Today, October 2, is the feast of the guardian angels. Everybody has one. The Scriptures say so (see Ps 34:7, Mt 18:10, Ac 12:15). And the Fathers say so. One of the most beautiful works in the field of patrology is Cardinal Jean Danielou’s Angels and Their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. I just finished reading it for the umpteenth time. More popular, but still intermittently patristic is My Angel Will Go Before You, another book by a 20th-century Frenchman, Georges Huber. Pascal Parente’s The Angels is solid, accessible, and grounded in the Fathers. Mortimer Adler, while still identifying himself as a pagan, produced an admirable philosophical study, The Angels and Us — though he manages somehow to botch the historical background on Augustine. (Guess he forgot to check the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which he edited back then!)
The great classic source on the angels is the fifth-century Celestial Hierarchy by Pseudo-Dionysius, which is a must-read.
Last year I posted a little catena of the Fathers’ teaching on guardian angels, which I reprint here:
HERMAS (150 A.D.): “There are two angels with a man — one of righteousness, and the other of iniquity … The angel of righteousness is gentle and modest, meek and peaceful. When he ascends into your heart, he speaks to you of righteousness, purity, chastity, contentment, and every other righteous deed and glorious virtue. When all of these things come into your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you.”
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (195 A.D.): “The Scripture says, ‘The angels of the little ones, and of the rest, see God.’ So he does not shrink from writing about the oversight … exercised by the guardian angels.”
ORIGEN (225 A.D.): “Every believer — although the humblest in the Church — is said to be attended by an angel, who the Savior declares always beholds the face of God the Father. Now, this angel has the purpose of being his guardian.”
ST. GREGORY THE WONDERWORKER (255 A.D.): “I mean that holy angel of God who fed me from my youth.”
ST. METHODIUS (290 A.D.): “We have learned from the inspired writings that all who are born … are committed to guardian angels.”
So there you go. The doctrine was around centuries — well, several weeks anyway — before anybody thought of printing a syrupy holy card. I culled the quotes from David W. Bercot’s Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, whose 704 pages are a real bargain at $19.95 new. The book is quite good, in spite of an intermittent Protestant bias (e.g., in his selection on the intercession of the saints). But in his abundant quotations on guardian angels, Bercot gives us ten from Origen alone!
Get to know your guardian angel. They’re there with us to light and guard, rule and guide. We, however, can choose to be more or less open to their influence. What a waste if we choose less of a pure and heavenly intelligence, to be absorbed instead in our own!
And speaking of angels: Last Saturday, September 29, was my name day on the Western Calendar, but I was so absorbed in my own less-pure and earthly intelligence — and so preoccupied with my impending speech to the St. John Chrysostom Society — that I neglected my heavenly patron, St. Michael the Archangel. I had wanted to write something about the fervent devotion to St. Michael in the ancient Roman and Alexandrian churches. There’s abundant evidence from before Nicea! I found some lovely Egyptian artworks in this just-published (and quite lovely) book: The Treasures of Coptic Art in the Coptic Museum and Churches of Old Cairo. It features St. Michael in sculpture and paintings.
As for my post on my great archangel, I’ll have to defer till next year.