The theology of angels is a science that studies in the light of divine revelation the invisible world of spiritual intelligences (good angels) created by God who assist man in the attainment of his salvation and share with him the divine call to supernatural grace and glory.
It is a true science: it (1) is based on the certainty that angels exist (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer, 800, 3891); (2) attains through an intellectual study of the causal influence exercised by angels upon corporeal beings a knowledge of angelic nature; and (3) is established under the precise modality whereby angels realize substance, i.e., immateriality (St. Thomas, In meta., prooem.; In 7 meta. 11.1536). It is a systematic science which, by means of theological and philosophical reflection, has developed and coordinated into a coherent system the divinely revealed data. The theology of angels is not merely a metaphysics of angels; it also shows the relationship of angels to the government of the universe (Summa theologiae 1a, 110.1) and the Christian economy. Although angelology is a kind of microtheology which pays special attention to Christ's employment of angels in His Redemption of mankind, it properly sees a continuity in the role of the angels in both the Old and New Testaments, a role that is continuously salvific. Indeed, in the Bible the world of angels appears as tangential to the world of the Jewish people, of Christ, and of His Church. It may be added that angelology implicitly refutes opinions that reject existing reality beyond the empirically scientific.
Patristic Tradition. The Fathers Christianized angelology by subordinating angelic ministry to Christ's unique mediation. In their concepts they went beyond the Judaic notion of the angelic mediator of God and messenger of God. They decidedly opposed syncretistic efforts to identify angels with the pagan messengers of gods or impersonal protective deities. In addition, they developed important points of doctrine related to the angels: their existence and nature, call to grace and glory, society, missions, and functions in the government of the world.
The Celestial Hierarchy of pseudo-dionysius proffered the first complete systematic theory of an angelic society (c. a.d. 600). Before that time the Fathers did not approach an angelology. They were slow to arrive at an exact concept of the true spirituality of angels, particularly because they lacked a clear philosophical distinction between body and spirit. In this question the Latins lagged behind the Greeks. In general it may be said that there was no apparent progress in systematized angelology from the 7th to the 13th centuries.
Scholastics. The interest of early scholastics, largely of theological import, centered on the place of angels in the divine plan of creation and Redemption. In the West, theological summae of the 12th century affirmed the personal character of angels, their knowledge and liberty, but failed to develop these notions. The 13th century witnessed a more philosophical treatment of the being and operations of angels. St. Thomas Aquinas, with his genius and the advantage of the Greek, Arabian, Jewish, and Christian philosophical studies upon the existence of separated substances, offered an extensive synthesis of thought in his angelology; in his system, angels are pure spirits, subsistent separated substances, forms not joined with body (Summa theologiae 1a, 50.2, 4, 5; C. gent. 2.45–56). Scotus, holding an opposite view, considered angels as incorporeal but composed of matter and form (see Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. A. Vacant, 15 v. 1.2:1230–48 for a comparative study of three systems of angelology, i.e., of St. Thomas, Suárez, and Scotus).
Contemporary Angelology. Since the 17th century angelology has not been limited to the studies of the scholastics; it has come into its own positive theology. Treatises on the angels are normally found in dogmatic treatments of God the Creator. Of particular note are the contributions of Cardinal A. lÉpicier, R. garrigoulagrange, Jean daniÉlou, and Karl rahner. Synthesis has advanced but there is need for additional study to understand better the relationship of angelic mediation and intervention with Christ's unique mediation. Further studies have already determined a specific distinction between the patronages of angels and saints (human), based on a "movement" peculiarly angelic. This "movement," involving operations of the angelic will and intellect whereby inferior creatures are moved toward their respective ends, is ordinary to angels but extraordinary to the nonangelic beings.
Magisterium of the Church. The basic truths about angels are accepted on faith; their existence, creation, and spirituality (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 800, 3002, 3021, 3025); their personal nature (ibid. 3891); their not emanating from the divine substance (ibid. 3024). For an extensive account of conciliar teaching on angels, see Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. A. Vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50) 1.2: 1264–71. The Church's teaching is shown best on the practical level in the liturgy. Here especially it is made clear that the role of angels in man's salvation is not of prime importance, that Christ is the one Mediator.
See Also: angels; angels, guardian (in the bible); angels of the churches; demon (in the bible); demon (theology of); demonology.
Bibliography: a. vacant et al., Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50); Tables générales 1951–) 1.1:1189–1271. ibid. Tables générales 1:153–165. k. rahner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 1:533–538. r. haubst, ibid. 3:867–872. j. duhr, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed., m. viller et al. (Paris 1932) 1:580–625. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq and h. i. marrou, 15 v.
(Paris 1907–53) 1.2:2080–2161. a. a. bialas, The Patronage of Saint Michael the Archangel (Chicago 1954). j. d. collins, The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels (Washington 1947). j. daniÉlou, The Angels and Their Mission …, tr. d. heimann (Westminster, Md. 1957). p. p. parente, The Angels (St. Meinrad, Ind. 1958) also pub. as Beyond Space (New York 1961). p. de letter, "Trends in Angelology," Clergy Monthly 24 (1960) 209–220. p. milward, "Angels in Theology," Irish Theological Quarterly 21 (1954) 213–225.
[a. a. bialas]