2 October [Guardian angels]
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
The word ‘angel’ means ‘messenger’ (Greek, aggelos). In the Old Testament the Hebrew word mal’ak was applied to both human and divine messengers. The more remote God seemed, the greater became the need for intermediaries. Certain mighty figures, later known as archangels, appear in the Book of Daniel, and the process of naming angels began. A confusing variety of functions and names is found, probably because angels had become important in popular devotion. All these names have meanings, of course. Michael means ‘one who is like God’, Gabriel means ‘God is strong’, Raphael means ‘God heals’, Daniel means ‘God judges’, Elizabeth means ‘God is fullness’, and so on. The archangel Michael was thought to have a special responsibility as the guardian angel of Israel (Dan 12:1).
Early Christianity inherited Jewish beliefs about angels, but the interest is much diminished. The angel of the Annunciation has a permanent place in Christian spirituality, but the New Testament tends if anything to put angels in their place. So in Hebrews 1, angels are inferior to the Son; in 1 Cor 13:1 the eloquence of angels takes second place to love; and in 1 Pet 1:12 the angels are seen as envying the Christian.
It seems the spiritual world too abhors a vacuum, and now that belief in God is being reprocessed widely, angels are flooding in to fill the vacuum. Bookshops have shelves full of books on angels. Modern angels seem to have very sweet natures, but in the Jewish world it wasn’t always so. Lucifer was an angel of light – his name means ‘light-bearer’ – but he became Satan, prince of darkness; he spanned the spectrum from end to end. But the angels of the New Age are all nice and friendly.
If I were a modern angel I'd keep an eye to my back. Computers are taking over the space occupied by angels. The mediaevals said that angels were neither temporal creatures, nor were they eternal; they occupied a sort of intermediate zone they called ‘aeviternitas’ – a word coined from a combination of the two. An English equivalent might be ‘tempiternal’. Cyberspace is above time and space, yet it is not eternal; it is a sort of tempiternity.
But someone said recently, with greater depth and with wonderful simplicity, that angels are “God's thoughts.”
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