Vol. XIII, July 2007


“The Sentence Is By the Decree of the Watchers”
(Dan 4:17)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

A dream of the king of Babylon presented to us the holy angels as Watchers. Reflecting on this aspect of their mission, we found too, that we priests have not only to watch ourselves, but also over those entrusted to us. This is one of the most angelic dimensions of our ministry: “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” (Ez 3:17) We paused to consider this task, but have not yet reflected on what it meant for the angels to be watchers in the vision of the king. The following text offers us further light about the mission of the angels.

King Nebuchadnezzar described his dream with these words:

A watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven. He cried aloud and said thus, “Hew down the tree and cut off its branches, strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit; let the beasts flee from under it and the birds from its branches… The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom he will, and sets over it the lowliest of men. ” (Dan 4:13-17)

1.“The sentence is by the decree of the watchers,the decision by the word of the holy ones”

The holy “watcher… from heaven” underlined his message with the comment: “The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones.” But, what is his message?

a) Given that “the tree” is a symbol for man, it follows that the tree represents the king himself to whom God wanted to give the lesson of total detachment. Everything will be taken from him. The angel cried aloud and said, the “birds” or good people from afar will no longer be at his disposition, nor “the beasts” or servants from nearby. His work will not be blessed with “fruits” or good effects, and he himself, the “tree”, will fall down: he will loose the “leaves” or exterior appearance of good shape and joy. His “branches” will be cut off, that is his strength and outreaching authority.  

This might be a terrible surprise for those without any belief, or who, like Herod, think they have accomplished great deeds all by themselves. Nebuchadnezzar actually asked: “ Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (v. 30). This was the moment, when God threw him down. “While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, … and immediately the word was fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox” (vv. 31-33; cf. Acts 12:22-23. In a like context St. Paul once gave the order to the Corinthians: “ You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” 1 Cor 5:5).

b) For the humble and those who fear the Lord this intervention is a work of God’s mercy. When the angel said: “The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones,” then it must be understood as testimony of the faithfulness of the angels towards their Lord: God trusts totally in them because they strive in all to please Him in the best way possible. If we take this phrase in a theological sense, it could mean that God leaves the angels the freedom of how to execute His will. However, the holy angels are so clearly aware of the Holiness of God, that for them, the only right thing is to fulfill God’s wise will and loving order. They do not look to the splendor of the creatures, but to the Holiness of their Lord and God in Himself and as it is reflected in themselves, just as we should not look at the exterior appearance but at the heart or intention (cf. Mt 6:4 or 1 Pe 3:4). As we shall see below, perhaps the king himself understood that it was by the sentence of these watchers, and yet the will of the Almighty God (cf. too Lk 1:19).

c) This becomes clearer in the conclusion of this sentence, namely “… to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom He will.” In fact, the narration continues:

“The king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, `Hew down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of its roots in the earth … till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men, and gives it to whom He will” (vv. 23-25). And true enough, after “the word was fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar, he was driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox,” then, “at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives for ever”; … and was again “established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me” (v. 33-34).

The words of the angels are not as effective as those of the Son of God and Creator with the Father and the Holy Spirit, or as those of the sacraments. Yet, they come from Saints who live in union with God, who speak and act under the command of God. They present their words with personal interest and loving conviction similar to Catechists who make their personal consecration to God and to the faith that they teach. Therefore, their words are not empty. God’s grace follows and realizes what they say in His name. All that the king saw in his dream became true, especially his conversion.

2. The Angels Watchers of God’ Will

It is difficult to distinguish with pure spirits between their being and doing. We saw them in the last meditation totally open, watching and alert. This is an almost essential attitude for them. Then, their openness has to be directed somewhere; it is like the social dimension of the human person, who needs to communicate. So we saw them open towards God and men, and disposed with all they have to act according to God’s will.

To understand correctly the message of the heavenly watchers we have to recall the way of Divine “thinking.” Being totally dedicated to God after their test, the principle of their doing is just one: God’s most holy will. And what generally is His will we know through the revelation brought by Christ. It is the folly of the Cross, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). This law is expressed in the Beatitudes and even in Our Lady’s Magnificat:

He has shown strength with His arm,
        He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,  

He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;  

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.
        (Lk 1:51-54)

Saint Luke transmits us this declaration of the Beatitudes:

Blessed are you that hunger now, … Blessed are you that weep now,…

Blessed are you when men hate you, …

But woe to you that are rich, … Woe to you that are full now, …
        Woe to you that laugh now, … ( Lk 6:21-26)

Saint Paul found it applied in his life. So he said:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18-19)

The angels learned this eternal law in their test, and since then followed it. Their first word is marked by it. When the angel of the Lord went to meet the despairing Hagar in the desert, he gave her the first “lecture on the folly of the Cross.” He said to “Hagar, maid of Sarai, … return to your mistress, and submit to her.” (Gen 16:8-9). And as our life here on earth is the training-field for the life to come according to its law, which is love, St. Paul put it more concretely:

“I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.” (1 Cor 7:29-31).

3. To live and fight for the right hierarchy

a) For ourselves ….

The message of the Cross is the internal law of love. There is no way around it. We have to take the place of King Nebuchadnezzar and see where we are. We all want success as he. But the word “worldly success” is not found in the dictionary of God. Union with the holy angels will help us to apply the law of the Lord to our life more easily. They watch first God Himself (cf. Mt 18:10) and, so, help us towards adoration and contemplation. This concentration on the Most High purifies our spiritual eye. Coming from adoration of the Holy One, we see more clearly His presence in creation and the presence of the Evil One as well, with the dangers he poses for the parishionersThe holy angels make us more sensitive, vigilant, and discerning.

b) The universal law of God first

The angel’s lesson points to the glory of God, to His rights and to the duties of creatures towards Him. The angels live and fight for the proper hierarchy. “ The Angel always advocates God’s ‘advantage’, the demon, “man’s – apparent – advantage ” (Maxims of Mother Gabriele, June 19). The angels acknowledge God absolutely as first, and ask all creatures “t o adore God” which “is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love” (CCC 2096). This includes “to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God” (CCC 2097). This expresses and corresponds to the clear teaching of the Lord on the Greatest Commandment: the love of God and the love of the neighbor. The sentence of the watchers demands submission in holy fear before the unifying love, the vertical dimension before the horizontal, religious duties and values before civil life, the individual person with his eternal destiny before society, which cares just for the temporary needs. It is the old lesson: being before action, prayer before the apostolate. There is no second dimension without the first, which is the foundation for all else. “The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from slavery to sin and the idolatry of the world.” (CCC 2097)

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood

We have the mission to watch over ourselves and our sheep. There is no greater help than union with the spiritual watchers. Those who brought back the king of Babylon to right reason are more than willing to lead us along the right path and without that painful purification which touched this king. Love purifies deeper and quicker. Let’s resolve, like he, and say and live: “Now I, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to abase.” (Dan 4:37).  

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC