Vol. XII, May 2006
“The envoys (angels) of peace weep bitterly” (Is 33:7)
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
We considered the powerful and unique vision of the Seraphim before the Throne of God and the description of the fall of the angels in chapter 14 of the Prophet Isaiah. One text lifts us up to heaven, the other gives us a downward glimpse of hell. Is this not a typical prophetical perspective: broad and deep. Other texts also bear these characteristics.
1. Angelic Texts
Further texts in Isaiah reflect the broad vision of a prophet.
a. The Triumph of God’s Justice
The first has an apocalyptic character and refers to the last condemnation of the fallen angels: “On that day,” which is the Last Day or the Day of Judgement, “the LORD will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth” (24:21). This “heaven” of the RSV is translated in other versions with “on high” or in the Jerusalem Bible with “the armies of the sky above”. This latter phrase is reminiscent of St. Paul who once referred to the battle “against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). The Hebrew word is marom, which means literally the heights and figuratively, haughtiness. It is clear that the Church never speaks of a second judgment of the angels. Whoever among them was faithful in the first test was definitively saved and remains in union with God forever. Those who did not pass the test, the rebellious and fallen ones, will never have a chance to revise their choice.
Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign… It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death” (St. John Damascene). (CCC 392 and 393)
This text, therefore, confirms the original condemnation of the devils at the beginning of time. In the end, their punishment will be intensified because of the evil they have caused in God’s reign throughout history (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theo., I, 64 and the parallel text on the good angels 62, 9 ad 3). For this evil as well, God’s justice demands due punishment.
b. The Glory and Fidelity of God
In Chapter 37, the Prophet presents first the familiar vision of the Majesty of God Who is the “Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who art enthroned above the Cherubim, Thou art God, Thou alone …’ ” (37:16). It is certainly an important vision given repeatedly in Divine Revelation (cf. 2 Sam 22:11; Circ. Dec., 1998).It gives men an idea of the greatness of God, presupposing that we know that even the lowest angel is already “greater” or more powerful than the entire material universe; his intellect exceeds that of all mankind.
This view of God is, then, completed by the remembrance of the great historical intervention of an angel who killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in a single night: “‘I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of My servant David.’ And the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (37:35-36; cf. 2 Kings 19:35, Circ. July, 1999).
These references reveal to men both the power and the love of God. God is infinitely above men and yet He stands at their side and applies His power to help them in whatever they need. The Prophet speaks from his familiarity with the divine world. We who listen to him should also grow in this familiarity: in confidence and trust in the Lord, and in the knowledge that God punishes the fallen angels and orders the good ones to assist man in his weakness.
2. The Bitter Weeping of the Angels of Peace
It is important to see the next text within its context. Isaiah sees God as the Lord working in favor of man who finds himself in the midst of the diabolic attacks and, therefore, in extreme need of God and His angels.
Woe to you, destroyer, who yourself have not been destroyed; you treacherous one, with whom none has dealt treacherously! When you have ceased to destroy, you will be destroyed; and when you have made an end of dealing treacherously, you will be dealt with treacherously.
O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for Thee. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. At the thunderous noise peoples flee, at the lifting up of Thyself nations are scattered; and spoil is gathered as the caterpillar gathers; as locusts leap, men leap upon it. The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high; He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness; and He will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure. Behold, the valiant ones cry without; the envoys of peace weep bitterly. (33:1-7)
The texts on the angels in Isaiah turn herewith to men, to the city of Jerusalem, the Holy City of peace. The New Jerusalem Bible translates the Hebrew malak (which is rendered in Latin as angeli) as ambassadors of peace where the RSV uses envoys. St. Thomas approaches this text very carefully, first according to its literal and allegorical sense, referring to human messengers and to the Apostles. But behind them rises the anagogical truth of the greater concern and solicitude of the angels. St. Thomas says: “If according to the anagogical sense this passage be expounded of the blessed angels, then the expression is metaphorical, and signifies that universally speaking the angels will the salvation of mankind: for in this sense we attribute passions to God and the angels” (Summa Theo. I, 113, 7 ad 1). In fact, our Lord Himself speaks in this way: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). And there is sadness and “tears”, we might add, over anyone who does not convert.
The Prophet expresses with this prayer the conviction that the Lord, our God, infinitely above all creatures, is concerned and willing to condescend to these small men. Moreover—what is of special interest to us at present—so too are the holy angels. Those who are with Him and were sent to rescue those who fear the Lord, are always willing to be sent again and again. That they even “weep bitterly” indicates their concern. St. Jerome’s commentary here points to the parallel text of Our Lord weeping over Jerusalem…
When JESUS drew near and saw the city He wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes…because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-42,44).
The Lord wept, because Jerusalem did not accept His teaching and grace. In this sense, the angels can also be understood to weep. They are willing to help and bring peace, but are not called for and not allowed to enter into the battle and fight for God and men. They weep because they are bound by man’s free will and have to watch how God is disobeyed, how the rights of God are disrespected and how man himself joins the work of the “destroyer”.
3. O God, send an angel of peace to assist us.
Isaiah often writes very subtly and delicately. Take, for example, Isaiah 49:14-15: “Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you’”. Yet the Church understands even the most subtle references.
a) Criteria of Discernment
Many Fathers of the Church refer to the angel of peace. St. Basil the Great exhorts us: “Let us pray to God, who is our friend, to send an angel of peace as our companion and in order to assist us” (Eph 1:11; cited by M. P. Giudici, The Angels, Alba House, New York, 1993, 108). Cardinal J. Danielou writes in his study on the angels: “Among these names for the Guardian Angel, that of ‘angel of peace’ is especially venerable”. He states: “The expression can be found in Isaiah 33:7 in Jerome’s translation” (cf. note 30). “The expression had entered into the Liturgy, as can be seen from a passage in St. John Chrysostom: ‘Learn now that there are angels of peace. Listen to the deacons, who frequently repeat in their prayers: “Pray to the angel of peace”’. As a matter of fact, it can be found in the Apostolic Constitutions (8,3) in the prayers which follow the dismissal of the catechumens: ‘Rising up, let us sing the mercies of the Lord. Let us pray to the angel in charge of peace’” (J. Danielou, The Angels and their Mission according to the Fathers of the Church, Christian Classics: Allen, Tx 1996, 73-74).
The opposition between the “destroyer” and the “angel of peace” led the Fathers to emphasize precise criteria of discernment which this text makes evident: “The good angel,” wrote Hermas in The Shepherd, “is sensitive, modest, sweet, calm…; the wicked angel, by contrast, is prone to anger, is bitter and rash. When anger or bitterness takes possession of you, know that an evil angel is within you!” (Precept VI,2,4; Giudici, 108). Maria Pia Giudici made the comment: “The idea that demons cast the human spirit into a sea of agitation and uncertainty is a sentiment also found in St. Athanasius, who adds: ‘Good angels always act peacefully and sweetly, inspiring joy and exultation’ (Vita Antonii, XXXV; ibid.). “St. Gregory of Nyssa gave voice to exactly the same faith: ‘For those who are worthy of it, the Lord provides both life and peace through the instrumentality of His angels’” (Comm. In Cant., 14; ibid.).
b) Awake for the Good
We priests, who believe in the existence and presence of the angelic ministry in human life should not overlook this criteria of discernment. We should be aware of the spiritual battle which is going on and make the souls entrusted to our care aware of it. We should not, however, draw so much attention to the work of the destroyer which is already evident everywhere, but rather to the presence of the holy angels who are so willing to help if we would just call upon them.
How joyful we would be to find the fruits of the Holy Spirit more copiously present in our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” (Gal 5:22). How do we stand on this question: do the angels have a hand in the communication of these fruits? Reflecting upon these teachings of the Fathers, Giudici suggests: “Perhaps it is precisely our own age which has been called to rediscover the Guardian Angels as beings who are in the service of man’s total salvation, including his proper equilibrium and peace here below… [R]ecourse to our Guardian Angel can be like drawing on the life-giving waters of personal peace” (109).
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
It is part of the mission of a prophet to give an outlook over the times. Isaiah is looking forward to the heavenly City of Peace. And do we not have the mission not only to show the goal, but even to guide the souls step by step towards this City! Let us call upon the help of the holy angels, especially of the “weeping angels of peace”, and direct souls to pray for their help. Let us live in greater union with them so that we may become mediators of peace for souls and the angels may become peacemakers in this world. Holy angels of peace, be near us and bring peace to our souls, families and nations.
Thank you for your prayers for our brother priest in South Dakota, for which I asked in January. He hopes to be well enough to return to ministry within the next weeks. Please pray for a priest of our Order, Fr. Athanasius Schneider, ORC: Benedict XVI has elected him to be an auxiliary Bishop for Karaganda, Kazakhstan.