Today is again Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels — of Michael, physician, and general in war; commander of the Jews, patron of the Nile, archistrategos of the Greeks, defender of the Romans; rescuer of souls. On this day in old Normandy, and England, the husbandman’s season ended, and another began; as too, the terms in colleges and courts. Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael — who bring the autumn to the North, and spring to the South, and through whom we pray as our battle continues against the Prince of Darkness in this fallen world — heavenly martials of our Victory.
It is thus a year since I began this anti-blog, whose purpose is not yet clear to me, although the intention was indicated at the launch. For of course, this is war. The title chosen invoked “Idleness,” and in the most bellicose sense. In the words of the prayer, not my will but, “Thy will be done.” Let us stand bravely against all human industry, not directed to its proper end. Let us down the tools of our illegitimate masters. Let us “stand athwart history,” refuse to let it pass.
I had been reading through the closing Questiones of the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologica, where the guardianship of the angels is expounded, and our hidden government is touched upon. From Boethius, Saint Thomas Aquinas inherits both the ancient idea of fate, and its Christian transformation — in which the influence of the astral is ever acknowledged, for good and evil; but along with the immutable fact of our human freedom. For no angel will dictate our acts, and no devil can force our obedience.
An apprehension of celestial war, and of the necessity of angels, has been among men of all religious doctrines and traditions, since time out of mind. Yet it would go without saying today, that the slaves of empirical reason deny the possibility of such persons as angels and devils; as also the events in which they take part. The very idea of an angel is mocked, after it has been misrepresented, in the “demythologizing” school that flourishes even within the Church. Yet we know the angels; and intimately so, for we know instinctively which we should obey. But also that we do not have to obey. No angel, aloft or fallen, can compel the smallest action on our part. The former may inspire, the latter tempt, but we, under God, are the captains of our souls, and sovereign within our domain. Notwithstanding, it is war, and we are well to take our orders.
I have myself been aware, in key moments, of the presence of what is called a “guardian angel.” It was this angel, for instance, who shouted in alarm, when once I was tempted into an act which would have brought quite terrible consequences, and not only to me. I recall the shock that came with the instruction: “Get out of here!” It was as if I had surrendered my will in the matter — following the path of least resistance as it led down into the mire — until this instant of awakening. And I was told, sharply and exactly, just what to do.
Many, I’d say most, perhaps all human persons have had this experience at some point or points, and will recall the like whether or not they can imagine the celestial dynamics. The instruction comes with the authority of a divine order — not, as it were, to the brain, but to the heart of one’s being — resonating through body & soul. It is no fey “categorical imperative.” It comes in a rush, on wings.
Could an angel drop you dead? Of course he could; or raise you high into the air, then set you down safely; or part the sea, or liquify the soil under an invading army; raise mountains up in their folds, or move them like waves on the sea. When the first creature stirred on this earth, there was the presiding angel; and when the last dies, so he will watch, in the mysterious power of divine mercy.
In such cases there are physical effects: but not from the will of the angel. For they in their ranks, from Chayot to Cherubim, are agents of the heavenly power, who act only upon its command, as mediaries between God and his Creation — echoing through our universe, “Thy will be done.”
We cannot pretend to be Christian — or Jewish, or Muslim, or even Buddhist for that matter — without acknowledging the present reality of angels. From the first memory of man, this truth has been acknowledged, that there are spiritual beyond the physical forces, that they are personal in their nature, that they could even be named. Our modern anthropologists have great difficulty interpreting this “primitive” mind, for it does not personalize impersonal forces. It discerns the personal, apart. And so with the gods of pre-Christian mythology: detached, always, from what they control.
Nature is a drudge, without angelic forces. She has only her entropies to obey, and the dead to bury her dead. Life itself stands testimony to the operation of the divine Will, acting through angelic mediation.
We cannot take the Scripture to heart, nor the Fathers, nor Doctors, nor Saints of the Church, while overlooking this “detail.” Christ himself is vividly aware, as we may read throughout the Gospels, of this angelic order. They announced his coming to the shepherds by Bethlehem; to the wise men afar; to the ancient world in the anticipation of Christ, and within the Temple of the Hebrews. All from God is announced through angels; all men of faith are led to this awareness, and faith itself engages with a supernatural strength.
Yet no more than gravity can it be seen through the eyes, nor heard through the ears, nor touched with the fingers, nor smelled with the nose, nor tasted with the tongue — unless God will the manifestation. Grace itself is apparent invisibly, through its effects, and the apprehension of our very being is not restricted by our senses five. They are our openings into this sensual world, in which we have taken the form of animals, but we remain so only for a time. We are the creature at our pupal stage, the chrysalis enclosed, the pharate within — who in due course will shuffle out, leaving an exuvium. We look to the Resurrection as to another world that we do not yet inhabit. I think it may be a development of this one; an incomprehensible development of what was already a realm of miracle. But this I cannot know, only glimpse in prayer, as through a glass, darkly.
In his “Vision of the Last Judgement,” from a notebook in which his great lost painting is described, William Blake shows an unearthly comprehension, of what is a person through every metamorphosis; of what does not change, through change. And consider:
“It is not because Angels are Holier than Men or Devils that makes them Angels, but because they do not Expect Holiness from one another, but from God only.”
Likewise, as Blake patiently explains, they are not happier than men and devils because they are better, but because they do not pry at the Tree of Knowledge for the gratification of Satan. For knowledge can be no end in itself, and power is not their game. Rather, they are figures of a perfect intellection, and messengers of supernatural joy.
And so our Michael, assigned and assigning, in the command of celestial forces, who “rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm” — archistrategos in the glorious battle, in the joyful war. He, in the battle, at the front line, which runs through every human heart, where the stand is made with angelic armies.
Defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares!