Vol. II, Oct. 1996


A Chapter of Angelology II (Gen 28,12/II)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In our last meditation we found Jacob to be a man representative of every state of life, and the Angel to be a mediator between the God Who calls and man who responds in his mission, as a servant of the Holy Spirit.

1. It was important to see that there was a certain disposition in Jacob which made him perceptive and receptive for the grace of God. His humility and obedience, and his faithfulness in both seem to have been the solid ground on which the heavenly ladder could be set up. Let us not oversee the fact that this grace presupposed not just nature but also a heart habitually disposed to the grace of God. St. John of the Cross puts it this way: Man’s appetite when fixed on something else [than God] leaves no room for the Angel to move it (Sayings of Light and Love, 35). We may say: the presence and attachment to sin and the help of the Angel are in some sense mutually exclusive. The angelic stamp on the soul of Jacob after his dream proved the presence of the good Angel: remaining humble and obedient to the Will of God, he was filled with fear of the Lord and impelled by a strong longing for God’s presence.

The Angels do not just transmit messages from God, but wherever they are present, there man’s heart grows restless with longing for heaven! The Angels are here to help man in every circumstance and to lead him to the place God has prepared for him, which ultimately is heaven. This is certainly the first meaning of this heavenly ladder: man should be guided to his ultimate goal by the Angels as servants of the Sanctifier. But here are two other moments for an angelology: the Angels of God were ascending and descending on the ladder.

2. The Angels are described first in their ascension! In many ways the holy Angels ascend first:

As creatures they are first of all related to their cause which is God. Whatever they have, they received from Him and owe to Him. By nature they look up to Him and show Him their reverence. They clearly see with their pure spiritual nature the infinite Majesty of God, Him Who alone suffices to Himself and does not need anything or anyone, for He is the absolute fullness.

This attitude of looking up to God was made more perfect through their trial which consisted in their acceptance of the Will of God: they were called to open themselves, to ascend to God and bring all their being to Him, their created intellect and will, and to allow Him to form them according to His way of thinking and willing. Those who did not accept this, did not ascend to Him; those who did were called to ascend to His throne, into His presence and were filled with the divine beauty, holiness, and beatitude in a certain proportion to their natural perfections, as St. Thomas teaches (and so consider the similarity between the ascending ladder and the hierarchy of the angels as St Bonaventure suggests in his sermon on the Angels). Ever since, they were so totally conformed to God (habitus eorum esse deiformes, St. Thomas, Summa theol., I-II,50,6) and entirely directed towards Him, and so, all their being and doing can be called an "ascent".

The "ascending" means, first of all, that they put the glory of God in the first place, that they do not ask for anything but for God’s Will. As they find their entire happiness in God, they want to lead everyone - up the ladder - into this happiness in God; as they became holy only by the participation in the holiness of God, they want to lead everyone - up the ladder - to the holiness of God, in which they share. Did God not say of His good Angel: My name is in him? (Ex 23,21).

3. Under the descending movement of the holy Angels we may understand, first, their desire to follow the Son of God in His Incarnation. This mystery, which they just generally knew and accepted in the beginning, they want to see and vitally experience in its efficacious actuality (cf. ST. I,64,1 ad 4). Therefore they want to descend with Christ, the Son of God, into the depths of this earth. In their "descension" and "emptiness" with Christ they prove and live their surrender and make themselves "friends of the Cross" (cf. Phil 3,18; St. Louis M. Grignion de Montfort, Letter to the friends of the Cross, 1 and 14). Their mission at the side of man or in creation is for them, first of all, their "Imitation of Christ" (love of God) and only in the second place the help which they offer man on his way to God (love of neighbor).

In this context we may also take into consideration the fact that the Angel is a pure spirit and so has a simple or uniform nature, which means he is a perfect and complete personality marked by God’s name or essence (cf. ST. I-II,50,6). This simplicity in the participation of the Divine "virtues" (attributes), on the one hand, and the further fact, that each act of the human soul corresponds to an angelic type (Lucie Christine, Spiritual Diary, May 25, 1883) or to an angel, and the fact that the Angels take part in all our good works (CCC. 350 acc. the orig. text), on the other hand lead us to the idea, that the holy Angels themselves can be considered the rungs on this ladder to heaven! Surely, each of them would like to introduce us into that virtue which marks his nature.

4. Jacob’s dream is an introduction into the God-centered and Christ-imitating life of the Angels! It is a very natural and profound intuition to speak of steps in the spiriutal life as do many Saints, like John Climacus (Ladder to paradise), Benedict (Rule 7: "gradus humilitatis"), John of the Cross (Dark Night II,19f.: "Scala de amor"),and Francis de Sales (see below). Behind these stand the ascending and descending holy Angels who know the way and live this way, so that whoever strives for the deeper union with God shall infallibly meet the holy Angels on his way. He will find them to be living interpreters, and not just an abstract rule; they are active helpers on this decisive and difficult way. Accordingly, man should make friendship with the Angels; then they will bring him up to the throne of God.

The Holy Father places us into the context of this life with the Angels, when he says: The persons of the consecrated life live "for" God and "from" God (On Consecrated Life 41). The tensions between the love of God and the love of neighbor, between the contemplative and active life – constant elements in our life —— are resolved by the holy Angels in their total abandonment (ascending) to the Will of God Who sends them (descending). Let us try to surrender ourselves with the holy Angels in our prayers! Let us ask them to remind us of God in our descent to action! Let us try this month to be with them an angel for our parishioners: ascending, leading them up to God through an ever more reverent and solemn liturgy and by reinforcing the devotion to the Holy Rosary; and descending from God to them in pastoral love, especially by visiting the sick and dying at home and in the hospitals. Following the words of St. Francis de Sales: may we be angelic men who will ascend from earth to heaven, to be united to the breast of GOD Almighty, and ... descend from heaven to earth to take the neighbor by the hand and take him to heaven (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of GOD, XI,15).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC