Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Feast of the Archangels

Sculptor Edward Robinson argues that "demythologisation" was an academic trend which deprived Christianity of its imaginative and creative forms of expression. He argues that we need a "remythologisation" of the Gospels, if faith is once again to become vibrant with a sense of mystery and spirituality. 

Today is the Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. They are the only angels named in the Bible. Michael appears in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, as the one who leads the armies of God against the forces of evil. Devotion to the Archangel Michael and the angels originated in the East in the fourth century and spread to the West in the fifth. Gabriel appears in the Book of Daniel, but he is best known as the angel of the Annunciation, who appeared to both Zechariah and Mary in Luke's Gospel, announcing the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus respectively. The story of the angel Raphael can be found in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament, but for a truly delightful encounter with Raphael I'd encourage you to read Sally Vickers' novel, Miss Garnet's Angel.

Gregory the Great says of the word "angel" that "it denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message." Like Thomas Aquinas's God then, an angel's being is synonymous with its doing, for just as God's being is the doing of God (and therefore the doing of the world), so an angel's being is to be discovered in what it does. (The sex of angels has been the subject of much serious theological debate, but I like to think of them as occupying the in-between spaces). 

If you Google the word angel together with quantum physics, you'll find there are a lot of people out there speculating about the relationship between the two. Some of it is highly esoteric, and some of it pedantically academic. Yet let me admit that, since reading Aquinas on angels, I find myself more amazed than before at what quantum physics reveals to us about the sensory world. There is something about that shimmering illusion of the density of matter which might just be the message of the angels, communicating not above and beyond the material world but within it and through it. What are they telling us?

The work of the young artist Mila Furstova is very exciting. Here is one of her Annunciations:

Annunciation I (2008), Mila Furstova

You can see more of her work on her website: Mila Furstova Etching.

Here is Hildegard of Bingen's "Antiphon for the Angels":

Spirited light! on the edge
of the Presence your yearning
burns in the secret darkness,
O angels, insatiably
into God's gaze.

could not touch your beauty;
you are essential joy.
But your lost companion,
angel of the crooked
wings - he sought the summit,
shot down the depths of God
and plummeted past Adam -
that a mud-bound spirit might soar.

And here is Maya Angelou's poem, "Touched by an Angel":

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight 
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare to be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.


  1. Replay Ray recommends today's Thought for the Day from Lionel Blue. Great angel joke to finish and thoughtful theology.

  2. Recommended. Moving end to final History of the World in a Hundred Objects. "Humanity is one".

    Explanation of empty red chair? What do we project into the space? Ourselves?


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