Vol. XIII, October 2007


“Gabriel, Make This Man Understand the Vision.”
(Dan 8:16)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the few chapters of the Book of Daniel, which we have read so far, we already found many testimonies of the prophet’s faithfulness to God. And, like in a dialogue, as a response we found God granting Daniel many graces. The “man greatly beloved” (Dan 10:11) narrates in chapter 8 how he was favored by a vision. He assists at a conversation between two “holy ones”, and, finally, receives the visit of St. Gabriel who was sent to explain to him the vision:

I saw in the vision; ... I was at the river Ulai… and saw, a ram standing on the bank of the river. It had two horns… no beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power; he did as he pleased and magnified himself. … A he-goat came from the west … struck the ram; and the ram had no power to stand before him… Then the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly… Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to the one that spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot?”   And he said to him, “For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold … I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” (Dan 8:2-16)

Like Daniel, we priests are sent as “prophets”. This requires first of all that we preach the Word of God, as the Magisterium repeats so often in our days (cf. Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007, 46). We have to explain the Word of God and to apply it to the life of the souls to whom we preach. In these tasks, the holy angels help us. Here we want to heed less the particular content of Daniel’s vision and direct our attention to the way of communication and the contact.

1. The Vision

The initiative of the vision seems to be totally on the side of God. The prophet, through, surprised by it, still wanted to understand the message. And in fact, someone called Gabriel, (whom we know better through the gospel of St. Luke to be an angel) to “make this man understand the vision” (8:16). Let us look more closely at this.  

a) Communication through a Vision. Communication through a vision raises suspicions for a rationalistically oriented mind. Some thinkers also declare any visible manifestation of the supernatural world to be merely psychological illusions. The Faith, of course, asserts that some such events are certainly extraordinary. But, may we ask, how should God and pure spirits communicate with man who is bound to his physical body?

We encounter various communications in the History of Salvation given in dreams. This happened to Jacob when he saw the ladder to heaven (cf. Gen 28:12). Similarly, his son Joseph found hope through indications which God gave him through dreams (cf. Gen 37:5-10; 20:3-6; 31:10f.; Num 12:6). And St. Joseph, the spouse of Mary, received important communications in dreams (cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13,19,22). But, it is also true that Scripture warns before “prophets” or a   “dreamer of dreams” (Gen 13:1,3,5; cf. Jer 29:8).

We find visions, similar to these which Daniel mentions here, in the lives of St. Peter (cf. Acts 10:3,10), St. Paul (cf. Acts 16:9), Abraham (cf. Gen 15:1), Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 3:15),   Isaiah (cf. 2 Chron 32:32), and, indeed, by almost any prophet: “I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream” (Num 12:6). It is important that the message be understood and identified as the Will of God, coming from heaven.

b) Communication of Future Events. The following objection might be raised from scriptural point of view: How can the angel communicate future events, if they are not able to foresee free decisions of God and men. The Lord expressly said, at least with regard the day of judgment, warning before “false prophets” (Mt 24:24): “…of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt 24:36).

Nevertheless, on the same occasion He gave indications of the future (cf. verses 37-41), comparing the coming days of judgment with those of the former time of Noah. Does this indicate how not only the angels but also we men can foretell something of the future? This we can do, for sure, on a natural level on the bases of the law of cause and effect. But it is also not impossible that God may reveal certain future events to some people, just as one person can tell another one that he plans to drive in the near future to another state. Therefore, we do not need to exclude totally the possibility that an angel foretells future events to a prophet.

c) The Content of the Vision. The pure possibility of extraordinary communications does not necessarily guarantee that an extraordinary manifestation actually comes from God or from an holy angel. We have certain criteria for divine revelations. For example: An angelic communication will never contradict the official apostolic revelation nor the doctrinal teaching of the Church (cf. CCC 65-67); it will also never contradict the moral law; it will always be marked by reverence and modesty (cf. Discernment of Spirits in Priestly Ministry, Circ. III, 8).

The message which was given to Daniel corresponds to great extent to what will be said later in the New Testament: Different animals with their horns were seen also by St. John as he wrote in the Book of Revelation (cf. ch. 12 or 17-20); and Jesus warns before the destroying influence of enemies when He speaks of the end of time according the holy Gospels (cf. Mt 24 or Jn 15:18-25). Therefore, the Church had no difficulty, to recognize as Divine Revelation what Daniel wrote about his visions.

2. The Communications  

The message is somehow sealed and not immediately evident, a way of speaking which even Jesus liked to choose (cf. Mt 13:10-11). Naturally, Daniel “sought to understand” (verse 15) the vision. Our interest, however, is focused more on the angels involved. Three different relationships are mentioned: There are two holy ones who talk to each other, then “a man’s voice calls to Gabriel, and finally Gabriel speaks to Daniel, the prophet.

a) The Angels’ Communications. The prophet heard “a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to the one that spoke”. We may wonder: Did he hear well? Among exegetes no one seems to question, that these “holy ones” are holy angels. Then, do the angels speak to each other? It is not totally new for the Prophet, as we heard him already speaking of a “sentence … by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones” (Dan 4,17; cf Circ. July, 07).

St. Thomas dedicates different articles to this question. Making his distinctions, he answers: “One angel speaks to another; for to speak to another only means to make known the mental concept to another” (Summa Theologiae, p. I, q 107, a.1). Understanding “speaking” in this way, also “inferior angels can speak to the superior” (ibid., a.2). And going further Thomas observes: “In this way an angel speaks to God, either by consulting the Divine will of what ought to be done, or by admiring the Divine excellence which he can never comprehend; thus Gregory says that ‘the angels speak to God, when by contemplating what is above themselves they rise to emotions of admiration’.” (a.3) “The angels are ever speaking to God in the sense of praising and admiring Him and His works” (a.3 ad 2). Finally, he observes: as “one man can speak to another alone; much more can this be the case among the angels” (a.5 sc.). Because here the prophet was supposed to hear the two talking, they used the material expression of words and sounds.

b) Question and Answer and Also Petition. The distinction St. Thomas draws between illumination and simple speech already helps us understand, what Daniel heard, namely, one was asking the other: “‘For how long is the vision concerning the continual burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled under foot?’ And he said to him, ‘For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state’.” (vv.13-14) Even if the question is directed to the future, it is still justified, as we explained before.

The very question indicates that a lower angel directed his question to a higher, more knowledgeable spirit. Now, every blessed spirit is higher than man in this life. Still, it must be a higher angels that directs Gabriel in this fashion: “I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision’.” (Dan 8:16). This directive reveals freedom and love among the angels. It also shows a collaboration and participation of the lower angels in the knowledge and ministry of the higher spirits.   This is so, as the higher angels steward not only men and the huge material world, but also share their tasks among themselves before they come to men and matter.

3. The Priests and Angelic Ideal

What Daniel saw in his vision, is also given to us through him: A life with angelic inspirations! This requires from us, what we see in the prophet and even among the angels: openness, willingness to learn, to listen and grow, to be guided. This again requires humility and docility. Like the angels and the prophet, we priests need also purity and transparency which comes with the right intention. Among the angels we verifiy a certain naturalness in their communication among themselves: they bring up questions and receive answers; they express petitions and receive what they request! Why should this not also characterize our life, our life with the holy angels and with our fellow priests?

At least we, who over the years try to develop a personal devotion to the holy angels, should be convinced that the holy angels can communicate much light to us and do many things in our behalf. Certainly, they are not just another machine which is at our disposition, that functions by by pressing a button. Endowed with a great dignity by God they have a right that we approach them with respect and reverently seek and ask their help. Then they are near us and “speak” to us through the light of reason (cf. St. John of the Cross, Sayings, 36). For they too respect our dignity and would not guide us exclusively by arbitrary signs which would largely eliminate the effective use of reason.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Again and again we are struck by the fact: how much we have received in the Catholic Church! The other day someone presented me with a problem. I asked them if they had thought to call upon their Guardian Angel. Then, and only then, they did so,… and the light was there: the problem was resolved. Often we find ourselves challenged. Let’s look up with the prophet, and turn always first to heaven, before we turn to earth and ourselves. Our life would work out better and be less stressful. May the Lord grant all of us a deeper, quicker and fruitful collaboration with our Guardian Angel and even with all the angels, as they all are sent out to help (cf. Heb 1:14).

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC