Vol.III, Oct.’97


The Angel - Sent Instead of God (cf Ex 33,2-3)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Upon reading the following conversation of God with Moses, there is yet a point to reflect on which is significant for angelology and has found much consideration in the tradition of the Church. When God said to Moses, "I Will send an Angel before you", He added, "... but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Ex 33,2-3). According to a commentary by Cornelius A. Lapide, this scriptural passage is a clear statement of the personal representation of God by the Angel.

1. We generally think of the Angel as a messenger of God and from God, because God has repeatedly said, "I will send My Angel." Here, however, with respect to this particular angelic mission, God clarifies that the Angel is in the place of God. "I will send an Angel,... but I will not go up among you"! Therefore, we may distinguish three dimensions of the Angel’s mission and authority:

First: The Angel is sent from God. This is the reason why we say that the Angel, first of all, is a "messenger of God".

Second: The Angel is sent by God and in His name, he comes with His authority. God’s words, "My name is in him!" (Ex 23,21) confirm this truth, such that whatever the Angel says or does, he does because God wills it and interiorly moves him to do it.

Third: The Angel is sent in the place or instead of God. This does not add new authority to the Angel, but calls our attention to him. It is as if God were to say: Do not wait until I Myself come to you; I cannot, for you would die! Listen to him as if he were I!

There is a striking similarity between the Angel’s mission and that of the priests. Jesus said to the disciples: "Behold I send you," "I am with you all days," and "He that hears you, hears Me" (cf Lk 10,3; Mt 29,20; Lk 10,16). St. Paul says to the Corinthians: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ" (2 Cor 5,20; cf Gal 4,14). Therefore, the Church speaks today of the priest as acting "in the person" (e.g. LG 28) or "in the name" of Christ (PO 2) and St. Thomas presents the priest as one acting "in the stead of Christ" (Summa III, 8,6)! Yes, priest of the Lord, like the Angel and with him, you are sent by God, in His name and in His place!

2. God wills to be with His people, that was His intention with the cloud(cf Ex 13,21) and with the sanctuary which He asked Moses to build (cf Ex 25,8). He says: "I will dwell among the people of Israel, and will be their God" (29,45). God gives precise orders to Aaron the priest on how to come before Him,"lest he die" (28,35). Then, after Aaron "made a molten calf, ... the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people’" (32,4.9); and: "Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.’ Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward"(Ex 33,5-6). What the people long sensed now became a reality. They asked Moses: "You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die" (Ex 20,19). In the Psalms we read, "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart!" (Ps 24,3-4). Finally, it is said of the heavenly Jerusalem, "But nothing unclean shall enter it ... And they shall see His face" (Rev 21,27; 22,4). This can be seen as a moral reason for not having direct contact with God: He has to purify us.

3. Since the reason by which God explained the mission of the Angel may be valid just in the particular of that occasion, we should be careful in drawing conclusions. Accordingly, we can ask ourselves: Why should God send us an Angel instead of coming to us Himself?

a) We must certainly first acknowledge our indignity, we are not better than the Israelites. However, Christ made us worthy of the vision of God by sanctifying grace, and still we walk by faith and not by sight (cf 1 Cor 13,12). Consequently, in order to communicate with us God must needs make use of created concepts or images. He can create them directly or He can entrust this mission to those blessed spirits who have been united to Him in the light of glory. Evidently, God chose this latter plan so that we could receive God’s light through one of His messengers. St. John of the Cross refers to this when he comments on the Psalm: "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God" (Ps 51,10). As a faithful disciple of the scholasticism he explains:

[The] "dark contemplation infuses into the soul love and wisdom jointly, to each one according to his capacity and need, ... flowing down from God through the first hierarchies even to the last, and thence to men. ((cf S.Th. 1,106,1 ad 1)) ... For ordinarily these inspirations come through the Angels, and they receive them likewise one from another without any delay - as quickly as a ray of sunshine is communicated through many windows arranged in order. For although it is true that the sun’s ray itself passes through them all, still each one passes it on and infuses it into the next, in a modified form, according to the nature of the glass, and with rather more or rather less power and brightness, according as it is nearer to the sun or farther from it. Hence it follows, ... that the lowest of them (spirits) will receive this illumination very much less powerfully and more remotely... after his own manner in a very limited way and with great pain... (and so) man, who is impure and weak..." (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night, II,12.3-4).

That we have to meet God through mediators may be considered as a law of creation; therefore, it would be wrong to think that each mission of the holy Angels is marked by the shadow of the sad remembrance of Original Sin or even by the obstinacy of man.

b) And even if we were enabled by grace, as Moses had been (cf Ex 33,11; Num 12,8), God Himself prefers to be represented by a creature instead of manifesting Himself directly. St. Thomas Aquinas sees the introduction of the Angel as mediator and the authority God gives him as a consequence of the law of love in the Heavenly Kingdom, and consequently, as a manifestation of the union of will connected with the Divine Goodness Who wants to share! He says:

It is not because of any defect in God’s power or in that of the higher Angels that God and the higher Angels illumine the lower through the mediation of the Angels in between them and the lower Angels. This order is kept merely to preserve the dignity and perfection of all, and this demands that many cooperate with God in the same action (De Veritate 9,2 ad 4).

Should God not be allowed to act not out of necessity alone, but also in a gratuitous way? If we reflected well, we would even ask God, as the Israelites did, to come to us through the holy Angels!

This view is confirmed in Scripture and throughout all the History of the Church. The Lord even entrusted to an Angel the message of His Incarnation, He entrusted to the Apostles the eternal salvation of many (cf Mk 16,15-16) and also added: "He who rejects you rejects Me!" (Lk 10,16).

4. We see in the holy Angels mediators, teachers, revealers and representatives of God. Without a doubt,it is with their help and mediation that we believe more readily in God’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist and that we understand the Word of God in Scripture more deeply now, than we did before we loved them and called for their help.

And yet, we must ask ourselves, do we really have the humility to accept their mediation? Do we realize clearly enough that we ourselves, as priests, are sent by God in His place wherever we live and in whatever we say and do? Do we always accept God’s free choice of the way He wishes to communicate with us, or are we still somehow influenced by pride and self-will in our contact with God? Let us ask ourselves: How can I show God that I will accept His word through His mediator, for e.g., the Holy Father? When and how can I lead souls to the humility of accepting Our Lady as mother and mediatrix according to His will? And the Guardian Angel as His messenger?

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC