Vol. XIII, January 2007
The History of the Fallen Angels (cf. Ez 28:1-19)
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Under the symbol (“sub figura”) of the King of Babylon the prophet Isaiah spoke of the devil, as St. Thomas Aquinas understood it (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, 63, 5; Circ. XII, 4). And “Tradition saw in this a reference to the fall of the most beautiful and perfect angel” (Renzo Lavatori, Satana. Un Caso serio. Studio di demonologia cristiana, Bologna, 1995, 70). We come now to chapter 28 in the prophesy of Ezekiel which, along side Isaias 14,, is considered a “classic text” (ibid., 219 and 246) on the fall of the angels.
1. Moments of the Angelic History
Ezekiel receives “the Word of the Lord” for “the prince of Tyre”. It is the description of his pride and sin (cf. Ez 28:1-11). Then he is told to “raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord God…’” (cf. vv. 11-19). We will reflect on the two texts together. The king is, on one hand, compared with the first man in paradise. Then, through his sin of pride, he became the symbol of a proud governor, and finally of the anti-god, the devil. That is the reason why we shall, in our small space, pass over the historical meaning and look immediately at what it says about the trial and fall of the devil.
The pure spirits also have their history, measured and marked by events of the history of salvation in which they play a role. Some of them, for example, are recalled in the third secret of the message of Fatima, which was published, therewith giving it a credibility, by the Holy See! The angels are part of the entire history of creation: “Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan”, and “they will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce” (CCC 332 and 333; 391 and 409).
Still, we can distinguish the purely angelic moments of the economy of salvation, namely, those which took place before the creation of man. These include: a) their creation, b) their confrontation with God’s Will as their test, followed by c) their radical and irrevocable decision (cf. CCC 392) and d) their final and unchangeable state, be it heaven with God or hell without God.
2. “You were blameless … till iniquity was found in you” (v. 15).
a) “Created naturally good by God” (CCC 391)
The first historical moment for the angels was their creation. God cannot but create the things in a state perfect in their nature. The angels, the first-created creatures, became a sign for this: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (v. 12). Every creature has its own existence and identity and is true and good (ens est unum, verum, bonum). Among creatures, God declares the angels at their creation, a model of excellence of being, “wrought in gold” (v. 13) “surpassing in perfection all visible creatures” (CCC 330). “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” (v. 15).
The references to paradise, “Eden, the garden of God” (v. 13), and to “the holy mountain of God” (v. 14; cf. Hb 12:22-25) apply less to the angels than the references to the precious stones, “carnelian, topaz, and jasper, chrysolite, beryl, and onyx, sapphire, carbuncle, and emerald” (v. 13) and to the “stones of fire” (v. 15; “angels are called fiery stones,” says St. Jerome). St. Gregory the Great explained: “there are mentioned nine types of stones because there are nine choirs (“ordines”) of angels. Indeed, Sacred Scripture itself speaks namely openly of Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Principalities, Powers, Cherubim, and Seraphim, as there are shown so many distinctions among the higher citizens” (In Ez; PL 76.2; 665).
b) The Dangerous Treasure
Their spiritual nature allowed them to have a much greater knowledge than any other creature of lower rank. Our text does not refer explicitly to the trial of the angels, their free choice in favor or against the Will of God, but it does indicate their initial excellence, their degraded state and the cause for the difference: their pride. But it points out that the gifts of God can be dangerous for the creatures.
The angels enjoy great knowledge. They “are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from” (v. 3) them about the creatures below them. God could confirm: “By your wisdom and your understanding you have gotten wealth for yourself” (v. 4). In the measure of knowledge one has dominion gains possession and power over other creatures. This is willed by God. He wants His creatures to be like Him, not only to be good in themelves, but also contribute freely and wisely to the goodness of other creatures below themselves, and thus come to share with Him His love.
So great is God’s love for His creatures that it appears to be dangerous. The greatness of the gift can overwhelm, the creature can turn to itself instead of returning with gratitude and humility to the giver. In fact, it happened to some: They stumble over themselves, so to speak.
c) “You profaned your sanctuaries” (v. 18)
The similarity to God becomes a temptation: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you consider yourself as wise as a god’” (v. 6), and, by exploiting the possibilities wisdom brings, aspire to become as powerful as God, “your heart has become proud in your wealth” (v. 5). “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.” (v. 17) Pride is not only an exaggerated self-affirmation; it leads to the desire to “be like God” (Gen 3:5): “You have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas...’” (v. 2). The error does not stop here. The high consideration of knowledge leads further: “Iniquity was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned” (v.15-16). Pride leads to untrue estimation of self, it misleads in the ill-treatment of others and, last not least, turns against God Who alone has the absolute right over all. Therefore God accuses here: “By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries” (v. 18).
d) God’s Reaction
God never agrees with errors. His justice demands a due response: “Heaven is God’s justice in love; hell is God’s justice in truth; Purgatory is God’s justice in grace.” (Gabriele Bitterlich) So God said to the proud: “Behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most terrible of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They shall thrust you down into the Pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas” (v.7-8). And “I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire” (v. 16). This recalls St. Michael who was fighting in heaven against the dragon and his angels and threw them down to the earth (cf. Rev 12:7-9).
God went even further saying: “I brought forth fire from the midst of you; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more for ever.” (Ez 28:19-19). This can be understood as an indication to “the irrevocable character of their choice” (CCC 393).
3. The Irradiation of the Angels’ Sin
Today more than ever we are sensitive for the social ramifications of each and every event. The world is becoming more and more a village. Not only can we hear almost immediately everything that happens in the world, but these things also influence our lives. Good events bring us joy and hope, bad things cause us fear and affliction and lead some to despair. Yet, already before such relationships obtained among creatures: “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other”. (CCC 340)
Based on this fundamental truth, it should not surprise us to find in mankind a pattern similar to the temptation and test of the pure spirits. “We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents in paradise: ‘You will be like God’.” (CCC 392). Similarly, we have seen it in the “King of Babylon” (Is 14:4) and “King of Tyre” (Ez 28:11), and so we may expect also to find in it especially with exposed persons such as the priests (cf. Circ. XII (2006), 4), although not exclusively.
Wisdom or knowledge makes wealth possible and inspire desires for power, and these lead one proudfully believe believe in and claim independent. Today, mankind has advanced more in science than ever before; never before have so many people on earth lived in such opulence; never before has man had so much power. Nevertheless, we are also threatened by increasing loneliness and poverty, which affect the rich and powerful as well (see the bankruptcy of huge companies) as small households or even individual persons who end up in debt and despair. Likewise, the moral level of mankind has probably never been so low as today with the legalization of in the killing of the innocent and addictions of all kinds in so many parts of the world. It is as if the Lord had already pronounced sentence over mankind : “I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and the guardian cherub drove you out from the midst of the stones of fire” (v. 16).
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
This passage from Sacred Scripture teaches us that “Theology will be unfinished and incomprehensible until it focuses on the world of the angels.” (G. Amorth, An Exorcist tells his Story, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1999, 25). That is to say, human malice in isolation cannot explain the evil that envelops the world. We need to learn to see the real connections between the creatures, the causes and effects. There is only one creation, as there is only one Creator and so one law for all. May the holy angels protect us against “the gravest of the [devil’s] works [which] was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God” (CCC 394). May they show us ever clearer God’s will and laws, and lead us to a deeper faithfulness issuing from deep conviction and love.