QUESTION 51: OF THE ANGELS IN COMPARISON WITH BODIES
We next inquire about the angels in comparison with corporeal things;
and in the first place about their comparison with bodies; secondly, of
the angels in comparison with corporeal places; and, thirdly, of their
comparison with local movement.
Under the first heading there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether angels have bodies naturally united to them?
(2) Whether they assume bodies?
(3) Whether they exercise functions of life in the bodies assumed?
Article 1: Whether the angels have bodies naturally united to them?
Objection 1: It would seem that angels have bodies naturally united to them.
For Origen says (Peri Archon i): "It is God's attribute alone---that is,
it belongs to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as a property of
nature, that He is understood to exist without any material substance and
without any companionship of corporeal addition." Bernard likewise says
(Hom. vi. super Cant.): "Let us assign incorporeity to God alone even as
we do immortality, whose nature alone, neither for its own sake nor on
account of anything else, needs the help of any corporeal organ. But it
is clear that every created spirit needs corporeal substance." Augustine
also says (Gen. ad lit. iii): "The demons are called animals of the
atmosphere because their nature is akin to that of aerial bodies." But
the nature of demons and angels is the same. Therefore angels have bodies
naturally united to them.
Objection 2: Further, Gregory (Hom. x in Ev.) calls an angel a rational
animal. But every animal is composed of body and soul. Therefore angels
have bodies naturally united to them.
Objection 3: Further, life is more perfect in the angels than in souls. But
the soul not only lives, but gives life to the body. Therefore the angels
animate bodies which are naturally united to them.
On the contrary, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that "the angels are
understood to be incorporeal."
I answer that, The angels have not bodies naturally united to them. For
whatever belongs to any nature as an accident is not found universally in
that nature; thus, for instance, to have wings, because it is not of the
essence of an animal, does not belong to every animal. Now since to
understand is not the act of a body, nor of any corporeal energy, as will
be shown later (Question , Article ), it follows that to have a body united to it
is not of the nature of an intellectual substance, as such; but it is
accidental to some intellectual substance on account of something else.
Even so it belongs to the human soul to be united to a body, because it
is imperfect and exists potentially in the genus of intellectual
substances, not having the fulness of knowledge in its own nature, but
acquiring it from sensible things through the bodily senses, as will be
explained later on (Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Now whenever we find
something imperfect in any genus we must presuppose something perfect in
that genus. Therefore in the intellectual nature there are some perfectly
intellectual substances, which do not need to acquire knowledge from
sensible things. Consequently not all intellectual substances are united
to bodies; but some are quite separated from bodies, and these we call
Reply to Objection 1: As was said above (Question , Article ) it was the opinion of some
that every being is a body; and consequently some seem to have thought
that there were no incorporeal substances existing except as united to
bodies; so much so that some even held that God was the soul of the
world, as Augustine tells us (De Civ. Dei vii). As this is contrary to
Catholic Faith, which asserts that God is exalted above all things,
according to Ps. 8:2: "Thy magnificence is exalted beyond the heavens";
Origen, while refusing to say such a thing of God, followed the above
opinion of others regarding the other substances; being deceived here as
he was also in many other points, by following the opinions of the
ancient philosophers. Bernard's expression can be explained, that the
created spirit needs some bodily instrument, which is not naturally
united to it, but assumed for some purpose, as will be explained (Article ).
Augustine speaks, not as asserting the fact, but merely using the opinion
of the Platonists, who maintained that there are some aerial animals,
which they termed demons.
Reply to Objection 2: Gregory calls the angel a rational animal metaphorically,
on account of the likeness to the rational nature.
Reply to Objection 3: To give life effectively is a perfection simply speaking;
hence it belongs to God, as is said (1 Kgs. 2:6): "The Lord killeth, and
maketh alive." But to give life formally belongs to a substance which is
part of some nature, and which has not within itself the full nature of
the species. Hence an intellectual substance which is not united to a
body is more perfect than one which is united to a body.
Article 2: Whether angels assume bodies?
Objection 1: It would seem that angels do not assume bodies. For there is
nothing superfluous in the work of an angel, as there is nothing of the
kind in the work of nature. But it would be superfluous for the angels to
assume bodies, because an angel has no need for a body, since his own
power exceeds all bodily power. Therefore an angel does not assume a body.
Objection 2: Further, every assumption is terminated in some union; because to
assume implies a taking to oneself [ad se sumere]. But a body is not
united to an angel as to a form, as stated (Article ); while in so far as it
is united to the angel as to a mover, it is not said to be assumed,
otherwise it would follow that all bodies moved by the angels are assumed
by them. Therefore the angels do not assume bodies.
Objection 3: Further, angels do not assume bodies from the earth or water, or
they could not suddenly disappear; nor again from fire, otherwise they
would burn whatever things they touched; nor again from air, because air
is without shape or color. Therefore the angels do not assume bodies.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xvi) that angels appeared
to Abraham under assumed bodies.
I answer that, Some have maintained that the angels never assume bodies, but that all that we read in Scripture of apparitions of angels happened in prophetic vision---that is, according to imagination. But this is contrary to the intent of Scripture; for whatever is beheld in imaginary vision is only in the beholder's imagination, and consequently is not seen by everybody. Yet Divine Scripture from time to time introduces angels so apparent as to be seen commonly by all; just as the angels who appeared to Abraham were seen by him and by his whole family, by Lot, and by the citizens of Sodom; in like manner the angel who appeared to Tobias was seen by all present. From all this it is clearly shown that such apparitions were beheld by bodily vision, whereby the object seen exists outside the person beholding it, and can accordingly be seen by all. Now by such a vision only a body can be beheld. Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (Article ; Question , Article ), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.
Reply to Objection 1: Angels need an assumed body, not for themselves, but on our
account; that by conversing familiarly with men they may give evidence of
that intellectual companionship which men expect to have with them in the
life to come. Moreover that angels assumed bodies under the Old Law was a
figurative indication that the Word of God would take a human body;
because all the apparitions in the Old Testament were ordained to that
one whereby the Son of God appeared in the flesh.
Reply to Objection 2: The body assumed is united to the angel not as its form,
nor merely as its mover, but as its mover represented by the assumed
movable body. For as in the Sacred Scripture the properties of
intelligible things are set forth by the likenesses of things sensible,
in the same way by Divine power sensible bodies are so fashioned by
angels as fittingly to represent the intelligible properties of an angel.
And this is what we mean by an angel assuming a body.
Reply to Objection 3: Although air as long as it is in a state of rarefaction has
neither shape nor color, yet when condensed it can both be shaped and
colored as appears in the clouds. Even so the angels assume bodies of
air, condensing it by the Divine power in so far as is needful for
forming the assumed body.
Article 3: Whether the angels exercise functions of life in the bodies assumed?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angels exercise functions of life in
assumed bodies. For pretence is unbecoming in angels of truth. But it
would be pretence if the body assumed by them, which seems to live and to
exercise vital functions, did not possess these functions. Therefore the
angels exercise functions of life in the assumed body.
Objection 2: Further, in the works of the angels there is nothing without a
purpose. But eyes, nostrils, and the other instruments of the senses,
would be fashioned without a purpose in the body assumed by the angel, if
he perceived nothing by their means. Consequently, the angel perceives by
the assumed body; and this is the most special function of life.
Objection 3: Further, to move hither and thither is one of the functions of
life, as the Philosopher says (De Anima ii). But the angels are
manifestly seen to move in their assumed bodies. For it was said (Gn. 18:16) that "Abraham walked with" the angels, who had appeared to him,
"bringing them on the way"; and when Tobias said to the angel (Tob.
5:7,8): "Knowest thou the way that leadeth to the city of Medes?" he
answered: "I know it; and I have often walked through all the ways
thereof." Therefore the angels often exercise functions of life in
Objection 4: Further, speech is the function of a living subject, for it is
produced by the voice, while the voice itself is a sound conveyed from
the mouth. But it is evident from many passages of Sacred Scripture that
angels spoke in assumed bodies. Therefore in their assumed bodies they
exercise functions of life.
Objection 5: Further, eating is a purely animal function. Hence the Lord after
His Resurrection ate with His disciples in proof of having resumed life
(Lk. 24). Now when angels appeared in their assumed bodies they ate, and
Abraham offered them food, after having previously adored them as God
(Gn. 18). Therefore the angels exercise functions of life in assumed
Objection 6: Further, to beget offspring is a vital act. But this has befallen
the angels in their assumed bodies; for it is related: "After the sons of
God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children,
these are the mighty men of old, men of renown" (Gn. 6:4). Consequently
the angels exercised vital functions in their assumed bodies.
On the contrary, The bodies assumed by angels have no life, as was
stated in the previous article (ad 3). Therefore they cannot exercise
functions of life through assumed bodies.
I answer that, Some functions of living subjects have something in
common with other operations; just as speech, which is the function of a
living creature, agrees with other sounds of inanimate things, in so far
as it is sound; and walking agrees with other movements, in so far as it
is movement. Consequently vital functions can be performed in assumed
bodies by the angels, as to that which is common in such operations; but
not as to that which is special to living subjects; because, according to
the Philosopher (De Somn. et Vig. i), "that which has the faculty has the
action." Hence nothing can have a function of life except what has life,
which is the potential principle of such action.
Reply to Objection 1: As it is in no wise contrary to truth for intelligible
things to be set forth in Scripture under sensible figures, since it is
not said for the purpose of maintaining that intelligible things are
sensible, but in order that properties of intelligible things may be
understood according to similitude through sensible figures; so it is not
contrary to the truth of the holy angels that through their assumed
bodies they appear to be living men, although they are really not. For
the bodies are assumed merely for this purpose, that the spiritual
properties and works of the angels may be manifested by the properties of
man and of his works. This could not so fittingly be done if they were to
assume true men; because the properties of such men would lead us to men,
and not to angels.
Reply to Objection 2: Sensation is entirely a vital function. Consequently it can
in no way be said that the angels perceive through the organs of their
assumed bodies. Yet such bodies are not fashioned in vain; for they are
not fashioned for the purpose of sensation through them, but to this end,
that by such bodily organs the spiritual powers of the angels may be made
manifest; just as by the eye the power of the angel's knowledge is
pointed out, and other powers by the other members, as Dionysius teaches
Reply to Objection 3: Movement coming from a united mover is a proper function of
life; but the bodies assumed by the angels are not thus moved, since the
angels are not their forms. Yet the angels are moved accidentally, when
such bodies are moved, since they are in them as movers are in the moved;
and they are here in such a way as not to be elsewhere which cannot be
said of God. Accordingly, although God is not moved when the things are
moved in which He exists, since He is everywhere; yet the angels are
moved accidentally according to the movement of the bodies assumed. But
they are not moved according to the movement of the heavenly bodies, even
though they be in them as the movers in the thing moved, because the
heavenly bodies do not change place in their entirety; nor for the spirit
which moves the world is there any fixed locality according to any
restricted part of the world's substance, which now is in the east, and
now in the west, but according to a fixed quarter; because "the moving
energy is always in the east," as stated in Phys. viii, text 84.
Reply to Objection 4: Properly speaking, the angels do not talk through their
assumed bodies; yet there is a semblance of speech, in so far as they
fashion sounds in the air like to human voices.
Reply to Objection 5: Properly speaking, the angels cannot be said to eat,
because eating involves the taking of food convertible into the substance
of the eater.
Although after the Resurrection food was not converted into the
substance of Christ's body, but resolved into pre-existing matter;
nevertheless Christ had a body of such a true nature that food could be
changed into it; hence it was a true eating. But the food taken by angels
was neither changed into the assumed body, nor was the body of such a
nature that food could be changed into it; consequently, it was not a
true eating, but figurative of spiritual eating. This is what the angel
said to Tobias: "When I was with you, I seemed indeed to eat and to
drink; but I use an invisible meat and drink" (Tob. 12:19).
Abraham offered them food, deeming them to be men, in whom,
nevertheless, he worshipped God, as God is wont to be in the prophets, as
Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xvi).
Reply to Objection 6: As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xv): "Many persons affirm
that they have had the experience, or have heard from such as have
experienced it, that the Satyrs and Fauns, whom the common folk call
incubi, have often presented themselves before women, and have sought and
procured intercourse with them. Hence it is folly to deny it. But God's
holy angels could not fall in such fashion before the deluge. Hence by
the sons of God are to be understood the sons of Seth, who were good;
while by the daughters of men the Scripture designates those who sprang
from the race of Cain. Nor is it to be wondered at that giants should be
born of them; for they were not all giants, albeit there were many more
before than after the deluge." Still if some are occasionally begotten
from demons, it is not from the seed of such demons, nor from their
assumed bodies, but from the seed of men taken for the purpose; as when
the demon assumes first the form of a woman, and afterwards of a man;
just as they take the seed of other things for other generating purposes,
as Augustine says (De Trin. iii), so that the person born is not the
child of a demon, but of a man.