Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Can my guardian angel read my mind?

October 2nd, Feast of the Guardian Angels
For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways (Psalm 90:11)
“From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’ Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.” (CCC 336)
A plethora of questions may well be asked about guardian angels. We have attempted to discuss some of these in a previous article [here].
However, we did neglect to answer one question which is probably most common: Can my guardian angel (or any angel, for that matter) know the secret thoughts of my soul? Does my angel know everything I am thinking? Co-relatively, Does Satan or any of the demons know all that passes within my soul?
Our answer will be derived mostly from the Angelic Thomas, Summa Theologica I, q.57 [here] and q.111 [here].

How do angels know what happens on earth?
All that angels know they know not through sense experience, but through intelligible species infused upon their souls. This is the natural mode of knowing, which perfectly accords with the powers of their soul.
When a man is lead to know in this manner, it usually results in an ecstasy whereby his senses are suspended and the mysteries of the faith are infused upon his soul in a most marvelous manner. In the highest form, these revelations are not even visions (properly so-called) for they have no place in the imagination and therefore do not use any images, but they are purely intellectual. Such intellectual “visions” greatly shocked even the greatest mystics, like St. Teresa of Avila.
However, this is the natural mode of angelic knowledge. Their knowledge is deeply interior, and highly intellectual (rather than relying on images presented through the imagination).
Do angels know the future?
Contrary to popular belief, angels do not know the future. At least, they are not able to know the future in any way essential greater than that by which any man may “know” the future.
Indeed, the future may be known in two ways: Either by projection from the present causes, or in itself. Now, both angels and men can know the future from a consideration of present causes. Indeed, if a necessary cause (a cause which will necessarily bring about a certain effect, that is) is known, then the future will be known with certainty. However, most things relating to the future are not necessary, and thus the angels can only make some projection and estimation about what the future will hold.
Indeed, the angels know things in a much higher and more intellectual way than do men, and they are far more intelligent than men, therefore they can make a much better prediction about the future than can men. However, they do not know the future in itself, nor do they “see” the future, but they are only able to make certain judgments about the future from those present realities which they know.
God alone knows the future in itself, for he alone is outside of all time and motion. He alone is the universal and primary cause of all – thus, he knows the future not only as “seeing” it, but as its cause. Because there can be only one first cause and first mover (himself uncaused and unmoved), God alone can know the future perfectly and in itself.
Do angels know what is in my imagination?
Angels most certainly are able to know what passes in the imagination of man. The imagination is not the same as the mind itself. In fact, if we consider that our soul is like a certain “interior castle” we may say that the imagination is on the very edge of the castle, while the intellect is nearest to the center. Thus, the imagination is much more easily known than are the intellectual thoughts of man.
As the imagination is highly sensitive (relying upon the exterior senses of the body) and not so purely intellectual, it is much more open to the influence of the angels. As an angel can move a physical body, so too he can know many of the images and words that pass through our imagination. In fact, the angels can cause certain images and words to come forward in our imagination – calling to mind certain memories, and even re-presenting the sensations previously felt.
Thus it is that St. Teresa of Avila often warns that many imaginative visions (and also locutions) could perhaps be the work not of God, but of the devil. Indeed, she tells us that Satan can make us imagine all sorts of things during our prayer – notably, he can make us imagine that we have a great love of God, but the only proof of this love is if we live charitably in the concrete circumstances of our vocation.
Because the imagination and all that passes through the imagination is so tied to the corporal sense of the body, your guardian angel can know (and, indeed, probably does know) what “pictures” and “sounds” are passing in your soul at any given moment.
Do angels know my secret thoughts?
That being said, we recall that the intellect is distinct from the imagination. While an image of Christ Crucified is present to the imagination, the intellect may be thinking various and diverse things – one many thinks, “Behold, my God who loves me so!”, while another thinks, “He should have saved himself!”, or another does not recognize what the image means for he has never been instructed in the Gospel.
Hence, while the angels (both the guardians and even the evil spirits, insofar as God permits) are able to know the human imagination, it does not follow that they know the intellect or the secret thoughts of the soul.
Here, we will give the concise answer of the Angelic Doctor (ST I, q.57, a.4 [here]):
A secret thought can be known in two ways: first, in its effect. In this way it can be known not only by an angel, but also by man; and with so much the greater subtlety according as the effect is the more hidden. For thought is sometimes discovered not merely by outward act, but also by change of countenance; and doctors can tell some passions of the soul by the mere pulse. Much more then can angels, or even demons, the more deeply they penetrate those occult bodily modifications. Hence Augustine says (De divin. daemon.) that demons "sometimes with the greatest faculty learn man's dispositions, not only when expressed by speech, but even when conceived in thought, when the soul expresses them by certain signs in the body"; although (Retract. ii, 30) he says "it cannot be asserted how this is done."
In another way thoughts can be known as they are in the mind, and affections as they are in the will: and thus God alone can know the thoughts of hearts and affections of wills. The reason of this is, because the rational creature is subject to God only, and He alone can work in it Who is its principal object and last end: this will be developed later (63, 1; 105, 5). Consequently all that is in the will, and all things that depend only on the will, are known to God alone. Now it is evident that it depends entirely on the will for anyone actually to consider anything; because a man who has a habit of knowledge, or any intelligible species, uses them at will. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 2:11): "For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him?"
Do angels hear men’s prayers?
Just like all the saints, angel guardians most certainly hear all those prayers which are offer to them with love and devotion. Whether spoken audibly, or only interiorly thought, God knows them and he will always grant that the angel will know them too.

[And, in case anyone is wondering: No, you should not attempt to name your guardian angel! (here)]

Angels of God, our dear Guardians, Pray for us!


Anonymous said...

Does Christ know the whole future in his human mind?


Jessica said...

Thank you for this wonderful post, but a question still remains for me regarding angelic knowledge of the future. Isn't it true that the angels already possess the Beatific Vision, and therefore, in some sense are already operating in eternity? But there is no time from the vantage point of eternity, but only pure presence. So wouldn't this mean that their vision of God would include the vision of the future seen in God? Or is something else operating with guardian angels that is not true for the other angels? Am I wrong in thinking that the guardian angels have the immediate vision of God?

Bobby Bambino said...

Hi Father.

Thank you so much for this. A friend of mine posed a question. While our guardian angels don't have direct access to our intellect, may we give them permission to have access to our intellect at certain times or for all time? The reason one might want to do this is so that our guardian angel is aware when we are using our intellect for something foolish. God love you.

Howard said...

One human can often get a pretty good idea of what another is thinking by watching things like facial expressions, flushing, context, etc. For most circumstances, similar clues should be enough for angels to "read" us pretty well.

But can they go farther? It does not seem too much to suppose that their observations are at least as detailed as those used by a polygraph or even a functional MRI. It seems unlikely to me that they would be inherently unable to read any thought that is formed in the brain, just as another human can detect any thought that is spoken aloud. Deeper thoughts, which exist in the soul but not the brain, are a different matter.

After all, demonic possession is a real phenomenon, and it presumably involves a direct connection to the brain. Maybe in the same way demons are not usually allowed to possess people, they are not usually able to read their brains?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ryan, I am edified by all the posts here! Thank you so much.

Please forgive the off topic question. Is is ok for a layman to do binding prayers for his family privately?

thank you for all your good work, Augustine.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Thanks for including that warning in red. In the 1980s in So. Maine, I knew of some seemingly orthodox Traditionalists who became involved with this process of pretending to identify and name one's Guardian Angel.

Because it was such an obvious novelty, I stayed away from that like a politician avoids truth.

Welcome back

Anonymous said...

thanks Father!

Thomas1 said...

I'm glad you're back to blogging, I missed these NTM posts!
I have a few questions regarding the Angels:
1--Is it theological opinion or difinitive teaching that the Angels exist within time? And if so, what kind of time exactly would an Angel experience to begin with?
2--Do Saints and Angels have the same knowledge once in heaven?
3--Do Angels have knowledge of the entire world, or do they only have specific concerns. For instance, does my Guardian Angel know the details of something going on in Europe?
4-- If Angels have the beatific vision, the sight of God, can they be ignorant?
Thanks very much!

Clinton R. said...

Thank you for this, Father. Great to have your blog back! I love your Thomistic teachings. God Bless!

Howard said...

I assume that the reason we are not supposed to try to "name" our guardian angels is that we are not to try to engage in conversation with them, something we might feel more inclined to do if we gave them names. Ask them to pray for us and defend us from the Devil, sure; thank them, absolutely; but not to try to have a question-and-answer type sessions along the lines of what foolish people do with Ouija boards.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,
Thank you for your wonderful blog.
I prayed feverently a while ago to be permitted to know my guardian angel's name, and asked that if it was to be revealed to me, that it be done in a way that there would be no question that it was not my imagination. Awaking the next morning, while I was saying the Angelus, a name made it's way loudly to the center of my consciousness and I have believed since that I was given my guardian angel's name.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, I am confused about the imagination and secret thoughts. The angel is able to know our imagination but not secret thoughts. The imagination can be "picture" or "sound", such as a photo we saw before or a music or a phrase we listened before. These can be known by the angel.

How is it the secret thoughts? Is it similar to our "subconsciousness" which even ourselves not aware of? Or is it similar to the subvocalization that we used in our internal prayer or internal thinking? If it is subvocalization, then how is it different from imagination since imagination may also be a "sound". For example, I said a prayer in my heart, then recall some phrase from the bible.

Bobby Bambino said...


Fr Ryan addresses your question about whether or not Christ had limitations in his human mind here

Anonymous said...

Hullo Father, I always thought that God Often reveals to our guardian Angels the secret thoughts of our hearts; so they can better do their job like He did with some saints. For example, Padre Pio? Andrew

Julia said...

Thank you Father! Wonderful post. I have a question regarding guardian angels. Is it possible to have a vision of your guardian angel while praying the rosary? I believe I saw mine during the first glorious mystery, but want to know if that's possible.

musica nueva said...

Thanks father , He really take cares of us

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