21a. Our Guardian Angels – Catholic Teaching
The angelic nature, being wholly spiritual, is far superior to ours and hte very least of the angel is a prince, compared with whom all earthly beauty and wisdom are as dross, and all human might is frailty. It is not, then, a matter of course that they should wait on us, but a dispensation of infinite love, the same which prompted God’s own son to come among us, “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
For he hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash they foot against a stone. (Psalm 110:11-12)
In the words of the psalmist we find, not only a clear assertion of the fact that the guardianship of men has been entrusted to the holy angels, but the motive also for so loving a dispensation – man’s frailty and the dangers to which he is exposed. These might, indeed, of themselves have moved the good angels to sympathize with us, especially when we bear in mind tha tthe main source of danger to us is the warefare which the fallen angels cease not to wage against us. But, as a matter of fact, it is in fulfilment of a sacred trust confided to them by our common Creator, that our guardian angels surround us everywhere with their powerful protection. It is not of their own free choice, but as a solmn duty, that they are ever alert and active for our welfare.
It might, it is true, be objected that the psalmist is here speaking not of men in general, but of Christ. For the Psalm is Messianic, and certainly the demon so understood the words, and in one of the temptations applied them to Christ. But because the passage quoted is to be understood especially of Christ, as Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose and others expound it, it does not follow that there is question only of Him. On the contrary, the Fathers commonly interpret it as referring to all mankind, as the opening words of the Psalm would seem to indicate that it does. For there the psalmist asserts, quite universally, that “he who dwelleth in the aid of the Most High, shall abide in the protection of the God of Jacob,” of which protection the guardianship of the holy angels is a singular instance.
So, too, in another passage, the same inspired writer declares in general terms that “the angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them.” (Psalm 33:8)
This, if we confine ourselves to the general statement that by the ineffable providence of God, the angels have been deputed to guard men on their pathway through life, it is, as Suarez says, a doctrine of faith, for it is expressly contained in Holy Scripture. If, going a setp further, we assert that each individual of the human race has a guardian angel appointed to watch over him from birth, we are still enunciating a Catholic belief, not indeed contained explicitly in Holy Writ, nor defined by the Church as an article of faith, but so universally received and with such solid foundation in Holy Scripture, as interpreted by the Fathers, that it cannot without great rashness be called into question. In fact, to deny it might also be termed erroneous.
Certainly our Divine Lord says, speaking of little children, “See that you despise not one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10) And Saint Jerome, commenting on these words, infers from them the great dignity of our souls, seeing that each has from birth an angel deputed to watch over it. And the holy Doctor argues to the same effect from the words of the disciples, when Peter stood at the gate and knocked, after his miraculous escape from prison. They could not credt the message of the portress, that it was Peter himself, and they said, “It is his angel” (Acts 12:15), showing thereby what was already the common persuation of the faithful.
Another passage of Holy Writ, which the Fathers quote to prove that we have each our guardian angel, is that wherein Jason, in blessing the sons of Joseph, says, “The angel that delivered me from all evils, bless these boys.” In their comments on this test, and on those previously quoted, Catholic interpreters are quite at one. The texts all alike imply the doctrine universally received in the Church to the effect that not only are angels commissioned in a general way to guard makind, but as Saint Anselm says, “every soul, at the moment when it is infused into the body, is entrusted to the keeping of an angel.”
The language of Holy Writ is perhaps not as explicit as we could wish, but the traditional understanding of the inspired word, as conveyed to us by the Fathers of the Church, of whom many others might be quoted, leaves nothing ot be desired. Yet, admitting that each individual is provided with a guardian angel, it might still be questioned whether the same angel may nbot be at once the guardian of two or more. To this we can only say that the view according to which each one’s angel is distinct from this neighbour’s, and deputed to guard him exclusively, is more in keeping with the language of the Fathers, and more in harmony with the common understanding of the faithful. Also, the liberality and munificence of Almighty God are more apprent in this view and it also avoids the difficulty (amounting, it would see, to an impossibility) of having one angel serve as guardian to individuals dwelling apart in distant places.
There have been some who would have restricted this salutary guardianship of the angels to those who are destined one day to share with them the happiness of heaven, or to tohse oat least who are in the state of grace. But the well-considered, common opinion of Catholic theologians, basing their views on the concordant languate of the Fathers, assigns a guardian angel indiscriminately to just man and sinner, to believer and unbeliever, to Christian and heathen alike.
For God denies to no man sufficient help to save his soul and in the actual order of divine Providence, the guardianship of the holy angels is one of the elements which go to make up that sufficient help. For God permits men good and bad, to be tempted by the demon, though of themselves they are unable to resist the tempter successfully. Hence He also provides them with the assistance and protection of the holy angels, so as to supply for their insufficiency.
And just as the angels guard those who have never had faith or sanctifying grace, so too, they continue their guardianship over those who have lost the faith or have fallen away from grace. In fact, this is one of those special provisions of the divine mercy, whereby God ever seeks the reconciliation of the sinner and urges himi to turn from his evil ways.
Then, too, even the just and the elect are exposed to the assaults and temptations of the evil one. Why should not the good angels solicit the sinner and by holy inspirations and illuminations seek to bring about his return to God, or at least prevent him from sinking to even lower depths of sin? Either result would be apt to contribute greatly to the welfare of the just, by removing from them to a greater or less degree the bad example of the wicked, which often has so baneful an influence on the lives of others.