Vol. XII, September 2006


 “The spirit of the living creatures” (Ez 1:20).

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In the last meditation we started with Ezekiel’s vision of the four Living Beings. It was so difficult for the prophet to describe what he saw, that he was constrained to simply call them “Creatures”. We tried to follow his description, first in its static form. In this second attempt we will look at some dynamic characteristics.

1. “The spirit of the living creatures” and their union – the Holy Spirit.

First we are given some characteristics which can be summed up under “union”. The Prophet saw that they were united among themselves, when he says: “their wings touched one another” (Ez 1:9).

This union is more profound than it appears. He adds that each of them has four faces and yet are equal, as the faces of each one are in the same direction: “As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back. Such were their faces.” (verses 10-11)

In the next observation, we can see the means of this union: “Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies.” (v.11) Translated into spiritual attitudes, we may say: Their union is constituted, negatively, by their self-denial, indicated in the covering of their bodies, and, positively, through their openness for the will of God and the others expressed through the open wings which touch each other.

This underlines what is meant by their equality: they are four and yet one, four in being, and one in mind or spirit; it explains their union in their movement: “And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.” (v. 12 and 9). This “spirit” is the determining factor. What is it? The Will of God? The Holy Spirit, the Lord of the angels? The Holy Spirit in distinction to the Son and Father? Let’s return for the answer to this question.

2. Fire in the midst of the living creatures – the Son.

a) The Fire in the midst of them.

The prophet then goes on to describe these Beings from within: “In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning” (vv.13-14). This reminds us of the Lord, the Son of God who became man and declared: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49). Could it also serve as a proof of the Catechism’s statement which says: “Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels” (CCC 331)?

b) The Spirit as guide.

A possible confirmation of the Spirit as guide, could be seen in the observation that “ wherever the spirit would go, they went ”. This is affirmed in the life of Jesus as well: “The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form, as a dove … And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness … And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Lk 3:22; 4:1-2,14).

c) Sent in all directions.

Further, Jesus came to redeem all, and sent His apostles in all directions and to all creatures: “ He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation’.” (Mk 16:15). Similarly, this is also said of the living creatures. After the addition of the mysterious “wheels” “they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went” (v. 17). Since it is necessary that this be understood spiritually, it can be explained as follows. Just as God is somehow present in creation, so too is the Son present in the four Creatures. These four Creatures are only one in the same sense that the four Gospels speak of the one life of Jesus. They are one since they all serve the One Lord and God and bring one and the same message, wherever they go.

d) The carrier of the Divine Word.

The mysterious “wheels” offer another indication of their relationship to the Son, the Word of God who descended down from heaven and became man. The angels, especially the Cherubim with four wings, are His carriers as we saw already in the Book of Psalms: “He bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind” (Ps 17(18):9-10; cf. Circ. Letter VIII,11, 2002). The wheel upon the earth might indicate it:  

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.” (v.15) The spiritual character of these wheels is indicated by their substance, namely, “their appearance was like the gleaming of a chrysolite” (v. 16). They are seen “beside” the creatures; nevertheless, they somehow belong to them as can be seen from different observations: “the four had the same likeness, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel” (v. 16); “and when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them … When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them” (vv.19-21).  

This is, then, the strongest reference to the union of the Holy Spirit and the Son of God with them: As “in the midst of the living creatures was something … like burning coals of fire,” so too says the prophet: “the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels” (v. 20 and 21). That allows us to answer the former question: The living Creatures are with the Holy Spirit, and are carriers of the Word of God according the Father’s command.  

3.   “Above the likeness of a human form” – the Father.

a) “The glory of the Lord.”

 Ezekiel turns now in his description away from the creatures back to the Glory of God. He speaks of

the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. And under the firmament their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each creature had two wings covering its body. And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the firmament over their heads.” (vv. 22-25)

All contributes to the manifestation of the greatness of God, the firmament and living creatures, the loud sounds of water and the silent readiness for any petition. And “seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward … I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him. ... Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” (vv. 26-28).

So far, the One on the throne did not yet speak. It is the surrounding which gives testimony to His Glory – as we know from the Churches built in former times with holy fear, and as unbelievers can experience in the solemn liturgy through fervent ministers and an assembly of faithful with holy respect. God is present everywhere, especially in holy places. The four creatures are a powerful sign that He wants to communicate Himself through others.

b) The call of the Son of man.

Finally, the prophet refers to himself when he says: “And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And when He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel’” (Ez 1:28-2:3).

Herewith the parallel to the vision of the prophet Isaiah (cf. ch. 6: Circ. Letters XII,1-3, 2006) becomes evident: God on His throne, and the holy Angels in His immediate presence, full of holy fear hiding themselves and yet with total readiness for His will extending their wings as a symbol of their submission. Tradition places the Seraphim as the first and highest choir and the Cherubim as the second choir to which the four living creatures belong (cf. Ez 10:1-20). Then the prophets are present, who first need to be purified through the awe of what they see and the contact with the angels: “In the midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning” (Ez 1:13) to touch and burn what can not stand in the presence of God. Thus prepared the Lord calls and sends men like Isaiah and Ezekiel.

c) The angels as servants of God and men.

What was at the beginning very mysterious became a powerful revelation about the holy angels. In deep union with the Triune God they are faithful servants of God. They are sent all over the world with one and the same message, the Word of God: “With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they ‘always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven’ they are the ‘mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word’.” (CCC 329) “O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all His hosts, His ministers that do His will!” (Ps 103:20-21 ). Sent by God, they are mediators between Him and us, especially the prophets or those who have a special mission in His kingdom, as the angel explained to St. John: “I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book.” (Rev 22:9). We have the honor and the burden to be counted among those.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Isaiah had the courage to accept his call after the meeting with the Seraphim. Ezekiel was called and “the Spirit entered into” him and set him on his feet so that he could answer Gods call. This corresponds to the kind attentiveness of Jesus who called the three apostles Peter, James and John first to His transfiguration on Tabor before He asked for their special assistance in His Passion. Each one of us can see what God wants to tell us here: We are invited by Him to live in union with the holy angels and through them in a special way in His presence, so that we might be faithful to Him and His call with deeper faith, holy respect and especially with the burning love of God in our hearts. May the Lord grant us this every day at the altar, every week when we are with Him in His Passion in the company of the angel of Gethsemane, and in every situation of daily life.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC