Angels, Guardian (in the Bible)

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Guardian angels are intelligent spiritual creatures divinely deputed to exercise individual care and protection over men on this earth and assist them in their attainment of eternal salvation. Most frequently, guardian angel is taken to mean a single angel assisting an individual person or groups of persons or a single nation, parish, etc.

The term angel, as presently used in Catholic theology, indicates a spiritual minion of the divine court. Guardian indicates a protective function, not an entitative grade. The concept of guardian angel as a distinct spiritual being sent by God to protect every individual person is a development of Catholic theology and piety not literally contained in the Bible, but fostered by it.

Scattered references to angelic guardianship of individuals or small groups in the Old Testament [Gn 19.1014, 16; 24.7, 40; 1 Kgs 19.5, 7; Tb 5.6 and passim; Dn 3.4950, 95; Ps 33(34).8; 90(91).1112] cannot be interpreted as presenting Israelite belief in a universal protective ministry of angels. The angelology of the Old Testament is so unclear that it precludes any such well-defined conclusion. G. von Rad observes that the angels had little significance in the Israelite life of faith because

their consciousness was of Yahweh's direct and pervasive action in nature and history without the help of intermediaries [Genesis (London 1961) 110]. Again, each instance of angelic custody (excluding those in the Psalms) is presented as special mission rather than customary office. Finally, the Israelites' pride in being Yahweh's chosen people and their concept of such exclusiveness would hardly be conducive to a universal extension of individual guardianship of angels over all people.

Nevertheless, the proximity of Israel to the extravagant Persian angelology and the increasingly emphasized transcendence of Yahweh in postexilic Judaism formed the consciousness into which God communicated deeper knowledge of the instruments of His government, as witnessed by the divine tenderness exercised by raphael, in Tobit, the angel interpreter of Zachariah ch. 2 and 3, and the national tutelary angels of Daniel ch. 10. This led to an exaggerated proliferation of protecting angels' functions in intertestamental literature.

Thus, the way was prepared for the Christian angelology delineated in New Testament writings (see Gal 1.8; Acts 10.37; 12.15; Heb 1.1314). Jesus' good news of the universality of God's love germinated the Catholic doctrine of the guardian angel from such sources as Jesus' saying, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones [members of His kingdom]; for I tell you their angels in heaven always behold the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18.10).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 911912. p. r. rÉgamey, What Is an Angel?, tr. m. pontifex (New York 1960). p. heinisch, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. w. g. heidt (Collegeville, Minn. 1955).

[t. l. fallon]