11. The Speech of Angels
Saint Paul, writing to the Corinthians, say, “If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1) The angels, then, no less than men, have their tongues, their speech, whereby they communicate to one another their thoughts and aims. And how else indeed could that mighty society of which they are the members be held together in the perfect harmony which belongs to all things heavenly without this necessary social bond?
Besides, we are expressly told in Holy Writ that the seraphim whom Isaias beheld standing in the presence of the Lord cried one to another, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts; all the earth is full of his glory.” (Isaias 6:3) And Saint John, in the the book of the Apocalypse, tells us how the angel whom he saw ascending from the rising of the sun called out with a loud voice to the four angels who stood on the four corners of the earth, bidding them delay for a while the vengeance which they were commissioned to wreak.
If men converse freely with one another, and if they find in that intercourse with their fellows so keen and subtle a pleasure, a source of such habitual and manifold enjoyment, it surely is inconceivable that the blessed spirits should be condemned by nature to a state of isolation, the more repugnant because of the sublime content of their minds and the burning mutual love with which they are enkindled.
But when we come to explain the manner of their speech, we find ourselves at a loss. They are pure spirits, and their language must be wholly spiritual. They may, when they appear to men, make use of human speech. They may sing in melodious accents when they announce to simple shepherds the birth of the Saviour of mankind. They may chant in strains of more than earthly music at the tomb of the Virgin Mother. They may translate their thoughts into human language when they would convey them to those who hear with ears of flesh, and who express their thoughts by the use of throat, tongue, lips and airy voice.
But when angels speak one to another, when tye converse among themselves of the majesty of the Creator and of the splendour of the works of His hands, or intimate His will to such as are subject to them in the scheme of the celestial hierarchy, what is the character of their speech? What is the method of communication between them?
It ought to be such as to allow of their communicating with each other at great distances. For men also do this, to some extent with the unaided voice, and to a far greater degree with the aid of mechanical appliances.
An angel, too, when speaking should be able to address himself at choice to one or to several. He should be able to confide a secret to this one or that, or to speak openly so that all who will may hear. He should be able also to know who speaks to him, and with just what earnestness or energy, he would convey his thoughts and sentiments.
In fine, we must concede that an angel’s speech is such as to admit of the possibility of lying – not, of course, in angels confirmed in grace, but considering only their natural faculty – for the devil is the “father of lies.”
To safeguard these requirements, some theologians think it explanation enough to say that the angel who speaks must freely direct his thoughts to this or that angel, or, if he choose, to a number of angels, and that by the very fact – not, of course, without the ordinary divine concurrence – that corresponding concepts are awakened in the minds of those whom he is addressing.
Others hold that an angel who would speak to another must act upon the latter according to the spiritual nature of both, and must produce in his intellect an image of himself – to indicate the speaker – and at the same time an image corresponding to the thought to be communicated.
The question is a difficult one, and for the full and satisfactory solution we must be content to wait until the happy hour when we ourselves shall be introduced into the glorious company of the blessed spirits, and shall know from experience how wondrous God is in that supreme order of beings, which, if we except the Sacred Humanity of Christ, and our Blessed Lady, is the crowning work of His creative hand.