Guardian angels are angels who are attached to a person from birth to death, providing constant guidance, protection, and companionship. The concept of GUARDIAN SPIRITS is ancient and universal; guardian angels are developed most in Christianity and are particularly prominent in Catholicism. The Judeo-Christian guardian angel evolved from guardian beings of other cultures, such as the FRAVISHIS of ZOROASTRIANISM, the KARABU of the Assyrians, the DAIMONES of the Greeks, and the GENII of the Romans. Guardian spirits and SPIRIT GUIDES also are comparable to the guardian angel.
Guardian Angels of Individuals
Guardian angels are not expressly named so in the Bible, but the concept of personal angels is established in various passages. Genesis 32:1 tells that “JACOB went on his way and the angels of God met him,” implying that he had personal angels protecting him on his journey. In Psalm 91:11–13, God “will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.”
In the New Testament, JESUS also refers to the personal angels of children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10–11). In Acts 13:6–17, St. Peter, imprisoned by Herod, is freed by an angel who wakes Peter up, causes the chains to fall off of him, and takes him outside. Peter thinks he is having a vision. Once in the street, the angel vanishes, and Peter realizes the experience is real. He refers to the angel as one of God’s: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and all that the Jewish people were expecting” (13:11). But when Peter shows up at the house of MARY, mother of John, people mistake him for his own personal angel. Rhoda the maid announces he is at the gate, but the people present in the house say, “You are mad. . . . It is his angel!” (13:15) Peter convinces them it is himself in the ﬂesh. Apocryphal texts such as The Shepherd of HERMAS speak of companion angels similar to the daimones, in that one is good and one is bad. Hermas says, “The good angel is sensitive, modest, sweet, calm . . . the wicked angel, by contrast, is prone to anger, is bitter and rash. When anger or bitterness takes possession of you, know that the evil angel is within you!” (Precept VI, 2, 4). Islam’s RECORDING ANGELS, who watch all of a person’s activities, are a type of guardian angel.
OPINIONS OF CHURCH FATHERS
The church fathers agreed about the existence of personal, or guardian, angels. They disagreed, however, over whether pagans and the unbaptized were entitled to guardian angels, and also when exactly a guardian angel assumed his duties over one’s life. St. Basil the Great, citing Matthew 18:10–11, said that “each one of the faithful has an Angel who directs his life.” St. John Chrysostom concurred. ORIGEN states in De Principia that all the faithful receive guardian angels:
“Every one of the faithful we are told, however insigniﬁcant he may be in the Church, is assisted by an angel, and Christ is our witness that these angels behold the Father’s face continually” (II, 10, 7).
St. Hilary of Poitiers associated guardian angels with the ANGEL OF THE LORD:
“All the faithful are helped in a very considerable way by these divine messengers in accordance with what has been written, namely, that the angel of the Lord stays near those who fear the Lord” (Treatise on Psalm 124).
Saints Basil and Cyril of Alexandria likewise believed that only the faithful qualiﬁed. St. Jerome made no distinction between souls of the righteous and souls of sinners as deserving of guardian angels, but he agreed with St. Basil that mortal sin would put guardian angels “into ﬂight.” St. Ambrose said that God sometimes withdraws a guardian angel in order to give someone the “opportunity” to struggle alone, and thus gain more glory. St. THOMAS AQUINAS qualiﬁed that view by stating that he did not believe that a guardian angel would completely abandon a person, but an angel might leave temporarily. Some church fathers believed that the guardian angel was installed at baptism, whereas others, such as Aquinas, Jerome, and Anselm, believed that the guardian angel appears at birth. Aquinas also said that out of envy, a demon also appears at the time of birth. After baptism the good angel is strengthened.
DUTIES OF GUARDIAN ANGELS
The primary purpose of the guardian angel is the salvation of the soul. It serves as messenger, bringing God’s
inspiration and guidance, and as protector against harm and evil. The guardian angel has also been called the ANGEL OF PRAYER, ANGEL OF PEACE, and ANGEL OF REPENTANCE.
The Catholic Church has taught from the Middle Ages on that every person has a guardian angel. There are no exceptions for any reason, not race, age, religion, sex, or virtue. Even the most wicked people on the earth have guardian angels. While guardian angels protect and guide, their ultimate purpose is to enlighten and help the soul achieve salvation (thus it could be argued that the wicked need guardian angels more than the righteous).
Hebrews 1:14 states, “Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” and 1 Timothy 2:4 notes that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” The Catholic Church teaches that guardian angels watch over humanity as a shepherd watches his ﬂocks. Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12) provides testimony to this; his dream shows angels descending from heaven to protect and ascending back up to sing praise to God (see JACOB). Angels are joyful and happy to promote the welfare of human souls, for it is the will of God, and angels serve God.
The church further teaches that “the dignity of the angels given to us depends on the dignity of the persons to whom they are assigned. Ordinary Christians have one of the lower order of angels; priests, bishops, kings, and so forth have nobler spirits to guard them. Feasts of the guardian angels are observed on October 2 and in some places on the ﬁrst Sunday of September. There are several primary ways that guardian angels help people, according to the catechism:
1. They put good thoughts into minds, and move will to what is good. Although angels manifest when necessary, such as their appearance to the shepherds at Bethlehem to announce the birth of Jesus, and their appearances at his tomb and after his Ascension, guardian angels inﬂuence us without being seen or heard. They accomplish this through “secret impulse,” or what otherwise would be described as intuition. They incite pious and salutary thoughts and desires, and, when necessary, fear of God’s judgment. Guardian angels correct people when they stray.
2. They pray with people and for people, and offer their prayers and good works to God. It is not that God doesn’t hear people when they pray, but the angels mingle human prayers with theirs and thus make them “more acceptable to God.” Aquinas, who wrote extensively on angels, observed that angels help people obtain all of God’s beneﬁts.
3. They protect in danger. Guardian angels rescue people from the dangers in the physical world, but their chief task in this regard is to protect from the “snares of the devil.” People must commit themselves to the care of their guardian angels at all times, especially when undertaking a journey or starting any new enterprise.
4. They reveal the will of God. Among the biblical examples of this are ABRAHAM’s attempt to sacriﬁce ISAAC, in which an angel stays his hand at the moment of slaughter (Genesis 22:11–12); the angel who interprets the word of God for the prophet Zechariah in the Book of Zechariah; and Gabriel’s annunciation to MARY of the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:28–38). The appearance of angels in such circumstances often causes fear initially, but that soon gives way to joy and consolation. With evil angels, the effect is the reverse: they engender feelings of consolation at ﬁrst, which then disintegrate into fear and confusion. The way to obtain the protection of guardian angels is to imitate them by living a holy life, to honor them, and to always invoke their aid. They are attracted to innocence; evil drives them away like smoke drives away bees. The Church advocates that people congratulate their guardian angels on their faithfulness to God, and thank them for all their beneﬁts.
5. They receive and protect the soul at the moment of death. The guardian angel guides it to the afterworld, protecting it from the onslaught of demons who attempt to steal it away to HELL. The biblical basis for this belief can be found in Luke 16:22 concerning the death of the beggarman Lazarus: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” (The rich man who refused to feed Lazarus, meanwhile, died and went to hell, and was refused mercy by Abraham.)
According to Catholic belief, if the soul goes to purgatory, the guardian angel visits it frequently to bring relief and comfort. When the soul becomes puriﬁed of all debt of sin, the guardian angel will, at the request of Mary, Queen of Angels, ﬂy it to heaven, accompanied by jubilant martyrs and choirs of angels. Numerous liturgical prayers to guardian angels ask for their presence at the hour of death. (This role of PSYCHOPOMPOI overlaps with the ofﬁcial ANGEL OF DEATH,one of the many titles held by Michael.)
6. Guardian angels praise God. Angels continuously sing the glory of God, and they encourage humans to do the same.
Various popes have publicly acknowledged their close relationships with their guardian angels, and they have advocated that others cultivate the same (see Popes PIUS XI, PIUS XII, and JOHN XXIII).
EXPERIENCES OF SAINTS
The hagiographies of the Christian saints feature guardian angels (see St. GEMMA GALGANI). Descriptions speak of guardian angels who were not always cheerful, but capable of remonstration. In accordance with the opinion of St. Ambrose, they even withdrew their presence whenever the saints in question acted in a displeasing or ungodly manner (see St. FRANCES OF ROME).
St. Francis de Sales, prior to preaching, would silently address the guardian angels of everyone present and ask that the listeners be well disposed to what they were about to say. St. Padre Pio, following the advice of Pius XII, had a constant and close relationship with his guardian angel. Lore has it that God used the angel to make it possible for Pio to understand foreign languages he had not learned, and to have clairvoyant knowledge of secrets within the heart (especially useful to him during confessions).
Pio would tell people that whenever they were in need of his prayer, to address his guardian angel through their guardian angels. One story goes that a busload of pilgrims, enroute to San Giovanni Rotondo where Pio lived, got caught at night in a violent lightning storm in the Apennine Mountains. They followed his advice, and weathered the storm unscathed. When they arrived the next day, and before they could tell their story, Pio announced that he had been awakened by his guardian angel during the night and had prayed for them.
Similarly, St. Theresa Neumann used her guardian angel to discover whatever she needed to know about the secrets and hidden lives of her visitors. She could see her own angel as well as the guardian angels of others. Aquinas acknowledged that the mere presence of our angels inﬂuences us for the better; however, if we are not aware that we are being enlightened, then we are not enlightened.
St. Ignatius of Loyola observed that the more we advance ourselves spiritually, the more we are able to discern the subtle inﬂuences of our angels, and thus the more receptive we are to their help. St. John of the Cross opined that when we attain higher spiritual levels, we no longer need the mediation of angels, but obtain our enlightenment directly from God. Not only are angels no longer necessary, but words, forms, and images fall away as well.
GUARDIAN ANGELS IN EASTERN ORTHODOXY
Guardian angels have a presence in the Eastern Orthodox Church. A liturgical prayer in the Litany before the Communion of the Faithful asks, “For an angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us entreat the Lord.”
The visionary EMMANUEL SWEDENBORG states in Arcana Coelestia everyone has two angels, one to affect what is our will and one to affect what is our understanding. In Angeloglia, Karl Rahner, a contemporary Christian theologian, speaks approvingly of the humanguardian angel relationship “providing that we do not try to visualize this relationship in too anthropomorphic or infantile a manner.” Modern popular thought casts guardian angels as ever-present and ever-loving beings.
Guardian Angels of Stars and Nations People are not the only recipients of guardian angels; the early church fathers assigned a particular angel to the stars and everything in the heavens; to everything in the natural world; and to the elements. Aquinas thought such a belief to be rather exaggerated, but he opined that there were guardian angels for every species of living things, and for nations, cities, churches, and communities. The heads of state and church thus had two guardian angels, one for themselves and one for their ofﬁces. Earlier, Clement of Alexandria supported the idea of guardian angels for countries and cities, but he said they “perchance” might be assigned to some individuals as well.
The existence of guardian angels of nations is established in Deuteronomy 32:8: “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he ﬁxed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the SONS OF GOD” (a reference to angels). Other biblical references to guardian angels of nations refer to them as PRINCES. DANIEL 10:13 refers to the “prince of Persia” and to the archangel Michael as “one of the chief princes” who is guardian of Israel. St. Paul’s vision of the “man of Macedonia” in Acts 16:9 is widely interpreted to refer to the guardian angel of Macedonia: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” See DEVOTIONAL CULTS.
FURTHER READING :
- Giudici, Maria Pia. The Angels: Spiritual and Exegetical Notes. New York: Alba House, 1993.
- Huber, Georges. My Angel Will Go Before You. Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1983.
- Lang, Judith. The Angels of God: Understanding the Bible. Hyde Park, N.Y.: New City Press, 1997.
- Parente, Fr. Pascal P. The Angels: The Catholic Teaching on the Angels. Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, 1973. First published 1961.
- The Catechism Explained. Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, 1921.
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