by Luis Marujo
The subject of angels has always fascinated mankind.
In its more conventional understanding, that of angels as messengers of God (or gods), it is present in a vast number of cultures and different faiths of the past.
The concept of angels as is understood today – spiritual being, ordered to perform certain tasks in both the physical and the spiritual word, a guardian assigned to each person – started in Judaism, the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, some 4000 years ago.
The Torah (a part of the Jewish Holy Book, the Tanach) known to Christians as the Pentateuch, the 5 books written by Moses, refers to beings that bring special messages from God and calls them mal’ak elohim – messengers of God – or mal’ak YHWH, messenger of the Lord.
The prophet Daniel is the first biblical figure to start shedding a little light on the matter, by naming two of those spiritual beings that he saw in his apocalyptic visions: Gabriel, the primary messenger of God, and Michael, the holy warrior of the Lord.
The term ‘Angel’ does not refer to the nature of this entity (spiritual) but to its occupation, that of messenger. The term comes from the Greek word ‘aggelos’, which means messenger or to deliver a message.
In Hebrew the suffix ‘EL’ refers to God, hence each angel is named in reference to his relation to the divine: Gabriel meaning “God is my strength” and Michael meaning “Who is like God,” describing the battle cry uttered by this archangel when war erupted in Heaven between the angels that stayed faithful to God and those who rebelled against Him.
Raphael is later mentioned in the Book of Tobit, one of the books of the Bible, identifying himself and also making the revelation that he is one of the 7 angels that are in the presence of God.
A fourth angel is named in the Talmud, the central text of Rabbinic Judaism, and is given the name Uriel. It is not mentioned in the Bible.
All angels are ranked in a hierarchy. The Jewish faith announces 10 ranks, while the Christian faith only recognizes 9.
Finally, the Kabbalah, a set of Jewish esoteric teachings, gives free rein to the description of angels at length and it is from here that the present supernatural concept of angels as spiritual guides that anyone can connect to originated from.
Having taken root in people’s spirituality, the subject quickly spread to the various branches of human creative skills: crafts, music, literature, and in all possible expression of arts, TV shows and movies.
It is a recurrent theme in various genres of literature, with Sci-Fi\Fantasy being the most significant, and has also a predominant place in the imaginary world of comic books.
Here things become more interesting. In these specific intellectual expressions of man’s imagination, angelic holiness is a non-existent faculty. As is common where human genius is at work, the boundaries between angels and demons (corrupted and fallen angels) are virtually deleted and fused: angels and demons act in a similar manner. In fact, in movies or books where they are depicted, Gabriel or Michael perform most unholy actions, to the extent of torturing or killing human beings in order to accomplish their goals. They act with arrogance, malice, pettiness and sometimes even hatred. Such of course is not the nature of the angelic host but rather that of their fallen brothers, the demons, which, by rebelling against God, lost all their grace and holiness, by their deliberate choice of opposing the Creator, and revel only in hatred, fury and violence.
Let us single out an illustrative example. The Prophecy, probably the most iconic movie about such celestial affairs, follows the premise of a war between angels in order to protect the survival of the human race on earth. Here, Gabriel rips the heart of another angel, has his own heart ripped by Lucifer, and in general violence amongst them is not minced but executed swiftly.
In the movie and its sequels an array of strange faculties are given to angels that defy the knowledge of angelic capabilities known in orthodoxy, such as being able to resurrect and command the dead, to impart a disembodied soul in a living human being, to destitute another angel of his spiritual nature and turn him into a normal human. Literary license at its best… The possibilities of different stories, faculties and powers that angels may be endowed with in such scripts is near infinite, being only confined by human imagination.
What we know of the angelic nature is that it is unchangeable. After the great test which all the angelic host was subjected to, that of following God’s command or rebel against it, the angels’ choice is never to be changed again. That was an informed decision: for when an angel decides, his choice is permanent. He has perfect knowledge of the consequences of his choice, and therefore he cannot have regret over it nor will he ever pursue a different path from the one he chose. It is irrevocable and it will be everlasting. Hence, an angel will always keep his angelic and holy nature, if he chose to abide by God’s law and will never behave in opposition to it, which means he cannot corrupt his nature and become a demon after his choice has been made. To have angels behave in an unholy manner is just an impossibility!
Much could still be said about the behaviour of these spiritual beings as they are depicted in the multitude of stories present in the visual arts, but if one has to summarise in a single phrase, it comes to this: angels behave too much in a human manner. Their actions, passions, reactions, thoughts, reasoning, machinations and demeanour entirely resemble that of man. In fact, except for the prowess and powers assigned to them, across the spectrum of movies, TV shows, books and comics, angels seem to differ in no way from men in all but their capabilities.
There is a likely reason for this: Man needs to humanize what is superior to him and hence justify his own fallen nature. By depriving angelic nature of its holiness and bestow upon it human traits, he conveys the message that there is no need to pursue what is holy, no sacrifice needed for the betterment of self nor to strive for a behaviour that conforms to divine law. After all, if angels can fall, how could man do better?
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