|The Archangels: Jegudiel, Gabriel, Selaphiel, Michael, Uriel, Raphael, Barachiel|
Beneath: The Cherubim (blue) and Seraphim (red)
The Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels
As today is the feast of three of the holy archangels and Saturday will be the feast of all the guardian angels, I would like to make a short series of posts on the angels.
Much of what I write in the posts over the next few days will be heavily rooted in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas – this seems particularly fitting, since he is called the Angelic Doctor. I would recommend that we all re-read his treatise on angles from the Summa Theologica I, qq.50-64, and also his discussion of the way in which the angels participate in the divine governance of the world which can be found in ST I, qq.106-114. The first of these sections discusses the angels more generally – their nature, their mode of knowing, their will, and their creation and fall. The second section deals with their relation to each other and to humanity.
ST I, qq.50-64 will answer the following questions and many more: How many angels are there? How many angels can stand on the head of a pin? Can an angel be in two places at the same time? Can an angel be in any place at all (since they are immaterial)? How do angels know things if they do not have sense experiences? Were the angels created good? How did some of the angels fall? Was Satan the greatest of the angels, before he fell?
ST I, qq.106-114 answers these and other questions: Do the angels speak to one another? Is there a hierarchy of angels? Do some angels command other angels? Do seraphim ever come to earth? Does each human being have a guardian angel? Did Christ have a guardian angel? Will the anti-Christ (presuming he is human) have a guardian angel?
I will attempt to answer some of these questions in future posts, but for now (to get the ball rolling) I would like to take a slightly lighter question: Why do the archangels have men’s names?
Michael is not a man, but he is pictured as a man
To understand the question, we must first admit that Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are not men. They are not even male angels. Angels cannot be male or female. As pure spirits, they are each fully realized beings of their own proper nature – this means that each and every angel is a separate species from the rest. Because angels are not limited by matter (they are completely immaterial and have no bodies), they have no gender. Being either male or female would mean that an angel was only half of its perfect nature (just as humanity is not fully realized without both man and woman together). But each angel is perfect, and therefore no angel is either male or female.
Nevertheless, the name Michael is a masculine name, it is a man’s name. In Christian art, the archangels are always pictured as men. In the Scriptures the masculine third person pronoun is used, “he.” While it is true that both the Hebrew (mal’akh) and the Greek (angelos) for “angel” are masculine, I think that the masculine naming and male personification of angels is more than a matter of grammatical agreement.
Why angels appear as men
There are any number of reasons why an angel might appear as male, even though angels do not really have any gender. Some reasons have been offered a few years back by Jimmy Akin, I will offer some others and some of the same [I offer these in the order which seems most logical to my own mode of thought].
1) Though it is politically incorrect to say it these days – and more importantly, it is in fact inaccurate – it was the common assumption of many that reason is less vigorous in women than in men. Therefore, as the angels are far more intelligent than men and, as it was thought, men are more intelligent than women, it would be more fitting for an angel to appear as a man than as a woman.
2) While St. Thomas strongly emphasizes that man and woman are both the image of God, as both are rational, he also admits that, in a secondary sense, man is more the image of God than woman – for just as man comes from God and returns to God, so too woman comes from man (having been created from his side) and returns to man (through married life). This is not nearly so sexist as some might think; in fact, St. Thomas is appealing to Sacred Scripture (1 Cor 11:7-11, a passage which refers both to the relation between men and women and to the angels). Thus, as angels (being pure spirits) are more like unto God than are human beings, so too men (in a secondary sense) are more like God than women – Man is the image and the glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. Thus, angels are depicted as men instead of women.
3) Angels govern human beings out of love for them; and, in a well ordered society, the man is the head of his wife and loves her as Christ loved his Church (Eph 5:25). Thus, on account of their authority and love, angels are depicted as men rather than women.
4) Angels are very powerful. Men are usually stronger than women. Thus, angels are depicted as men. Connected to this, angels are warriors and soldiers – occupations more fitting for men than women.
5) Angels are the messengers of God. In the ancient Hebrew world, only men fulfilled this duty.
6) Finally, angels are connected with worship (offering incense, singing hymns, etc.). Worship is a priestly act. This act is expressed in a particular way by the ordained priesthood which, in both the Old and the New Law, is restricted to men. Therefore, angles are depicted as men rather than women.
In addition to these, I am sure there are many other reasons as well. Perhaps more can be added in the comment box!