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Creator of the Angels Who Are Free Beings

General Audience — July 23, 1986

—    A radical and irreversible choice

Today we continue our catechesis on the angels whose existence, willed by an act of God's eternal love, we profess in the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen."

The angels are called from the beginning, by virtue of their intelligence, and in the perfection of their spiritual nature, to know the truth and to love the good which they know in the truth in a more full and perfect way than is possible to human beings. This love is an act of a free will, and therefore for the angels also freedom implies a possibility of choice for or against the Good which they know, that is, God himself. It must be repeated here what we already mentioned earlier in regard to man—by creating free beings, God willed that there should be realized in the world true love which is possible only on the basis of freedom. He willed therefore that the creature, constituted in the image and likeness of the Creator, should be able in the greatest degree possible to render himself similar to God who "is love" (1 Jn 4:16). By creating the pure spirits as free beings, God in his Providence could not but also foresee the possibility of the angels' sin. But precisely because Providence is eternal wisdom which loves, God would have been able to draw from the history of this sin, incomparably more radical inasmuch as it was the sin of a pure spirit, the definitive good of the whole created cosmos.

Revelation clearly states that the world of the pure spirits is divided into good angels and bad ones. This division is not the work of God's creation, but is based on the freedom proper to the spiritual nature of each one of them. It is the result of choice which for purely spiritual beings possesses an incomparably more radical character than human choice, and it is irreversible given the degree of intuitiveness and penetration of the good wherewith their intelligence is endowed. In this regard it must also be said that the pure spirits were subjected to a test of a moral character. It was a decisive test regarding first of all God himself, a God known in a more essential and direct way than is possible to man, a God who granted to these spiritual beings the gift of participating in his divine nature, before doing so to the human race.

1.  A radical and irreversible choice

In the case of the pure spirits, the decisive choice regarded first of all God himself, the first and supreme Good, accepted or rejected in a more essential and direct way, than could happen within the scope of action of human free will. The pure spirits have a knowledge of God incomparably more perfect than human knowledge. By the power of their intellect, not conditioned nor limited by the mediation of sense knowledge, they see to the depths the greatness of infinite Being, of the first Truth, of the supreme Good. To this sublime capacity of knowledge of the pure spirits God offered the mystery of his divinity, making them thus partakers, through grace, of his infinite glory. Precisely as beings of a spiritual nature they had in their intellect the capacity, the desire of this supernatural elevation to which God had called them. It made them, long before man, "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4), partakers of the intimate life of him who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, of him who in the communion of the three divine Persons, "is love" (1 Jn 4:16). God had admitted all the pure spirits, before and to a greater extent than man, to the eternal communion of love.

The choice made on the basis of the truth about God, known in a higher way because of the clarity of their intellects, has divided the world of pure spirits into the good and the bad. The good chose God as the supreme and definitive Good, known to the intellect enlightened by revelation. To have chosen God means that they turned to him with all the interior force of their freedom, a force which is love. God became the total and definitive scope of their spiritual existence. The others instead turned their backs on God, contrary to the truth of the knowledge which indicated him as the total and definitive good. Their choice ran counter to the revelation of the mystery of God, to his grace which made them partakers of the Trinity and of the eternal friendship with God in communion with him through love. On the basis of their created freedom they made a radical and irreversible choice on a parity with that of the good angels, but diametrically opposed. Instead of accepting a God full of love, they rejected him. They were inspired by a false sense of self-sufficiency, of aversion and even of hatred which is changed into rebellion.

How are we to understand such opposition and rebellion against God in beings endowed with such profound and enlightened intelligence? What can be the motive for such a radical and irreversible choice against God? Of a hatred so profound as to appear solely the fruit of folly? The Fathers of the Church and theologians do not hesitate to speak of a "blindness" produced by the overrating of the perfection of their own being, driven to the point of ignoring God's supremacy, which requires instead an act of docile and obedient subjection. All this is summed up concisely in the words: "I will not serve" (Jer 2:20), which manifest the radical and irreversible refusal to take part in the building up of the kingdom of God in the created world. Satan, the rebellious spirit, wishes to have his own kingdom, not that of God. He rises up as the first "adversary" of the Creator, the opponent of Providence, and antagonist of God's loving wisdom. From Satan's rebellion and sin, and likewise from that of man, we must conclude by accepting the wise experience of Scripture which states: "In pride there is ruin" (Tob 4:13).