spiritual throne. His spiritual throne must be a monument, to speak figuratively, of faithfulness and trustworthiness in all circumstances. Now, this fidelity, this faithfulness even in difficulties, is one of the specific virtues of the holy angels.

Therefore, if the entire creation serves as a throne for God, how much more does this apply to the holy angels!

b) "...Thrones or Dominions or Principalities"

Generally speaking, all creatures reflect the richness of God, each one another facet of His perfections (CCC 41, 293-294). St. Paul says, "God is faithful" (1 Cor 10:13). Fidelity or faithfulness is an attribute, a resolution of each creature who belongs truly and, therefore, definitively to God. This is so fundamental that God wanted to express and manifest this truth in a vital way in angelic persons: their first and total allegiance is to Him. They testify that all creatures find their full happiness only in simple surrender to God. They witness that it is heavenly bliss "just" being with Him. In a similar way, there are those members in His Mystical Body, the Church, who find their full realization of purpose "just" living for their Lord in perpetual adoration. We are not surprised, then, to find this term among the names of angelic choirs. St. Paul mentions them in the letter to the Colossians: "in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him" (Col 1:16).

c) Angels Are Called Thrones

In fact, based on this reference, the whole of tradition refers to an angelic choir called the "Thrones". St. Thomas quotes Dionysius, who "interprets the name ‘Thrones’ by comparison to a chair. A chair has four marked features.

–First, its position: a chair is elevated from the ground. So, too, those angels called Thrones are raised up to the heights of knowing the reasons of things immediately in God himself.

–Secondly, there is the chair’s strength, i. e. one can sit firmly on it. Here the comparison is a contrast, since Thrones receive their strength from God.

–Thirdly, a chair supports the sitter, who can even be borne about on it. So, too, these angels receive God into themselves and in some way bring Him to others.

–Fourthly, there is the chair’s shape, open on one side to receive the sitter. So these angels are open in their readiness to receive God and to be at His service" (Summa Theo., I, 108, 5 ad 6).With St. Gregory the Great, St. Thomas gives still one more specification: "...according to Gregory those are called Thrones through whom God carries out His judgments (cf. Hom. in Ev., II, 34), for they receive divine enlightenment by reason of their readiness to enlighten the second hierarchy" (Summa Theo. I, 108, 6 c).

3. "Do You Also Want to Be the Throne of God?"

Since all creatures are called to be a throne of God, it should be of a special interest to unite ourselves with these heavenly Thrones in order to become truly spiritual thrones for God.

a) "Prepare for Him a Place in Your Heart!"

St. Augustine continues in his commentary on this Psalm with the question, "Do you also want to be the throne of God? Do not judge that you cannot be. Prepare for Him a place in your heart; He will come, and with pleasure will take up His seat (throne) there…(cf. Wis 7). And what does Scripture say of wisdom? The soul of the just is a seat of wisdom. If, therefore, the soul of a just man is a seat of wisdom, might not your soul also be just, and thus a real throne of wisdom. And in fact, Brothers, in all men who live honestly, who act well, who live according to charity and piety, may not God have His throne in them and give His orders from there?" (St. Augustine, On Psalm 46:9).

b) "I searched for rest."

Jesus chose His Mother, then His humanity as a throne for Himself. The Cross served Him as support, and for His Eucharistic presence He chooses the tabernacle. But all His desire turns towards us, to our body, which "is a temple of the Holy Spirit within [us]" (1 Cor 6:19). And His desire is for our heart: "I had My tents in the heights, and My throne was a pillar of cloud...Among all these I searched for rest, and looked to see in whose territory I might pitch camp" (Sir 24:4.7; cf. 2 Cor 7:2; Eph 4:27).

There are many recommended ways of becoming a throne for Our Lord. We may consider different virtues being a foot of the throne in our heart: charity and humility, obedience, love for the truth, surrender, unceasing prayer, etc. One way, and not the least, is prayer and devotion to the holy, angelic Thrones. For through devotion we share in their goodness. May they inspire us and help us to follow with perseverance one of these ways. May they inflame our hearts and make us firm in love for Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

"God sits on His holy throne" in our midst! Let us become priests who love God every day a bit more in deep gratitude for the graces of faith, His love and presence. Let us ask the holy angels to watch over our Lord in the tabernacles of our churches. Let us ask the holy angels to help us adore Him and care for Him. Let us ask the parish council in what ways the parish could be an even better "dwelling place" of Our Lord and God! May He Who is with us–Emmanuel–be your blessing every day!

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC