On the eve of the feasts of the holy archangels and guardian angels, the secretary of the International Theological Commission provides a sound theological clarification about the nature and mission of our celestial companions.
After disappearing from most theological and philosophical think tanks of the modern era, the questions related to angelology have recently made a comeback in the West through postmodern spiritual movements like the New Age.
This growing interest towards angels in contemporary societies, however, is giving rise to dangerous distortions of the Christian metaphysical conception of the world.
Alerted by the numerous perversions of this important element of the Christian faith, Father Serge-Thomas Bonino, secretary of the International Theological Commission and dean of the faculty of philosophy of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, applied himself to provide solid theological foundations to the belief in the existence of angels through his book Angels and Demons: A Catholic Introduction.
Padre Pio tirelessly reaffirmed the importance of prayer to one’s own guardian angel, and for his part Father Bonino is convinced that the angelic figure gives human creatures a foretaste of the beauty and greatness of God. According to him, the estrangement of many Christians from their celestial companions, combined with the current climate of spiritual confusion, highlights the urgent need to speak about these intermediary spirits between the human and divine realms as an avenue for evangelization.
At the approach of the feast of the holy archangels, Sept. 29, and that of the guardian angels, Oct. 2, the Register sought his valuable insights into this too-often-neglected spiritual subject.
You often denounce a “hijacking” of angelology by New Age movements, while Christians themselves have been gradually turning away from it. How do you explain such a phenomenon?
First of all, it is important to say that angels are not central to Christianity; the central question is the mystery of God and that of Christ. Their existence is nevertheless a fact that the Scripture and the Tradition of the Church have always maintained, deepened and supported. Thus, this is not an optional truth, although it is not an essential one.
I think that, over the past centuries, in Christianity, there has been in some way a desire to demythologize the Christian faith in a way that has not always been relevant and smart. To put it in a more popular way, we sometimes threw the baby out with the bathwater.
For sure, in ancient times, the figure of angels was connected to a certain cosmology which is no longer ours. But the existence of angels and their actions in the life of the Church, as well as in human beings’ lives, has always been a very present element in the Scripture, and the Church has always taught this truth. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a very important part dedicated to the invisible world that we also mention in the Creed (“all things visible and invisible”).
Then I am afraid that angels as they are presented in New Age spiritualities have very little to do with Christian angels. They are not really spiritual beings, but kinds of ghosts or “doubles.” They are a figment of imagination. So the belief in angels must always be evangelized. It means that one must think about the world and especially about angels according to the great mysteries of Christianity, not according to one’s own imagination or projections.
Is the loss of consideration for guardian angels a consequence of the loss of popular faith within Christian cultures and societies?
The doctrine related to guardian angels is intrinsically connected to the faith in divine Providence. It is probably the faith in Providence that suffers the most from a certain weakness nowadays. We saw it during the coronavirus crisis. God was never really considered this whole time. The best thing that many people said was just that God supported the sick and the efforts of the medical staff, but the fact that cosmos and events are all in God’s hands is no longer that obvious for many Christians, unfortunately.
What power do angels have on fallen angels, on their actions?
They have the power to carry out God’s orders against demons. So their power over demons depends on God’s power over demons. God lets the devil do things that can somehow be good for a person. For instance, he can let a demon tempt us in order to make us stronger, to make us able to show more charity in our life, to grow spiritually. But God can also prevent some demonic actions because it would damage his design, and angels always accomplish his will. Therefore, they are able to prevent some of the demons’ actions against human beings.
St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that a guardian angel is assigned to every human creature since his conception, in order to avert the dangers coming from demons, who obviously want the death of humans.
What is angels’ specific intercession power, in comparison with saints?
They have the same power. Angels, precisely because they belong to the Communion of Saints, pray for us. This is why we invoke them during the Litany of the Saints, and we even start with them, after the Virgin Mary.
But angels have a double mediation, in other words, an ascendant and a descendant mediation. On the one hand, they bring and transmit to us the tenderness of God; and on the other hand, they make us go up to God in prayer and intercede for us. This is why the Bible says that they offer incense to God, as incense is the symbol of prayer that goes up to God. We see this clearly in sacred Scripture that tells us angels ascend above the Son of Man, that is to say, they make our prayers rise towards God and then come down to bring us God’s blessings, by transmitting to us good thoughts and graces.