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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 3:1–5:24. Apoc. 20:1–2. Jude 6 ff.]

BESIDES the visible world, God also created an invisible world, namely, innumerable spirits, called angels. They all came forth from the hand of God good and holy, being endowed with excellent gifts of nature and grace, whereby they might persevere in that state and thus obtain everlasting happiness in union with God. But they did not all continue in that state, for, being possessed of free will, a great many of them abused it, lost the grace of God, and became wicked. They rebelled against God—Lucifer, their leader, saying: “We shall be like unto the Most High; we will place our throne above the stars.” Then there was a great strife in heaven. Michael and the other angels who had remained faithful to God, fought against the bad and rebellious spirits, whose chief is now called Satan, or the devil. The bad angels were conquered, and cast from heaven down to hell. The angels who remained faithful were rewarded with everlasting happiness. They ever see the face of God in heaven.

The angelic nature, and the infinite perfections of God. The angels are spirits; God is also a Spirit, but there is an infinite difference between Almighty God and the highest angel. The angels have a sublime understanding, great wisdom, and much knowledge, but their understanding, wisdom, and knowledge are finite. Their wills are holy, and are much more powerful than ours, but they are not infinitely holy, nor are the angels almighty. They have received all their great qualities from God. He alone has His perfections of Himself, and from all eternity: the angels were created by God in the beginning of time, and received everything from Him. The angels are, indeed, wondrously perfect, but they are not infinitely perfect. Their perfections have a limit, a measure, a number. God’s perfections, on the other hand, are infinitely great, without limit, measure, or number.

The office of the Angels. Like everything else the angels were created for the honour and glory of God. They love and praise God, and fulfil His holy will without ceasing. Hence the meaning of the words in the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The name of angel signifies messenger or envoy; this name is given to the good spirits, because God sends them to take care of men and make known to them His will. The angels, being pure spirits, cannot be seen with our bodily eyes, but if it is God’s will that men should see and hear them, when they are sent as messengers from Him, they are able to assume a human form. Take, for example, the holy archangel Gabriel who appeared to Zachary and to our Lady.

Pictures of Angels. You have often seen pictures of the holy angels. They are often represented as boys with wings and playing on harps; or again, the holy archangel Gabriel is represented as a youth with wings, holding a lily in his hand, and with a glory round his head. Why should they be drawn like that? They are represented as boys or youths, because they never grow old, but are everlastingly young, and are immortal. The wings signify that the angels are swift as thought, and fulfil God’s commands quickly and willingly. The harps are to remind us that the angels ceaselessly sing God’s praises. The lily signifies their purity, and the glory, their heavenly splendour. Very often angels are pictured as children’s heads without bodies, to signify that they have understanding and free-will, but that they are spirits without bodies.

God is good. Of His love God created the angels, and loaded them with natural and supernatural gifts.

God is just. God’s justice is manifested by the punishment of the bad angels and the reward of the good. How did God punish the bad angels? For how long must they remain in hell? For ever and ever! They must suffer everlasting torments! They are rejected by God and are banished from Him for ever and ever! They hardened themselves against Him, therefore repentance was impossible. “God spared not the angels that sinned: but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments to be reserved unto judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4).

The evil of mortal sin. God punishes us according to our deserts: He never punishes us too severely. If, therefore, He condemned the fallen angels to the eternal torments of hell, we can see what a terrible evil sin is in His sight. One single mortal sin deserves everlasting punishment.

The consequences of sin. Just think what befell the angels through sin! Before their fall they were the friends and beloved of God, most beautiful, most holy, full of the love of what is good, and rich in their happiness and glory. But since their fall they have been enemies of God, horrible, hideous, and eternally miserable devils! Who, after contemplating this ruin caused by sin, could possibly think that sin, and especially mortal sin, is a trifle which God will not deal with severely? No! mortal sin, far from being a trifle, is the greatest of all evils. It changed angels into devils, and cast them into hell!

Pride. What was the cause of the fallen angels’ disobedience? Instead of giving glory to God, from whom they had received all things, they became proud of their great gifts, and, with their leader, said: “We will ascend above the heights of the clouds, we will be like the Most High” (Is. 14:14). Therefore, Holy Scripture says: “Pride is the beginning of all sin” (Ecclus. 10:15).

Happiness of the Angels. Almighty God richly rewarded those angels who remained faithful. They gaze upon Him face to face, they rejoice unceasingly in His infinite beauty and majesty, and are thereby made inexpressibly happy. They have lived in this state of rapture for thousands of years, and will do so for all eternity. It is thus that God rewards those who are faithful to Him, and overcome evil.

The number of the Angels created by God is inconceivably great. The prophet Daniel saw them in spirit, and wrote thus: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him (i. e. to God), and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him” (Dan. 7:10). The prophet means by these words that the angels cannot be counted. And as the stars in heaven vary in size and splendour, so are there differences of degree among the holy angels. They are divided into nine choirs, according to each one’s degree of wisdom, power and glory. These are, beginning with the lowest: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim.

Probation of the Angels. The angels are by their nature like to God, being highly gifted and pure spirits. To these natural gifts God added the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace, by means of which they became sons of God, thoroughly holy, and wonderfully beautiful. Their state was, even at first, one of great happiness; but by faithfulness in the service of God they were capable of winning for themselves an eternal happiness in the beatific vision of God. God will not have any forced service; so He gave to the angels the gift of free-will, by which they were at liberty to choose between good and evil, and could freely side either with God or against Him. When the decisive moment came, a portion of the angels made a bad use of their freedom, rebelled against God, lost sanctifying grace, and were cast into hell, their wills having become perverted and bad. But the good angels, who stood the test, were admitted into the immediate presence of God, and were confirmed for ever in supernatural happiness.

APPLICATION. God is just and punishes sin. How is it, then, that you think so little of sinning and offending God? You are still young, but you have committed many sins, and have deserved punishment at God’s hands. Repent, therefore, of your sins, ask pardon of God, and never say again to yourself: “It is only a trifle!” It never could be a trifle to intentionally offend the great, holy and just God! Resolve, then, most firmly never again to sin wilfully. If you are ever tempted to commit a mortal sin, think of the fallen angels and their eternal torment. Die rather than commit a mortal sin! Fear the just God, and keep His commandments faithfully.

The fall of the bad angels should be a warning to you, and the faithfulness of the good angels should be an encouragement to you. If you are disobedient to God, and do not observe His laws, and if you think lightly of sin, you will some day join the lost spirits in hell. But if you are faithful in the service of God, and guard against sin as much as you can, you will some day join the angels in their everlasting happiness. Which of the two have you imitated hitherto, the good or the bad angels?

Above all things guard against pride; it is, as Holy Scripture says, hateful before God and men (Ecclus. 10:7). Do not be conceited or vain about your clothes, or your appearance, or your knowledge, or your parents’ position, but give glory to God in all things; for you have received everything from Him. The more God has given you, the more you should thank Him. Drive away all vain thoughts, and say very often: “Every good gift comes from Thee, O God; I thank Thee for all that I am and for all that I have!”








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