Creation and the Angels

Author: Rev. William G. Most


To create is to make things out of nothing, with no material at all being used. We cannot ask: why did God wait so long before creating the world, because before creation, there is no time. Time is a measure of change on a scale of before and after (Aristotle, Physics 4:11). Therefore when--if we may use that word at all in speaking of eternity--there was no change, there was no time. Time began to be when changing creatures came into being. Time is a restless continuous set of changes. Ahead is a moment we call future--it quickly changes into present--then quickly changes into past.

God could have created an everlasting world, without beginning or end. But he chose to create a world with a beginning--a time "before" which there was nothing. Genesis 1:1 tells us, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." And Christ told His Father :"You loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).

Why did God create? The purpose of the created world is tied up with the purpose of man. St. Irenaeus wrote: "In the beginning God formed Adam, not because He was in need of humans, but so He might have someone to receive His benefits" (Against Heresies 4. 14. 1). So we can say He always loved us, since He always willed us the most basic good, existence. Beyond that, He wills that, "all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). If to will good to another is to love, then this is really love. But when we love, we need a starter, we need to see something good or fine in another. But God loved us when we did not exist.

When we say that He created for His own glory, we must understand these words the way Vatican I meant them: He made a creature that by its very nature would give glory to God, even though God gains nothing by that glory. (We read this in the acts and decrees of Vatican I, found in Collectio Lacensis , VII. 116). Similarly, He wants us to obey because all goodness says creatures should obey their Creator, and because as St. Irenaeus said, He wanted to have someone to whom to be generous in infinite goodness--but we must cooperate to receive his gifts.

God keeps all things in existence by the same power by which He brought them up out of nothing. "And how could anything continue in being if you did not will it?" (Wisdom 11:25). Our dependence on Him for continued existence is like that of the images on the movie screen on the projector.

Angels, Good and Bad

An angel is a pure spirit, that is, an angel has no matter, no body. Each angel is a person, and has a mind and a will like ours, but angels are of a nature higher than ours. They are often sent by God for certain duties on this earth, in fact, the word angel means "one who is sent" or "messenger." The oldest references to angels in the Old Testament might leave us wondering if angels are separate beings--or does the phrase "messenger of God" merely mean God? (cf. Judges, chapter 6). But in the later part of the Old Testament and in the New Testament it becomes entirely clear that they are distinct creatures. We see this by many references to them in Scripture, e.g., Psalms 148:2; 103: 20-21; Matthew 22:30; Luke 1:26; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation/Apocalypse 5:11.

The angels were not created in heaven, that is, with the vision of God. If they had had that, sin would have been impossible. But God gave the angels some sort of command--we do not know what--and some obeyed, some did not. Those who disobeyed were fixed in evil, and became devils. When we sin, our intelligence is limited by the material part of our intellect, the brain in our heads. For a material brain is much less powerful than the spiritual intelligence our souls have. This means that we seldom see things as fully as possible at once. But an angel has no such limit, and hence sees everything as fully as possible at once. So he cannot go back on his decision, and say: "I see it differently now; I wish I had not done that".

The fallen angels, the devils, still keep the great powers natural to a pure spirit. So they can do things that seem like miracles to us.

The good angels are sent to guide and protect us. They too have great powers. Each of us has a guardian angel. This is implied in Scripture and is found in the constant Tradition of the Church. After Peter was delivered from prison by angel, the disciples said in astonishment: "It was his angel" (Acts 12:15).

Our guardian angels are able to put good thoughts into our minds, and to protect us. Psalm 91:11 says: "He will command His angels about you, to guard you in all your ways." In time of temptation they can give us both light and strength. They never stop praying for us, and they present our prayers before God.

Clearly, it is only good sense to venerate our guardian angel, to cultivate their friendship, to thank them, to ask their help. So God said in Exodus 23:20-21: "Behold, I am sending an angel ahead of you, to guard you and bring you to the place I have prepared. Listen to his voice, and do not rebel against him, for my name is in Him, and he will not forgive."

Because of their disobedience, the wicked angels were condemned to eternal punishment. St. Peter, using poetic language, says: "When the angels sinned, God did not spare them, but consigned them to the pit of hell to be kept for the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).

As we said, the will of the devil is fixed in evil, and so he tries to seduce people, to harm them spiritually, and even to bring them to hell. He wants to lead us from the faithful service of God. First Peter 5:8-9 advises: "Be calm and watch, for your enemy the devil goes about seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, strong in faith, knowing that your brothers all over the world have the same trial."

God permits the devil to do this as a result of His decision to create spiritual beings, having free will. To thwart that regularly would be to contradict His own natural laws. He does draw good out of evil: temptation gives us the opportunity to show our faith and to trust in Him; it give us the chance to grow in virtue by the struggle. And He has given us a powerful counterforce in our Guardian Angels, and the Blessed Mother, and ordinary Saints.

Taken from The Basic Catholic Catechism
PART TWO: The Apostle's Creed
First Article of the Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth."

By William G. Most. (c)Copyright 1990 by William G. Most

Related Q and A

35. What do we mean when we say that God is the Creator of heaven and earth?

When we say that God is the Creator of heaven and earth we mean that He made all things from nothing by His almighty power.

(a) Only God can create, that is, make something from nothing, because creation requires infinite power, which God alone possesses.

(b) All things except God depend on a cause for their existence and hence must have been created by God.

(c) God did not have to create the world; He did so freely.

(d) God preserves all creatures; otherwise, they would at once return to nothingness. He also governs all things, and in the divine government of the world nothing does or can happen unless God wills or permits it.

(e) Evil is the lack of some perfection. God does not will physical evil in itself but only insofar as it is connected with some good.

(f) God wills or permits the physical evils of life in order to punish sin, to make sinners repent, to try the just and make them worthy of everlasting reward, or to be the occasion of some other greater good.

(g) God permits but does not will moral evils.

36. Which are the chief creatures of God?

The chief creatures of God are angels and men.

(a) It is a matter of faith that God the Creator produced out of nothing creatures both spiritual and corporal, angelic and earthly.

37. What are angels?

Angels are created spirits, without bodies, having understanding and free will.

(a) Reason alone cannot prove that the angels exist. Reason indicates, however, that just as there are purely material creatures, and creatures composed of both matter and spirit, so also it is fitting that there should be purely spiritual creatures.

(b) Angels are spiritual beings inferior to God and superior to man.

(c) Sacred Scripture frequently speaks of the angels and mentions three by name: the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

(d) The nine "choirs" of angels are the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.

(e) The exact number of angels is unknown, but Sacred Scripture indicates that their number is very great.

38. What gifts did God bestow on the angels when He created them?

When God created the angels He bestowed on them great wisdom, power, and holiness.

(a) God bestowed upon the angels supernatural grace by which they could gain eternal happiness.

(b) The angels were given the opportunity to merit the reward of heaven by remaining faithful to God.

39. Did all the angels remain faithful to God?

Not all the angels remained faithful to God; some of them sinned.

(a) We do not know the exact nature of the test to which God put the angels that they might prove themselves worthy of eternal happiness.

(b) The angels who were unfaithful committed a serious sin, for which they were punished.

40. What happened to the angels who remained faithful to God?

The angels who remained faithful to God entered into the eternal happiness of heaven, and these are called good angels.

41. What do the good angels do in heaven?

In heaven the good angels see, love, and adore God.

42. How do the good angels help us?

The good angels help us by praying for us, by acting as messengers from God to us, and by serving as our guardian angels.

(a) The Old and the New Testament refer frequently to the work of the good angels among men. A good angel was the "rude of God's chosen people (Exodus 23:20); the protector of Tobias was a good angel (Tobias 5 ff.). The Archangel Gabriel announced the glad tidings of the Incarnation to Our Blessed Mother (Luke 1:28).

(b) Although angels are pure spirits, they can be seen by man when on special occasions God permits them to take on bodies or the appearance of bodies, which are visible to the human eye.

43. How do our guardian angels help us?

Our guardian angels help us by praying for us, by protecting us from harm, and by inspiring us to do good.

(a) It is a matter of faith that angels are deputed as the guardians of men.

(b) It is commonly held that each individual has a special guardian angel.

44. What happened to the angels who did not remain faithful to God?

The angels who did not remain faithful to God were cast into hell, and these are called bad angels, or devils.

(a) The devils, or the evil spirits, were created by God, not as bad beings but as good beings. By their own free acts, they chose evil and thereby became bad angels.

45. What is the chief way in which the bad angels try to harm us?

The chief way in which the bad angels try to harm us is by tempting us to sin.

(a) Devils are sometimes permitted to enter the body of a man and to exercise power over his faculties-a state known as diabolical possession; or the,, are permitted to torment a person from without-a state known as diabolical obsession.

(b) Diabolic possession and obsession are permitted by God to show forth His glory, to punish sin, to bring sinners to repentance, or to give occasion for the exercise of virtue.

(c) When the devil uses the body of a possessed person to say or do evil things, the person is not guilty of sin, provided he does not freely consent.

(d) Exorcism is the act of driving out or warding off evil spirits from persons, places, or things possessed or infested by them. The Church received from Christ the power of exorcism.

(e) An exorcist is one who has power, conferred by a bishop, to exorcise demons. The order of exorcist is the third of the four minor orders of the Western Church. Only with the permission of his bishop is a priest allowed to use his power of exorcising evil spirits.

46. Do all temptations come from the bad angels?

Some temptations come from the bad angels; but other temptations come from ourselves and from the persons and things about us.

(a) The bad angels, the persons and things about us, and we ourselves can excite the senses and be an inducement to sin.

47. Can we always resist temptations?

We can always resist temptations, because no temptation can force us into sin, and because God will always help us if we ask Him.

(a) God does not demand the impossible; however He warns us that in our efforts to overcome temptation we must not rely entirely on ourselves but must seek His help.

(b) God permits us to be tempted in order to make us realize our weakness, to test our faith, and to help us by His grace to strengthen virtue by practice and to obtain the reward of eternal life.

(c) The most effective means of overcoming temptation are prayer, mortification, frequent Confession and Holy Communion, and avoiding idleness and the near occasion of sin.

The Baltimore Catechism, no. 3, Lesson 4