“There is a good deal of allusion to the theology of the Angels in this book on the Human Soul. This is unavoidable, as the theology of the Human Soul coincides in many points with the theology of the Angels.” —Dom Vonier
Welcome to part 12 of our weekly series on the soul. For this week I’ve chosen The Human Soul and its Relations with Other Spirits, by Dom Anscar Vonier, OSB, who, like Dom Wiesinger, OSCO, looked mainly to St. Thomas Aquinas as the Master Theologian, mainly if not exclusively. (Oh, how I love these good, old, Catholic books!) You can get a PDF copy for free. I’ll put a link at the end of the post. (I bought a Kindle version at Amazon, but I can’t recommend it to you. So many typos and even missing words. Oy! Commission from affiliate link or not, I can’t recommend it at all. I’m not even going to post the link.)
We’ve covered so many points about the soul in eleven other posts now so I don’t want to begin at the beginning and go through this one, not now anyway. How about the section on the soul, the Angels, and the afterlife, chapter XLVII, then? We’ll begin at the end, like having dessert before the main course. I’ll be quoting at length from the book (it’s in the public domain), and all quotes will be from it except where otherwise noted.
With St. Thomas, Dom Anscar says that “the human soul after this mortal life enters into a pure spirit-existence.” Nothing here about the rather odd notion spirit- or soul-sleep that I’ve heard some (non-Catholics) talk about. The theology on the Angels (Dom Anscar capitalizes the A in Angels and I will, too) has:
a practical bearing…Just as God is to be the God of our heart, so are the Angels to be the spirits that will keep company with our spirit. Our life, after the dissolution of the body, is to be intimately connected with the life of the Angels. The highest perfection of the redeemed and glorified soul is the vision of God. Next to that, there is the vision we shall have of the Angels of God. To see them as they are, to share their life, to be one of them, all this belongs to the glorified, the elect soul. [Note: Dom Anscar is not saying that we humans will become Angels.]
It might even be said that this companionship with the heavenly spirits is more within man’s claims than the blessed vision of God. We fight bravely here on earth, whilst we are in the tabernacle of our mortality, against the errors and snares and fascinations of our senses; we fight in order to be spiritual, when all that is low in us wants to make us animal. To be admitted into the society of the spirits that were perfect from the beginning, seems to be the most appropriate reward. To be admitted to the vision of God Himself is due only to the possession of gifts in our soul, that are in us directly through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
We find this hope of an admission into the spirit- society even where the hope of attaining God’s vision does not exist; there is indeed a school of non-Christian philosophers, to whom supreme happiness is the contemplation or vision of what they call the formce separatee, ‘the beings free from matter’. (Pg. 302)
Christian theology has raised the best instincts of human reason into an article of faith; for it is not a mere opinion, it is an article of faith, that man’s recompense will be life unending with the Angels.
There is, of course, something higher than that, which will be given to man: the vision of God. There will be joys lower than that, as for instance those joys that come to the glorified body. All the same it remains true to say, that the human soul, as soul, is primarily destined to enter into the Angelic society. This is due to it for keeping itself spotless from the world. (Pg. 303)
Here Dom Vonier gives several quotes from Scripture of the Lord speaking about man and the Angels, on pages 303-304. Punctuation in the original.
‘For he that will save his life shall lose it, and he that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.’ ‘For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?’ ‘For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his Angels, and then will he render to everyman according to his work.’ (Matthew 16:25-27)
An Angel is greater than the material World with all its glories; so is the soul, if it but understand its dignity. But if it degrades itself, to possess the world, the Angel scorns it; and whither shall it go, if the scorn of the Angels is upon it? The world which it tried to grasp will not satisfy its hunger ; it was made for the Angels ; woe then to it, if it does not find the Angels.
‘He that shall overcome, shall then be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the Book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and his Angels’ (Apoc. iii. 5).
‘For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man also will be ashamed of him, when he shall come in the glory of his Father with the holy Angels’ (Mark viii. 28)
‘And I say to you: Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the Angels of God. But he that shall deny me before men, shall be denied before the Angels of God’ (Luke xii. 8 9).
Here then, and in the preceding passages, our Blessed Lord identifies eternal loss with exclusion from the Angelic society. Not to be amongst the Angels is for the soul failure to arrive at its natural goal. (305)
It will be a bitter thing for the human soul to have lost God; but this great and useless regret will leave room for another despair, incomparably keen—that of having been rejected by the Angels for whom the soul was primarily made.
It is a common opinion amongst theologians that the elect of the human race are destined to take the place of the fallen Angels. In what way this happens it would be difficult for us to define.
This could hardly be understood otherwise than of the exclusively supernatural gifts ; in other words, the elect of the human race are destined to possess those revelations of God’s Countenance, that were meant for the spirits that fell.
We must bear in mind, however, that there is no theological tradition that limits the number of the elect from the human race to the number of ’empty thrones’, left vacant through the fall. Nor would it be theologically wise to say that man’s admission into the Angelic society comes through the fall of the proud spirits. It is in the very essence of the human soul that we must look for the origin of that exaltation. (305-306)
What we have said in a previous chapter, concerning the spirit’s remoteness from matter, will make us careful when we try to represent to our own mind the way in which we expect to take up our abode amongst the heavenly spirits. (306)
It is evidently something that is all of the spirit. Local abiding amongst them is out of the question; it is merely metaphor.
How then shall we be made the fellow-citizens of the blessed spirits?
There is one way only: a share in their knowledge, and also in their ways of knowing. We shall know what the Angels know, and also we shall know it in the manner that is their own.
This is why our masters in sacred doctrine are unanimous in teaching that before we receive the vision of God, we have the Angelic knowledge.
‘But they that shall be accounted worthy of that world and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married nor take wives; neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the Angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection’ (Luke xx. 35 36). (306-307)
Equality with the Angels must necessarily mean intellectual equality, as all the attributes of spirits are intellectual, or connected with the intellect. (307)
Thus it will be possible for the elect to converse with the Angels in ‘their own tongue’. The question might be mooted how the human mind is made to possess this knowledge, so far superior to its own plane.
St. Thomas thinks that it is in the power of the heavenly spirits themselves to communicate it to the human spirit.
God, and God alone can give Beatific Vision; but it would be a great limitation to the Angelic powers, if the communication of their own science were not left to them.
I must note, however, that the mode in which Angelic knowledge is given to the elect soul, is not a matter of such absolute certainty, as is the fact of such a possession. We may, if we choose, hold the view that the human intellect is raised to the Angelic plane by a direct act of God.
The first view, however, ought to commend itself more to the philosopher’s mind, as secondary causes ought to be credited with as much activity as possible ; for God shows forth His power in making His creatures powerful. (307-308)
Where is the tongue to sing worthily the blessed- ness of this part of our eternity! ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice; for they shall have their fill.’
Not a shadow of error, not a vestige of ignorance, not the faintest sign of injustice, through all that mighty spiritual World!
And all that, after escaping from a world steeped in mendacity, error, prejudice, where gigantic lies and monstrous injustices make the life of the children of God a burden. Let it be of little account to be misunderstood by this adulterous generation Our judges will be the ‘holy Angels of God’.
There is one more consideration which finds its natural place here: Numerous as the Angels are, they are not a crowd, but a hierarchy, both in knowledge and love. Consequently, they all will enter into our lives, be part of it, and contribute towards the fulness of it.
With mankind, we feel daily more and more how man is not part of his fellow-man; how the generality of men are nothing to us, have no share in our lives. They come and go, and we remain as if they had never existed. Not so in that World where we shall be equal to the Angels. (308-309)
As hierarchy is part of their nature, to be with one means to be with all of them. This is the way in which we came, through the Blood of Christ, ‘to Mount Sion, and to the city of the Living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of Angels (Hebr. xii. 22).
Next week, chapter XLVIII, Guardian Angels, wherein Dom Vonier explains more of what it means that “Man has been made for the Angels” and more of Catholic theology regarding spirits.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the series and your visit. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, may the Lord bless you and keep you, and may the peace of Christ be always with you. Amen. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
- The Human Soul and its Relations with Other Spirits, by Dom Anscar Vonier, OSB. That link is for the paperback edition currently (March 5, 2020) with introduction by Ralph McInerny, on sale at Ignatius Press for several dollars less than at Amazon. The Kindle version by Assumption Press contains many errors and I’m too ashamed to share my affiliate link for it. I wouldn’t want you to spend a dime on it. The edition I’m using in these posts is the 1913 Herder edition, available as a free PDF at archive.org.
- See also this 2011 article, also at Ignatius Insight, Introduction to Abbot Vonier’s The Human Soul, by Dr. Ralph McInerny. (This may be printed in the Ignatius Press edition listed above, but I don’t have that one or a sample so I don’t know for sure.)
- Also see this 2007 article at Ignatius Insight: Abbot Vonier and the Christian Sacrifice, Introduction to Abbot Vonier’s A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P.
- Angels, by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1459, public domain.
- Illustration for the Divine Comedy, by Gustav Doré, public domain.
- Fall of the Rebel Angels, by Sebastiano Ricci, public domain.
- Angel of the Guard, Antonio de Pereda, Hermitage Museum, public domain. (I did some color correction on it. At least I hope it’s corrected.)