Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael the Archangels, mighty in power | National Catholic Register

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SAINTS & ART: ‘Bless the Lord, all you angels mighty in power, fulfilling his word and hearing his voice’ (Psalm 103)

A paradox of recent times has been that as the emphasis on angel theology – angelology – has faded away in the Church, a sort of New Age “spirituality” fascination with them has grown. is propagated in secular circles. The number of “angel” books in the religion section of bookstores (insofar as these institutions still exist) has increased.

This New Age fascination with angels, however, lacks the richness of the Church’s millennial theology on angels. In a way, it’s a kind of flabby sentimentalism that reduces angels to celestial heavenly helpers, quietly zooming into situations while not demanding much in terms of morals or judgment from those whom ‘they help.

We will talk a little more about this essentially secular “angelology” next week, on the occasion of the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. Today, let’s focus on our feast of the three archangels mentioned in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

All three are called “archangels”. In traditional Catholic angelology, there are nine choirs of angels, arranged in three hierarchies. The hierarchies define the degree to which the members of its choirs share the knowledge of God. Seraphim, for example, most directly and simply share the knowledge of God. Others apply this knowledge to the governance of the cosmos. Archangels and angels apply this knowledge in their dealings with humanity. The word “angel” itself comes from the Greek angels, “Messenger.” The three archangels mentioned in the Bible are discussed in the context of their important messages, not just in speaking but in doing.

Saint Michael has traditionally been considered as patron and protector of the Church and Christians. This is why Pope Leo XIII introduced in 1886 a “Prayer to Saint Michael” for the protection of the Church at the end of Mass. It reads as follows:

Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in combat; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do it, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell, Satan and all other evil spirits, who roam the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

It is said that Leo did this after a vision of demonic war against the Church. But the pope did not establish this link with Saint Michael out of thin air. The Bible presents Michael the Archangel as the ultimate heavenly warrior in the founding and final eschatological battle between good and evil. Revelation 12:7-12 speaks of Michael as the great warrior who defeated Satan and expelled him from heaven, whence he fell to earth “which misleads the whole world”.

The Book of Revelation is not a future game plan for the end of the world. Revelation speaks of the fundamental conflict that has, continues and will continue in the world until the end of the world: the conflict between good and evil. So when Revelation 12 speaks of Michael casting Satan out of heaven, the Church understood this passage to be speaking of a test that has already happened, bringing down Satan and his minions. This fall of certain angels preceded the fall of mankind and continues to play out in human history, where fallen angels perversely seek to enlist additional souls in their futile rebellion. But the message of Revelation is clear: God and good are the last words of human history, not evil.

Saint Michael is therefore not only a protector of the temporal good of the Church or of ordinary misfortunes. The biblical context in which it is presented to us presents it in the context of what Saint Paul calls “our struggle…against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this world of darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in heaven.” celestial”. kingdoms” (Ephesians 6:12).

So, while I know some bishops might think that their removal of the Prayer of St. Michael – which has had a revival in recent years and was encouraged by Pope St. John Paul II – proves their commitment to “Vatican II” and “liturgical prayer”. reform” while expressing their own governance of the liturgy, perhaps they will want to reflect a little more deeply on what and against whom this prayer prays. Instead of such easy “proofs” of their conciliar “commitment”, they could instead apply the Council’s recommendation to “read the signs of the times”. Can the pervasive moral decay that marks the world today – the rot that has seeped even into the Church – be attributed solely to human causes and eradicated simply by new policies and charters?

Saint Gabriel is clearly the angelic “messenger” par excellence. Just as Michael is part of the eschatological history in which humanity is immersed, Gabriel is part of the redemption of humanity. It is Gabriel who announces the conception of Jean-Baptiste to his father, Zacharie. Gabriel also invites Mary to be the Mother of God, “to conceive and bear a son”. (Note that Mary, whose conception occurs outside of the normal course of human activity, is invited to cooperate with God’s plan through Jesus’ conception. Zacharias and Elisabeth, having had normal sexual intercourse, have already been invited and consented to cooperate with God’s will. This idea is relevant to how we approach contraceptive relationships.) Gabriel also appears in the Old Testament, the messenger who explains to Daniel the meaning of his eschatological visions ( see Daniel 8:15-26, 9:21-27).

Saint Raphael, whose name means “God healed”, appears in the Old Testament Book of Tobit precisely in this capacity. Tobias is an Old Testament book that Protestants in the 17th century decided to throw away, along with six others they call “apocrypha” (“apocrypha” means something different for catholics) because it was not originally written in Hebrew but in Greek, which should not surprise us given the dispersal of the Jews in antiquity across the Hellenized Mediterranean basin.

The Book tells of two healings which, like the New Testament, show that God heals the whole person, body and soul. Raphael leads Tobit to catch a fish and teaches him how to extract parts of its innards. On Raphael’s further instruction, Tobit smears fish bile on his blind father’s eyes, whereby his sight is restored (Tobit 11:7-16).

Tobit is also to marry a girl named Sara, who was unfortunate enough to be engaged seven times and widowed seven times on her wedding night. Raphael teaches Tobit (6:15-17) how to use elements of the fish to exorcise the demon that tormented her and how to precede their marital union with prayer. The demon is cast out and tied up, the newlyweds pray together “and they both sleep that night” (but not in the English sense “sleeping together” means) and, the next morning – to the surprise of her beau- father – there was no Tobit to bury.

Raphael, sent by God to this young man, heals those around him so that they can live a life in peace according to the Law of God.

Because Michael and Gabriel often get all the attention, today’s painting depicts Saint Raphael. Titian’s “The Archangel Raphael and Tobit” portrays Tobit as a small boy gazing up at Raphael with confidence. Symbolically, Titian wanted to emphasize that Tobit admired his teacher and depended on him. Raphaël “takes him under his wing” and his tutelage, literally showing him the way.

But remember, Tobie is not a little boy; he is of an age to marry, and one of the cures to operate allows him to survive his wedding night. Tobit has gone fishing before, as revealed by the fish in his left hand. The faithful dog often appears in Tobie/Raphael’s paintings with the traveling couple.

Titian was a Renaissance Venetian painter, and the scene represents Venetian conventions: a kind of background to the ancient world (the Renaissance “revived” the classical world) and an attention to physical detail associated with dynamism: the folds Raphael’s and Tobit’s clothing both convey the sense of forward motion, while the different eyes (including the dogs) and body proportions convey an overall sense of balance to the whole work . The seal near the dog is probably an acknowledgment of the patron who commissioned the work. For a more age-appropriate Tobit by Polish Baroque painter Szymon Czechowicz, see here.

A commentator notes that Titian’s painting with Tobit depicted as a little boy probably inspired future paintings featuring guardian angels, which we’ll talk about next week.

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