17. Are All the Angels of One Species?
This question might seem to have been answered by what has been said in the preceding chapter. Yet the division of the blessed spirits into angels, archangels and the other classes there enumerated, does not of itslef imply diversity of species. For the widest divergences may exist within the limits of the same specific nature, and may serve to differentiate mere varieties or individuals.
Thus all men are specifically alike, and yet what marked differences do we not observe between the various groups of men? If a profound dissimilarity, not merely in outward features but even in mental and moral characteristics, does not prevent the various divisions of mankind from falling under one and the same species, may it not well be that, in the case of the angels too, there is no esential difference between the various orders of blessed spirits, and whatever variety exists is purely accidental, bring due to super-added gifts or endowments, to place, office, rank, and the like?
At all events, the question as to whether or not there are different species of angels is not one that may be settled out of hand. In the first place, it is not easy matter to define just what makes a difference of species, and a test that might be satisfactorily applied in the case of material things, would be useless in that of spiritual beings. Then, too, we have here no unanimity of opinion on the part of Catholic divines, but on the contrary, we find ourselves confronted with a great divergency of views.
For there is first the extreme position taken by the Thomistic school, which, as a while, maintains that each angel constitutes a species in himself; in other words, no two angels belong to the same species. We shall not stop to discuss the arguments of the Thomists, which, to the lay mind certainly, would hardly appear convincing. We shall only observe that the weight of opinion among the Fathers of the Church appears to be decidedly against them.
And indeed, the splendour of the heavenly court would seem to require that in every grade of those who minister before the Most High, there should be a multitude of equal rank. This would also give abundant scope to that propensity of the rational creature to regard as naturally his friends, those in whom he beholds the exact reflection of his own qualities and gifts. For although divine love binds all the blessed spirits together in ties of the closest union, yet the supernatural order does not destroy the natural, nor does it extinguish those affinities which have their foundation in nature, even as it came from the Creator’s hand.
The Scotists hold the opposite view to that of the Thomists, maintaining that the angels are all of one species, and that whatever differences exist between them are in no-wise essential. There are classes of angels only as there are classes of saints, and as there are various divisions of an army – the latter comparison being all the more apt because in Holy Writ the term, host, or army, is often applied to the angelic throngs.
Many of the Fathers are quoted as adhering to this view, but others favour neither extreme. They prefer to think that among the angels there are different species, each of which comprises vast multitudes of individuals. And this is the opinion commonly adopted by the theologians of the Society of Jesus, and particularly by the learned Father Suarez.
According to this opinion, one might hold that there are three species corresponding to the number of hierarchies, or nine, corresponding to that of the choirs. But Suarez inclines to the view that the number is incomparably greater, and that the nine choirs are but so many subaltern species, each comprising a multitude of subdivisions, and each of these a countless throng of individuals, differing only by their personal characteristics.
The illustrious doctor bases this opinion on the endless variety of species of material things – of minerals, of plants, of animals – which contributes so wonderfully to the beauty of the universe and the glory of the Creator. For surely an equal, or still greater variety of intellectual beings would enhance still more the glory of God, and the splendour of the world which is the work of His hands.
This supposes, to be sure, that such a multiplication of angelic species is possible. Suarez holds that it is, and that the arguments advanced to prove it impossible, which he examines, are in reality inconclusive.