Thursday 1 October 2015

Seven questions about angels

It is pretty much mandatory for Christians to believe in angels, since they are mentioned so frequently in the Bible. But the angels in which people believe are rather various.

I would be interested to know some details about what those who believe in angels believe about them.

If any of the following questions seem relevant to your experience and knowledge, please comment.

Comments will, as always, be moderated - but even if I do not print your comment I will still reply to it.

(BTW I am asking here about the good-angels, the un-fallen angels, those angels engaged in doing the work of God - not demons. )

  1. Are angels all of the same origin - or are there various ways of becoming an angel? 
  2. Is each angel an unique personality (in the way that Men are)?
  3. Can angels make spiritual progress - or do they stay at the level they are created? Can an angel be corrupted into evil intentions? 
  4. Can an angel learn? Can an angel make mistakes? 
  5. Do angels have autonomy (in the way that Men do): are they free agents in their work? (Or, are they always working on the basis of very detailed instructions, implementing God's will directly?) 
  6. Could an angel not know he was an angel - but instead think he was a Man, and be performing some role as such? Related - were any famous people of history actually angels? 
  7. So far as you know, have you encountered an angel in actual life? Do you believe such nowadays encounters are universal, common, normal, rare or extremely-rare? 



Bruce B. said...

Catholics believe everyone has a (unique I assume) guardian angel/spirit. So in a sense you’re always encountering an angel even if you don’t know it. Guardian angels are implied in the Gospels but I don’t think they’re part of Church dogma.

Rich said...


I would think there would be various ways of becoming an angel and that they are unique personalities. Though, I think that because they are acting out God's will or working for a common goal so obvious and clear to them (unlike anything we have ever experienced) that they may appear to us to be homogenous sock puppets.

I believe that they have free will and can be corrupted. I believe their autonomy is safer than man's and that is why we need them to watch over us. By safer I am thinking of Arkle's example of a fish in water. An angel in God's love presumably has an easier go of remaining in God's kingdom than a man who can still remember and feel God's love but, is a fish out of water so to speak.

I am unsure about the angel not knowing he was an angel. I think it is plausible. Though, I question if they wouldn't just be us at that point. That is to say, spirits/souls volunteering to come here to learn. The reason I think it plausible is because I have met people who are so good that I am almost embarrassed to be in their presence, but I undoubtedly want to be in their presence. It strikes me that they could be angels who volunteered to come teach and directly guide us. I think it worth mentioning that these people I am thinking of are never leaders in the way we think of leadership. They are just so good and gentle that you want to be more like them.

Still, I am doubtful of angels being men with bodies. I think that they would have to go through their own period on Earth, become men, and experience being in a body before they could return as a man and be helpful to souls emerging as man for the first time. That may make more sense out of reincarnation. It may be the case that fallen angels are just souls that had made it to Heaven became angels and chose to return to Earth to help guide man. However, upon returning they encountered new trials that they could not overcome and fell(?).

In any case, this was a wonderful exercise. Thanks for asking the questions, Bruce!

Craig said...

NB I'm a Catholic but have opinions which go beyond (my understanding of) doctrine and traditional teaching: the verbs should show my various levels of belief.

1. I don't believe it's possible for a man or other non-angel to *become* an angel. God could do it, of course, but I see no reason to believe God has ever performed this particular miracle. (I know of one ancient contrary tradition, but I don't give it any weight.)

2. I would be amazed if angels weren't at least as individual as men, and would be mildly surprised if they only had our level of individuality.

3. I would be surprised if angels don't progress in some sense; I'm not sure what you mean by "spiritual" progress. I believe that angels are not subject to corruption after their creation, assenting to what I understand to be traditional teaching.

4. I think angels probably progress in a way that we would take to be "learning." I would be surprised if they never make mistakes, although it's possible that correction is swifter and more certain than it is for us.

5. I suspect that angels generally have autonomy but sometimes work under close divine instruction.

6. The nature of angels is sufficiently different that it's difficult to imagine one believing himself to be a man. I would be surprised to discover this had ever happened. I am confident no famous men were actually angels.

7. I have never knowingly encountered an angel. It would not surprise me to find out that I have done so unknowingly. I suspect that angelic encounters are actually pretty common, but almost always unrecognized as such.

ajb said...

I have just written about the topic of Guardian Angels after reading your post

It seems other prominent figures in antiquity believed in something like Guardian Angels - Menander, Plutarch, and Plotinus are listed in this article

Tucker said...

Off the top of my head, here are my best guesses:

Are angels all of the same origin - or are there various ways of becoming an angel?

I would guess that they are all of the same origin, just as there are not various ways of "becoming" a Man.

Is each angel an unique personality (in the way that Men are)?

Yes, without question.

Can angels make spiritual progress


or do they stay at the level they are created?


Can an angel be corrupted into evil intentions?

Of course - that is what demons are!

Can an angel learn? Can an angel make mistakes?

I would guess "yes", in the same way that Man was originally obviously intended to be able to learn and make mistakes, it's just that angels never fell.

Do angels have autonomy (in the way that Men do): are they free agents in their work? (Or, are they always working on the basis of very detailed instructions, implementing God's will directly?)

I don't really know the answer to this one.

Could an angel not know he was an angel - but instead think he was a Man, and be performing some role as such? Related - were any famous people of history actually angels?

I don't see that this could be possible.

So far as you know, have you encountered an angel in actual life?

I do actually believe that I *may* have encountered one. Without going into detail, the incident occurred during my university days and the "person" that I met saved me from making an extraordinarily poor decision that may well have ruined the rest of my life.

Do you believe such nowadays encounters are universal, common, normal, rare or extremely-rare?

This is one of those funny "depends on your perspective" questions. I would guess that for any given individual, it's probably rare - a once-in-a-lifetime event, and probably less than that for people who don't "believe in" angels. But I suppose that if each Christian believer gets to encounter an angel once in a lifetime, then from another perpective that's actually pretty common.

David said...

@ Bruce - I know you are not a big Hollywood fan but have you seen 'city of angels' with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan? It's was one of the movies I remember watching that got me thinking about what being an Angel might be like; notwithstanding the usual saccharine Holywood treatment. The central theme is of an angel who watching human life front a distance chooses to fall and then experience love and the trials of incarnation. Check it out if you have a few hours with nothing better to do (Although I imagine that doesn't happen to you very often).

Interesting post. Keep them coming :-)

GFC said...


I recommend an audio lecture series on angels by Father Chad Ripperger, FSSP. He was professor of theology at the FSSP's North American seminary, and I believe also has a background in psychology. He is also an exorcist.

You can find the lectures here:
You'll have to scroll down a bit, but there are two lectures, one on angels in general and one specifically on guardian angels. I think they are great and will give you much food for thought.

My understanding of the questions (I'm Catholic btw):
1. Angels are of the same origin - i.e. God created Angels as such, it is not something a being can become.
2. They exist outside of time so they do not change or progress. They had one moment in their existence where they could choose obedience to God or rebel, thereafter their wills are fixed. As will ours after the moment of death. Therefore they do not learn, etc.
3. The Angels do have autonomy, intelligence and will (much greater than ours) - all their work performed for the Lord is done freely and out of love, with intelligence and creativity. I suppose they are sub-creators like us, only more so in some ways.
4. An angel could not be ignorant of his nature - he knows who he is precisely.
5. I do not believe any famous human personages in history were actually angels - they are too different from us, and they have other roles.
6. I have never met one, for which I am glad, people who did in the Bible except the Holy Mother were usually terrified by the experience and fell on their faces.

Roger W said...

I'm not sure my own ideas on this topic are interesting enough to be worth sharing, but when I showed the questions to my wife she had some well-developed notions, which I will share here on her behalf. Her ideas are very heavily informed by Kardecist Spiritism, and are fairly orthodox within it, so far as I know. For the unfamiliar, this belief system is more a set of spiritual doctrines than a religion as such: it functions essentially as an offshoot of Christianity (which it does not contradict in any way) which concerns itself primarily with spiritual evolution and the nature of the "spirit world". Here's what she said:

1) Various origins: There are various ways of obtaining spiritual evolution. I don't think it's only by undergoing incarnation like we do here.

2) Yes, to a large extent they are comparable. They are not robo-angels.

3) There is potentially an unlimited level of potential progress, for both angels and humans (angels being at least in some cases simply more advanced humans existing in a purely spiritual state; some of these, however, never incarnated previously on Earth or another planet prior to becoming what they are now - these are perhaps closer to the mainstream conception of Angels). The ultimate level of perfection is that of the Creator. However, progress is subject to something like a law of diminishing marginal returns, which will be more noticeable at higher levels - this is analogous to a physical object accelerating to the speed of light. More advanced beings will make only slight incremental progress over very long periods; and absolute equality with the Creator is essentially unachievable within the constraints of Creation (though it might be possible to get very close given enough time and development, as an object can theoretically be accelerated to very near light speed, but not actually reach it).

All angels can (potentially) be corrupted, as can all humans. However, while less advanced ones are more vulnerable to corruption, and it is hence more common for them to become fallen (or have progress to higher levels retarded as a consequence of their own self-willed failings), there are much greater negative repercussions for the corruption of greater spirits - not just for the fallen being itself but for the rest of existence, upon which more potent beings have greater influence.

4) Yes to both. More advanced angels/ascended spirits are prone to make mistakes in a similar way to highly spiritually evolved or genius incarnate humans - to have specific blind areas (those in which they still need to make progress) where most of their mistakes are concentrated, while displaying high ability in others. An example of this (in either humans or angels) might be one who practices great love and compassion, but is unable to recognize evil in others.

5) Either is possible. They possess free will with which to choose whether and how far to follow instructions, which may be given broadly or precisely. Since they have free will, they also may be directed to a task outlined in very general terms "Help that person" then left to achieve it as they see fit.

6) "Angel" being differentiated from an incarnate human in this way confuses the issue somewhat. An angel is a being more purely spiritual in its present form and to be recognized as an angel is likely to be highly spiritually evolved compared to most humans; but even a powerful angel may incarnate again, in which case it will be to all intents and purposes a human. It is reasonable to suppose that many who have done great good in the past were powerful incarnate spirits of this type (the saintly types), and those who have done great harm (the murderers and destroyers) were what we might call fallen angels.

7) This goes back to the previous question of whether an angel is different in essence to a human at all; but in general the incarnation of an advanced spirit is rare now (much rarer than it used to be).

Anonymous said...

(7) I guess that animals often see angels, and only the most cognizant of the animals realize that we humans do not also see those angels. Same goes for those humans with cognitive problems severe enough to keep them from being able to verbalize their thoughts. I had what is called a "near-death" experience once that lasted a few long moments and, if I remember correctly, I could not distinguish angels from the spirits of the faithful departed. Outside of that, I have never deeply felt that I might be seeing an angel - the most I can say is that I have seen a few people whose expression was consistent with the expression you would expect to see on someone who had recently seen an angel.
(5) Melchizedek may have been an angel. I can't think of anybody else I can think of whose human name can be found in any history book that I have read who might be an angel. Some of the unnamed warriors in battle narratives, and some of the people encountered in places like sinking ships and modern death camps, may easily have been angels. I believe that many of the Bible writers and inspired translators spoke with angels the way the rest of us speak with the baristas at the coffee shops, or with the teachers who like to complain a little about their students. That is, at a little distance, but face to face.
(2) Yes without question. Maybe I misunderstood your statement of the question, though.
(1) I deeply believe both that we can meet angels unaware, as St Paul said, and that God can create angels from the stones of the side of the road, as Jesus said in another context. I also humbly believe, from long experience and thought , that God knows which unborn children will die before birth, or in the first few days of life before they recognize their mother or anyone else, and those children, never having been subject to their parents, as even Jesus was, are angels in material form from the first moment of conception, by virtue of one of those metaphysical miracles that come so easily to God. I also believe that many contemplative saints, while praying, have been able to see the angels kneeling next to them in prayer.
(3-6) As a general comment the only convincing literary angels I have read about (my reading on the subject might be very limited, of course) are some of Milton's angels, Prester John (not exactly an angel, of course) in the novels of Williams, and some of the angel-like figures in Tolkien, whose collected works contain about a hundred pages of pure angelology. Lewis and McDonald also wrote some characters who address some aspects of what I imagine are the challenges angels face.
- stephen c

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks to all the commenters for such an extremely interesting set of remarks.

Andrew said...

This is my LDS perspective.

The definition of "angel" can mean many different things.
In the broadest sense, "angel" means messenger. In Hebrew - Malak, in Greek, - angelos. So in a sense, any being that carries a true message from God is an angel. The Greek word for Gospel derives from Euangelion - the good/true message. Some Bible scholars are uncertain if the book of Malachi was written by someone named Malachi, or if it is a title - Malachi means "my messenger" in Hebrew. In addition to being messengers, angels also sometimes have the role of protecting from harm or preventing evil forces from accomplishing their design. I suppose your questions more directly pertain mostly to celestial messengers sent from heaven, though the title is used in more contexts than that. I will answer with that specific category in mind.

1. Angels can be pre-mortal children of God, currently unembodied, post-mortal, pre-resurrected spirits, or resurrected beings, or amortal "translated" beings.
LDS Guide to the Scriptures: Angels
Heavenly angels become such when they are worthy and commissioned to give a message or perform a task.

2. Since angels are not a different "species" than mankind, they do have different personalities.

3. Angels can make spiritual progress, but unless they receive all the covenants and ordinances, their progress is limited to ministering servant. They do not become celestial parents.
Doctrine & Covenants 132:16-17
Pre-mortal angels can be corrupted (Lucifer, et al. 1/3 host of heaven Rev. 12:4). There is no record (that I'm aware of) of a resurrected or post-mortal corrupted person doing the work of an angel, or being called an angel.

4. Angels can learn, as they are succeptible to the influence of the Spirit of God. I suppose it is possible that a heavenly being is not yet flawless and can make mistakes. If making mistakes are a part of learning, an angel learning from mistakes is conceivable.

5. I believe angels have autonomy, though I imagine the longer they are in the influence of God, the more likely their behavior in the execution of their duties conforms to the nature of God. I think they are assigned duties and use their intelligence and experience to carry them out.

6. I don't believe angels (heavenly beings) lose their identities, rather their identities expand. Jehovah (the Greatest Angel) -> Christ, Michael -> Adam, Gabriel -> Noah, etc. Angels (heavenly beings) can take the appearance of normal mortal men, though their sojourn on God's footstool in disguise is probably brief. Mortal men can act as angels - delivering/dispensing a true message from God. They are also known as prophets. Mortals, beyond being messengers of God, can act in the roles of divine protectors and preservers.

7. Since angels (heavenly beings) can do their work in disguise, or without being visible at all, it is hard to say. All my experiences with direct heavenly messages have been through the witness of the Holy Ghost while walking, or reading scripture, or praying, or speaking. I have been protected from harm on several occasions by invisible means and have been able to protect others from harm because of supernatural intervention at least once. My experience has been such encounters have been rare to extremely rare.

Doug said...

This is a really wonderful subject to post Mr. Charleton.
Everyone's comments are most enlightening.
The answers to your questions I can provide would be speculation based on hope for blessings and grace and my personal sense of God.
I really don't know the answers outside this.
But I sure hope there are Angels, as it strikes me they are kindred spirits of souls on this earthly plane just too good a thing, and representative of us, not to be real.
There is much good in this world, things worth fighting for, I would like to believe there are Angles too then.
I sure hope to know an angel one day.
I have met a couple of people, and maybe a couple of animals, and wondered if they where Angels. Or at least somehow Angels where somehow embodied in them. That would B a nice thing indeed if so.
But at the very least, it is something wonderful to believe in.