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SERMON XXIV

On the Feast of St Michael and All Angels

On the various and especial works of the nine choirs of Holy Angels in man, in his threefold state and being; that is in the outer man, his powers of reason, and in his being, formed in the image of God. How, by their care and supervision, he may be enabled to attain to the very highest degree of Perfection in a spiritual life.

Angeli corum semper vident faciem Patris mei, qui in coelis est

“Their angels always see the Face of My Father Who is in heaven.”

To-day is the Feast of St Michael and all Angels. We have already read to-day how this festival first arose, in consequence of the revelation on the mountain; therefore we will not refer to that now. The Gospel says: “Their Angels do always behold the Face of My Father Who is in heaven.” I know not with what words I can, or ought, to speak of these pure spirits, for they have neither hands nor feet, neither image, nor form, nor substance; neither can we understand the nature of their being; so how can we speak of them? We know not what they are; and that is not surprising, for we do not know ourselves, nor our souls by which we are made men, and from which we receive all that is good in us. How then can we understand these transcendent spirits, whose nobility far surpasses all the nobility that the world can show? Therefore let us discuss their behaviour towards us, and not the nature of their being. Their work is always to behold us, and to look upon us in the mirror of the Godhead regularly, effectually and truly, with discrimination; and they have a special and definite work to do in us; but God works unceasingly in us, much more truly and nobly; and they work with God in us, in the same way that the sun exercises a constant influence over the earth, while the stars co-operate with the sun in that influence on the earth, and on every creature in it. The stars always look at the sun and reflect his rays, while the sun turns his face to them; and thus their works become indivisible; so that, were it possible for the least star to be removed from the heavens, all creatures, men and cattle would be destroyed.

Now, there are nine choirs of Angels, forming three hierarchies, in each of which there are three choirs. Now, these three hierarchies have each their own peculiar and different effect on the three parts of man. The first is the outer man, the second is his reason, and the third is his likeness to God; and yet all these three form one man. In all three the Angels have their work to do. And, besides this, every man has an Angel, who at his baptism was especially appointed to watch over him, into whose care he was committed, who stands by him, and helps him unceasingly, guarding him when sleeping and waking, in all places and in all his works and ways, whether evil or good. Were there nothing else for which we ought to love God dearly, and thank Him, surely this would be enough; that God has so closely united these exalted and invisible beings with us, that they may discipline us unceasingly. But, on the other hand, every man has also to deal with a peculiarly wicked angel, the Devil, who works against him unceasingly, and tries him as constantly as the good Angel. If we were wise and industrious, the Devil’s opposition and his discipline would be more useful to us than those of the good Angels; for, were there no conflict, there could be no victory.

Now we must speak of the hierarchies. The lowest of the hierarchies are called Angels; one with another they serve the outer man; they exhort and warn him, they help him and guide him towards that which is good; they watch over him with steady and constant discipline. If they did not thus watch over us, what innumerable evils do ye imagine, might not befall us? for numberless devils follow us perpetually, desiring to destroy us, either sleeping or waking. But these noble Angels anticipate them and prevent them.

The Archangels form the second choir. They are represented as priest, whose active employment is to serve at the Holy Sacrament; they thus serve, counsel, and help man in the efficacious reception of the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body.

The third choir consists of Virtues. They serve, counsel and admonish us to seek after natural and moral virtues, and they win for us the divine virtues of faith, hope and love. The men who follow them and commune much with them, are so virtuous that virtue becomes as easy and pleasant to them, as though it were part of their very nature and being. All the enemies, who have fallen from this choir, set themselves with all imaginable cunning against these men, desiring to entice them away, so that they may not reach that place, from which they themselves have been cast out. The stratagems to which they constantly have recourse, are incredible. Man ought to be very diligent in keeping guard against the hostile wickedness, which so marvellously surrounds him; for these enemies often make use of much secret dexterity in things which seem good; and, for the most part, they strive to lead men into all kinds of diversions; and, when they find they are not succeeding, they place him in a position which seems good, that he may be content therewith, and may not strive to advance. Now, this is a most perilous condition in which to find ourselves, and now more than it ever was. As St Bernard says: “To stand still in the way of God, is to go backwards.” All are in this condition who have worldly and self-satisfied hearts, and who say, “We do as many good works as other men, and we are well-pleased with ourselves; we shall fare better than they, and we will go on with our own ways and customs, as those did who were before us.” But when great plagues come, those who imagine now that they are doing well will seem to be in great misery. Then the wicked angels, whom they have followed, will wonder and lament with them, and finally lead them away unopposed. Cases such as these are taking place even now. But when these horrible downfalls and plagues have passed away, then the holy Angels will make themselves known to men who have been purified, and will walk with them and commune with them openly.

Now we come to the second hierarchy. The Angels of which it is composed here an active supervision over the second division of man’s nature; his reasoning powers, which place him far above all other creatures with animal nature, and make him like unto the Angels. The first choir is called Potestates, the second Principatus, and the third Dominationes, signifying the mighty, the princes and the rulers. All these work in men, who, they find, have progressed in virtue, so that they can control, both outwardly and inwardly, their senses and the outward expression of them, in all things; and in the inner man, their thoughts and intentions. These men are free and reign supreme over vice. Thus, we read of St Francis, that he had such power over the outer man, that directly he thought of some discipline, his body sprang forward, and said, “See, here am I.” Such men are truly like the princes of the world, who are free and have none to control them. Thus these men are enabled in spirit to rule over all the actions of the outer and inner man. When the wicked angels see this, they are filled with vehement hatred against them, because they fear that these men will take their places. So they exercise all their ingenuity to bring them into the most awful temptations that can be conceived, and of which those who serve the world and the Evil One never heard nor imagined. Of these ways there are many, for they so earnestly desire to drag down the good. When they become so importunate that the poor man imagines he must lose either his life or his senses, then the noble Angels come, the Principatus, and drive them away, and the man has gained the victory. When they have been thus overcome, they never dare to attack the same man again; for they are too proud to do it; and they are terrified and give way before these powerful people, and before those who rule over this hierarchy. Then the rulers, Dominationes, come and enable these men to become so wise and prudent, that they can see through the stratagems of the enemy. At St Paul says, that neither the devil, the world, the flesh, nor any creature could gain a victory over him.

We now come to the third hierarchy; these Angels work and look into the innermost part of man; into that which was formed in the Image of God. The first choir of these is formed by the Thrones, the second by the Cherubim, and the third by the Seraphim.

The Thrones work in the innermost heart of man, so that he becomes like unto a kingly throne, where God delights to dwell, to reign and to judge, to reward and to work all His works in him and through him. These men’s hearts are so irrevocably rooted in Divine Peace, that neither love nor sorrow, severity nor tenderness, can disturb them; as St Paul has said: “Neither death nor life.” A hundred deaths would not move or terrify such men. In the same way that a dying man cares nothing for all the honour or shame that could be heaped upon him, because his thoughts are elsewhere, so also, when a man in his innermost heart is turned to God, he is a strong Throne of God, nothing can affright him, neither love nor sorrow, for he rests in that essential peace, which is the Dwelling-place of God; as David says: “In pace factus est locus ejus.” Preserve and guard peace, dear children, that no man take it from thee, and that the Dwelling-place of God may not be destroyed. O, dear child, preserve this, be silent, suffer, abstain from evil and rest in peace. Rest and trust and keep to thyself; do not run about too much; be not agitated, preoccupied or impulsive; but realise the Presence of thy Lord of Lords in thy heart, where He sits on His throne glorious and powerful, so that He may not be disturbed and His peace diminished.

Now, when men are resting in this peace, then the Cherubim come in all their brightness, and lighten up men’s hearts with their godlike light as with a sudden glance. This glance pierces the men through and through; and their hearts are so filled with light, that, were it necessary, they could judge all men; and yet this illumination is but a glance; the quicker it is, the truer, the nobler and the surer.

Then come the burning Seraphim, with their flaming love, and they kindle love in the hearts of men; and this, too, is done in a moment, so that the love of man becomes so broad and wide that it embraces within itself the love of all things. It seems to him as though he would set all men alight; and all is so sudden and quick, that it seems to him as though he would be consumed himself. This flame is kindled in the innermost thoughts of the glorified man; and yet it lights up also the other two parts of man, his soul and the outer man. Such men become so godlike and so well-regulated, so truly resigned, virtuous, peaceful and calm, that no one is ever conscious of any infirmity in them, either i words or deeds; and yet they look upon themselves as nothing, and heed all as little as if it had taken place in some one a thousand miles away. They look upon all that God may work by them, or in them, as apart from themselves, taking no credit for it; for they think of nothing but their own absolute nothingness, and regard themselves as lower than all men. These verily are the heavens in which the Father dwells, as the Gospel says: “Their Angels always see the Face of My Father Who is in heaven.” May God help us all thus to attain. Amen.

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