Vol. XII, November 2006


A Cherub took some of the fire (cf. Ez 10:7).

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The prophet Ezekiel continues in the 10 th chapter still to speak about the purification which he described already in chapter 8 and 9. There, the persons are judged individually. Now, God is about to throw fire over the entire city. The living creatures, seen in the first chapter, appear here again, as angels assisting at the throne and directing the lower angels, who execute the judgment.

1. The Angels as Instruments of Divine Judgment.

a) What God tells Ezekiel is to be understood historically.

“Over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in form resembling a throne. And He said to the man clothed in linen, ‘Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim; fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city’… And a cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between the cherubim, and took some of it, and put it into the hands of the man clothed in linen, who took it and went out.” (Ez 10:1-2,7)

Often, especially in the life of the Prophets we have different levels of meaning. So is understood our text also in a more universal sense. The angels are present and assist Jesus at the Last Judgment. He Himself said: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” (Mt 25:31; cf. also the parables about the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Mt 13). St. Paul taught the same thing. “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first“ (1 Thess 4:16).

2. The Angels as Executioners of GOD’s Judgment

Let’s see first the “man clothed in linen”. According Cornelius a Lapide, he can mean the angel. The reason is, he explains, that the work of the angels is to execute the sentences of God, be it to punish the wicked, be it to reward the good.

In this act over the entire city the “man clothed in linen” is told scatter fire over the city. The exegetes find enough parallels to affirm that this “man clothed with linen” is an angel. The holy angels acted back in Egypt as executioners of GOD’s judgment (Ex 12:23; cf. Circ. III,2; Febr.1997 with other references). St. John saw an angel who filled his censer “with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev 8:5). Like the “man clothed in linen” with the six who passed “through the city after him” (Ez 9:5), so are mentioned several groups of seven angels in the Book of Revelation with similar mission: One of them are “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets”: When for example “the first angel blew his trumpet, (and) there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, which fell on the earth; and a third of the earth was burnt up, and a third of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.” (Rev 8:6-7) Another such group are “the seven angels with the seven plagues.” They were even seen by St. John “robed in pure bright linen, … and one of the four living creatures gave the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God” (Rev 15:6-7).Of them “the fourth angel poured his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch men with fire” (Rev 16:8).

a) The mission of the Son

Lapide thinks also, that allegorically speaking the angel signifies Christ who marks those who belong to Him with the sign of the Tau, but on the day of judgment He will send the reprobates into the fire of hell. This can be justified in various ways. When the man returned from his first mission, he gave His account, saying, “I have done as Thou didst command Me” (Ez 9:11). Similarly the Son of God will later on also say at the return from His mission that he had “accomplished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (Jn 17:4 ). The two images are considered indications for the twofold coming of Christ: He has in the one hand the Tau (last letter in the Hebrew alphabet) or the cross, in the other hand the fire; the symbol for His first coming is the Cross, for His second coming the fire. If we then see the “city” representing the entire human community or even as the entire creation, so this mission can really be considered a vision of the coming Last or General Judgment.

However, this interpretation stands in conflict with the One who appeared “over the heads of the cherubim” (v. 10:1; cf. 1:26) and “commanded the man clothed in linen” (v. 6) who is also understood as the Son of God who speaks from the mercy seat of God (cf. Ex 25:22).

3. The angels as helpers and mediators

In any case, we find the angels here in cooperation with God. This can be seen in the description of the prophet in an objective and in a subjective way.

a) The fire with the angels

The order which the “man clothed in linen” received was this: “fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim;” it reminds us of St. Peters view of “the day of the Lord … the heavens will pass away…, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10).

With this characteristic is first of all indicated the Son of God Who will come to the judgment. He is the light that shines in the darkness. The rejection of it, of the divine fire of charity is judgment. This applies to the angels at the beginning of the world, and is at the root of the salvation or condemnation of every man. There is, essentially, only one fire, the essence of God: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Hb 12:29), a fire which never diminishes. The Saints and angels in heaven are consumed by HIM. The faithful angels help in the communication of this light (fire).

b) Assisted by the Angels

The prophet observed already in his first description, that “their rims, and their spokes, and the wheels were full of eyes round about - the wheels that the four of them had” (v. 12; cf. 1:18). The Cherubim are angels distinguished by their excessive knowledge. Dionysius said they have many eyes because they have much knowledge. Lapide specifies their eyes as symbols for circumspection and vigilance. Their eyes symbolize “their free choice and preferential love” (CCC 311), their openness for God (cf. Mt 6:22-23; cf. 2 Pet 1:9). They indicate their ascent in their total contemplation (cf. Ex 25:18 ff.), and descent in their unconditional readiness to serve, to attend their Lord’s petition and to guard the lower creatures.

4. Bishops and priests as Angels

Pope Benedict XVI described recently the mission of the priests with a reference to the angels. “The briefest description of the priestly mission … has been given to us by the Evangelist Mark: ‘Jesus appointed twelve to be with him and to be sent out’ (3:14). To be with Jesus and, being sent, - … the two are inseparable. …. Pope Gregory the Great, in one of his homilies, once said that God’s angels, however far afield they go on their missions, always move in God. They remain always with him. And while speaking about the angels, Saint Gregory thought also of bishops and priests: wherever they go, they should always ‘be with him’.”

The Holy Father then presented the holy angels as examples for a perfect priestly life. He continues in his care for our spiritual welfare to indicate the means which help us to imitate the holy angels and, thereby, fulfill God’s expectations in us priests. Each one of us should have the entire text.

“To be with Christ - how does this come about? Well,

(1) the first and most important thing for the priest is his daily Mass, always celebrated with deep interior participation…

(2) The Liturgy of the Hours is another fundamental way of being with Christ…

(3) we need to devote ourselves constantly anew to the spiritual reading of sacred Scripture … to discover the word of comfort that the Lord is now speaking to me…

(4) Eucharistic adoration is an essential way of being with the Lord…. The hidden treasure, the good greater than any other good, is the Kingdom of God - it is Jesus himself, the Kingdom in person. In the sacred Host, he is present, the true treasure, always waiting for us. Only by adoring this presence do we learn how to receive him properly - we learn the reality of communion, we learn the Eucharistic celebration from the inside. … Let us love being with the Lord! There we can speak with him about everything. We can offer him our petitions, our concerns, our troubles. Our joys. Our gratitude, our disappointments, our needs and our aspirations. There we can also constantly ask him: ‘Lord send laborers into your harvest! Help me to be a good worker in your vineyard!’.” (Benedict XVI, Altötting, September 11, 2006; cf. the different visions in Ez 8).

This reflection could be understood as an interpretation of the four vision of Ezekiel (Ez 8:5-16): When the priest do not care enough for their spiritual life and the sanctuary, then the judgment described by the prophet needs to be applied.

5. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood

The vision of Ezekiel, interpreted in Tradition, shows us Christ as the Light of the Father. Every creature will be so perfect and holy, as it is united with Him. We are called to be sacramental representatives of Christ. We need to be united with Him like the Cherubim. With us and through us He should be able to meet and enlighten, to purify and sanctify the souls and all creatures, the entire world, to prepare them for His second coming. Let us take an example with these angels and follow the orientation of the Holy Father in order to correspond to the Divine expectations and the hunger of the world.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC