Angels—Past and Present
“They are exemplified at Christmas in the decorations we hang on the tree, or view on Christmas cards—golden dolls with pretty faces, playing the harp or the church organ or carrying candles. They have stubby wings like those of small birds. In a word, they are cute.”—The Sunday Denver Post.
“ANGELS are generally ignored in schools of theology, slighted in Sunday school, and aren’t even mentioned in the index of the National Catechetical Directory, the guidebook for Catholic religious education in America.”
So declared Charles W. Bell, religion editor. He noted that some theologians, especially from mainline Protestant churches, feel “uneasy and uncertain about angels.” The New Catholic Encyclopedia observes that some modern thinkers say that “all belief in the existence of angels should be repudiated.”
This has not always been the case. For example, in the 13th century, scholars who studied angelology, a branch of theology dealing with angels, were said to be intrigued with thoughts regarding the “nature, intelligence, and will” of angels. For several centuries, prayers were even made to “guardian angels.” But, as noted above, attitudes have changed since then.
According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “in the modern mind angels . . . are more and more being relegated to the sphere of legend, fairy tale, and child’s fancy.” Indeed, by the middle of the 19th century, in the minds of many people angels had become less linked to religion and more associated with secular romantic notions. Today, even more people consider them to be products of the imagination; hence, such people deny the existence of angels.
Angels in Some Religions
However, angels still hold a place in some religions. For example, the Roman Catholic Church “encourages the faithful to love, respect, and invoke the angels.” In fact, Catholicism has exalted three whom it considers to be angels—Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—to sainthood. Raphael appears only in the Apocryphal books and not in the Bible canon.
In Eastern Orthodox churches, angels are important in the litany, a form of prayer in which invocations or petitions are made, with responses by the congregation. Angels also have a place in Islam, belief in angels being one of the articles of faith in Muslim theology.
Still, there is no doubt that in our day belief in the existence of angels is diminishing.
Do You Believe in Angels?
Regarding belief in angels, the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “Gradually . . . in the course of a long development and refinement . . . through speculative elaboration of the concepts contained in Holy Scripture, there evolved an angelology that, with varying degrees of certitude, has become the doctrine of the Church.” [Italics ours.] How firm a belief in angels would you have if you knew that your faith was based on “speculative elaboration”?
Interestingly, divisions of thought on this matter exist even within the Catholic Church. As to when angels were created, the Enciclopedia de la Religión Católica states: “In the opinion of the Greek fathers, angels were created before the visible world, but the general opinion of the Latin fathers is that they were created afterwards. Nevertheless, the opinion that has the majority of supporters is that they were created at the same time as the world.” Such uncertainty creates confusion in the minds of people and helps to influence the trend toward disbelief today.
A Jewish philosopher, Philo, contended that angels were simply “manifestations and powers of the universe.” Over the years, theologians have debated pointless issues regarding the nature and characteristics of angels, such as the frivolous question, How many angels could stand on the point of a needle? Is it any wonder that many people in our modern age have preferred not to believe in angels?
In view of all these contrasting concepts, why not examine what the Bible itself has to say about angels? This will help us get firm answers about questions such as: Are angels real? If so, have they ever intervened in man’s affairs? And, more importantly, can angels affect your life?