Friday, September 29, 2017

Are angels naked or do they wear clothes?

Q: Are angels naked or do they wear clothes?
A: First, I have to say what a fascinatingly astute question coming from the mind of a child. Reading it theologically, as we should, it evidences a couple of immediate things: this question displays an awareness of the economy of God's creation, particularly the invisible spiritual world that exists all around us; and, the question reveals a sensitivity to the economy of salvation, especially as it concerns the place of angels in relation to humans. So, to answer the question, it will be helpful to observe the similarities and differences between angels and humans in the economy of creation and salvation.
To begin, let us first confess that angels are of a different order than humans. Angels are spiritual beings only; that is, they do not have flesh. Humans are of both spirit and flesh; that is, we humans are spiritual and corporeal, otherwise called incarnate. Like humans, angels display power and intelligence (1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 2:11) and have been given a will capable of disobedience (Jude 6). Therefore, it follows that they are personal beings and, indeed, we know the names of some of them: Gabriel (Dan. 8:16) and Michael (Dan 10:13), for example. Like humans, they are created to praise and worship God (cf. Rev. 4 & 5) However, unlike humans, angels neither marry nor reproduce (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25). And, unlike humans, angels do not die (Luke 20:36).
These similarities and differences between angels and humans in the economy of creation establish an important qualitative difference between angels and humans in terms of relationship. In other words, while humans are intrinsically relational beings by virtue of their ability to procreate, angels are inherently individual beings because they do not procreate. By virtue of this distinctive, we say (as best we are able using human language) that therefore humans are capable of a relationship with God, whereas angels only have a relationship to God, so to speak.
The substance of this distinctive is found in what theologians have classically called the soul. In other words humans, who have been uniquely made in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), by virtue of this "pinnacle position" in all of God's creation, possess something qualitatively different than other orders of creation - in particular, angels (and animals, to use another illustration) - that gives humans the unique ability of having a relationship with God, over an against the relatively limited relationship both angels (and animals) have to God. In other words, the soul uniquely enables human beings to enjoy a relationship with God in a qualitatively unique way that neither angels nor animals can enjoy.
With these observations concerning the economy of creation and the similarities and differences between angels and humans, we are able to see that while having a soul is not a necessary part of being "in heaven", for angels are already part of the heavenly host of God and animals seemingly will be without the need of being saved from their own condition, we say that it is by virtue of having a soul that we are able to see both the kind of relationship God wants to have with humans and, by extension, the nature and need for the economy of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Concerning salvation, because angels possess an intellect and a will, like humans, they are capable of disobeying the manifest will of God - called sin - and are therefore subject to the Fall by their disobedience. Scripture tells us that some angels have, in fact, turned their wills against God. We now call these fallen angels "demons", who do the bidding of Satan, who was once good, as God created all things good (Genesis). By virtue of being the first to fall, Satan was banished from heaven and "fell like lightening from the sky" (Luke 10:18), exercised ungodly influence over a third of the angels, sweeping them from them from heaven and casting them down to earth (Rev. 12:4) and therefore is known the prince of demons and the prince of this world by his evil power and influence (Matthew 12:22-24, John 12:31). Satan and the demons now make war against God and his Church (Rev. 16:12-16), deceive and discourage individuals (2 Cor. 4:4, I Thess. 2:18, Eph. 6:11-12, I Tim. 4:1), lead nations astray (Rev. 20:3), and influence the forces of nature to inflict pestilence and disease (Matt. 9:32-33). Because of their disobedience, God in his justice has prepared a place of eternal judgment for Satan and his demons called Hell (Matt. 25:31-46). Finally, Scripture teaches us that they have already been given their sentence of condemnation for their disobedience, for 2 Peter 2:4 informs us that God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to the pits of gloom to be kept until the judgment. In other words, while Satan and his minions are still wreaking havoc in this world, yet their sentence has been issued and their final fate has been sealed. They are simply outside the economy of redemption. God's perfect justice has meted his perfect judgment against Satan and the demons.
This understanding of angels and demons shows us three important things. First, it reveals God's express intent for Hell, that God created it especially for Satan and the demons, not for humans. But, before you jump to any conclusions from this statement, please finish reading. Second, it substantiates the qualitative difference between their relationship to God and the human relationship with God in the economy of salvation. Angels, who are without flesh and without a soul, relate to God, but being without a soul, do not enjoy a relationship with God in the way humans do. Therefore, they are not part of God's economy of salvation in the way humans uniquely are. Nowhere in Scripture is it said that angels were given the opportunity to "repent and return to the Lord", as with humans. Given everything that is said about angels, we must reasonably conclude that salvation is tied to the soul and the kind of relationship God intends to enjoy with humans. Thus, thirdly, our understanding of these differences between angels and humans in creation foreshadows the salvation of God in Christ Jesus uniquely intended for us humans, as well as the warning and hope contained in the call of the Gospel.
As I stated above, we humans are uniquely made in the likeness and image of God, distinct in all of God's economy of creation, and described in theological terms as the soul. Because angels and humans are of a different created order, we experience the effects of the curse differently; that is, angels are neither incarnate nor procreational and only relate to God; therefore, they neither experience the kind of fleshly nakedness we do as humans, and so nor do they need to clothe any fleshly nakedness - specifically their intrinsically relational and procreational "private parts" - before God as an evidence of their guilt and shame before him, in the way we do as humans, who enjoy a unique relationships with God. And, with this background in place, we are now able to see the victory of God and the hope of humanity plainly manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Hebrews 2:14-18 says, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful hight priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. for because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted." As our Eucharistic liturgy informs us, "You, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all."
Now, the salvation of God and the relationship with us that he wants to enjoy comes in full view. By virtue of the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ our Savior, who became like us in every way, yet did not sin, endured the punishment of death that we deserved, both because of us and yet for us, rose victoriously from death to life on the 3rd Day (Easter), and won for us the victory over sin and death, he therefore offers us the forgiveness of sins through baptism and the hope of everlasting life by his glorious Resurrection, the foretaste of which we experience every Sunday morning in the great Eucharistic Feast called Holy Communion. Where we clothed ourselves in unrighteous sin by our own disobedience, God clothes us in his righteous salvation . As Isaiah 61:10 says, "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a pries, and as a bride alone adorns herself with her jewels."
Therefore, this earthly life is our season of both grace and warning, when we humans may shed the filthy rags of guilt and shame before God by repenting and returning to the Lord through responding to the Gospel and receiving the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ through the promised gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, empowering us with divine assistance and becoming for us the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). This is the Good News of God in Christ Jesus!
But, let us also beware and be warned that the season of grace offered us in this life will come to a close, for Hebrews 9:27 teaches us that man is appointed once to die, and after that comes judgment. And again, II Corinthians 5:10 warns us that "we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body."
Finally, then, the assurance of the Gospel is this. "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9).
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? The season of grace is now opened to each of us. Jesus loves you, he has forgiven you, and he wants to enjoy a relationship with you forever.
In conclusion, the most basic messages we receive in our understanding of angels and humans is this: Be like Jesus and you will receive God's reward of eternal life. Don't be like the devil and you won't experience God's wrath of eternal damnation.
Feel free to contact Fr. Mark Polley or me if you want to know more about the Christian life and living. And, thank you for the good question. Keep them coming!
Fr. Chris Culpepper+
P.S. For further study on this and other topics, pick up a copy of Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Dr. Peter Kreeft and/or a copy of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas.

1 comment:

  1. Your answer to your Godchild just blew my mind! It's the best treatise I've read on the subject (or subjects ). Please add this to your catechism class so that everyone would hopefully get to read it. Blessings on your ability to write that which we can comprehend when we really lack the words to speak of heavenly things. Jesus is the answer!!!