23b. Michael the Archangel – Amid the Angelic Hosts
In the preceding chapter we saw how Holy Church gives to the Archangel Michael the highest place among the blessed spirits. For she calls him “Chief (or Prince) of the heavenly army,” and this she does while celebrating a feast in honour of all the holy angels. It would seem, then, an obvious inference that she regards him simply as the first and foremost of the whole heavenly host, nor does there appear at first blush any reason for not accepting the inference.
And yet if we recall what was said in a previous chapter about the two classes of angels – those who assist and those who serve – we shall see that a serious difficulty arises for whoever admits this distinction. For Saint Michael, whom the Church honours, is them guardian of the Church, as he was formerly of the Synagogue, and is often sent to earth in the interest of the Church and of souls. But the three highest choirs of the angels are never sent, nor are they occupied with exterior things, but are ever absorbed in the contemplation of God, from whose presence they never go forth.
Hence, Saint Thomas and others would have it that Saint Michael belongs to the choir of principalities, or possibly to that of the archangels. And Suarez deems it likely that he is the first and highest of the principalities, who precede in dignity the angels and archangels, and have care of provinces and kingdoms. And because these glorious spirits take the leading part of the warfare between the good and bad angels, which is continued here below for the welfare or the ruin of the human race, they are chiefly meant when it is said that “Michael and his angels fought with the dragon.”
Yet Suarez, endeavouring to reconcile this view with that would appear to be the common opinion of the faithful, distinguishes between the immediate guardian of the Church and of the Synagogue, who has often been sent, and is still sent, on various missions for the advantage of God’s people, and that other glorious angel who first sounded the war cry, “Who is like God?” and led the hosts of faithful angels against Lucifer and his followers in the battle which was fought in heaven from the beginning, and ended in the utter rout of the enemies of God.
In this conflict all the angels were engaged, even those of the most exalted choirs, because their own interests and the divine honour were at stake. The ranks, too, of the fallen angels would seem to have been recruited largely from the higher orders, if we may argue from Saint Paul’s words. (Ephesians 6) The prime leader, then, of the angels who remained loyal to their Maker, must surely have been of the highest of the seraphim, even as Lucifer, the rebel chief, was one of the highest, if not the very highest, of all the angels.
It is not possible to speak more precisely or more definitely on this point. We cannot be sure that any one particular angel was positively highest, as there may have been several individuals equally endowed. This, of course, is on the supposition that the angels do not all differ specifically. For is they do, then the angel of the highest species will also be the highest of the angels, there being no other to share his specific perfection. If, on the contrary, the highest species of the seraphim comprises two or more individuals, these may be equally gifted, and it may be that none is higher or more perfect than his fellows.
In this case, Michael, the zealous champion of the honour of the Most High, while in natural gifts inferior neither to Lucifer, nor to any of the other seraphim, may in point of merit, and by reason of his zeal, be superior to all the rest. Nor will it be inconsistent with his exalted rank to discharge the office of guardian and protector of the Church, which we associate with his name, if we say that its functions are exercised by that glorious Archangel, not directly by himself, but indirectly, and under this high command, through the ministry of the lower angels.
To him we may confidently appear in our own private struggles with the power of evil, and still more in behalf of the Church in that bitter warfare which the spirits of darkness cease not to wage against her. If we are devoted to him in life, he will come to receive our souls in death, and to admit us to our heavenly home. For God has delivered to him the souls of all the saints, that he may conduct them to the paradise of exultant joy. He is God’s ambassador for the souls of the just – “Michael, marshal of paradise, whom the fellow-citizens of the angels honour.”