Gregory the Great on Angels  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Angels in popular culture, especially in New Age circles, have acquired an existence largely independent of established spiritual traditions.  Angels can be prayed to so as to receive spiritual or material benefits, and it is commonly thought that relatives or even household pets become angels after death.  A welcome corrective is provided by Pope Gregory I in one of his sermons (Hom. 34, 8-9:  PL 76, 1250-1251). 


You should be aware that the word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature.  Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits.  They can only be called angels when they deliver some message.  Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. 

And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary.  It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform.  In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known.  But personal names are assigned to some, not because they  could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they come among us.  Thus, Michael means "Who is like God?"; Gabriel is "The Strength of God"; and Raphael is "God's Remedy".

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power.  So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying:  I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High.  He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment.  Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John:  A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.

So too Gabriel, who is called God's strength, was sent to Mary.  He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers.  Thus God's strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

Raphael means, as I have said, God's remedy, for when he touched Tobit's eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness.  Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God's remedy.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 29, 2011 at Thursday, September 29, 2011 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Hi Joe,
I know this is not necessarily the forum for this comment, but in your bio, you mention you are shaped by Benedictine monasticism, high church anglicanism, and the heyschast tradition of the eastern church. These three expressions fit me to a tee. But I would be interested what material, books, or influences directed you and if you would be willing to share them. You can email me at I tried to email you based on your email address on the blog, but it kicked back. Thank you for consideration of these matters. I really have been extremely edified by what you have written. I praise God because of you.
Blessings, Deacon Dave Abshear

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