Weekly Series on the Soul, Part 13 – The Guardian Angels

Welcome to part 13 of our weekly series on the soul. Last week we looked at the chapter in Dom Vonier’s book on the Angels and their relation to us. This week we’ll look at the Guardian Angels, Ch. XLVIII, pages 309-328. You can catch up using the links above or at the end of this post. I’ll include notes and other links there, too. The quotes are from Dom Vonier’s book unless otherwise noted. Punctuation as in the original.

“From earliest childhood we have been familiarised with paintings or anyhow pictures, on youth, with a beauty not of this world, majestically and recollectedly at the side of his human protege.”

“It is always a gain to our faith if we succeed in finding the true doctrinal and theological meaning of the symbolisms that were the food of our childish minds. I, for one, consider that with many men their faith has become uninteresting to them, because they have not grown out of the metaphor, the imagery of it, into a rational understanding. In everything else, their mind has become a man’s mind; they have put away the things of a child. In matters of Faith alone, they still are bound to speak as a child, to understand as a child, with the result that Faith has become insipid to their virile minds. Happy are they, if their unripe imaginings do not expose their faith to the attacks of the unsparing reasonings of clever infidelity.”

“It is said of a modern English agnostic of a very militant type, that the only Christianity he ever knew was the one he knew at the age of five. All his virulence is directed against the childhood Christianity which alone he had learned.”

[Oh, how many times have I spoken to people who left the Church at a young age, and when I ask them why they left, they almost invariably tell me it was because of some teaching that isn’t even a teaching of the Church. It’s a shame they allowed their faith to be not child-like, which is recommended by the Lord, but childish, which can only be desirable to our ancient enemy and no one else.]

“Catholic Spiritism, if we may use this term for Catholic theology on spirits, far from degenerating into a dabbling with the Unseen, renders man more simple in faith, which is of things that are not seen. Moreover, it makes him realise his own responsibilities, far from making of the “Spirits” the “agents” of one’s pet desires.”

Dom vonier, The Human Soul

“We will try now to give what I may call a man’s view of the doctrine of Angelic guardianship, which will be simply the theological view, as we find it in the writings of our Theologians.”

“There are perhaps few impressions that render a given doctrine more insipid to the mature mind, than the impression that there is absolute disproportion between means and end, in the would-be spiritual facts embodied in the doctrine.”

“Thus in the present instance, the thought of one mighty spirit, spending his existence in watching over the details of an insignificant human life, seems to include such a disproportion between means and end. One does not send for a giant, to pick up straws.”

“Then there is a suspicion that the unceasing presence of a spirit of untiring activity might take away all human responsibility, if the spirit-role is at all to be taken au serieux. Why not abandon oneself blindly to a guide in whom power and knowledge are practically unlimited?”

”The expression that Angels, or at least Guardian Angels, have been created for the benefit of man, has to be understood in the moaning which we attach to an analogous expression, that God became Man for the sake of man. We do not make man, or mankind, the end for which God became Incarnate. God Incarnate is infinitely greater than mankind, and the r’aison d’etre of Him could never be man ; He Himself is the end of His own existence, of His own Incarnation, and He is also the end of man, or mankind.”

“The redeemed and sanctified human individual is redeemed and sanctified precisely with a view to make him worthy of the God Incarnate. The profit of our Redemption is this, that we should be in a fit state to glorify the God Incarnate, and have Him for our ultimate end. Otherwise Redemption would not have been a raising up of the massa humana.”

“The most useful way in which God could become Man for man’s sake, was to make Himself, as God-Man, the end of man.”

“So with the Angels, versus the children of Adam. If we insist at all on the use of the apparently utilitarian phrase that Angels were created for us, let us understand it in a way that will be of the fullest advantage for us.”

“Their protective and guiding action has essentially and exclusively one aim, one purpose : to make us worthy of them, worthy to be their fellow-citizens one day. If they are at all to be said to have been made for us, they have been made to be the objects of our everlasting contemplation, of our unending joy, of our peace in their beauty.”

“Their external, temporary action on us, around us, should be considered as a means; they them- selves would be the end ; their solicitude over us is so vigilant precisely because we are intended to be their companions.”

“But we need not use at all the phrase, that Angels have been made for us. “Man has been made for the Angels”, though less familiar to our ears, would be a vast deal truer.”

“Every human being has been entrusted to the care of an Angel; this it an article of faith. Christian tradition has it that no two human beings are entrusted to the same spirit. This of course must be understood of two human beings who are completing their earthly pilgrimage at the same time. The reason for this exclusive guardianship one man, one Angel—could never be deficiency in Angelic power or knowledge to take care of many at the same time. This would be derogatory to spirit-activity.”

“The reason must be looked for in the moral relationship which such intimacy and union, as is included in the Angel’s guardianship, is intended to establish for ever, between man and his Angel. This kind of loving appropriation on the part of the spirit of one out of the human family, does not mean, in theology, exclusion of any other sort of activity, in other spheres, at the same time, according to the power and order of the Angel. (I do not speak here of that holiest and highest of the Angel’s activities, to behold the Face of the Father that is in Heaven, without ceasing. I speak of activity here as meaning influence on some other creature.) Nor does it mean constant and unceasing presence.”

“We know what Angelic presence implies. A spirit is present, is there, because he acts on the material, the human being; if he ceases acting, he is already departed, back into the infinitely distant spirit-world.”

“On the other hand, his will, his inward determination to act, has already made him present again. Constancy, permanence of guardianship, according to St. Thomas, is preserved through this instantaneous approach, from the spirit-world, provided the spirit be never without a full knowledge of all that concerns his charge. St. Thomas does not speak of constant, unceasing action; therefore he does not admit unceasing local presence, as the one follows from the other. All that St. Thomas requires, to make the guardianship unceasing, is continuous thought in the Angel’s intellect concerning his ward.”

“Distance does not exist for spirits.”

“Three things would thus constitute the office of the Guardian Angel: first, an intimate and entire knowledge of the human person under his care; this knowledge goes beyond what an Angel is enabled to know of created things generally; it is the knowledge of the secrets of the heart of that individual person. By ordinary Angelic laws the secrets of the heart are not known.

“In the second place, there is determination in the Angel’s will to assist, to help, whenever it is necessary, or merely useful.”

“Thirdly, there is the action itself, on, or about the person, which constitutes the presence.”

“Nor is the doctrine that no two Angels are of equal rank, forgotten here. The Guardian Angels do not constitute, as it were, one common family of Angels; they are merely the spirits that constitute the Angelic World, everyone more important in that World, for its completeness, than is any star in the stellar world.”

“‘There is no reason’, says the Angelic Doctor, ‘why an angel should not have the care of a human being, though he be superior to another Angel, on whom he exerts spiritual influences as on an inferior’”.

“We have said already that to watch over a member of the human family does by no means exhaust the Angel’s activity, even at one and the same time. Nor would it necessarily mean a preference, a privilege, for man, to be under the care of a higher spirit. The preference, the privilege would consist in the amount of activity of any given spirit with his charge.”

“These theological considerations make the doctrine of Guardian Angels, one full of dignity, capable of appealing to the severest and most exact mind.”

“But there is another idea, familiar to St. Thomas, which ought not to be left out, and which con- tributes largely towards the majesty of that dogma, which might be called at the same time the dogma of the Christian nursery. In order to give satisfaction to our intellect, which seems to loathe the thought of a celestial prince being tied to the service of a mortal man, St. Thomas repeats with great insistence that this is a question of what is transitory, and what is everlasting. The soul is everlasting, whilst everything else is transitory, however vast and extensive it may be. Therefore, the human soul is worthy of the attention of a spirit, even of the highest rank.”

“I daresay most people would find it at least a beautiful thought to suggest that God has appointed one of the Heavenly Powers to watch over the destinies of the British Empire; and they would sneer at the Catholic tradition of “one man, one Angel”. Yet the British Empire is something merely temporal; the soul of the one man is eternal!”

“Catholic Spiritism, if we may use this term for Catholic theology on spirits, far from degenerating into a dabbling with the Unseen, renders man more simple in faith, which is of things that are not seen. Moreover, it makes him realise his own responsibilities, far from making of the “Spirits” the “agents” of one’s pet desires.”

“These thoughts are in their place here, where we have to consider the nature of the action our Guardian Angel exerts concerning each one of us. Our masters in Sacred Doctrine make Angelic action begin there, where human resources fail, and there only.”

“We may first mention that part of the Angel’s activity that is outside us, keeping possible dangers from us, which a higher intellect only could foresee or bringing about circumstances that will make for our ultimate happiness, and which it will take a genius that is more than human, to arrange. Of the Angel’s opposition to the powers of darkness
I speak in another chapter. This too is a field of activity which requires more than flesh and blood. But I come to the more human part of the question, that part which deals with what is inside us.”

“The Angel finds there, in our mind and in our own heart, room enough for activity which he alone can supply.”

“Three functions may be ascribed to him : To give our thoughts a new train, in speculative things to help us to decide prudently in particular matters, where decision is required, and no hard and fast rules are available; to alter the disposition of our lower appetites, when they are set against the Divine good.”

“All these three effects require an outside agent, or, anyhow, may be produced by an outside agent, without lightening in the least the burden of personal responsibility on the part of man.”

“Before proceeding, there is one very important consideration, deserving of our attention. St. Thomas makes the Angel’s power in the interior life of man dependent on the pre-existing disposition of the senses, high and low. The Angel cannot act directly on the pure intellect, nor can he touch the will. He must make use of the senses and of previous sensitive acquisitions, which he finds in man.”

“It is thus he reaches the intellect. Modern spiritism, in as much as there is reality in it, will bear out this law of spirit-activity on man. This alone would suffice to safeguard man’s liberty, under the action of his Angelic protector. The spirit makes use only of what is offered to him by man’s moral state.”

“There is the following threefold gradation adopted by our masters. First, God alone is able to touch directly the will, and the intellect, either in Angels or in men. Secondly, a created spirit in a state of pure immateriality, is able to touch directly the intellect of another created spirit, in the same state of immateriality. Thirdly, an Angel cannot touch directly the intellect not yet in a state of pure immateriality, as is the state of the human intellect during the present life. He has to approach it through the senses. The reason is obvious : we ourselves receive all our knowledge through the observation of our senses, and our intellectual life is closely linked together with our sense-life. Even an Angel has to conform to the laws of the nature with which he is dealing.”

“It is a universal axiom with all theologians that God alone is able to touch directly, and handle, as it were, a created free will. It is one of the exclusive and incommunicable privileges of the Godhead. Created agencies may persuade, may entice, as it were; the Almighty alone can enter into the innermost recesses of created volition and change it.”

“St. Thomas gives the reason of this exclusive power of God on created volition. It is perfectly simple, and easy to follow. An act of volition would not be an act of volition, if it were not essentially a following of the will’s own desire, own inclination, own bent. It is the will’s nature to follow its own dictates, as its own. Now, when an outside agent is said to change the will, it implies this: the outside agent must make the will follow the new inclinations as coming from itself, i. e. from the free will, otherwise it would not be an act of the will.”

“How could it be an act of the will, if it were not a following of its own bent?”

“This then supposes that the nature of the will itself has been changed. For it could not follow a new bent as its own, unless it had been made such as to have this new bent.”

“Now God alone, who is the Maker of natures, can alter them.”

“Therefore God alone can alter a created will.”

“We must bear in mind, when reading this Scholastic argumentation, that it is all about the purely spiritual will, where there is freedom of election.”

“These considerations need not be looked upon as a digression. They belong to the very heart of the matter, i. e. Angelic influence on man. They help us in the mapping out of the field of that influence, either good or evil ; for many of the views expressed here hold good for the influence
of the evil spirit on man, though for the present, we speak of good influences only. The remarks made just now make it clear, not only that human responsibility is not superseded by Angelic assistance, but also that there is left an immense sphere in man, for the directly Divine action. In his action, the Guardian Angel is respectful both of man’s and of God’s share in our mental and moral working.”

“But to come back now to what are the Angel’s proper spheres within us, we said first that he may be the originator of a new train of thoughts, that will lead to what is good.”

“We all know from experience what it is to have our mind put, as it were, on a new track. We shall find in most cases that the new suggestion comes from something that is not ourselves; it is human speech, oral or written; it is some external fact. Looking back, we feel thankful to the man, or the book, or the event, that made our former thoughts leave their groove, and started us on a new way of thinking.”

“Thus a business-man may owe his success to a new way of thinking of the things of his trade, that came to him casually, it would seem, but certainly from the outside. What I say is this: without excluding such inferior influences, or origins of new thoughts, or trains of thought, according to Catholic theology, there is a spirit that has been appointed to be to us a source of new lights. We all have to confess to a constant tendency of particularising all our thoughts into one specific channel it comes from the limitation of our nature. The heavenly spirit that is our partner in the business of life is made just the other way; his views em- brace everything, at every moment; his is a most mobile knowledge, not crystallised into any par- ticular shape; he makes us think new thoughts. This has a most universal application; it is true of the purely supernatural, as well as the natural, the temporal.”

“The Angel of God gives the victorious idea to the general on the battlefield, and makes the recluse think of better things for his soul.”

“As we have said, no influence could stand less in the way of human initiative and responsibility than the one just described.”

“We have mentioned practical decision in everyday life, as the second sphere of the Angel’s operation. Here too the Angel stands in no one’s way, andthe recluse think of better things for his soul.

“We have mentioned practical decision in everyday life, as the second sphere of the Angel’s operation. Here too the Angel stands in no one’s way, and his presence is indispensable, if our life is to be a success in the eyes of God.”

“St. Thomas remarks very wisely that even when all virtues have been infused into the soul by God, liberally and plentifully, and have made man per- fect, the virtue of prudence would make a higher, an external assistance necessary.”

“Prudence has to deal with facts about which there are no a priori, no universal rules. To know what is best, in a given case, is to all purposes, guess-work, for the holiest, and wisest, and most experienced. We want a counsellor, and we do not feel that his advice is an intrusion, a curtailing of our freedom, of our initiative and of our responsibility.”

“Theology pronounces the Angel that keeps us to be the born adviser and counseller of man, in things that have no other rule than their endless variability.”

“Finally, there are our passions, our moods, our obstinacies, coming from confirmed antipathies. These are mouldings of our lower appetites. The will, or spirit-will as we may call it, falls an easy prey to them. We do in a passion what we shall regret when the storm of the irate appetites is over.”

“Now God alone, who is the Maker of natures, can alter them…Therefore God alone can alter a created will.”

Dom Vonier, the human soul

“It is the most fertile source of our moral falls. The appetites, that ought to be under us, are allowed to overpower us. Here, too, we know what important changes are brought about by things that are outside us; how the wrath of even an Achilles vanishes before a fair smile; how the stroke of a gentle hand is as oil on the troubled waters.”

“Nothing ought to convince us so firmly of the truth that Catholic theology is the most human of teachings, as the fact that in it the Angel of God is considered as the born appeaser of man’s rebellious appetites, through psychic influences of an infinitely delicate nature.”

“Such then is the gift of God to human nature. Like all Divine gifts, it may be hidden for ever in a napkin , and it may be made to produce a hundredfold. What we have said of the inaccessibility of free will, together with that necessity under which the spirit is to make use only of those dispositions which he finds in man, is the explana- tion of failure in results.”

“To some minds it may be a grievous doctrinal difficulty that, with such high spirit-protection, over every human individual, so few human lives should be a success, morally; they may think the theory of Angelic guardianship untenable on that score. But one might as well, then, doubt God’s constant action and presence in the human soul ; there too, the results are not in keeping with what I might call God’s expenditures.”

“But all we want for the universal laws of the moral order, for the world-wide provisions of Providence is this: they are at the command of whosoever is willing to make use of them. Man is constantly ill-using his own beautiful nature, his own glorious faculties; yet his nature is left to him; any day he chooses, he may make it the instrument of saintship.”

“So likewise, he may ignore for ever, and render ineffectual, the Angelic partnership; but the day he is resolved to turn it to good account, he will find it to be a mine of hidden moral wealth. Man may make evil use of the Angelic partnership, as he does of the World in which he lives.”

“One more practical consideration before concluding this chapter: Would it not seem strange that one should be actually incapable of ever detecting whether a fresh idea, an advice, a good movement, comes from the Angel of God? Yet such is the hard fact. We never pretend to know that we have been led to any particular conclusion by the Angel of God. And yet all the time we have to look on him as the one moving power that matters. In this we have a noticeable instance of what I may call the soundness and healthiness of Catholic spiritism.”

“It would be a serious loss to our moral life, in fact it would be its cessation, if we did not decide anymore for ourselves, think for ourselves; if we had within us, clearly and distinctly, the thinking, the decision of someone else ; it would lower us to mere automata.”

“Such is the subtlety, the thoroughness of those blessed spirits, that they make their own suggestions to appear to us as our own thoughts; or better, they make them to be our own thoughts, our own impressions, for which we shall get the glory, the good renown before God and man.”

“Amongst men, a clever adviser will so insinuate his own views into the mind of another man whom he controls, as to make that mind look on the new thought as coming from its own hidden chambers. Angelic advice and movement is of that sort. To know whether the illumination comes from the Angel of God is a secondary matter. The important thing is to be in such a state, morally, as to be fit for receiving Angelic influences.”

“And we know with clearness, what is necessary, at any time of our life, to be in that state.”

The important thing is to be in such a state, morally, as to be fit for receiving Angelic influences. And we know with clearness, what is necessary, at any time of our life, to be in that state.”

Dom Vonier, the human soul

The end of Ch. XLVIII, on the Guardian Angels and our relationship with them. Next week, the Guardian Angels, Additional Considerations.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’re enjoying the series. 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. +JMJ+

Notes and Links

  • The Human Soul and its Relations with Other Spirits, by Dom Anscar Vonier, OSB. 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 this series is the 1913 Herder edition, available as a free PDF at archive.org.

Image credits

  • Guardian Angel, by Domenichino, from Wikimedia, public domain.
  • Sacrifice of Isaac, by Domenichino, from Wikimedia, public domain. Maybe he’s not a Guardian Angel but maybe he is. Anyway, I like the painting and it does show a messenger from God protecting the Lord’s faithful servant, Abraham, and his son Isaac.
  • Guardian Angel statue in a cemetery, from Wikimedia, public domain.

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