Virtues and thrones and dominions! Oh my!

January 31, 2012

Sometimes contributor to Whosoever Desires, Paddy Gilger, S.J., is behind a new Jesuit online venture, a new page called The Jesuit Post.  Yours truly has an article on the page, in which readers of Whosever Desires might be interested.  Here’s how it begins:

If you listened carefully to the new edition of the Roman Missal rolled out this Advent, you might remember hearing mention of a strange menagerie of heavenly creatures.

The Advent Prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer—the part that begins “It is truly right and just” and ends with us all singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”—invoke the songs of Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominions, and Powers; other Prefaces throughout the year throw in Virtues and Seraphim for good measure.  But what exactly are all these heavenly gizmos the priest is inviting us to join in acclamation?

It is perhaps best to start by pointing out that in this context, thrones are not chairs sat upon by kings; dominions are not regal estates; and virtues have nothing to do with the established habits of decent human beings.  All of these words refer to types of angels mentioned in Sacred Scripture.

Now I am no expert in either angelology – though I do like saying the word – or Biblical studies, but you don’t have to be a specialist to notice how thoroughly permeated with spiritual beings the world of the Bible is.  We tend to gloss over mention of the heavenly hierarchies these days, not talking about them much because of how foreign the notion of angels is to our own worldview.  And we don’t talk about thrones and dominions because, well, we don’t even know how to talk about them.

To continue, check out The Jesuit Post

On Angels and Sleep

October 2, 2009


Angel of GideonSeeing as there was at least a little interest in my first post on angelology, I thought that the feast of the Guardian Angels would be a fitting time to draw attention to one of Karl Rahner’s quirkier essays: ‘A Spiritual Dialogue at Evening: On Sleep, Prayer, and Other Subjects.”  The essay is quirky both because of its genre (an imagined dialogue between Rahner and a physician who is strangely tolerant of dense theological prose and periodic sentences) and because of its subject matter (a theology of sleep).  At any rate, Rahner here nuances the traditional understanding of angels as “pure spirits.”  He grants that they are not as definitely related to matter as the human spirit is, but, nonetheless, holds for the position–developed at greater length elsewhere–that angels bear some proper relation to the material world.

If so, Rahner muses, then perhaps our surrender to sleep and to the realm of the unconscious opens us to the influence of both angels and demons. Read the rest of this entry »

The Angels as a Political Problem

September 29, 2009


The Feast of the Archangels always makes me—and others, I suspect—acutely aware of the divide between contemporary and ancient religious sensibilities. Angels—once as present in Christendom’s social imaginary as microbes in our own—no longer loom large. Perhaps mothers still say the “Angel of God” prayer with their children before bed (as my own mother did with me), but such devotions usually do not outlive Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

The ostensible explanation of our disenchantment with the angels points to technological progress. Read the rest of this entry »