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Vol. XI, November 2005

 

The Holy Angels in the Wisdom Literature

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

After the reflections about the Eucharistic Lord in our priestly life and ministry with the holy angels, we will go back to the meditations on the angels in Sacred Scripture. God speaks there of His world. He shares with us the beauty and richness of His life and of His love for us. This awakens in us the deep desire to reach heaven, the eternal home which He offers us as His adopted sons and special friends.

The holy angels share in His glory. He sent them out to all those who are to inherit salvation. He reveals them to us who cannot see them. He shows us His heavenly army of faithful servants who do His will, who are always ready for any service to our benefit us and of those who are with us.

1. God’s Manifold Revelation

We reflected before the Eucharistic Year about the holy angels in the Psalms (cf. Circular Letters from October 2002 to September 2004). The Book of Psalms is, in some parts, already counted as part of the Wisdom Literature, a third part of the Bible along with the Historical and Prophetic Books. If we reckon the Book of Tobit with the miraculous presence of St. Raphael (cf. Circulars of January 2001 to December 2002), and the tremendous story of Job, whose drama begins with Satan’s interference (cf. Circulars of January to September 2002), among the Historical Books, then we find only a few references to the angels in (the rest of) the Wisdom Literature.

We may better understand why this should be if we survey the books of Scripture in the light of their principal author, the Blessed Trinity. The Catechism teaches: “‘The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three principles of creation, but one principle’ (Council of Florence [1442]: DS 1331; cf. Council of Constantinople II [553]: DS 421). However each divine Person performs the common work according to His unique, Personal property” (CCC 258). Therefore, it is reasonable to relate the three different groups of books somehow to the three divine Persons.

a) God the Father, Creator of All Things

God the Father is the origin without origin. From Him proceeds the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian Mystery. Due to this primary inner-trinitarian position, the work of creation is appropriated to Him. For this reason He is called “Creator”. His action is, therefore, very much related to existence itself, to Being as a base for all that follows from it. “God fashioned man with His own hands [that is, the Son and the Holy Spirit] and impressed His own form on the flesh He had fashioned in such a way that even what was visible might bear the divine form” (CCC 704; citing St. Irenaeus). To Him, then, is also attributed the manner of communicating through actions and facts, through natural events or historical development. And in this line of thought, we might also somehow attribute to Him the Historical Books of the Old Testament (see the Circular Letters from 1996 through 2000).

b) God the Holy Spirit, Who “has spoken through the prophets”

The Holy Spirit “has spoken through the prophets”, although His presence is mentioned in Sacred Scripture from the very beginning: “The Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). He proceeds in God from the Father and the Son, Who is the very “Word” of God the Father. The Holy Spirit is the divine witness to the generation and mission of the Son, of the love of the Father. We might call Him also Their interpreter. As such, His activity in creation is important; He can become our guide. This is the actual companionship which mankind experiences in the life of the people of Israel through the Prophets, and then of course, much more so in the life of the Church. To Him we might attribute the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. (We have yet to look at the message on the angels in the Prophetic Books.)

c) God the Son, the Father’s Word

The manner of communication with creation attributed to the Son of God or, the Word of the Father, is mainly that through words and jestures. To Him, consequently, we might attribute the entire written Revelation or Sacred Scripture. But among all the books, we particularly attribute the Books of Wisdom: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and in Him” (Col 1:16). What God originally revealed to man through the experience of life and historical facts in the Historical Books, He now elucidates in these Sapiential Books, offering deeper insights with respect to the ‘why’ and ‘wherefore’. These books are characterized by prudence and wisdom; they reveal deep insights which would presuppose rich experience. The characteristic works at the core of this group include the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, Wisdom and the Song of Solomon. Moreover, the Book of Psalms and the Books of Tobit and Job also give evidence of this sapiential quality.

2. The Holy Angels in the Wisdom Literature

In the principal Sapiential works we find only four direct references to the angels. Three texts refer to facts already heard in the Historical Books and discussed in the former letters. The first text in Sirach mentions the great help Israel received through an angel who killed in one night 185,000 men, reported first in the second book of Kings:

They called upon the Lord Who is merciful, spreading forth their hands toward Him; and the Holy One quickly heard them from heaven, and delivered them by the hand of Isaiah. The Lord smote the camp of the Assyrians, and His angel wiped them out. For Hezekiah did what was pleasing to the Lord, and he held strongly to the ways of David his father, which Isaiah the prophet commanded, who was great and faithful in his vision. (Sir 48:20-22)

We discussed this event when we commented on 2 Kings 19:35 (cf. Circular of July 1999) and on 2 Chronicles 32 (cf. Circular of Sept. 1999).

The other text in Sirach recalls the “vision of glory which God showed…above the chariot of the Cherubim” (Sir 49:8). It recalls the description of God given before in 2 Samuel 22:11 (cf. Circular of Dec. 1998), indicated in Exodus 25:18 (cf. Circular of June 1997) and in various Psalms (Ps 17:10, cf. Circular of Nov. 2002; Ps 99:1, cf. Circular of March 2004) as well as by some prophets.

Then the Book of Wisdom looks back to the liberation of Israel from Egypt, when God gave them the manna on the way through the desert:

Thou didst give Thy people food of angels, and without their toil Thou didst supply them from heaven with bread ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste. For Thy sustenance manifested Thy sweetness toward Thy children; and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to suit everyone’s liking. (Wis 16:20-21)

We referred to this miracle on different occasions (cf. Ps 78:25 in Circulars of Oct. 2003 and of Oct. 2004).

3. “Wisdom…penetrating through all spirits”

The forth reference is new and specific to the Wisdom Literature: God is praised because He shared His Wisdom with us. Through her, “the fashioner of all things,” He gave us “knowledge of what exists,” also of the “powers of spirits”:

It is He [God] who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists, to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements; the beginning and end and middle of times, the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts, the powers of spirits and the reasonings of men, the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots. I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for Wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. (Wis 7:17-22)

It is important then to listen to the marvelous description of Wisdom because Wisdom herself is a reflection of “the Almighty,” and as such “penetrates all things,” first of all, “all spirits”. To understand ourselves, consequently, we have to try to understand her.

For in her there is a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle. For Wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness, she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of His goodness. (Wis 7:17-26)

The threefold presentation can be seen in relation to the divine Persons: to the Son, the “reflection of eternal light” (cf. Jn 1:4); to the Father, the “spotless mirror of the working of God” (cf. Jn 5:17); and to the Holy Spirit, the “image of His goodness” (cf. CCC 723).

The increasingly augmented participation in this Wisdom by the different levels of creatures, from the elements to the plants to the animals and finally to the spirits, manifests that the holy angels are powerful, living, dynamic, fiery fingers of God. They are shown in their relationship with God: They first ascend as a reflection and revelation of God by pointing out how great He Himself is. Secondly, they descend in acting according God’s will in our lives. Therefore, when man, the lower creature, enters into contact with the holy angels, the Book of Wisdom tells us he will end up in a deeper relationship with the Triune God!

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We are part of the material and spiritual world (cf. CCC 327). According the Book of Wisdom, we might see God more clearly and draw nearer to Him if we would look up to “all spirits that are intelligent and pure and most subtle.” Communication with the angels raises us up to a deeper union with God.

Let us, therefore, intensify our friendship with our heavenly brothers at every moment in the simplest situations of life, with the angels of God and the angels of our parishioners, with the angels who care for me and for all those around me.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC