The Role of Guardian Angels

Guardian angel’s role after Baptism

The activity of the angels accompanies the entire life of man. But the question arises whether all men or only Christians have guardian angels. In other words, is the guardian angel given at birth or only at Baptism? Origen was familiar with both opinions and shows that each of them has scriptural authority.

St. Thomas devotes an article to it in the Summa, where he cites the passage of Origen. The conclusion St. Thomas reaches, moreover, is that toward which tradition leaned: that man receives a guardian angel at birth, but that this angel plays an entirely new role after Baptism. An analogy with the angels of the nations earlier made Origen tend toward this solution.

It is true that an angel has been given to each man at birth. That is a doctrine of long standing. But, on the other hand, from the first day of his life, the little child becomes the prey of the Devil, whether this be due to Satan’s rights over the race of Adam or whether the child has been dedicated to him through idolatry. As a result, the guardian angel is almost powerless over him, just as over the nations.

That is why the guardian angels were waiting for the help that would come to them from God. The coming of Christ reverses the situation. “You, too, were the lot of some prince. Then Jesus came and snatched you from the perverse power. Indeed, each of us has an adversary who seeks to draw us into the ranks of his own leader.” But now, thanks to Christ, the good angels are more powerful, able to defend the child who is, as it were, newly entrusted to them by Christ.

As a matter of fact, Christ entrusts the newly baptized to their angels in a very special way. The role of guide, as we have seen, be­gins with the catechumenate and continues after Baptism. Hermas insists on the role of the angel among the neophytes. He sees the many stones that are set into place in the building of the Church and explains, “Those that are put into their place in the construction of the Tower. . . are those who are new in the faith, but constant. They are formed by the angels in the doing of good, because no wickedness has been found in them.” Origen writes in turn, “When a man has received the Faith, Christ who has redeemed him by His blood from his evil masters entrusts him, since hereafter he is to believe in God, to a holy angel who, because of his great purity, always sees the face of the Father.”

The angel of peace

Among the faithful, those who have higher offices in the Church are the object of a very special protection. “If angels have been delegated by the God of the universe to those who have only their own personal lives to regulate and are to do nothing for the common good, how much more will they do for those men to whom the care of the whole earth has been entrusted! The Virtues of heaven are always with those who are charged with such offices.”

Among the functions the guardian angels exercise toward those entrusted to them, there are some that have been already mentioned. Such is in particular the role of instructor, in virtue of which they are the messengers of inspiration to souls. They begin this mission among the pagans entrusted to them in order to lead them to the Faith; they continue it among the catechumens, then among the neophytes, and throughout the spiritual ascent up to the threshold of union with God.

But there are many other functions attributed to them by the Fathers: they protect the soul against troubles from within and without; they reprimand and punish the soul that turns aside from the right way; they assist it at prayer and transmit its petitions to God. These three functions are designated by the Fathers under three titles given to the guardian angel. He is the angel of peace (Chrysostom), the angel of penitence (Hermas), and the angel of prayer (Tertullian).

Among these names for the guardian angel, that of “angel of peace” is especially venerable. The expression appears in the Jewish apocalyptic literature, where the angel of peace is the one who accompanies Enoch and explains the meaning of his visions. The expression had entered into the liturgy, as can be seen from a passage in St. John Chrysostom: “Learn now that there are angels of peace. Listen to the deacons, who frequently repeat in their prayers: ‘Pray to the angel of peace.’”

The angel of prayer

This article is adapted from a chapter in The Angels and Their Mission.

Another name for the guardian angel is “angel of prayer.” In the Apocalypse, the angels present the prayers of the saints to God. This is true not only of liturgical prayer, but of private prayer as well. This doctrine is already found in the Old Testament, where the Archangel Raphael is one of the “seven holy angels who offer the prayers of the saints.”

This participation of the guardian angel in prayer, his union with our supplication, comes up frequently in Origen. The Christian has nothing to fear from the Devil, because “the angel of the Lord shall encamp round about those that fear Him and he shall deliver them; and his angel, who constantly sees the face of the Father in heaven, always offers up his prayers through the one High Priest to the God of all. In fact, he himself joins in the prayers of the one entrusted to his care.”

Thus, the angel circulates between the soul and heaven. “We readily admit. . . that they rise upward carrying the prayers of men . . . and come back down bringing to each one what he desires of the goods that God has appointed them to administer to the objects of their loving kindness.”

One outstanding point in the early tradition is the teaching that man has at the same time an angel and a demon within him, just as the nations have their angels and their devils. That was the teaching of Pseudo-Barnabas, who relates it to the doctrine of the two ways, that of good and that of evil.

The angel draws the soul toward good, the devil toward evil. This is the doctrine of the discernment of spirits in root form. Hermas insists even further on this point:

There are two angels for each man: one of justice and one of wickedness. . . The spirit of justice is mild and reserved and meek and peaceful. When he enters into your heart, he speaks at once with you of justice and modesty and temperance and kindness and pardon and charity and paternal love. As often as these thoughts arise in your heart, know that the spirit of justice is with you. . . Now learn the works of the spirit of wickedness, too. First of all, he is irritable and bitter and rash, and his works are evil . . . When you recognize his works, depart from him.

Thus, man finds himself in the middle of a spiritual combat between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. This great theme, which St. Ignatius is to develop in the contemplation of the two standards, is already in Origen. St. Athanasius devotes a considerable part of the Life of St. Antony to it. Gregory of Nyssa expounds it clearly, connecting it with the idea of the guardian angel:

After our nature had fallen in sin, we were not abandoned in our fall by God, but an angel, one of the beings who have an incorporeal nature, was set up to aid the life of each of us. The destroyer of our nature, in his turn, did just the same by sending us an evil, pernicious angel to the detriment of human nature. It now depends upon man, who finds himself between two angels, each one seeking to lead him in a different way, to make the one triumph over the other. The good angel presents his spirit with the fruits of virtue, everything that those who do good see in hope. The other angel holds up before him the pleasures of earth, pleasures that hold no hope for the future, but pleasures that can captivate the minds of the foolish when they are seen and enjoyed in the present.

Man lives, therefore, in the middle of a supernatural world, a spectacle, as St. Paul says, to both men and angels. That is what makes St. Hilary say:

Everything that seems empty is filled with the angels of God, and there is no place that is not inhabited by them as they go about their ministry. . . If the fear that someone might come upon him unexpectedly often holds a person back from the commission of some sin he has been planning, how should the Christian act, and not merely act but even think and desire, when he realizes that every part of him is the dwelling place of such a number of spiritual powers? When we are overcome by some evil will, should we not tremble before the presence of the choirs of angels that surround us? If, in fact, the angels of the little children see the face of the Father every day, we must certainly fear their testimony, knowing that they are at the same time near to us and present before God. And we must just as certainly fear the Devil and all his witnesses who make themselves present in an instant from one end of the earth to the other.

But this presence of the angels not only keeps man back from committing sin; it makes him tend toward good as well. “The prophet hastens to accomplish the action that the spiritual natures contemplate spiritually. He knows that his entire life is enacted in full view of the angels, and he wants to please the spiritual beings by contemplating spiritual realities.”

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter from The Angels and Their Missionwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

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Jean Cardinal Daniélou was a French theologian, historian, and author. Ordained a priest of the Society of Jesus in 1938, Father Daniélou went on to gain great renown as a scholar, particularly in the field of Patristics. Apart from his scholarly research and writing, Father Daniélou also penned many books, making his theological ideas- about prayer, worship, the early Church, the loving self-revelation of God through human history - accessible to a lay audience.

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