Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yesterday, while reading In Conversation with God, I came accross a passage that said "The devil--and our angels--cannot penetrate our innermost thoughts if we do not want them to. [They] cannot know the nature of our thoughts, they can only conjecture at them from outwardly perceptible indications...what we have chosen not to externalize, so that it remains hidden within our souls, is totally inaccessible to them."

Very interesting, said I.

But then today I read "We only have to speak to our guardian angel in our minds for him to understand and even to deduce from out inward thoughts more than we ourselves are able to express."

Can anybody reconcile these two staments for me? Can anybody provide a basis for either assertion?


Cerebella said...

Seems like a matter of will; if we are willing, angels can penetrate our inmost thoughts but if we are not, they can't.

No idea what would count as a source though I'd check out Thomas' treatise on angels.

Civis said...

Going to St. Thomas is a good idea. Of course, I'm like Tom Sawyer trying to get the fence whitewashed--I'm hoping someobody knows.

Jared said...

They can only know what's in our minds if we let them. They aren't God.

We can speak to angels with our minds because they use telepathy as their form of communication (unless they take on some bodily-type form like we see at times in Scripture, but, then, I think God doesn't take away their telepathic powers when he grants them that temporary bodily-type form). Isn't mind to mind the communication between souls in heaven as well since they don't have resurrected bodies to speak with?

Jared said...

BTW, it's a good guess you can get all this from Aquinas. But I don't have time to confirm.

Rodak said...

If we open our minds to angelic telepathy, how do we keep a demon or two from entering at the same time? Or is that the job of the angels queued outside, waiting for their opportunity to enter?
It seems to me that if we were spiritually smart enough to know an angel from a demon, we'd all be above temptation and sin-free.

Civis said...

Rodak stole the question right out of my mouth. Also, how does one communicate in this way? How does something move from my innermost thoughts to being a shared thought? Do I think to myself, "This is a nice thought, I think I'll share it with my guardian angel." and BAM!?

Civis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Civis said...

I recieved this response by e-mail:

Well, let me dust off my memory on this subject.

And angel is a metaphysical quasi-singularity. That is to say that is is "made" of essence and act of being (he has an essence but would not exist if God had chosen against creating such an angel). Only God Himself is simpler than an angel, since in Him essence and act of being are identical (God necessarily "is" = it is not possible for Him "not to be"). We, by comparison, are composed of spirit and matter, this last one with a million different accidents, etc.

Since an angel has such simple nature, he knows intuitively (as opposed to our habitual deductive/inductive epistemological powers). A derivative of the nature of the angel's "thought process" is that he knows quicker, better, and deeper than we do. Theoretically, an angel would encounter a creature he has never seen before and he would immediately know what it is, without having to "find out".

That said, since only God is omnisapient, it follows that even the most powerful angels have a finite knowledge and, for that matter, a limited power to know.

Although an angel is higher than we are, we also have an inmaterial component with similar, if weaker, powers. It follows, then, that even without the help of habitual and actual graces, we can put up some fight (not much, perhaps, especially if we are weakened by sin) to an angel who insists in meddling in our minds.

Holy Writ is clear in establishing that only God knows us better than we can possibly know ourselves. It follows that although an angel can indeed develop a good idea of our thoughts and intentions, given our good or evil behavior, they cannot invade that innermost sanctuary of our souls and minds unless we grant them access. (Notice how I don't go into the good or evil intentions of the angel himself... they are beside the subject at hand).

In his writings, Saint Peter makes the interesting remark that God has revealed to us things that He hasn't revealed even to the holy angels (!). Things regarding our salvation before which the angels (to use a cumbersome but better translation than we usually read) "wonder and tinker with and poke at with unquenchable curiosity". (Picture a boy turning over in his hands a new object, trying to find out what it is).

The Old Testament presents (I don't remember where) the unusual and almost tongue-in-cheek case of two good angels who at first and unknowingly fought each other (each backing up a different army) until God told them to cut it out. The implication is that an angel can make a mistake due to ignorance.

On the way of private revelations (and thus only pious Catholics tend to believe this one) it is known that Padre Pío once was attacked by a demon who almost beat him to a pulp. His guardian angel (whom Padre had the gift of seeing) was so horrified by the incident, that he didn't do anything to help his charge. The saintly priest was so furious, that he yelled at the angel that next time he just stood by and did nothing, he would sent him back to God and ask Him for a more courageous protector. The angel was ashamed of himself and was more diligent from there on. (The curious corollary to the story is that a man may occasionally have the better part in an argument with a rational creature that's supposed to be far more powerful and intelligent, to begin with. But then, as a psalm goes "... you have made man but little less than the angels, oh Lord", so we may be able to throw a few good punches at an angel, after all).

This is fun. It's been a long time since I went into a theological tirade by e-mail.

I admit that my explanation is rather simple, and more anecdotal than theoretical.


Ryan Hallford said...

I listened to an audio lecture by Peter Kreeft on angels who draws heavily on the Angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas. I recommend listening to it. Near the end is a question and answer section that deals with your question. I'm too lazy right now to go back to listen and recall the exact response. http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/10_aquinas-angels.htm