20. Are the Angels Many?
What more striking in nature than the profusion with which her riches are scattered everywhere? Who would undertake to enumerate the blossoms of spring, the bright flowers than enamel the fields in summer, the rich fruits that weigh down the trees at harvest-time? Who can count the stars of heaven? Who can reckon the multitude of the raindrops, which the storm-cloud enfolds in its bosom, or hurls downward to inundate the lands? Who can tell the number of the snow-flakes that fall silently to earth in serried phalanxes in the bleak winter-time, or are tossed and whirled hither and thither, over hill and vale, over river and lake, through lanes and streets, and open fields, in the path of the raging blizzard?
It might be an exaggeration to say that to form to oneself an idea of the multitude of the angels, one must have recourse to comparisons such as these, and yet reputable theologians have thought, and Saint Thomas himself seems in various places to assert, that the number of the angels exceeds that of all material substances.
What we know for certain, because it follows plainly from the words of Holy Writ, is that for us and from our point of view, the angels are a numberless throng. “Is there any numbering of His soldiers?” asks one of the friends of Job. And the expressions employed by Daniel, in describing his vision of the Ancient of Days sitting upon His Throne, of whom he says that “thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him,” are evidently intended to convey the idea of an indefinite multitude, rather than an exact number. Of these, the former phrase is again used, with a similar meaning, by both Saint Paul and Saint John. (Hebrews 12:22; Apocalypse 5:11)
We might, indeed, argue after the following fashion, to prove how incalculably great is the multitude of the blessed spirits. Our guardian angels are chosen frmo the lowest choir, which is that of the angels, and as each of us has his guardian angel, distinct from those of other men, if follows that the angels of the lowest choir are at least as numerous as those of our race who live at any given time. That alone would put their number in the billions. And this reckoning, if extended to the past and to the future, so as to embrace the whole history of mankind from the beginning of the world to the end, would add very considerably to an already exceedingly great multitude. It would, in other words, make the number of the angels of the lowest choir alone equal to that of the whole human race.
Now the blessed spirits of the higher choirs are commonly thought to surpass in number those who are beneath them in point of perfection and excellence, and thus it is evident that the angels of the loftiest choir, and much more the aggregate of all the angels, present a simply countless array – not indeed in the sense that they cannot be numbered, or that their number is not known to God and to the angels themselves, but that it quite baffles the power of our human imagination, and cannot be expressed by an ordinary combination of figures.
At the same time it must be admitted that the foundation on which this argument is built is uncertain. We cannot be sure that the same angel may not be deputed to guard successively a number of different individuals. Some have even thought that the same angel might at one and the same time act as guardian to several human beings. This, however, is very unlikely in itself, on account of the difficulty of such an arrangement, amounting almost to impossibility, and it is also hard to reconcile with the testimonies of the Holy Fathers and less calculated to show forth the power and the liberality of Almighty God.
We must rest satisfied then with knowing in a general way that the angels are a vast and, practically speaking, innumerable throng of glorious spirits, created in such multitudes because it was befitting that infinite Majesty should surround itself with unnumbered hosts of might princes, whose presence should attest the glory of their sovereign Lord, and whose whole being should be at His beck for the immediate accomplishment of His will.