Angels – God’s E.T’s
It is a fact little noticed by friend and foe alike, that the Christian Faith believes very strongly in beings from outer space. And, as we know from much Science Fiction, outer space does not necessarily mean just places a long way off, but can also refer to a quite different mode of existence in parallel universes. That is roughly what the New Testament means when it says the angels were sent from heaven.
Of course I know that there are Christians who do not believe that the angels of the biblical records actually exist. They say they are metaphors, or the product of a primitive mentality. No self-respecting nineteenth century man could possibly believe in them. Well, maybe that’s because the self-respecting nineteenth century man was constrained and confined by a pretty primitive mentality himself. His was an age when “superstition” was being fought and where the bright beams of the Enlightenment were putting to flight a lot of fanciful nonsense. Why, even the Biblical scholars were discovering that the text of the Bible was very suspect, that it was mostly written by the Early Church to justify the new religion, mainly invented by Paul of Tarsus.
How dated that all sounds at the beginning of the twenty-first century. As our knowledge of the Universe has expanded, we have in all fields learned a little humility. The study of the vastness of space has been paralleled by the study of the infinitely small “particles” or “waves” that make up all matter. Quantum physics has undermined our belief that if you can’t see or touch something, it doesn’t exist. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle even shows it is impossible to describe something by referring to its position or its movement. It seems things can be in two places at the same time.
So back to the Holy Angels, whom we shall soon be celebrating in the Church’s Year, with the Feast of St Michael and All Angels on September 29 and the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 4. Clearly the Church believes that we are honouring and asking the help of real beings who are not human. She is proclaiming that the accounts of angels in the Scriptures are genuine and believable. And the angels are not just at the edges of the Gospel narrative: they are right there in the centre – announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds, strengthening Jesus in the wilderness, at the Sepulchre after the Resurrection, in the prison with Peter, telling him to bind on his sandals, and all over the Revelation of St John the Divine, battling the devil.
I am sure that the angels are just the first of a multitude of non-human races we shall encounter in God’s great universe, whether in this life or the next. Alice Meynell, the Roman Catholic poet, has given us a glimpse of the glory that shall be revealed in her poem “Christ in the Universe”. Here it is:
With this ambiguous earth
His dealings have been told us. These abide:
The signal to a maid, the human birth,
The lesson, and the young Man crucified
But not a star of all
The innumerable host of stars has heard
How he administered this terrestrial ball.
Our race have kept their Lord’s entrusted Word.
Of his earth-visiting feet
None knows the secret, cherished, perilous,
The terrible, shamefast, frightened, whispered, sweet,
Heart-shattering secret of His way with us.
No planet knows that this
Our wayside planet, carrying land and wave,
Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss,
Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.
Nor, in our little day,
May His devices with the heavens be guessed,
His pilgrimage to thread the Milky Way,
Or His bestowals there be manifest.
But in the eternities,
Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien Gospels. in what guise
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
O be prepared, my soul!
To read the inconceivable, to scan
The million forms of God those stars unroll
When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.
Now that sounds an afterlife a heck of a lot more exciting and fulfilling and interesting than harps and clouds and crowns!