THERE was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. (Rev. xii. 7)
Today we celebrate our Patronal Feast. A Patronal Feast refers to the Patron Saint or Angel for whom certain churches, basilicas, or cathedrals are named. Our Patrons are St. Michael, who happens to be both a Saint and an Angel, and all the other Angels. St. Michael has the added distinction of being the Commander in Chief of the Angelic Host. So he and his company of Angels surround and defend us in this Church.
Of course since the time of the Reformation Protestant-minded people have been made nervous by the Angels since they sense that their mediatorial vocation is frighteningly close to that of the Saints. Being defined by small portions of their Bibles only, they live in narcissistic dread of Popish plots and thus inoculate themselves against the help that God intends should come from the Angels and Saints. They say that Jesus alone is needed, when the truth of the matter is that Jesus has always been at work in the lives of Angels and Saints and longs to come alive in us too! We do well to remember that Christ invited the Angel Gabriel to pave the way for His conception and birth. And then at His Transfiguration He called Saints Moses and Elijah down from Heaven to reveal a vision of man’s redemption. From what the Bible teaches us, Jesus is always at work in the lives of all who in Him have died to themselves and come alive to God the Father. In so far as His creatures are right with God the Father, they must share in His life and His meaning. And so we believe that there have ever been Angels and Men in whom Christ is alive so completely that they are with Him already in His Kingdom. Michael and the Good Angels have never parted from Him. And if Moses and Elijah were translated to Heaven, I dare say that the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, the Apostles and the Faithful in all ages have already taken their rightful place in Christ’s reconciliation of time with eternity as members of His Mystical Body.
So let us contemplate the Angels. Angels are intellectual substances. The word angel comes to us from the Greek aggelos, and it means messenger, envoy, or one who is sent. They do not have bodies, but are pure spirits. Angels, like everything else that God has created, are made good. Those Good Angels who figure most prominently in Scripture are Michael and Gabriel. Then there are hosts of anonymous angels who visit the Shepherds prior to Christ’s birth and celebrate with them after, who minister to Jesus after His temptations in the wilderness, are with Him in last days of His bitter agony, assist at the Resurrection, and then prepare the Apostles at His Ascension for Pentecost. Angels liberated both Peter and Paul on two separate occasions from prison. And in general, as Richard Hooker says, even now in us they behold themselves beneath themselves, see what we share, and hope that together with them we might resemble God. (E.P. i. iv)
But from Scripture we know also that some of the angels rebelled against God and His goodness at the moment of their creation. Out of pride and then envy they treacherously embraced darkness. And so, as St. John tells us in this morning’s Epistle, There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. (Rev. xii. 7-9) Most commentators say that St. John is speaking of the original warfare that erupted when the Angels of Light realized what some of companions had done. Those who rebelled became the Angels of Darkness, imaged by St. John as the Dragon and his army of bad angels. St. John reminds us that the origins of sin and evil emerge from rational and free-willing angelic creatures who chose to reject God. St. Augustine tells us that the origin of sin in found on the First Day of Creation. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: And God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. i. 3,4) God had already made the heavens and earth, and then He made light. But this is not physical light that God created, since He had not yet made sun and the moon. So Augustine insists that this must be the spiritual light, or the light that is the life of the angels that God has made. God did not create the darkness but divided the light from the darkness. Augustine tells us that the darkness must be an image for the bad angels’ willful rejection of the eternal Light of God that informs and defines the life of all creation. So because the good angels live in the Light of God, they are called created light and their lives constitute the first spiritual Day. The bad angels are called the darkness and so are banished to the everlasting spiritual Night in alienation from God’s Light. (D.C.D. xi, xii)
So sin is a spiritual problem, and it originates with pure spirits or angels who reject God’s rule and governance. Sin is a rejection of God, borne out of envy and pride. St. John tells us that sin originates with those bad angels who envied God’s wisdom and love and resented His power. Not content with being derivative creatures whose illumination and enlightenment depended always on the Light of God’s truth, beauty, and goodness, the bad angels rather wanted to be God. Looking away from God, they looked to themselves, and in that moment became spiritual darkness. Spiritual self-absorption or narcissism is always and ever darkness because it refuses to submit to the Creator’s Light, which alone gives being its meaning and purpose. Thus the bad angels become a community of bad faith, ill will, and deception.
Michael and his army of Good Angels, filled only with what God makes them to be, fought against the bad angels and banished them from Heaven. The Good Angels tolerate God’s Light alone and cannot endure the ill will and malevolent darkness of Satan and his peers. Those angels whose future and destiny belong to God receive and return His Light and Love without ceasing. Because they are intellectual spirits, the reason and meaning of all creation is discerned and returned to God from them. In them we find a pattern of perpetual obedience to God’s will in heaven that we should imitate on earth. They are moved and defined by God’s Word alone. When that Word is made flesh, they are one with Him, one with Jesus, as He works redemption into fallen humanity. When the Word is made flesh in us, they offer to surround us with Heavenly inspiration, holy thoughts, and divine aspirations.
Michael is the Chief of All the Angels, and his name Michael means he who is like God. The Greek Church refers to him as Archistrategos, or the General Commanding Officer. Having cast Satan and his minions out of Heaven, Michael and his soldiers desire without ceasing to frustrate their power on earth. As Christ’s ministering spirits, they are His true friends, and so their role and vocation are to visit us with the protection and care that they receive from Jesus. The Pseudo-Dionysius, a 6th Century Syrian monk, tells us that Angels have three functions. They carry purification, illumination, and unification to us. (Hier. Coel. ix. 2, op. cit. Danielou; The Angels and Their Mission) What they long for us to find in Jesus is the purification of our souls, the illumination of our minds, and unbreakable communion with our Heavenly Father. So they encourage our spiritual cleansing, education, and unity with God. They intend to surround and defend us so that Christ may work His redemption into us. They come at Christ’s bidding. Moved by the Father’s Word, and driven by the Holy Spirit, they desire to stir us into that pattern which forever longs for God, loves Him, and serves Him in uninterrupted ecstatic adoration.
Today as we honor and venerate St. Michael and All Angels, with them we know that as there was war in heaven, until the end times there will be war on earth. Nothing that is good and true can be won or retained without a struggle. The good must always hold their heritage at the price of ceaseless vigilance. He who would attain and keep truth and prove himself faithful to it must be prepared to engage in constant battle…Every attempt to make earth more in harmony with heaven will be challenged. (The Christian Year in the Church Times, p. 274) Michael and his Angels are fighting constantly so that the victory of God’s Light over darkness in Heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ might be acknowledged and embraced. Their battle extends from God’s Heavenly throne to His earthly footstool. Their vocation or calling is to lift us up and into the realm of spiritual unity with God. They do not selfishly bask in the fruits of their own accomplishments. Their labor is God’s work and it will endure as long as time remains for the salvation of souls before the Second Coming.
William Blake reminds us that, 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. And this is that holiness which alone will dispel and scatter all manner of darkness, making us into the children of the Light. (1 Thes. v. 5) In closing let us hear the awe-struck gratitude of the poet at the passionate ministry of angels for us:
And is there care in Heaven? And is there love
In Heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: but O the exceeding Grace
Of Highest God! That loves His creatures so,
And all His works with mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels He sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked men, to serve his wicked foe!
How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succor us that succour want!
How oft do they with golden pinions cleave
The flitting skyes like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch, and dewly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love, and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!
(Fairie Queene: ii, vii, 8)