January 2018 Print

The Angel of the Storm

by Dr. John Senior

As you go by a field of buckwheat after a thunderstorm, you will often notice that the buckwheat has been scorched quite black. It looks as though a flame had passed over it, and then the farmer says “It’s got that from the lightning.” But how has it happened? I will tell you what the sparrow told me, and the sparrow heard it from an old willow tree that stood—and is still standing—by the side of a field of buckwheat. It’s quite a venerable great willow, but wrinkled and aged, with a crack down the middle—and grass and brambles growing out of the crack! The tree leans forward, and the branches hang right down to the ground like long green hair.

In all the fields round about, there was corn growing, rye and barley and oats—yes, the lovely oats that have the appearance, when ripe, of a whole string of little yellow canaries on a bough. The corn was a wonderful sight; and the heavier the crop, the deeper it stooped in meek humility. But there was also a field of buckwheat; it was just in front of the old willow. The buckwheat didn’t stoop like the other corn; it held itself up proudly and stiffly. “I must be just as rich as the grain,” it said, “and I’m much better-looking. My blossoms are beautiful, like apple-blossoms; it’s quite a pleasure to look upon me and mine. Do you know anyone finer, my dear willow?” The willow tree nodded his head as if to say, “You may be sure I do!” But the buckwheat was simply bursting with pride and said, “The stupid tree! He’s so old that his stomach has grass growing on it.” And now a terrible storm blew up. All the flowers in the field folded their leaves or bent their delicate heads while the storm passed over them. But the buckwheat stood up straight in its pride. “Stoop down like us!” cried the flowers. “No need whatever for me to!” answered the buckwheat. “Stoop down like us!” cried the corn. “Here comes the angel of the storm in full flight. He has wings that reach from the clouds right down to the earth; he will strike straight over you, before you can cry for mercy!”

“Very well, but I refuse to stoop,” said the buckwheat. “Shut up your blossoms and bend down your leaves!” said the old willow. “Don’t look up at the lightning when the cloud bursts; even mankind daren’t do that, for in the lightning one may see into God’s heaven. But even man can be blinded by the sight of that; what ever would happen to us plants, if we dared so much—we who are far inferior?” “Far inferior?” said the buckwheat. “Well, now I’m going to look into God’s heaven”; and in arrogance and pride it did so. The lightning was so fierce that the whole earth seemed to be wrapped in flame. When the storm passed away, there in the pure still air stood flowers and corn, all refreshed by the rain; but the buckwheat had been scorched coal-black by the lightning. It was now a dead useless weed on the field. And the old willow stirred his branches in the wind, and big drops of water fell from his green leaves, just as though the tree was crying. And the sparrows asked, “What are you crying for? It’s so lovely here. Look how the sun is shining, how the clouds are sailing by. Can’t you smell the perfume of the flowers and bushes? Why should you cry, dear willow?” Then the willow tree told them about the buckwheat’s pride and arrogance—and punishment, for that always follows. I, who tell the tale, I heard it from the sparrows. It was they who told it to me, one evening when I begged them for a story.

Cardinal John Newman’s Warning

At the end of this tale as it is finely printed on thick rag paper in the little edition published at Odense, Denmark, in its rich, red leather cover embossed with a golden flower, is an illustration taken from the original drawings by Wilhelm Pederson of the great Angel of the Storm, grasping bolts of lightning in his hands, his long hair flying in the wind, his huge wings spread behind him in his flight.

“Stoop down like us,” cried the corn. “Here comes the Angel of the Storm in full flight. He has wings that reach from the clouds right down to the earth; he will strike straight over you, before you can cry for mercy.”

Do you think there really are angels of the storms?

Before you start to answer that, take note of two severe warnings Cardinal Newman gives to anyone who writes or speaks on angels: In a sermon he preached on the Feast of St. Michael, he says: “Many a man can write and talk beautifully about [the angels] who is not at all better or nearer heaven for all his excellent words.”

He means that in meditating on the joys of heaven and in particular the choirs of angels, we run the risk that these anticipations will satisfy us prematurely as a sentiment; as if we could enjoy the end without placing the necessary means whereas these things have been revealed to us for a definite, practical purpose.

Cardinal Newman says:

“Let us beware lest we make the contemplation of them a mere feeling, and a sort of luxury of the imagination. This World is to be a world of practice and labour; God reveals to us glimpses of the Third Heaven for our comfort; but if we indulge in these as the end of our present being, not trying day by day to purify ourselves for the future enjoyment of the fullness of them, they become but a snare of our enemy. The services of religion, day by day, obedience to God in our calling and in ordinary matters, endeavours to imitate our Saviour Christ in word and deed, constant prayer to Him, and dependence on Him, these are the due preparation for receiving and profiting by His revelations.”

Newman’s second warning is even more severe than the first, because the consequence of failing to heed it is worse even than a snare of the enemy—it is a vice, the more dangerous for its attractive, highly-polished, spiritual appearance. Newman calls it the vice of a dark age. He scarcely thought of it as a present danger in his own; but in ours—well, anyone with an eye can see that this dark age is in fact returning now.

The New Gnosticism

Gnosticism, which infected the Church of the first centuries, reappearing under different names and guises several times since, is born again today in the super-spiritualism associated with the new theology and in extravagant forms of charismatic prayer. In the ancient days it festered first in the synagogues of Alexandria and from them the infection spread to the Christian churches as well. St. Paul himself condemns the idolatry of angels practiced among the Colossians who had fostered a false ecumenism between the Church and the pagan cults of the Aeons, or Intermediaries, so-called emanations of God, just as Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin and even Jacques Maritain in our time tried to bridge the abyss between the Catholic mystics like St. John of the Cross and the Oriental swamis. One thinks of Merton or Teilhard more in pity than in anger because they were neither learned nor smart, but what are we to think of Maritain who was certainly both?

Jacques Maritain

This sensitive, gifted intelligence, distinguishing with exquisite subtlety and precision the teaching of St. Thomas on the mysteries of grace, proceeds to isolate the truth that Christ died for all from the other truths which limit and define it. He cites a contemporary Carmelite theologian in support of his view, who writes,

“St. Thomas, speaking of those who lived before the coming of Christ and who were saved by following the voice of conscience, says: “Even though they did not have explicit faith (in a Mediator), they did nevertheless have implicit faith in Him through their faith in Divine Providence, believing that God would save men by such means as pleased Him.” Thus, believing God saves men by means pleasing to Him is having an implicit faith in Christ, the Redeemer. It is difficult to contend that conditions have changed for those who, because they lived after Christ, have never heard mention of him.”

Well, yes, provided that we add the note of invincibility to their never having heard and provided that we have clear knowledge of their definitions of God, Providence, Mediator and Salvation. For example, if there were evidence (which there is not) that Plato or Aristotle believed God “saved,” one could, I think, at least morally conclude from what St. Thomas says and the study of their work to their implicit faith in Christ. But Maritain applies this carefully discriminated argument indiscriminately to an appalling assortment of cases in which there is certain evidence to the contrary.

“We know [Maritain writes] that unbaptized persons, even though they are not stamped with the seal of faith, so as to participate through the virtue of the Church in the proper work of the Church (which is the redemption continued), can nevertheless (inasmuch as they receive without knowing it the supernatural life of the selfsame blood which circulates within the Church and of the same spirit which rests upon it) belong invisibly to Christ’s Church. Thus they can have sanctifying grace, and, as a result, theological faith and the infused gifts.”

So far so good, but look at the utterly imprudent judgment which follows:

“Works like those of Louis Massignon and Asin Palacios on Islam, present-day studies devoted to Hassidism, the personal testimonies to a Mukerji or a Father Wallace to Hindu spirituality, or even the works of contemporary ethnologists on the prayer of primitive peoples—all these being precious factual confirmation to this view of the spirit. And those are but the first explorations in a complicated and difficult terrain.”

From St. John of the Cross to Ramakrishna

He even goes so far as to include some whom anyone of common sense would either pity as lunatics or flee from as demonic. For example, he writes,

“The saints who visibly belong to the Church enable us to recognize their far-off brethren who do not know Her and yet belong to Her invisibly—St. John of the Cross enables us to do justice to Ramakrishna.”

Ramakrishna was an atheist, a pervert, and, worse, a sentimentalist. One of his American imports, Swami Nihilananda, in the introduction to a widely circulated book blasphemously entitled The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, gives the biographical details:

“Some time in November 1874, Sri Ramakrishna was seized with an irresistible desire to learn the truth of the Christian religion. He began to listen to readings from the Bible...[and] became fascinated by the life and teachings of Jesus.”

Comment: What has become of invincible ignorance? St. Thomas has been cited speaking about those who, living before the coming of Christ could not have known him; a contemporary Carmelite theologian extends this saving ignorance to those living after Christ but who “have never heard mention of him,” and Maritain now saves Sri Ramakrishna who explicitly studied and “became fascinated by the life and teachings of Jesus.”

But it is worse than that:

“One day [Nihilananda reports] he was seated in the parlour of Jadu Mallick’s garden house...when his eyes became fixed on a painting of the Madonna and Child. Intently watching it, he became gradually overwhelmed with divine emotion. The figures in the picture took on life, and the rays of light emanating from them entered his soul.... And breaking through the barriers of creed and religion...[Note that phrase: when a Catholic does that he fulfills the formal definition of apostasy]... breaking through the barriers of creed and religion, he entered a new realm of ecstasy. Christ possessed his soul. On the fourth day, in the afternoon, as he was walking in the garden, he saw coming toward him a person with beautiful large eyes, serene countenance and fair skin. As the two faced each other, a voice rang out in the depths of Sri Ramakrishna’s soul: “Behold the Christ, who shed His heart’s blood for the redemption of the world, who suffered a sea of anguish for love of men. It is He, the Master Yogi, Love Incarnate.” The Son of Man embraced the Son of the Divine Mother and merged in him. Sri Ramakrishna realized his identity with Christ, as he had already realized his identity with Kali, Rama, Hanuma, Radha, Krishna, Brahman and Mohammed. [Mohammed would have slit his throat.]

Thus [Sri Ramakrishna] experienced the truth that Christianity too was a path leading to God-Consciousness. Till the last moment of his life he believed that Christ was an Incarnation of God. But Christ for him was not the only Incarnation; there were others—Buddha, for instance, and Krishna.”

St. Thomas teaches that if in invincible ignorance one believed in Jesus’ Name which means “God saves,” even though he didn’t know the Jesus born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary, that such belief could constitute an implicit and sufficient faith. But Ramakrishna thinks that all gods save, that salvation is something called “God-Consciousness” and that God is a symbol of one’s self. Ramakrishna also practiced forms of sexual yoga, achieving states of consciousness which psychiatrists identify as pathologically regressive and clinically insane. I could quote some passages to shock and disgust, but it is even more shocking that Maritain, a Nobel Prize winner, by everyone’s account a brilliant Catholic philosopher, and a strong influence on Pope Paul VI and many bishops and periti at the Council, should have confused such stuff with sanctity. Such stuff has no more to do with St. John of the Cross than theology with insanity.

Extraordinary in the Service of the Ordinary

True doctrine is always sound doctrine, by which I mean healthy doctrine; and the practices deriving from it have always had the ring of common sense. Fanaticism, excess, especially spiritual excess, enthusiasm, the exotic, the Oriental, primitive, depraved, and, worst of all, the simpering sentimentality of “Ah, we all love God, you in your way, I in mine”—these are symptoms of an avarice of spirit, a gluttony, and, finally, a lust.

There are extraordinary and sometimes shocking cases of authentic Catholic charismatic grace, but nonetheless in the ordinary way of salvation, grace inheres in sound minds and bodies in a healthy Christian culture which might be best summed up as a good sense of humor and humility.

God for His reasons has enriched the Church with prophecies and other extraordinary graces—but always for the purpose of leading souls to heaven by converting them back to the ordinary things. The extraordinary is for the sake of the ordinary—not the other way around. Our Lady at Fatima did not tell us to have visions—even of her loveliest self; but to pray the Rosary, wear the scapular, do penance, make reparation and exercise the natural and spiritual virtues according to our station in life.

St. Louis

Once a priest who doubted the Real Presence was given the miraculous grace of conversion when at his Mass the Sacred Host bled on the corporal right in front of him. The congregation was amazed. One of them immediately ran across the city and found the King, where he often was, sitting alone before the Tabernacle in his private chapel. When the messenger blurted out the news, the King sat still. “Sire,” the man said, “Will you not come at once to see this great vision?” St. Louis replied, “I am grateful for this grace; it is a blessing to the priest, the congregation and our city. But as for myself, I must confess—Deo gratias—I have so far had the greater grace to have no need of such events to believe Our Blessed Lord dwells behind that little golden door there on the altar. Blessed are they who see and believe, but more blessed are those who believe not having seen.”

St. John of the Cross

St. John of the Cross explicitly says that if you do receive extraordinary graces, you must earnestly pray for them to be taken away—even if they are real. If God wants you as His instrument, the graces will be given to you willy-nilly; but to desire them is a sin of spiritual avarice.

The Noonday Devil

Twenty years ago I was struck by the title of a book, the contents of which I have since forgotten; it was called The Noonday Devil, taken from one of the great prayers of Compline, Psalm 90: “Non timebis a timore nocturno, a sagitta volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris; ab incursu, et daemonio meridiano.”—“Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night, of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark, of invasion, or of the noonday devil.”

Who is this noonday devil? The book, as I remember, suggested that he represents the temptations that come to us in middle age—at the mid-life crisis as they call it; which is sensible enough. But reading the psalm week after week at Compline, especially late at night, I had often felt that this daemonium meridianum who appears in the brightness of high noon must be something worse; and he is.

The Church, of course, has never left us alone, like the Protestants, with private interpretation of scripture. We have the whole Catholic Tradition; and St. Bernard has devoted no less than eighteen sermons to this one psalm alone. When I came upon them in the course of tracking down something else not long ago, I immediately stopped what I was doing, eagerly searching out his explication of this phrase that had haunted me for twenty years.

The Four Principles of Temptation

St. Bernard says that the four things listed in the verse—the nightly fear, the arrow, the business, and the noonday devil—are the four principles of all temptation. By a principle he means the beginning which virtually contains its possible developments, as an acorn virtually contains the oak or at the moment of conception the fertilized ovum virtually contains the man. St. Bernard says that all the thousands of varieties of temptation can be reduced to these four principal kinds:

Night, in Scripture, usually means adversity; and the first adversity for souls who turn to God is the rebellion of the flesh, which fights the stronger as it is suppressed. No wonder it produces a fear that we shall lose the fight! And fear itself becomes a worse temptation than desire if it stifles recourse to the one sure remedy—prayer and meditation on these sins in the light of truth. Concupiscence is like a furnace, St. Bernard says; but if truth is the fire, it teaches so as not to burn us up, but purify—the word “pure” derives from pyr, the Greek for “fire.”

But, then, if truth succeeds and conquers fear and the night of sin dissolves as it will, beware the delicate but deadly arrow of vainglory. This is the second temptation that never attacks the fearful soul still struggling with his ups and downs; this one attacks the fervent who succeed and become susceptible to praise and self-esteem. This is the devil of the devout Catholic who goes to daily Mass, confession every month, says his rosary and thinks that’s all there is—when there is so much more!—failing to remember in the light of truth that goodness is not an achievement but a gift: What have you that you have not received?

All right, suppose you have survived these first two temptations. Suppose the devil finds he can’t assail you with your fears of failure or your vain illusions of success? Then he will try you with some real success. When vain failure and vainglory fail, he will offer you real glory. This is the business walking in the darkness, the third temptation to use your gifts for real accomplishment in business, teaching, preaching, writing, professional practice, politics, ecclesiastic office, even to the mitre and the hat. Whereas, whatever your ambition is, the truth is, it is nothing, because the world is nothing and nothing profits if you lose your soul. Even spiritual success is nothing if it is measured by the world, and they say: “How good he is; he is a saint.” This is the temptation facing Catholics who at last break from the ghetto to become senator or member of the board. It is then that the devil suggests that he can win an even greater good—for God and for the Church, of course—if he reneges on only this or this; for example, that he can win against abortion if his party overlooks contraception, failing to see that though abortion is the worse evil in its immediate consequences, contraception is worse in its malice because it is more spiritual deliberately to use a faculty against itself, contra naturam, even than, praeter naturam, to commit murder, as lying, for example, is more spiritual than theft.

These first three cardinal temptations constitute exactly those the devil tried against Our Lord. Not even Lucifer, St. Bernard says, dared tempt him with the fourth: This is the devil at noon who brings us visions, spiritual locutions, mystical feelings, words and touches, the devil of the “neo” in Neo-Thomists who, like Maritain, adapt St. Thomas to the genius of themselves; the devil of false ecumenism, experimental liturgies, the pseudo-spirit of Vatican II. This is the devil who appears when we think our prayers are finally answered and we have begun to become theologians, mystics and saints.

St. Bernard writes:

“What does [the devil] do against those he sees really love justice and hate iniquity? What else but clothe iniquity in the image of virtue. The ones he knows are perfect lovers of the good, he tries to persuade to evil under the appearance not just of ordinary but of perfect good; so that the person who most loves good will consent the quickest and easily run and fall. This is, therefore, the devil not just of the daytime but of noon. Is this not what Mary feared at the novel salutation of the angel?”

Materialists have always sought to justify sin as natural good—birds do it, bees do it; it is a universal urge and I can’t help it. This is a low-grade devil not even of the terror of the night, but of the night before. You find him hanging out in low places like the writings of Sigmund Freud and Margaret Meade, and he has wormed his way from them through the sinks and drains of post-Conciliar reform into neo-Catholic catechisms and marriage manuals. But the noonday devil proposes something far less gross, more subtle and especially attractive to sensitive souls, to those advanced in spiritual life, especially to contemplatives. This is the devil who says that there is a “spirituality of the body.” It is not as Freud and the others taught, that religion symbolizes sex; sex, to them, symbolizes religion. “Concupiscence is caritas. Copulation is a form of prayer.” As a father and grandfather I want to make clear I have nothing against copulation, but from considerable personal experience I can assure all these contemplatives that it isn’t prayer. These oh so sensitive theologians begin by stating what the Church has always taught, that there are two ends of marriage; children, yes, but also mutual love—lets call it “unitive experience” which is a mystical term. “So sex, you see, is a sign of the mystical marriage St. Bernard and St. John of the Cross describe, which is, you see, a kind of tantric or sexual yoga!” Suffice it to say that some of this has actually infected Catholic monasteries, convents and seminaries where the sin of singular friendship has sunk to actual vice. In the face of which our best and instant recourse is a special prayer to St. Michael authorized by a prophetic pope as early as Newman’s day when these devils still seemed fast asleep. They are wide awake and prowling now at noon, seeking the ruin of the most tender, most generous and vulnerable souls:

“O glorious Prince of the heavenly host, St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle and in the fearful warfare that we are waging against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the evil spirits....That first enemy of mankind and a murderer from the beginning has regained his confidence. Changing himself into an angel of light, he goes about with the whole multitude of the wicked spirits to invade the earth and blot out the Name of God and of His Christ....This wicked serpent like an unclean torrent, pours into men of depraved minds and corrupt hearts the poison of his malice, the spirit of lying, impiety and blasphemy, and the deadly breath of impurity and every form of vice and iniquity. These crafty enemies of mankind have filled to overflowing with gall and wormwood the Church, which is the Bride of the Lamb without spot: they have laid profane hands upon her most sacred treasures. Make haste, therefore, O invincible Prince, to help the people of God against the inroads of the lost spirits and grant us the victory. Amen.”

Darkness at Noon

These are the sins of an age of darkness—at noon. But, of course, this darkness would never have occurred if the grosser and simpler sins of the age of light had not occurred first—I mean the false light of rationalism; the light of a materialist and skeptical age which denied the presence and even the existence of angels.

Many a parent, horrified at a son or daughter trafficking with the noonday devils of the Oriental cults, has failed to see that his own addiction to the business walking in the darkness—that is, to his own ambitious drive for money, power and success—had cut that son or daughter off from the holy Angels of the true, Catholic and once perfectly ordinary spiritual life. If Hindus and their Catholic converts practice a false angelism, the great mass of western men, including Catholics, exclude the holy Angels from their daily lives. Traditional Catholics, of course, continue to hold the existence of angels as a dogma of the Faith and most of us recite a prayer to our Guardian Angel every night and morning. But we do not integrate this dogma of the Faith into our daily lives, our businesses, schools, political and social institutions, and do we especially fail to recognize their presence in the science of physical nature which dominates the age? As Newman stressed, the most common and most pernicious form of infidelity is not conscious heresy in which doctrine is denied, but the failure to take doctrine seriously. Materialism had been the ordinary unacknowledged philosophy of the vast majority of Catholics long before the great disaster of the Vatican Council. Generations who accepted the Creed in the abstract, had nonetheless practiced an idolatrous science as pragmatically true. Many a Catholic, fervently praying to his Guardian Angel in the morning, has gone to the office, school or shop utterly failing to acknowledge the existence much less the presence of angels in the chemical, biological and social processes of the actual work he does.

The Reality of the Angels

Is there an Angel of the Storm? Carissimi, as the old writers would say at this point—Beloved in Christ; I am embarrassed to use such language, unused to it as I am, but the subject calls for it; we are on holy ground. I wonder if you thought Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale was just fiction? That angels of the storms, like talking sparrows and weeping willows are just pretty metaphors, just ways of talking, in a word, just fantasy?

St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor—angelic both in his chastity and in his doctrine on the angels—says that there really are spirits presiding over all the species and motions of the universe, moving, governing, regulating the stars and the motions of the elements such as winds and tides.

“It is generally found both in human affairs and in natural things [St. Thomas says] that every particular power is governed and ruled by the universal power of the king. Among the angels also, the superior angels who preside over the inferior, possess a more universal knowledge. Now it is manifest that the power of any individual body is more particular than the power of any spiritual substance; for every corporeal form is a form individualized by matter, and determined to the here and now; whereas immaterial forms are absolute and intelligible. Therefore, as the inferior angels, who have the less universal forms, are ruled by the superior, so are all corporeal things ruled by the angels.”

The Four Roles of the Angels

Angels work at four assignments in the physical universe exactly as they are enumerated in the well known prayer to our Guardian Angel: “Ever this day (or night) be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.” Illumina, custodi, rege et guberna. The act of illumination proper to angels is the light of understanding, not of the sun, moon, stars or any physical or chemical variety of light. St. Augustine says that on the first day of creation when God said “Fiat lux— Let there be light,” He created the angels. The sun and other stars of course were not created until the third day. When angels perform their office of illumination, it is an act of understanding the principles and reasons of things, perfectly and instantly without any need of science, experiment and reason. When angels guard, they perform their military service against the inroads of the fallen angels—they keep watch and keep off. When angels rule, they discern by prudence how the natural law applies to particular cases; when they guide, they actually apply force and direction in the execution of those laws.

Newman’s Sermon on the Angels

There have been ages of the world as Newman said, in which men have thought too much of angels, attributing to them divine prerogatives; and many highly gifted souls are trafficking with devils at noon today; but for the great, slow majority of Catholics, the body of Newman’s “Sermon on the Angels” still holds true. He directs it to the scientific and technological spirit of the age:

“There have been ages of the world in which men have thought too much of angels, and paid them excessive honor; honored them so perversely as to forget the supreme worship due to Almighty God. This is the sin of a dark age. But the sin of what is called an educated age, such as our own, is just the reverse: to account slightly of them or not at all; to ascribe all we see around us, not to their agency, but to certain assumed laws of nature. This, I say, is likely to be our sin, in proportion as we are initiated into the learning of this world; this is the danger of many pursuits, now in fashion—chemistry, geology, and the like; the danger that is, of resting in things seen, and forgetting unseen things.

Why do rivers flow? Why does rain fall? Why does the sun warm us? And the wind, why does it blow?...These events which we ascribe to chance or to nature are duties done to that God who maketh His Angels to be winds, and His Ministers a flame of fire.

For example, it was an Angel which gave to the pool at Bethesda its medicinal quality; and there is no reason why we should doubt that other health-springs in this and other countries are made such, by a like unseen ministry. The fires on Mount Sinai, the thunders and lightnings, were the work of Angels; and in the Apocalypse we read of the Angels restraining the four winds. The earthquake at the resurrection was the work of an Angel. And in the Apocalypse the earth is smitten in various ways by Angels of vengeance.

Thus wherever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most gracious and holy beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the waving of the robes of those whose faces see God in heaven....Vain man would be wise, and he curiously examines the works of nature, as if they were lifeless and senseless; as if he alone had intelligence, and they were base inert matter....So, tracing the order of things, seeking for causes in that order, giving names to the wonders he meets with and thinking he understands what he has given a name to. At length he forms a theory, and recommends it in writing, and calls himself a scientist.

Now let us consider what the real state of the case is. Supposing the inquirer I have been describing, when examining a flower, or an herb, or a pebble, or a ray of light, which he treats as something beneath him in the scale of existence, suddenly discovered that he was in the presence of some powerful being who was hidden behind the visible things he was inspecting, who, though concealing his wise hand, was giving them their beauty, grace, and perfection, as God’s instruments for their purpose, nay whose robe and ornaments those wondrous objects were, which he was so eager to analyze—what would be his thoughts?... The very lowest of His Angels is indefinitely above us in this our present state; how high then must be the Lord of Angels! The very Seraphim hide their faces before His Glory, while they praise Him; how shamefaced then should sinners be, when they come into His presence!”

Five Practical Proposals

Well, one must conclude upon some practical advice: Surely Newman is right and surely we have failed to integrate our faith in general, and the doctrine of angels in particular into the business of everyday life, particularly in science. It is also true in politics. Just as there are angels of the storms, so there are angels of institutions: angels of the United States, of the several states, angels of cities. His biographer says that St. Francis de Sales on entering Chablais, saluted the angel of the province. Because they enjoy the Beatific Vision, in the strict sense, angels can’t be sad, but metaphorically it can’t be false to say the angels of our cities weep at our sins and infidelities and I suggest nothing less than the restoration of our gratitude and the recognition of our dependence on these great insulted beings as they preside over nature, nations, cities, institutions and persons. So I propose five practical actions:


First, that you restore the nightly reading in your homes of tales and stories like Andersen’s, derived from the great Catholic culture of the Middle Ages, so that the memories and imaginations of children are nurtured on these holy presences, so that your sons and daughters will grow like the corn and oats and not the arrogant buckwheat of a scientific age. Of course I read that tale of Andersen’s not only in illustration of how good literature contains in a poetic mode true doctrine; but also because I think it is itself a prophecy: If Fatima is true, and the world grows worse; if no sufficient number is found to carry out Our Lady’s strict commands, the Angel of the Storm will come with bolts of lightning in his hands; but if we fold our leaves and bend our heads, when the storm has passed away—if not in this world, hopefully the next—in the pure still air we shall stand with the flowers and the corn, all refreshed by the rain.

Second, when you get up in the morning, sit before a window facing east, where St. Thomas says the angels gather, and watch the work of this great spirit of the sun, singing the glory of God with his brothers of the earth and the air; so that you don’t just pray to them as blank abstractions, but love them in their beauty and truth.

Third, whenever you approach a city, salute its angel; after all, you stop for the traffic signs; recognize his governance as well. And whenever you pass by a Masonic Temple or some other place where there is the real presence of evil, invoke the angels, for your own protection, and, as Psalm 8 says: ut destruas inimicum et ultorem.

Fourth, remember every time you say the perfect prayer to your Guardian Angel, that his little offices are precisely the same four for the greater spirits—the Virtues—work for every species and every force throughout the universe: to light and guard, to rule and guide. This is true of sun, moon, wind, tides, the tides of history and the Church.

Fifth, there are also angels of the Church: of these St. Michael has been named. In honor of the Queen of Angels, to whom our lives and hopes must be consecrated, as the angels are, to whom the whole creation is a gift of her Son—a marvelous play full of music, color and light, which the angels perform just to please the Queen of Heaven every day, and so to honor her and save the world from the evil angels and ourselves—we might recite the other famous prayer to her great servant:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into Hell Satan and the other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Our Lady, Queen of Angels, pray for us.