08. The Angelic Mind
The angels are often spoken of as Intelligences, as though the word expressed the whole of what they are, and they were nothing else but minds. Of course, the implication would not be exact. The angels are highly intelligent beings, but intelligence is not their substance; it is only one of their faculties. Nevertheless, as compared with us and with our grosser methods of knowing, the angelic mind stands out so wonderfully perfect, so agile, so free in its action, so disengaged from the encumbrances of matter, so independent, so quickly hurrying on from principles to their remotest deductions – or rather, beholding the deductions in the principles from which they flow and taking in at a glance where we can barely after much labour arrive at some uncertain conclusions – that the whole force of an angel’s nature seems to us to be concentrated in its intellectual power.
We cannot pay a higher tribute to human intelligence than to speak of it as angelic. To say that a philosopher or divine has the mind of an angel is to exhaust the vocabulary of praise, and to call Saint Thomas Aquinas “the angelic Doctor” is not merely to ascribe to him a purity of life whereby he closely resembled the blessed spirits, but chiefly to proclaim him a man of exceptional intellect, and possession a marvellous grasp of divine things.
Those bright intelligences, the holy angels, see God face to face, and that “intuitive vision,” as it is called, is the source of all their blessedness. The Divine Essence is a wondrous mirror in which, while they gaze enraptured on the infinite and soul-enthralling beauties of the Godhead, they see reflect at the same time the whole world of creatures, not vaguely, but as they are, and as it pleases God to manifest them.
That is the clearest and the most perfect knowledge which the angels have – scientia matutina, morning knowledge, divines have named it – in contrast with scientia vespertina or evening knowledge, the less perfect knowledge which the angels have through the play of their natural faculties – they latter being in comparison with the former, a mere twilight as compared with the effulgence of the sun at noonday.
Our minds must first be equipped with an image of the object before they can perceive it – the image itself not being the object, but the instrument of knowledge. So, too, with the angelic mind, though with this difference, that while the object determines the images in the case of the human faculty, in the angelic intellect, the image is present from the outset, but inactive until it is determined in some suitable way by the all-piercing divine activity. For while the human mind is closely allied with the sense and on that account may receive its determination indirectly from material objects (though even here the process is not without mystery), in the case of the angels, whose being is purely spiritual, such determination is quite inconceivable.
The images, then, by which the angelic mind is fully equipped for the act of perception, are present in the faculty as its modifications from the beginning, but are not necessarily operative. Their concurrence is the act of knowing is dependent partly on the free will of the angels, partly on circumstances affecting the object. There is no good reason for thinking that the angels have forever present to their minds everything that falls within the range of their knowledge, nor do they represent to themselves an object as existent, until it actually exists.
There is another great difference between the images which complete the intellectual faculty of the angels and dispose it for the act of natural knowledge, and those whereby the human mind is rendered similarly apt. The angels approach much nearer than we to the simplicity and spirituality of the divine being, and hence as God knows all things and comprehends all things through His own essence, as through a perfect, all-embracing mirror, so the angelic mind is endowed with images – species the schoolmen call them – of far greater range than our, and ever broader in their scope and more universal, as angel rises above angel in glory, and draws nearer and nearer to the source of all being, and the fountain-head from which all knowledge flows. The universla ideas of the blessed spirits are not, like ours, mere shadowy outlines of their objects, more and more bereft of content as they become more and more universal, but on the contrary, the more universal ideas are richer in content, and belong in consequence to the loftier intelligences.
Note – universal ideas in the strict sense are those which represent indifferently any one of a multitude of individuals. Through the abstractive power of the mind, the object represented has been stripped of its individuating characteristics, and thus the mental image may serve equally well as a representation of any similar object.
But the universal ideas of the angels are of a totally different kind. They are universal not through lack, but through abundance of content. Such a universal idea would be, for instance, the concept of this or that earthly kingdom, of which some particular angel might be the appointed guardian. Not only would the angel have full knowledge of the kingdom as a whole, but every detail affecting its physical characteristics as well as its people would be clearly manifest to him.
The nearer the angels approach the unspeakable perfection of their Maker, whose divine essence is like a boundless mirror reflecting at once all existing as well as all possible being, the more they recede from a multiplicity of ideas, and the more they resemble Him in the unity and simplicity of their knowledge.