Peter Kreeft on Angels

Editor’s note: with the upcoming feasts of the Archangels and Guardian Angels, we would like to present Dr. Peter’s Kreeft’s thoughts on angels in the modern era. This article is adapted from the book Ask Peter Kreeft, available from Sophia Institute Press.

Why don’t we hear anything about angels anymore?

Because we don’t want to.

They don’t pop into and out of existence depending on whether we believe in them, but, on the other hand, they don’t do much for us until they are asked and believed in.

Angels are not gods.

Nor are they human beings.

They are superior to us and inferior to God.

Almost all premodern cultures believed in something like angels, something between us and the Supreme Being. Sometimes these were mistakenly called gods. That was a mistake, but it was not a mistake to see human life as a kind of Jacob’s Ladder, a stairway to Heaven; to believe in doors in the pitiless walls of the world, or better, doors in the sky, doors that sometimes opened. Today, for most of us “enlightened” people in Western civilization, those doors are locked.

Why are they locked?

Because Science can’t discover them.

And the spectacular success of Science has convinced us that if Science can’t detect it, it isn’t real. (If you accepted the capital letter “S” in the word “science” in that sentence, you probably bought into that superstition, because what we create is not usu­ally capitalized but what we believe creates us is.)

Science also can’t detect beauty, love, or the self that knows all the things that Science knows. In other words, Science can’t detect the scientist. The one thing that can’t be one of the images on the screen of our consciousness is the thing that’s projecting all the images. The subject of consciousness can’t be simply one of the many objects of consciousness.

This article is from Ask Peter Kreeft.

If science can’t even detect our own spirit, mind, or conscious­ness, only its bodily instruments and effects, we can’t expect it to detect angels, which are pure spirits without bodies.

Angels are persons without bodies; humans are persons with bodies. Angels are no more mythic than human persons are. Materialists say there are no such things as persons, souls, selves, egos, or spiritual substances, either human or angelic, because Science cannot detect them. They are at least consistent. If spirits outside bodies (angels) don’t exist, then, for the same reasons, spirits inside bodies (human persons, selves, “I”s, egos, minds, or souls) don’t exist either.

In fact, in a sense, spirits inside bodies, spirits that are the souls of bodies, are harder to believe in than spirits outside bodies. It’s very strange that spirits should be joined to bodies. Whose weird idea was that? Probably the same One who designed the duck-billed platypus.

If angels are myths, then human persons are myths too. But if persons are myths, who invented them? If the answer is that we invented them, how can a myth be invented by another myth?

If there are no persons, but just bodies, then the attempt to find yourself is a bad knock-knock joke: Knock, knock. Who’s there? Nobody. Nobody who? Nobody you.

Probably, there is no irrefutable logical proof for the exis­tence of angels outside of religious authorities, but there are all sorts of things that angels explain. Why did you suddenly, intuitively, jump back from stepping off the curb just as that car that you didn’t see passed? And all those great ideas that seemed to pop into your mind without your planning them or willing them — where did they come from? And why is it that in every culture, many sane, wise, and reliable people (as well as many liars and kooks) claimed to have seen and interacted with angels? Why has every other culture except ours believed in something like angels? Were they just silly, like Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey, playing with an invisible rabbit friend even as an adult? In that case, let’s all be atheists, because God is only the biggest invis­ible rabbit of all.

What difference do angels make?

For one thing, angels expand our mind. For another thing, they expand our lives. If there were no angels who interacted with us, no guardian angels who fought for us and protected us from temptations by evil spirits, we would be decimated by our true enemies, which are not flesh and blood but “principalities and powers of wickedness in high places.” They are far more numer­ous, more intelligent, and more powerful than we are. Without help from superior friends, no one could survive that battle against superior enemies.

If you don’t think there are superior enemies, do you honestly think that the evil you see in the souls of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and the Marquis de Sade is only human?

Your guardian angel protects you at every moment, even when you forget him completely. He does not need your remembering, your faith, your trust, your hope, or your love. But you do.

How long do acts of memory, faith, trust, hope, and love take? A few seconds. The old guardian angel prayer is a good one because it’s short and simple and childlike:

Angel of God, my guardian dear,

To whom His love commits me here, Ever this day be at my side,

To light and lead, to guard and guide.

Have you ever seen an angel?

No. But I have talked to people who have. And I have talked to Joan Webster Anderson, who strikes me as very sane and sober and reliable. She researched and wrote up a couple of books about people who saw angels, and unlike most such books, they seem to me quite reliable.

I’m not talking about the popular pictures of angels, e.g., with wings. Angels don’t have wings because they don’t have physi­cal bodies. They are pure spirits. What do they look like? Like nothing. Or like whatever appearances they generate, either in matter or in our minds. They usually disguise themselves as hu­man beings. They are much better at pretending to be humans than we are at pretending to be angels.

I have the impression that ghosts are more commonly seen than angels. I don’t know why. Probably because angels are en­ablers, like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. They do most of their work invisibly. Like God, they appeal to faith more than to sight. They could use their great supernatural powers, as the Angel of Death did to the Egyptians in the Exodus, and to Sodom and Gomorrah, but that’s not how God usually works, by sheer power. He gives us free choice. He doesn’t bypass His creatures but works through them, both angels and humans.

When we get to Heaven, I think we will see our guardian angels, and God will show us all the millions of times they were guarding and guiding us, and inspiring us, and we will say, “Oh, so that was you all the time! Thank you.”

If you cut out all the references to angels in the Bible, your scissors would wear out before you finished.

If angels do not exist, all the saints, all the bishops of the Church, and all orthodox Christians for two thousand years have been deceived, including Jesus Christ. In that case, Christian­ity is not a divine revelation at all. Angels are not the center of Christianity, but they are part of the “package deal.”

The most practical thing in the Bible about angels for all of us is: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2).

This article is adapted from Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He’s Ever Been Asked. It is available from Sophia Institute Press and your local bookstore.

Photo by Cosmin Gurau on Unsplash

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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and also at the King's College (Empire State Building) in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 55 books. Dr. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He has received several honors for achievements in the field of philosophy, including the Woodrow Wilson Award, Yale-Sterling Fellowship, Newman Alumni Scholarship, Danforth Asian Religions Fellowship, and a Weathersfield Homeland Foundation Fellowship.

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