QUESTION 50: OF THE SUBSTANCE OF THE ANGELS ABSOLUTELY CONSIDERED
Now we consider the distinction of corporeal and spiritual creatures:
firstly, the purely spiritual creature which in Holy Scripture is called
angel; secondly, the creature wholly corporeal; thirdly, the composite
creature, corporeal and spiritual, which is man.
Concerning the angels, we consider first what belongs to their
substance; secondly, what belongs to their intellect; thirdly, what
belongs to their will; fourthly, what belongs to their creation.
Their substance we consider absolutely and in relation to corporeal
Concerning their substance absolutely considered, there are five points
(1) Whether there is any entirely spiritual creature, altogether
(2) Supposing that an angel is such, we ask whether it is composed of
matter and form?
(3) We ask concerning their number.
(4) Of their difference from each other.
(5) Of their immortality or incorruptibility.
Article 1: Whether an angel is altogether incorporeal?
Objection 1: It would seem that an angel is not entirely incorporeal. For what
is incorporeal only as regards ourselves, and not in relation to God, is
not absolutely incorporeal. But Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) that
"an angel is said to be incorporeal and immaterial as regards us; but
compared to God it is corporeal and material. Therefore he is not simply
Objection 2: Further, nothing is moved except a body, as the Philosopher says (Phys. vi, text 32). But Damascene says (De Fide Orth. ii) that "an angel is an ever movable intellectual substance." Therefore an angel is a corporeal substance.
Objection 3: Further, Ambrose says (De Spir. Sanct. i, 7): "Every creature is
limited within its own nature." But to be limited belongs to bodies.
Therefore, every creature is corporeal. Now angels are God's creatures,
as appears from Ps. 148:2: "Praise ye" the Lord, "all His angels"; and,
farther on (verse 4), "For He spoke, and they were made; He commanded,
and they were created." Therefore angels are corporeal.
On the contrary, It is said (Ps. 103:4): "Who makes His angels spirits."
I answer that, There must be some incorporeal creatures. For what is
principally intended by God in creatures is good, and this consists in
assimilation to God Himself. And the perfect assimilation of an effect to
a cause is accomplished when the effect imitates the cause according to
that whereby the cause produces the effect; as heat makes heat. Now, God
produces the creature by His intellect and will (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Hence the perfection of the universe requires that there should be
intellectual creatures. Now intelligence cannot be the action of a body,
nor of any corporeal faculty; for every body is limited to "here" and
"now." Hence the perfection of the universe requires the existence of an
The ancients, however, not properly realizing the force of intelligence,
and failing to make a proper distinction between sense and intellect,
thought that nothing existed in the world but what could be apprehended
by sense and imagination. And because bodies alone fall under
imagination, they supposed that no being existed except bodies, as the
Philosopher observes (Phys. iv, text 52,57). Thence came the error of the
Sadducees, who said there was no spirit (Acts 23:8).
But the very fact that intellect is above sense is a reasonable proof
that there are some incorporeal things comprehensible by the intellect
Reply to Objection 1: Incorporeal substances rank between God and corporeal
creatures. Now the medium compared to one extreme appears to be the other
extreme, as what is tepid compared to heat seems to be cold; and thus it
is said that angels, compared to God, are material and corporeal, not,
however, as if anything corporeal existed in them.
Reply to Objection 2: Movement is there taken in the sense in which it is applied
to intelligence and will. Therefore an angel is called an ever mobile
substance, because he is ever actually intelligent, and not as if he were
sometimes actually and sometimes potentially, as we are. Hence it is
clear that the objection rests on an equivocation.
Reply to Objection 3: To be circumscribed by local limits belongs to bodies only;
whereas to be circumscribed by essential limits belongs to all
creatures, both corporeal and spiritual. Hence Ambrose says (De Spir.
Sanct. i, 7) that "although some things are not contained in corporeal
place, still they are none the less circumscribed by their substance."
Article 2: Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?
Objection 1: It would seem that an angel is composed of matter and form. For
everything which is contained under any genus is composed of the genus,
and of the difference which added to the genus makes the species. But the
genus comes from the matter, and the difference from the form (Metaph.
xiii, text 6). Therefore everything which is in a genus is composed of
matter and form. But an angel is in the genus of substance. Therefore he
is composed of matter and form.
Objection 2: Further, wherever the properties of matter exist, there is
matter. Now the properties of matter are to receive and to substand;
whence Boethius says (De Trin.) that "a simple form cannot be a subject":
and the above properties are found in the angel. Therefore an angel is
composed of matter and form.
Objection 3: Further, form is act. So what is form only is pure act. But an
angel is not pure act, for this belongs to God alone. Therefore an angel
is not form only, but has a form in matter.
Objection 4: Further, form is properly limited and perfected by matter. So the
form which is not in matter is an infinite form. But the form of an angel
is not infinite, for every creature is finite. Therefore the form of an
angel is in matter.
On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv): "The first creatures are
understood to be as immaterial as they are incorporeal."
I answer that, Some assert that the angels are composed of matter and
form; which opinion Avicebron endeavored to establish in his book of the
Fount of Life. For he supposes that whatever things are distinguished by
the intellect are really distinct. Now as regards incorporeal substance,
the intellect apprehends that which distinguishes it from corporeal
substance, and that which it has in common with it. Hence he concludes
that what distinguishes incorporeal from corporeal substance is a kind of
form to it, and whatever is subject to this distinguishing form, as it
were something common, is its matter. Therefore, he asserts the universal
matter of spiritual and corporeal things is the same; so that it must be
understood that the form of incorporeal substance is impressed in the
matter of spiritual things, in the same way as the form of quantity is
impressed in the matter of corporeal things.
But one glance is enough to show that there cannot be one matter of
spiritual and of corporeal things. For it is not possible that a
spiritual and a corporeal form should be received into the same part of
matter, otherwise one and the same thing would be corporeal and
spiritual. Hence it would follow that one part of matter receives the
corporeal form, and another receives the spiritual form. Matter, however,
is not divisible into parts except as regarded under quantity; and
without quantity substance is indivisible, as Aristotle says (Phys. i,
text 15). Therefore it would follow that the matter of spiritual things
is subject to quantity; which cannot be. Therefore it is impossible that
corporeal and spiritual things should have the same matter.
It is, further, impossible for an intellectual substance to have any
kind of matter. For the operation belonging to anything is according to
the mode of its substance. Now to understand is an altogether immaterial
operation, as appears from its object, whence any act receives its
species and nature. For a thing is understood according to its degree of
immateriality; because forms that exist in matter are individual forms
which the intellect cannot apprehend as such. Hence it must be that every
individual substance is altogether immaterial.
But things distinguished by the intellect are not necessarily
distinguished in reality; because the intellect does not apprehend things
according to their mode, but according to its own mode. Hence material
things which are below our intellect exist in our intellect in a simpler
mode than they exist in themselves. Angelic substances, on the other
hand, are above our intellect; and hence our intellect cannot attain to
apprehend them, as they are in themselves, but by its own mode, according
as it apprehends composite things; and in this way also it apprehends God
Reply to Objection 1: It is difference which constitutes the species. Now
everything is constituted in a species according as it is determined to
some special grade of being because "the species of things are like
numbers," which differ by addition and subtraction of unity, as the
Philosopher says (Metaph. viii, text 10). But in material things there is
one thing which determines to a special grade, and that is the form; and
another thing which is determined, and this is the matter; and hence from
the latter the "genus" is derived, and from the former the "difference."
Whereas in immaterial things there is no separate determinator and thing
determined; each thing by its own self holds a determinate grade in
being; and therefore in them "genus" and "difference" are not derived
from different things, but from one and the same. Nevertheless, this
differs in our mode of conception; for, inasmuch as our intellect
considers it as indeterminate, it derives the idea of their "genus"; and
inasmuch as it considers it determinately, it derives the idea of their
Reply to Objection 2: This reason is given in the book on the Fount of Life, and
it would be cogent, supposing that the receptive mode of the intellect
and of matter were the same. But this is clearly false. For matter
receives the form, that thereby it may be constituted in some species,
either of air, or of fire, or of something else. But the intellect does
not receive the form in the same way; otherwise the opinion of Empedocles
(De Anima i, 5, text 26) would be true, to the effect that we know earth
by earth, and fire by fire. But the intelligible form is in the intellect
according to the very nature of a form; for as such is it so known by the
intellect. Hence such a way of receiving is not that of matter, but of an
Reply to Objection 3: Although there is no composition of matter and form in an
angel, yet there is act and potentiality. And this can be made evident if
we consider the nature of material things which contain a twofold
composition. The first is that of form and matter, whereby the nature is
constituted. Such a composite nature is not its own existence but
existence is its act. Hence the nature itself is related to its own
existence as potentiality to act. Therefore if there be no matter, and
supposing that the form itself subsists without matter, there
nevertheless still remains the relation of the form to its very
existence, as of potentiality to act. And such a kind of composition is
understood to be in the angels; and this is what some say, that an angel
is composed of, "whereby he is," and "what is," or "existence," and "what
is," as Boethius says. For "what is," is the form itself subsisting; and
the existence itself is whereby the substance is; as the running is
whereby the runner runs. But in God "existence" and "what is" are not
different as was explained above (Question , Article ). Hence God alone is pure
Reply to Objection 4: Every creature is simply finite, inasmuch as its existence
is not absolutely subsisting, but is limited to some nature to which it
belongs. But there is nothing against a creature being considered
relatively infinite. Material creatures are infinite on the part of
matter, but finite in their form, which is limited by the matter which
receives it. But immaterial created substances are finite in their being;
whereas they are infinite in the sense that their forms are not received
in anything else; as if we were to say, for example, that whiteness
existing separate is infinite as regards the nature of whiteness,
forasmuch as it is not contracted to any one subject; while its "being"
is finite as determined to some one special nature.
Whence it is said (De Causis, prop. 16) that "intelligence is finite
from above," as receiving its being from above itself, and is "infinite
from below," as not received in any matter.
Article 3: Whether the angels exist in any great number?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angels are not in great numbers. For
number is a species of quantity, and follows the division of a continuous
body. But this cannot be in the angels, since they are incorporeal, as
was shown above (Article ). Therefore the angels cannot exist in any great
Objection 2: Further, the more a thing approaches to unity, so much the less
is it multiplied, as is evident in numbers. But among other created
natures the angelic nature approaches nearest to God. Therefore since God
is supremely one, it seems that there is the least possible number in the
Objection 3: Further, the proper effect of the separate substances seems to be
the movements of the heavenly bodies. But the movements of the heavenly
bodies fall within some small determined number, which we can apprehend.
Therefore the angels are not in greater number than the movements of the
Objection 4: Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that "all intelligible and
intellectual substances subsist because of the rays of the divine
goodness." But a ray is only multiplied according to the different things
that receive it. Now it cannot be said that their matter is receptive of
an intelligible ray, since intellectual substances are immaterial, as was
shown above (Article ). Therefore it seems that the multiplication of
intellectual substances can only be according to the requirements of the
first bodies---that is, of the heavenly ones, so that in some way the
shedding form of the aforesaid rays may be terminated in them; and hence
the same conclusion is to be drawn as before.
On the contrary, It is said (Dan. 7:10): "Thousands of thousands
ministered to Him, and ten thousands times a hundred thousand stood
I answer that, There have been various opinions with regard to the
number of the separate substances. Plato contended that the separate
substances are the species of sensible things; as if we were to maintain
that human nature is a separate substance of itself: and according to
this view it would have to be maintained that the number of the separate
substances is the number of the species of sensible things. Aristotle,
however, rejects this view (Metaph. i, text 31) because matter is of the
very nature of the species of sensible things. Consequently the separate
substances cannot be the exemplar species of these sensible things; but
have their own fixed natures, which are higher than the natures of
sensible things. Nevertheless Aristotle held (Metaph. xi, text 43) that
those more perfect natures bear relation to these sensible things, as
that of mover and end; and therefore he strove to find out the number of
the separate substances according to the number of the first movements.
But since this appears to militate against the teachings of Sacred Scripture, Rabbi Moses the Jew, wishing to bring both into harmony, held that the angels, in so far as they are styled immaterial substances, are multiplied according to the number of heavenly movements or bodies, as Aristotle held (Metaph. xi, text 43); while he contended that in the Scriptures even men bearing a divine message are styled angels; and again, even the powers of natural things, which manifest God's almighty power. It is, however, quite foreign to the custom of the Scriptures for the powers of irrational things to be designated as angels.
Hence it must be said that the angels, even inasmuch as they are
immaterial substances, exist in exceeding great number, far beyond all
material multitude. This is what Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. xiv): "There
are many blessed armies of the heavenly intelligences, surpassing the
weak and limited reckoning of our material numbers." The reason whereof
is this, because, since it is the perfection of the universe that God
chiefly intends in the creation of things, the more perfect some things
are, in so much greater an excess are they created by God. Now, as in
bodies such excess is observed in regard to their magnitude, so in things
incorporeal is it observed in regard to their multitude. We see, in fact,
that incorruptible bodies, exceed corruptible bodies almost incomparably
in magnitude; for the entire sphere of things active and passive is
something very small in comparison with the heavenly bodies. Hence it is
reasonable to conclude that the immaterial substances as it were
incomparably exceed material substances as to multitude.
Reply to Objection 1: In the angels number is not that of discrete quantity,
brought about by division of what is continuous, but that which is caused
by distinction of forms; according as multitude is reckoned among the
transcendentals, as was said above (Question , Article ; Question ).
Reply to Objection 2: From the angelic nature being the nighest unto God, it must
needs have least of multitude in its composition, but not so as to be
found in few subjects.
Reply to Objection 3: This is Aristotle's argument (Metaph. xii, text 44), and it
would conclude necessarily if the separate substances were made for
corporeal substances. For thus the immaterial substances would exist to
no purpose, unless some movement from them were to appear in corporeal
things. But it is not true that the immaterial substances exist on
account of the corporeal, because the end is nobler than the means to the
end. Hence Aristotle says (Metaph. xii, text 44) that this is not a
necessary argument, but a probable one. He was forced to make use of this
argument, since only through sensible things can we come to know
Reply to Objection 4: This argument comes from the opinion of such as hold that
matter is the cause of the distinction of things; but this was refuted
above (Question , Article ). Accordingly, the multiplication of the angels is not
to be taken according to matter, nor according to bodies, but according
to the divine wisdom devising the various orders of immaterial substances.
Article 4: Whether the angels differ in species?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angels do not differ in species. For since
the "difference" is nobler than the 'genus,' all things which agree in
what is noblest in them, agree likewise in their ultimate constitutive
difference; and so they are the same according to species. But all angels
agree in what is noblest in them---that is to say, in intellectuality.
Therefore all the angels are of one species.
Objection 2: Further, more and less do not change a species. But the angels
seem to differ only from one another according to more and less---namely,
as one is simpler than another, and of keener intellect. Therefore the
angels do not differ specifically.
Objection 3: Further, soul and angel are contra-distinguished mutually from
each other. But all souls are of the one species. So therefore are the
Objection 4: Further, the more perfect a thing is in nature, the more ought it
to be multiplied. But this would not be so if there were but one
individual under one species. Therefore there are many angels of one
On the contrary, In things of one species there is no such thing as
"first" and "second" [prius et posterius], as the Philosopher says
(Metaph. iii, text 2). But in the angels even of the one order there are
first, middle, and last, as Dionysius says (Hier. Ang. x). Therefore the
angels are not of the same species.
I answer that, Some have said that all spiritual substances, even souls,
are of the one species. Others, again, that all the angels are of the one
species, but not souls; while others allege that all the angels of one
hierarchy, or even of one order, are of the one species.
But this is impossible. For such things as agree in species but differ
in number, agree in form, but are distinguished materially. If,
therefore, the angels be not composed of matter and form, as was said
above (Article ), it follows that it is impossible for two angels to be of
one species; just as it would be impossible for there to be several
whitenesses apart, or several humanities, since whitenesses are not
several, except in so far as they are in several substances. And if the
angels had matter, not even then could there be several angels of one
species. For it would be necessary for matter to be the principle of
distinction of one from the other, not, indeed, according to the division
of quantity, since they are incorporeal, but according to the diversity
of their powers; and such diversity of matter causes diversity not merely
of species, but of genus.
Reply to Objection 1: "Difference" is nobler than "genus," as the determined is
more noble than the undetermined, and the proper than the common, but not
as one nature is nobler than another; otherwise it would be necessary
that all irrational animals be of the same species; or that there should
be in them some form which is higher than the sensible soul. Therefore
irrational animals differ in species according to the various determined
degrees of sensitive nature; and in like manner all the angels differ in
species according to the diverse degrees of intellectual nature.
Reply to Objection 2: More and less change the species, not according as they are
caused by the intensity or remissness of one form, but according as they
are caused by forms of diverse degrees; for instance, if we say that fire
is more perfect than air: and in this way the angels are diversified
according to more or less.
Reply to Objection 3: The good of the species preponderates over the good of the
individual. Hence it is much better for the species to be multiplied in
the angels than for individuals to be multiplied in the one species.
Reply to Objection 4: Numerical multiplication, since it can be drawn out
infinitely, is not intended by the agent, but only specific
multiplication, as was said above (Question , Article ). Hence the perfection of
the angelic nature calls for the multiplying of species, but not for the
multiplying of individuals in one species.
Article 5: Whether the angels are incorruptible?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angels are not incorruptible; for
Damascene, speaking of the angel, says (De Fide Orth. ii, 3) that he is
"an intellectual substance, partaking of immortality by favor, and not by
Objection 2: Further, Plato says in the Timaeus: "O gods of gods, whose maker
and father am I: You are indeed my works, dissoluble by nature, yet
indissoluble because I so will it." But gods such as these can only be
understood to be the angels. Therefore the angels are corruptible by
Objection 3: Further, according to Gregory (Moral. xvi), "all things would
tend towards nothing, unless the hand of the Almighty preserved them."
But what can be brought to nothing is corruptible. Therefore, since the
angels were made by God, it would appear that they are corruptible of
their own nature.
On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that the intellectual
substances "have unfailing life, being free from all corruption, death,
matter, and generation."
I answer that, It must necessarily be maintained that the angels are
incorruptible of their own nature. The reason for this is, that nothing
is corrupted except by its form being separated from the matter. Hence,
since an angel is a subsisting form, as is clear from what was said above
(Article ), it is impossible for its substance to be corruptible. For what
belongs to anything considered in itself can never be separated from it;
but what belongs to a thing, considered in relation to something else,
can be separated, when that something else is taken away, in view of
which it belonged to it. Roundness can never be taken from the circle,
because it belongs to it of itself; but a bronze circle can lose
roundness, if the bronze be deprived of its circular shape. Now to be
belongs to a form considered in itself; for everything is an actual being
according to its form: whereas matter is an actual being by the form.
Consequently a subject composed of matter and form ceases to be actually
when the form is separated from the matter. But if the form subsists in
its own being, as happens in the angels, as was said above (Article ), it
cannot lose its being. Therefore, the angel's immateriality is the cause
why it is incorruptible by its own nature.
A token of this incorruptibility can be gathered from its intellectual
operation; for since everything acts according as it is actual, the
operation of a thing indicates its mode of being. Now the species and
nature of the operation is understood from the object. But an
intelligible object, being above time, is everlasting. Hence every
intellectual substance is incorruptible of its own nature.
Reply to Objection 1: Damascene is dealing with perfect immortality, which
includes complete immutability; since "every change is a kind of death,"
as Augustine says (Contra Maxim. iii). The angels obtain perfect
immutability only by favor, as will appear later (Question ).
Reply to Objection 2: By the expression 'gods' Plato understands the heavenly
bodies, which he supposed to be made up of elements, and therefore
dissoluble of their own nature; yet they are for ever preserved in
existence by the Divine will.
Reply to Objection 3: As was observed above (Question , Article ) there is a kind of
necessary thing which has a cause of its necessity. Hence it is not
repugnant to a necessary or incorruptible being to depend for its
existence on another as its cause. Therefore, when it is said that all
things, even the angels, would lapse into nothing, unless preserved by
God, it is not to be gathered therefrom that there is any principle of
corruption in the angels; but that the nature of the angels is dependent
upon God as its cause. For a thing is said to be corruptible not merely
because God can reduce it to non-existence, by withdrawing His act of
preservation; but also because it has some principle of corruption within
itself, or some contrariety, or at least the potentiality of matter.