A perspective on angels and demons, Part 2 of 3
As Catholics, our concept of creation dovetails with an introduction to the idea of angels and demons that has been formed from early childhood and sustained into adulthood. The Lord’s Prayer tells us that God is in what Thomas Aquinas termed the “empyrean heaven,” a realm beyond the fixed stars where salvation awaits.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty.” The use of heaven in Genesis 1:3 is plural which is a contradiction of what humans believe of heaven as a singular, paradise type place of destination in the afterlife. What could the other heavens be? One of the titles for the Virgin Mary is “Queen of Heaven.” Is that in the empyrean heaven Aquinas theorized about, or one of the heavenly bodies?
That the earth had no form and was empty was a point of disagreement between Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo (both are saints and were great Catholic theologians). Aquinas believed that creation consisted of two prime matters with the first being corruptible and the second being incorruptible. This is an important point with regards to angels and demons as to what and who are corruptible.
For clarity, prime matter in the creation sense is earthly bodies which is a combination of humans, and the elements fire, earth, air (or wind), and water. If we follow Aquinas’ reasoning, earthly bodies can be corrupted or degraded. Meaning, these elements can be manipulated by supernatural forces.
For reflection on such supernatural manipulations, biblical examples include Sodom and Gomorrah, two legendary cities destroyed by God for their wickedness using sulfur and fire. Another great example that elements can be manipulated was Noah’s Ark and selected animals in it who were saved from the Great Flood that practically annihilated everything else outside the Ark.
What about the weather and diseases? God had already shown the power, but what about Satan? Does he have the power to control hurricanes, floods or tornadoes? Can he unleash diseases of pandemic proportions, conflagrations where swaths of land and structures burn like towering infernos?
John 12:31 implies that God controls all things as part of His kingdom but allows Satan to rule the world – the world being earth and domains above (air, wind) and below it (underworld). Satan or Lucifer, their names are interchangeable, was given his own kingdom below heaven and ruled the earth as a punishment but with a caveat that God can degrade these elements to punish the wicked as a way of limiting Satan’s expansion.
Oratio Imperata, the most powerful Catholic prayer in the arsenal has been invoked time and time for God’s intervention against natural forces like super typhoons (hurricanes), Covid-19, HIV, the plague, etcetera. Is the prayer a recognition of Satan’s power?
Whereas the incorruptible celestial bodies like the sun and other planets make out of the fifth element – quintessence or space. Empyrean, according to Aquinas, is the heaven of the blessed where God reigns and where Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father. Judaism believes in the concept that there are seven divisions within God’s government. To each of these divisions is a named planet from the heavenly bodies.
Cosmology in ancient times was earth centered, giving rise to such interpretations of multi-layered heaven. The heavenly bodies were viewed as they appeared in the sky and appeared to revolve around a flat planet earth covered with an invisible dome, and with an underworld inhabited by the dead.
Scientists like Galileo and Copernicus poked a hole in Aquinas’ empyrean heaven theory and the layering therein. Furthermore, science disproved the notion that the earth was flat and established that the sun is the center of the universe, not earth.
The underworld (or hell) is the domain of the dead with Satan at its core. Our concept of hell and the afterlife was also shaped by Dante Alighieri’s epic poetry, The Divine Comedy. Dante introduced us to the concepts of hell (Inferno), purgatory and heaven (Paradise).
In 2 Corinthians, Apostle Paul alluded to a third heaven where people like him in Christ will go. But what about the others who don’t quite measure up to Paul’s requirement? Well, his letters which are full of warnings about demons, spirits and the elements perhaps provide clues about other destinations.
Luke 2:13 mentions an army of powerful angels as the Hosts of Heaven. To understand the functions of these hosts, one need to have some introduction as to the various tasks they may be told to do as supernatural beings like being a messenger, a guardian, an enforcer, or a destroyer against something evil, sinister or patently demonic with Satan or Lucifer being their leader.
Lucifer (Morning Star), as we have been told, was one of the mighty archangels that has fallen out of grace. The Morning Star tried to stage a coup in Heaven but was outnumbered and eventually defeated by his brother Archangel Michael. His head “bloody but unbowed,” Lucifer was banished to inhabit earth. His kingdom began to grow when he invaded Paradise and tempted Eve.
Lucifer (and the many aliases attributed to him) possess similar powers with that of other Archangels like Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel among others. If God has heavenly hosts to protect his interest; Satan is equally equipped with an army of followers who can take advantage of the elements and other God’s creations and engage in spiritual warfare to spread its evil intent,
Our limited capability to fully understand the enormity of the world around us and the spiritual realm makes us vulnerable to such evil manipulations. We view angels and demons as part of our supernatural understanding whose domains they inhabit involves our psyche, our dreams, our free will. These are battlefields where these supernatural beings collide.
For instance, we’ve learned that bad angels have developed various albeit intelligent ways of getting to an unsuspecting being. Greek influence and myths introduced the concepts of giants, albinos and other monstrous beings as products of sinful angels, sons of God impregnating mortal women as told in the Book of Watchers.
Angelic and demonic appearances happened in the Old and New Testaments with Jacob wrestling with all his might all night with an angel. Another story by St. Athanasius involves St. Anthony who wrestled solo with the devil and his demons and was successful driving the evil forces away with prayers. They are also in movies. Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” portrayed the demon as personified by a priest pursuing a naked ambition to be pope. The Sixth Sense allowed our minds to bridge the natural and spiritual realm.
Amidst all these contradictions, Dante’s Comedia helped form our understanding, albeit incorrectly, of three possible destinations in the afterlife that somehow influence behaviors. Inferno instills a degree of fear and anxiety that hell evokes from eternal damnation. Transition in Purgatory gives people hope that prayers and novenas can bump them up to Paradise and play among the stars. (To be continued)