The Reason They Exist
A question worth asking is, “Why do angels exist at all?” I mean, we know why humans exist–so that God’s goodness could be demonstrated and so that we could share in God’s happiness, both in this life and in heaven. We know why animals exist–to provide companionship for mankind and (after the Flood) to provide food for man.
But why do angels exist?
I can think of a few explanations, but I’ll save the best one for last. For starters, it could be the same reason that humans exist: to be happy in a life with God, the source of all beatitude. Or it could be that God, using “foresight”, if you will, and knowing that man would fail the temptation and commit sin, decided to create a higher order of rational creatures in advance, to serve as helpers whenever humans need them. Or perhaps it could simply be God’s way of showing His power. But really, all except the first of these explanations fall short to some degree.
If I had to guess, I would give the following explanation:
There are two “orders” in creation, the spiritual and the physical. This is obvious. There are purely spiritual entities (angels and God), purely physical entities (the earth, non-rational animals), and entities comprised of both the spiritual and the physical (humans). Does there not seem to be some structure here? Look at the order of things:
- First God creates the spiritual (angels)
- Then God creates the physical (the earth and the animals)
- Then, finally, God makes a creature having properties of both (man)
So could it be that, with those two “orders”, it is most logical that there be each one alone and then the two joined together? The Incarnation of Our Lord mirrors this same concept: first there is God, then there is man, and then with the Incarnation those two things are joined: God becomes man and man is given the chance to become (to an extent) like God. I wonder if that’s an order God works in purposefully: first the greater, then the lesser, then both joined. But of course, the very first explanation I gave also works: in creating the angels, God knew they would be happy living with Him.
The Angels Who Sinned
This is perhaps the most interesting part of angelic study. I must begin by making sure two points are clear: first, the angels who sinned (“demons”) are just as much angels as those who did not; second, demons are not red guys with tails, horns, and pitchforks. That second statement might seem like a joke, and it is, mostly, but it’s worth pointing out. The depiction of demons you commonly see is not what they’re like at all.
The Sin and the Motive
Now, we know that the fallen angels, as creatures of God, were created “good”. We know that they were tempted and sinned. So, what motivated them to sin? The answer is not a very clear one. We know only that it was a sin of pride, of “rejection of God and His reign” (CCC 392). It’s commonly theorized that the angels who sinned–Satan especially–desired to be like God. This is implied in Isaiah 14:12-14 (Douay-Rheims translation), speaking of Satan before his fall:
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? How art thou fallen to the earth, that did wound the nations? And thou saidst in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.
It would make a lot of sense that this was the angelic sin, because look at what Satan says to Eve when he gives temptation to her: “You will be as God” (Gen. 3:5). It’s quite likely that he had said that to himself first.
The question, however, is not only “What tempted the angels to sin?”, but also, “What could have possibly made them go through with it?” As I said previously, they don’t have emotions to cloud their vision and they knew entirely what they were doing, knowing as well that forgiveness would be unattainable.
St. Thomas Aquinas posits something interesting regarding the motives of Satan’s sin, which, despite not answering the question of what the motive was, gives some form of direction. Lucifer was the highest of the angels, such that Pope Gregory I said he “wore all the angels as a garment, transcending all in glory and knowledge” (qtd. in What About God?, G. Creighton Bradshaw). Now, this being the case, Thomas Aquinas says that “the motive for sinning existed more in the higher angels than in the lower. For, as has been said, the demon’s sin was pride: and the motive of pride is excellence, which is greater in the higher spirits” (Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Quaestio LXIII, Articulus VII, Corpus). Then, going on to the fall of the other demons, he says, “The sin of the highest angel was the cause of the others sinning: not as [forcing] them, but as inducing them by a kind of exhortation, [which appears from the fact that] all the demons are subjects of that highest one” (Quaestio LXIII, Articulus VIII, Corpus).
Unfortunately, insightful as that may be, it doesn’t answer what the motive was very clearly. If you’ve read the revelations to St. Bridget of Sweden, which may or may not be officially approved by the Church, there was one interesting part I remember reading, which may provide an answer (though of course, I would caution you not to dogmatize this; we really just don’t know). Anyway, at one point in these revelations St. Bridget received, Satan was speaking to Our Lord and said the reason he sinned was this: he knew that if he sinned, God would suffer and die (i.e., the cross). That actually makes sense, but the problem I have with that is, did Satan not realize that the death of God would be his [Satan’s] undoing? Seems very counter-intuitive. But then, sin isn’t rational, is it? I suppose if Satan truly hates God, then His death would be the best victory Satan could achieve.
Still others have said that perhaps the angels were shown the fact that God the Son would become man, thus taking a nature lower in dignity than theirs, and having to adore God incarnate wounded their pride. Finally, others have said the angels were shown the Blessed Mother and the fact that she, a mere human, would be the greatest creature, and this fact supposedly was an occasion of pride. But in the end, we can only speculate. Each position has its talking points.
And so Part 2 is concluded. Part 3 (yes, I know this keeps being extended…) will go into demonic ability.
May the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity keep you in His graces. Thanks for reading.