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Chapter VIII.—On the Angels.
1. A similar method must be followed in treating of the angels; nor are we to suppose that it is the result of accident that a particular office is assigned to a particular angel: as to 265Raphael, e.g., the work of curing and healing; to Gabriel, the conduct of wars; to Michael, the duty of attending to the prayers and supplications of mortals. For we are not to imagine that they obtained these offices otherwise than by their own merits, and by the zeal and excellent qualities which they severally displayed before this world was formed; so that afterwards in the order of archangels, this or that office was assigned to each one, while others deserved to be enrolled in the order of angels, and to act under this or that archangel, or that leader or head of an order. All of which things were disposed, as I have said, not indiscriminately and fortuitously, but by a most appropriate and just decision of God, who arranged them according to deserts, in accordance with His own approval and judgment: so that to one angel the Church of the Ephesians was to be entrusted; to another, that of the Smyrnæans; one angel was to be Peter’s, another Paul’s; and so on through every one of the little ones that are in the Church, for such and such angels as even daily behold the face of God must be assigned to each one of them;20612061 Matt. xviii. 10. and there must also be some angel that encampeth round about them that fear God.20622062 Ps. xxxiv. 7. Tum demun per singulos minimorum, qui sunt in ecclesiâ, qui vel qui adscribi singulis debeant angeli, qui etiam quotidie videant faciem Dei; sed et quis debeat esse angelus, qui circumdet in circuitu timentium Deum. All of which things, assuredly, it is to be believed, are not performed by accident or chance, or because they (the angels) were so created, lest on that view the Creator should be accused of partiality; but it is to be believed that they were conferred by God, the just and impartial Ruler of all things, agreeably to the merits and good qualities and mental vigour of each individual spirit.
2. And now let us say something regarding those who maintain the existence of a diversity of spiritual natures, that we may avoid falling into the silly and impious fables of such as pretend that there is a diversity of spiritual natures both among heavenly existences and human souls, and for that reason allege that they were called into being by different creators; for while it seems, and is really, absurd that to one and the same Creator should be ascribed the creation of different natures of rational beings, they are nevertheless ignorant of the cause of that diversity. For they say that it seems inconsistent for one and the same Creator, without any existing ground of merit, to confer upon some beings the power of dominion, and to subject others again to authority; to bestow a principality upon some, and to render others subordinate to rulers. Which opinions indeed, in my judgment, are completely rejected by following out the reasoning explained above, and by which it was shown that the cause of the diversity and variety among these beings is due to their conduct, which has been marked either with greater earnestness or indifference, according to the goodness or badness of their nature, and not to any partiality on the part of the Disposer. But that this may more easily be shown to be the case with heavenly beings, let us borrow an illustration from what either has been done or is done among men, in order that from visible things we may, by way of consequence, behold also things invisible.
Paul and Peter are undoubtedly proved to have been men of a spiritual nature. When, therefore, Paul is found to have acted contrary to religion, in having persecuted the Church of God, and Peter to have committed so grave a sin as, when questioned by the maid-servant, to have asserted with an oath that he did not know who Christ was, how is it possible that these—who, according to those persons of whom we speak, were spiritual beings—should fall into sins of such a nature, especially as they are frequently in the habit of saying that a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruits? And if a good tree cannot produce evil fruit, and as, according to them, Peter and Paul were sprung from the root of a good tree, how should they be deemed to have brought forth fruits so wicked? And if they should return the answer which is generally invented, that it was not Paul who persecuted, but some other person, I know not whom, who was in Paul; and that it was not Peter who uttered the denial, but some other individual in him; how should Paul say, if he had not sinned, that “I am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God?”20632063 1 Cor. xv. 9. Or why did Peter weep most bitterly, if it were another than he who sinned? From which all their silly assertions will be proved to be baseless.
3. According to our view, there is no rational creature which is not capable both of good and evil. But it does not follow, that because we say there is no nature which may not admit evil, we therefore maintain that every nature has admitted evil, i.e., has become wicked. As we may say that the nature of every man admits of his being a sailor, but it does not follow from that, that every man will become so; or, again, it is possible for every one to learn grammar or medicine, but it is not therefore proved that every man is either a physician or a grammarian; so, if we say that there is no nature which may not admit evil, it is not necessarily indicated that it has done so. For, in our view, not even the devil himself was incapable of good; but although capable of admitting good, he did not therefore also desire it, or make any effort after virtue. 266For, as we are taught by those quotations which we adduced from the prophets, there was once a time when he was good, when he walked in the paradise of God between the cherubim. As he, then, possessed the power either of receiving good or evil, but fell away from a virtuous course, and turned to evil with all the powers of his mind, so also other creatures, as having a capacity for either condition, in the exercise of the freedom of their will, flee from evil, and cleave to good. There is no nature, then, which may not admit of good or evil, except the nature of God—the fountain of all good things—and of Christ; for it is wisdom, and wisdom assuredly cannot admit folly; and it is righteousness, and righteousness will never certainly admit of unrighteousness; and it is the Word, or Reason, which certainly cannot be made irrational; nay, it is also the light, and it is certain that the darkness does not receive the light. In like manner, also, the nature of the Holy Spirit, being holy, does not admit of pollution; for it is holy by nature, or essential being. If there is any other nature which is holy, it possesses this property of being made holy by the reception or inspiration of the Holy Spirit, not having it by nature, but as an accidental quality, for which reason it may be lost, in consequence of being accidental. So also a man may possess an accidental righteousness, from which it is possible for him to fall away. Even the wisdom which a man has is still accidental, although it be within our own power to become wise, if we devote ourselves to wisdom with the zeal and effort of our life; and if we always pursue the study of it, we may always be participators of wisdom: and that result will follow either in a greater or less degree, according to the desert of our life or the amount of our zeal. For the goodness of God, as is worthy of Him, incites and attracts all to that blissful end, where all pain, and sadness, and sorrow fall away and disappear.
4. I am of opinion, then, so far as appears to me, that the preceding discussion has sufficiently proved that it is neither from want of discrimination, nor from any accidental cause, either that the “principalities” hold their dominion, or the other orders of spirits have obtained their respective offices; but that they have received the steps of their rank on account of their merits, although it is not our privilege to know or inquire what those acts of theirs were, by which they earned a place in any particular order. It is sufficient only to know this much, in order to demonstrate the impartiality and righteousness of God, that, conformably with the declaration of the Apostle Paul, “there is no acceptance of persons with Him,”20642064 Cf. Rom. ii. 11. who rather disposes everything according to the deserts and moral progress of each individual. So, then, the angelic office does not exist except as a consequence of their desert; nor do “powers” exercise power except in virtue of their moral progress; nor do those which are called “seats,” i.e., the powers of judging and ruling, administer their powers unless by merit; nor do “dominions” rule undeservedly, for that great and distinguished order of rational creatures among celestial existences is arranged in a glorious variety of offices. And the same view is to be entertained of those opposing influences which have given themselves up to such places and offices, that they derive the property by which they are made “principalities,” or “powers,” or rulers of the darkness of the world, or spirits of wickedness, or malignant spirits, or unclean demons, not from their essential nature, nor from their being so created, but have obtained these degrees in evil in proportion to their conduct, and the progress which they made in wickedness. And that is a second order of rational creatures, who have devoted themselves to wickedness in so headlong a course, that they are unwilling rather than unable to recall themselves; the thirst for evil being already a passion, and imparting to them pleasure. But the third order of rational creatures is that of those who are judged fit by God to replenish the human race, i.e., the souls of men, assumed in consequence of their moral progress into the order of angels; of whom we see some assumed into the number: those, viz., who have been made the sons of God, or the children of the resurrection, or who have abandoned the darkness, and have loved the light, and have been made children of the light; or those who, proving victorious in every struggle, and being made men of peace, have been the sons of peace, and the sons of God; or those who, mortifying their members on the earth, and, rising above not only their corporeal nature, but even the uncertain and fragile movements of the soul itself, have united themselves to the Lord, being made altogether spiritual, that they may be for ever one spirit with Him, discerning along with Him each individual thing, until they arrive at a condition of perfect spirituality, and discern all things by their perfect illumination in all holiness through the word and wisdom of God, and are themselves altogether undistinguishable by any one.
We think that those views are by no means to be admitted, which some are wont unnecessarily to advance and maintain, viz., that souls descend to such a pitch of abasement that they forget their rational nature and dignity, and sink into the condition of irrational animals, either large or small; and in support of these assertions they generally quote some pretended statements of Scripture, such as, that a beast, to which a 267woman has unnaturally prostituted herself, shall be deemed equally guilty with the woman, and shall be ordered to be stoned; or that a bull which strikes with its horn,20652065 [See Exod. xxi. 28, 29. S.] shall be put to death in the same way; or even the speaking of Balaam’s ass, when God opened its mouth, and the dumb beast of burden, answering with human voice, reproved the madness of the prophet. All of which assertions we not only do not receive, but, as being contrary to our belief, we refute and reject. After the refutation and rejection of such perverse opinions, we shall show, at the proper time and place, how those passages which they quote from the sacred Scriptures ought to be understood.
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