Dear Fr. Joe: Where did we get all the angel stories?
The stories about Michael, Lucifer and the angels don’t seem to be in the Bible; where did we get them? This question offers us a chance to see how the Catholic Church puts together much of its theology. For this article, I’m relying heavily on the Catholic Encyclopedia. It’s a great resource, and you can look at it on the Internet at www.newadvent.org. I suggest the sections on Satan, St. Michael, St. Thomas Aquinas, sacred tradition, the church fathers and U of M Football. Well, maybe not that last one ... Anyway, let’s get right to it. Most Catholic theology can be traced to the Scripture and the commentaries of our great thinkers about those passages. I know I’ve typed a lot about this before, but to quote Father Isidore Mikulski (the king of the Q&A column), the Bible is the child, not the parent. For Catholics, the Bible does not necessarily address every theological question, and we don’t believe God intended it to be used that way. Instead, God gave us the wisdom of our church leaders, who use sacred tradition and the great minds and hearts God gave them to guide us into truth. It’s actually an easy idea to see when you think about it; you know how everyone is talking about the new “gospels” that keep popping up? Most of those have been around since the third and fourth century. So, the logical question is: “Who picked the four that we use and discarded the other bunch?” Our church leaders did, acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teachings that were given to them by the earliest followers of Jesus. That’s true of a lot of our theology and a very important point for us Catholics. So, when we ask what happened to the angels and how we know it, we start with the Bible, and then look at what God revealed to us when holy men and women pondered what the Bible said. Let’s look to the Bible first. Here are some passages that will help us: By the envy of the Devil, death came into the world. – Wisdom 2:24 How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star, son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations! You said in your heart: “I will scale the heavens; above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!” Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit! – Isaiah 14: 12-15 The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgment of the great day. – Jude 1:6 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. – Revelation 12:7-9 These are, obviously, just some of the passages that the church uses to teach us what happened. But I think they give us a good foundation. The next step is to look at who commented on these passages. First, we can look at some individual saints. St. Thomas Aquinas was a big one here; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, St. Thomas used his massive intellect (I wish I knew that burden) and broke down how it all happened. Using the stories that the Bible gave us as a foundation, he built our current theological house of teachings on angels, demons, free will and others. St. Anselm also asked a lot of the tough questions in his pondering on these matters and gave us some really powerful ideas about the sin of pride from it. Church councils and documents give us a lot of wisdom on this, too. If you take a look at your Catechism of the Catholic Church, you’ll find footnotes that direct you to documents dealing with these issues. So, in the end, this question demonstrates how deeply interconnected our faith is and how God calls us to use (in the words of Pope John Paul II) our “faith and reason” to grow in wisdom of God. Enjoy another day in God’s presence!