Every week in Mass we pray the Nicene Creed and say the words, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” This is a profession of our belief that God has created all things from nothing, both the material things we experience in our daily lives and the immense spiritual world beyond our senses. God has revealed through Scripture the existence of these invisible creatures we call “angels,” and the Church has always honored those spiritual beings who remained faithful to God, celebrating the Feast of the Archangels (September 29) and the Feast of the Guardian Angels (October 2). These recent feast days invited me to reflect on the transcendent reality of these angelic beings.
God Tested the Angels
Several years ago, I remember listening to Catholic radio when a young boy called in to ask if God still loved Satan. To this interesting question, he was told the answer is “yes” because God is love. As God never stops loving us regardless of our sins, God never stops loving any of His creatures. The radio conversation ended but one can extend this question and ask: So what happened? Satan made a choice.
Prior to the creation of man, God created the vast population of the spiritual beings we call “angels.” All of the angels were created good and each was given an intellect and a free will. Though the details are unknown, Scripture and Tradition reveal God then tested each of them. Those who chose to remain faithful to God, referred to as the good angels, were rewarded with the Beatific Vision, and they eternally give glory to God. Then, there were those who rebelled, referred to as the fallen angels, and the result of their choice was eternal separation from God (2 Peter 2:4; Luke 10:18; 1 John 3:8). In Revelation 12:3-9, we learn Satan (the great dragon), who is the leader of this revolt, is thrown out of heaven, and he is accompanied by one-third of the stars in the sky.
The Church Fathers, recognizing the stars as symbolic representations of the angels, interpreted this as a revelation that one-third of the angels rebelled against God. Since that time, in God’s mysterious providence He has permitted not only the good angels to assist us but also allows the diabolical activity of Satan and these demons to influence the world (Catechism of the Catholic Church 391-395).
The Unredeemable Angels
Pondering how Satan and the demons rejected God, some may ask why the angels cannot have a second chance like humanity did. Because of their angelic nature, the decision made was an eternal and unredeemable act. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us this is not due to a defect in divine mercy but is because of the “irrevocable character of their choice” (393).
To understand this better, we can contrast the existence in the spiritual realm to our own. As human beings, we are composites of body and soul, subject to continuous change within time. In this earthly life, we can change our minds (and often do), we can be converted and thus redeemed if God so chooses. This mode of being is unlike God, who exists outside of time and thus does not (and cannot) change His mind.
Angels, on the other hand, although pure spirit do not experience eternity as God does since they are creatures, but they also do not experience constant change at every moment because they lack a material component. This “in-between state” is referred to by theologians as aveternity. In this existence there is change, but it is not continuous, and those beings experiencing this form of time have a very stable existence. They can grow in certain respects, such as growing in knowledge and love, but they cannot change in any substantial way. Once a decision has been made, they cannot change their minds or wills in any contradictory way – decisions made are eternal and unforgivable. It is in this state that good angels and demons exist, as well as humans who are living in the next life.
The Fallen Angels and Their Abilities
Sometimes the first image of the devil that comes to our mind is from childhood cartoons – a little red creature with horns and wings sitting on our left shoulder always speaking contrary to the small white angel positioned on our right shoulder. This benign portrayal is far from reality. The demons are so horrendous that if we ever saw them as they truly are, they would be the most ugly, repulsive creatures we could ever conceive.
Scripture reveals the demons are wicked, envious, deceitful, rebellious and proud (Isaiah 14:12-14; Wisdom 2:23-24; John 8:44). They hate God and all He loves. They are very intelligent and powerful, yet they are created beings so they are not all-knowing or omnipotent like God. The angels cannot read our minds and can only know our actual thoughts insofar as we reveal these to them. However, St. Thomas Aquinas speculates that, because of the high intellect of the angels and the fact that they have been observing us throughout our lives, the angels know us incredibly well, even to the point of accurately predicting what we will think and do in the next moment (Summa Theologiae I, 57, 3-4).
From the perspective of the fallen angels, this also includes being able to learn our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and then using this knowledge to lead us into temptation if we let our guard down. Until the end of time, they will be among us trying to lead us astray and deceive us hoping that we lose trust in God (and we see the beginnings of this terrible danger with Adam and Eve).
Often when considering the demonic abilities, their power of possession is the most frightening. Though possessions are very real and often very dramatic experiences, they are only one of the rare ways the fallen angels try to influence our lives. Additionally, these occurrences can only happen if the human person has in some way allowed the demons to enter into their being – there is no forced entry. Rather than be distracted by this uncommon event, we should be far more concerned with protecting ourselves from the many subtle ways the demons try to influence us each day in the ordinary moments of our lives.
Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), to defeat Satan by His death on the cross and then to establish His kingdom. Though victorious, until Christ comes again on the Last Day, Satan and the demons will continue to influence this world, actively trying to lure us away from God to expand their rebellion. These temptations from the powers of darkness, as well as from the world and our fallen human nature, encompass the ongoing battle we face daily. This spiritual warfare has always been a part of human history, and it is to our detriment if we minimize this reality. St. Paul warns of this in Ephesians 6:11-12:
Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
The powerful force of evil wielded by these demonic creatures may at first seem daunting but God has provided us with many weapons against them. We can defend ourselves by deepening our faith and relationship with Christ, by having a regular prayer life, by seeking truth and by striving for holiness. Being in a state of grace and frequent reception of the Sacraments are powerful safeguards against temptations. Satan and the demons also recoil from anything holy, including the sign of the cross, holy water, the name of Jesus, crucifixes, prayer and any other signs of overt faith, so we need to use these as our weapons regularly.
Finally, one of the greatest weapons we have been given is the assistance of the good angels, especially our guardian angels. We should develop a relationship with these mighty allies and never hesitate to call upon them for guidance and protection in times of need.
This ongoing battle is not merely “good versus evil,” but it is a fight for our souls and, because of this, God has revealed the reality of these demons to warn us. They are real and they impact our lives, yet, God gives us effective armor. We must utilize His resources and take care to never let our guard down.
A recent overview of angels by Nada Mazzei can be found at (https://www.catholicstand.com/angels-gods-servants-and-messengers/