Human beings are, so far as we know, the only creatures in the material
world possessing free will.
But we are taught that God also created spiritual beings without bodies, who like us possess free will and who are called angels.
We know this by revelation only.
We have no means of perceiving angels by our senses because they have no bodies.
The Greeks call them οἱ ἀσώματοι, the bodiless ones.
Since they are invisible, pictures of them can only be symbolic.
Angels are represented in human form to show that they are persons like us, and sometimes with wings to represent their swiftness.
They are usually described in Scripture as appearing in the form of men without wings (Mark 16.5; Luke 24.4, 23).
They appear with wings only in apocalyptic passages such as Isa.6.2; Ezek.1.
They are sexless (Mark 12.25).
We need not discuss the history of the Hebrew belief in angels.
It appears in its most highly developed form in Daniel where each nation has a patron angel, Michael being the patron of Israel.
[This belief is said to be due to the influence of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia.]
Our principal reason for believing in the existence of angels is the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ who frequently spoke of both good and evil angels.
In what did not affect His mission, we may believe that the human knowledge
of our Lord was that of His age.
But in all that concerned His mission He could not be mistaken [See pp. 93-5.].
He deliberately and habitually spoke of the angels and warned His disciples against the devil.
We cannot reject belief in angels and devils without rejecting His authority.
There is no reasonable argument against this belief.
We must believe that God could create bodiless spirits and use them to help us, and we have the authority of our Lord for believing that He did.
We have also, in the Acts of the Apostles, good evidence for the appearance of angels to St. Peter and others.
The appearance of angels is always a special act of Divine power.
They are not otherwise visible or audible.
The angels were created beings (Col.1.16) and therefore finite, and they
were created good (Gen.1.31).
St. Augustine identified them with the light created on the first day (De Civitate Dei, 11. 9).
It is generally held that they were created before man (Job 38.7).
They possess free will (Jude 6) and see the Beatific Vision of God (Matt.18.10);
and they are immortal (Luke 20.36).
But they have to learn of the mysteries of grace through the Church (Eph.3.8-10; I Peter 1.12), and they do not know the date of the Day of Judgment (Mark 13.32).
Their number is very great, for our Lord spoke of "more than twelve legions of angels" (Matt.26.53; cf. Luke 2.13; Heb.12.22).
Their work is to be the messengers of God (Luke 1.26; Heb.1.14; etc.), to
guard His children (Matt.18.10, which is the basis of the belief in guardian
angels, cf. Dan.10.21), and to fight against evil angels (Rev.12.7).
The Pseudo-Dionysius [A writer of the fifth century (see p. 87).] classified them in nine orders by putting together various passages of Scripture.
Among their duties are to bear the souls of the faithful to their rest (Luke 16.22) and the prayers of the Church to heaven (Rev.8.3).
They are witnesses of the conduct of men (I Cor.4.9) and of the judgment (Matt.25.31; Luke 12.8), which they also execute (Matt.13.39, 49; 16.27; 24.31; II Thess.1.7).
They came to the help of our Lord in time of trouble (Matt.4.11; Luke 22.43, but the latter passage may be a later addition), and to the help of His servants (Acts 5.19; 8.26; 12.7).
There are also many references to them in the Old Testament.
So far only good angels have been mentioned, but there are also evil angels
They were originally good angels, but they disobeyed God and lost their place in Heaven.
This seems to have been before the fall of man. Duns Scotus (d. 1308) supposed that these angels revolted when the future Incarnation was revealed to them.
Milton in "Paradise Lost" makes Satan revolt because God gave to Jesus Christ the place that Satan coveted, but this implies an Arian doctrine of Christ, contrary to the teaching of St. John that the Word was "in the beginning with God".
(Milton's Arianism is still more explicit in his prose writings.)
The chief of the devils is Satan (The Adversary), also called Apollyon,
the Destroyer (Rev.9.11), and Diabolos, the slanderer (Rev.12.9, etc.).
He is not to be identified with the serpent of Gen.3, or with the Satan in the Book of Job, for belief in the devil was not then fully developed.
Our Lord was tempted by the devil (Matt.4.1; Luke 4.2); and the story must
have come from His own lips, for He seems to have been alone.
He mentioned the devil in the parable of the tares (Matt.13.39).
He bade his disciples pray to be delivered from the Evil One (Matt.6.13).
He warned them that an evil spirit, when cast out of a man may, if his place is not filled, return with others worse than himself (Luke 11.26).
There are many references to the devil in His discourses in the Fourth Gospel.
Both He and His disciples cast out devils, which were in possession of human
Some modern Christians find it difficult to believe that a devil can occupy the body of a man;
but there are innumerable modern instances of devil-possession, found chiefly in heathen countries but not unknown in England, and the devils are cast out by the ministers of the Church precisely in the same way as by our Lord.
It is perhaps possible to explain the facts otherwise, but the facts themselves are beyond any possibility of doubt.
I have myself met many people who have known persons with all the symptoms of devil-possession, with whom the doctors could do nothing, but who were cured by exorcism.
Those who believe that there are devils find no difficulty in accepting their power to take possession of human beings, though it is possible that some of the cases mentioned in the Gospels and Acts were not genuine cases, but were only thought to be so.
The devil is not a rival god, still less evil personified.
He is not omnipresent: "Then the devil leaveth Him" (Matt.4.11).
Devils are not even wholly evil; for existence is in itself good, and nothing that exists can be wholly evil (Gen.1.31).
God made the devils, and all that He made was good.
The devils are spirits who have disobeyed God, as wicked men are spirits who have disobeyed God.
It is not more difficult to believe that Satan exists than to believe that Nero existed.
The latter was a wicked spirit in a body, the former a wicked spirit without a body.
We believe in the existence of devils, and of Satan their chief, because
our Lord taught it, and because experience shows that all human sin cannot
be attributed to human beings.
There is no doctrine of the Christian faith that I find easier to believe than that of an organized kingdom of spiritual evil, which our Lord plainly taught (Mark 3.22; Luke 11.18), and which we can experience for ourselves if we examine either our own hearts or the world around us.
St. Paul tells us that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual things of wickedness in the heavenly regions (Eph.6.12).
Our belief in the existence of both good and evil angels, which is founded
on the teaching of the Bible and the Church and in particular on the words
of our Lord, is confirmed by modern experience.
There are many well-authenticated cases of help given to human beings by angels in modern times.
We ought not to offer these cases as proofs to those who will not accept the teaching of the Bible, for "if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16.31).
But those who accept that teaching find their belief confirmed by the modern evidence.
In the case of evil angels or devils the modern evidence is far stronger.
It is difficult to explain the facts of devil-possession as it appears in India, China, Africa, Melanesia, and even England, unless the teaching of the Gospels on this subject is true.
The same may be said of the facts of Spiritism.
It is not without excellent reason that both the Bible and the Church condemn all attempts to communicate directly with the dead, whether by seances, table turning, automatic writing, planchette, or any other means.
We have no power to communicate with the dead;
but the devils take advantage of those who try to do so, as is shown by the number of them who have become insane or committed suicide, and by the silliness, or worse, of the communications received.
Not one message has ever been received by such means that has been of any benefit to mankind.
We believe, then, that the universe is full of good and evil angels, perpetually
at war until the final victory of God;
that the evil angels, organized under their chief, Satan, make it their principal object to destroy us, and that the good angels are sent by God to protect us.
The devils cannot hurt us except by our own will;
but our will is weak, and they are stronger and cleverer than we are.
Our Lord by His death and resurrection broke the power of Satan, and He will protect us if we ask for His protection.
In fighting against temptation we are the front line of the army of God arrayed against the kingdom of darkness;
but that kingdom of darkness could not exist for a moment without God's permission, and the time will come when He will destroy it.
Meanwhile the fighting instincts of our nature are given us to be used, not against one another, but against the enemies of God and man, the devils;
for even the worst of men are enslaved victims to be delivered from the devils.
The virtues of the soldier are even more the virtues of the missionary.
We look forward to the time when patriotism will be sublimated into the defence and extension of the kingdom of God on earth.
In this war we have always behind us St. Michael and his hosts, the warriors and messengers of God.