Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Saint Thomas on the Guardian Angels

In honor of today’s feastday of the Guardian Angels, it seems highly fitting to share some excerpts from the Angelic Doctor’s treatment of “The Guardianship of the Good Angels” (Summa theologiae, Prima Pars, Question 113). The the whole question, which consists of eight articles, may be found here.
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It is written (Ps. 90:11): “He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” According to the plan of Divine Providence, we find that in all things the movable and variable are moved and regulated by the immovable and invariable; as all bodily things by immovable spiritual substances . . . It is manifest, moreover, that as regards things to be done, human knowledge and affection can vary and fail from good in many ways; and so it was necessary that angels should be deputed for the guardianship of men, in order to regulate them and move them to good.

By free-will man can avoid evil to a certain degree, but not in any sufficient degree; forasmuch as he is weak in affection towards good on account of the manifold passions of the soul. Likewise universal natural knowledge of the law, which by nature belongs to man, to a certain degree directs man to good, but not in a sufficient degree; because in the application of the universal principles of law to particular actions man happens to be deficient in many ways. Hence it is written (Wis. 9:14): “The thoughts of mortal men are fearful, and our counsels uncertain.” Thus man needs to be guarded by the angels.

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On the text, “Their angels in heaven,” etc. (Mt. 8:10), Jerome says: “Great is the dignity of souls, for each one to have an angel deputed to guard it from its birth.”

Man is guarded in two ways; in one way by particular guardianship, according as to each man an angel is appointed to guard him; and such guardianship belongs to the lowest order of the angels, whose place it is, according to Gregory, to announce the “lesser things”; for it seems to be the least of the angelic offices to procure what concerns the salvation of only one man. The other kind of guardianship is universal, multiplied according to the different orders. For the more universal an agent is, the higher it is. Thus the guardianship of the human race belongs to the order of Principalities, or perhaps to the Archangels, whom we call the angel princes. Hence, Michael, whom we call an archangel, is also styled “one of the princes” (Dan. 10:13). Moreover all corporeal creatures are guarded by the Virtues; and likewise the demons by the Powers, and the good spirits by the Principalities, according to Gregory’s opinion (Hom. xxxiv in Ev.).

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Man while in this state of life, is, as it were, on a road by which he should journey towards heaven. On this road man is threatened by many dangers both from within and from without, according to Ps. 159:4: “In this way wherein I walked, they have hidden a snare for me.” And therefore as guardians are appointed for men who have to pass by an unsafe road, so an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives at the end of life he no longer has a guardian angel; but in the kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him, in hell a demon to punish him.

Christ as man was guided immediately by the Word of God: wherefore He needed not be guarded by an angel. Again as regards His soul, He was a comprehensor, although in regard to His passible body, He was a wayfarer. In this latter respect it was right that He should have not a guardian angel as superior to Him, but a ministering angel as inferior to Him. Whence it is written (Mt. 4:11) that “angels came and ministered to Him.”

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As Origen observes, there are two opinions on this matter [of when a man receives his guardian angel]. For some have held that the angel guardian is appointed at the time of baptism, others, that he is appointed at the time of birth. The latter opinion Jerome approves, and with reason. For those benefits which are conferred by God on man as a Christian, begin with his baptism; such as receiving the Eucharist, and the like. But those which are conferred by God on man as a rational being, are bestowed on him at his birth, for then it is that he receives that nature. Among the latter benefits we must count the guardianship of angels. Wherefore from the very moment of his birth man has an angel guardian appointed to him.

As long as the child is in the mother’s womb it is not entirely separate, but by reason of a certain intimate tie, is still part of her: just as the fruit while hanging on the tree is part of the tree. And therefore it can be said with some degree of probability, that the angel who guards the mother guards the child while in the womb. But at its birth, when it becomes separate from the mother, an angel guardian is appointed to it; as Jerome, above quoted, says.

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The demons are ever assailing us, according to 1 Pt. 5:8: “Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour.” Much more therefore do the good angels ever guard us. 

The guardianship of the angels is an effect of Divine Providence in regard to man. Now it is evident that neither man, nor anything at all, is entirely withdrawn from the providence of God: for in as far as a thing participates in being, so far is it subject to the providence that extends over all being. God indeed is said to forsake man, according to the ordering of His providence, but only in so far as He allows man to suffer some defect of punishment or of fault. In like manner it must be said that the angel guardian never forsakes a man entirely, but sometimes he leaves him in some particular, for instance by not preventing him from being subject to some trouble, or even from falling into sin, according to the ordering of divine judgments. In this sense Babylon and the House of Israel are said to have been forsaken by the angels, because their angel guardians did not prevent them from being subject to tribulation.

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