EXTENT OF ANGELIC POWER OVER MAN
[Angels, including the fallen angels, are so powerful that it is easier to list what they can’t do than what they can do. Cardinal Lepicier here writes about the influence angels can have over people. Paragraph numbering in the Cardinal’s work (1) has been retained; brackets indicate insertions and ellipses show omissions in the text.]
“1. Having thus considered the power which angels possess over material elements, (2) we must now enquire what the extent of that power is over man. And, in order to be able to solve this further question, we have to consider man under a twofold aspect: first, as a being having a body composed of material elements common more or less to all material beings; and secondly, as a creature endowed with sensitive and intellectual powers, for which reason he is called a rational being. It is our purpose to investigate, first of all, what power an angel can have over the members of the human body; secondly what influence he can exercise over our sensitive and intellectual faculties.
2. If we consider man under the first aspect, we must say that an angel has, naturally speaking, the same power over him which he has over, say a stone, a plant, or an animal. He can lift, therefore, or transfer him to whatever place or distance he may desire. (3) He can also to some extent, alter his outward form and so modify his internal physical constitution as to produce in him health or sickness or even death. He can, moreover, make use of a man’s limbs for purposes of his own, he can move his tongue to speak, his feet to walk, his hand to write. And all these things can be effected by the operation of both good and bad angels, but always, of course, subject to the condition that God, the Lord and Master of angels no less than of men, ordains or at least permits such a thing.
[DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GOOD AND BAD ANGELS]
3. We have named both good and bad angels. Before proceeding further, however, we must note a marked difference between their actions. The good angels never act in such a way on man’s body, or indeed on any other substance in creation, except by the command of Almighty God, Who is their beloved Lord; while, in the case of evil spirits, on the other hand, simple permission on God’s part is a sufficient motive for such action. Let us try to understand as clearly as possible the difference between the first and the second case. Since God is the essential Good, His every wish and intention must always be good. But from this it does not follow that He cannot permit evil. God cannot command evil, otherwise He would co-operate directly with it; but He can permit it to take place, leaving the malice of the action to the perpetrator himself.
The permissive will of God, therefore, although good in itself and ordained to good, implies in the agent that executes a sense of abuse and of moral culpability which God could prevent, but which in reality he does not always prevent. Therefore, a good angel while executing God’s orders is like an instrument in His hand; an evil angel, on the contrary, while acting on his own initiative and for his own perverted end, is like a principal agent and consequently claims a personal responsibility in the work he is effecting.
From this follows that, while those visible productions with which we are here concerned are miracles if performed by good angels, they are but mere imposture and evil doing if done by evil spirits of their own accord. We shall, however, return to treat this subject more fully later on.
4. It happens at times that evil angels are allowed to exercise their power to a fuller extent over a man’s body, so as to sway and dominate it according to their will. It is then that that phenomenon takes place which is termed possession or obsession, the individuals who fall under such influence being called energumens. We have many instances of this cruel tyranny exercised over man by evil spirits, not only in the Sacred Scriptures, but also in the records of history, both sacred and profane, ancient and modern; and Holy Church has a special rite for freeing man from this diabolical intervention. (4)
[TO WHAT EXTENT CAN ANGELS INFLUENCE OUR SPIRITUAL FACULTIES?]
5. We have thus far spoken of the extent of an angel’s power over man when considered merely as a material being, that is to say, his power over the body. We must now investigate what power he may exercise over our sensitive and intellectual faculties, I.e. what power he possesses over the soul. This second point is far more difficult than the first and requires in consequence serious and attentive examination.
As man is a rational being, endowed with a sensitive nature that aids him in the use of his spiritual faculties – of the intellectual, namely, and of the will – in order to know just how far angelic power may extend with regard to the immaterial part of man, we must investigate not only whether he can in reality influence our spiritual faculties, but also to what extent he may exercise this influence. And, as the sensitive faculty is distinct from the intellectual, so we must inquire, first, whether our senses can be moved or modified by angels; and secondly whether these pure spirits can act upon our intellect and will according to their own desires.
6. Let us in the first place consider the senses. We have to distinguish between the internal senses such as the imagination and the sensitive memory, and the external senses such as sight, touch, hearing and the like. Now the question is this: can an angel act upon us directly with regard to both these sources of sensitive knowledge?
We must reply in the affirmative. [Yes.] And since these faculties are common to animals as well as to men, so an angel can act directly even upon the senses of animals, whether internal or external.
It must be observed, however, that in man the sensitive faculties are intimately connected with the intellect and are ordained to it. So while an angel influences our senses he can in consequence influence, to a certain extent, our intellect, as we shall show.
This is due to the fact that the perceptions of our internal and external sensitive organs depend on the motion of our nervous system. Now this system, however vital and subtle it may be, is always a material element. It can therefore be subject to the direct power which an angel possesses over the local motion of matter.
7. There can be no doubt that the peculiar disposition of our body as regards nerves, muscles, blood, spleen, and the like, is under the influence of natural agents such as light, heat and so forth, these being the essential condition of those processes of the imagination which either keep our brains busy during sleep, or engross our attention while awake. And the angelic beings, having a perfect knowledge of the elements of our nervous system, can make them work together in such a manner as artificially to produce in us phantasms similar to those produced naturally.
The peculiar disposition of our external organs, moreover, may also be the cause of certain sensations.
[HOW OUR ‘PERCEPTION’ GETS INFLUENCED]
A weakening of the optic nerve, for instance, may cause in us amblyopia or even amaurosis; a modification of the retina may prevent a man from distinguishing colours (as in the case of those affected with daltonism), and to a feverish tongue everything may taste bitter. All such modifications of the nervous system an angel can cause in our external and internal organs by the exercise of his own natural powers over matter. So we can easily imagine how deeply our sensitive nature can thus be impressed by the action of an angel and how far-reaching such modifications introduced into our organism and vital functions may be.
8. We must add, however, for the sake of completeness, that the angelic power over our sensitive faculties is limited in particular in regard to the formation in our imagination, of the phantasms of objects placed altogether beyond the reach of our external senses, the latter being the natural sources from which the phantasms of the imagination originate. Thus no angelic power is capable of imparting to a man born blind the conception of colour, or of conveying to a deaf man an accurate notion of sound. All an angel can do is to lead the imagination, by an ingenious combination of phantasms previously obtained, to picture what it could otherwise learn by study, the teaching of others or other suchlike sources of knowledge.
9. Thus it is not beyond the power of an angel to act so vividly on the imagination of a person as to make him imagine an object which he has never seen or heard of before or persuade him that he has actually been transferred to a distant place and is conversing with persons out of sight as if they were present, as happens in the case of those phenomena styled telepathy. An angel can also modify the imagination of an individual to such an extent as to enable him to describe with exactness the topography of a particular place he has never seen or the peculiarities of a determined person he has never known, as happens in those phenomena called clairvoyance.
10. From all this we may easily infer, then, how very wide an angel’s field of action is where man’s sensitive nature is concerned. Science has not yet spoken its last word on the subject of our physiological possibilities, but the minute construction and working of our organs of sense and imagination are so perfectly known to the angelic substances, that we can hardly conceive to what an extent they may be capable of exercising their activity within the sphere of our animal sensitive nature.
We can well determine, however, what an angel cannot do. We can say with certainty, for instance, that an angel cannot cause the eye to hear or the ear to see, because such an effect would be contrary to the nature of the senses of sight or hearing respectively. But we cannot determine with any great precision the angel’s field of action in regard to our vegetative and sensitive faculties, since theses may be subject to an infinite variety of modification and we do not know precisely the nature and mode of action of angelic substances.
[IN WHAT WAY DO ANGELS INFLUENCE OUR MIND AND WILL?]
The further question to which we shall now turn our attention has reference to the manner in which angels can influence our intellect and will.
There can be no doubt that an angel can illuminate our intellect. But the way in which he does so differs essentially from the way in which one angel illuminates another. In this second case the angel does nothing else than direct himself or turn towards the intellect of the other angel… But the human intellect cannot perceive truth except through the medium of sensible images and so it is necessary for the illuminating angel to suggest to us what he wishes us to know under the likeness of those sensible images which it is in his power to form, either in the sphere of our external senses or in that of our imagination. And this he accomplishes by bringing into operation the latent energies of our nervous system, which are ordained and subservient to mental operations and aid in the fulfilment of the same.
12. But although an angel can thus illuminate our mind so as always to obtain the desired effect, he cannot act upon our will in such a way as to induce it infallibly to obey his bidding. This is a power which belongs to God only, Who, being the Author of our rational nature, is therefore the primary cause of that natural inclination which flows from it, and which is nothing else but our will. God alone, being the Author of this inclination, can move our will to choose effectually and freely all that He desires, and Hedoes so in the most gentle and quiet manner imaginable. It suffices for Him to wish it, and there is nothing that the will of man will not spontaneously embrace and with the greatest freedom.
13. But the same cannot be said of the power of an angel over the human will. The influence which an angelic spirit can exercise over the will of man is confined to external influence. He can suggest to us the object he desires us to embrace, presenting it in such an alluring form as to entice us to strive after its possession. Besides that since, as experience teaches, our passions are very powerful in moving our rational will, and, on the other hand, our sensitive nature. Is in its motions somewhat subject to the influence of spiritual agencies, it follows that an angel can also move our will by exciting in us violent emotions, such as love, hatred, anger and the like, which have their seat in some determinate organ of the body. In this way an angel can determine within us violent impulses towards some given object, presented by him to our imagination. But in all these cases our will always remains intact, and it remains in our power to resist the angel’s influence, whether this influence be exercised for a good purpose or for an evil one.
“…NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS…”
14. The conclusion of all this reasoning is deduced spontaneously. If it is true that pure spirits of a perverse nature exist, inflamed with hatred for man and thirsting for his ruin, since they do not lack the means of harming us, our position with regard to them is anything but a safe one. The Apostle St Paul, writing to the Ephesians, expresses this ar follows:
‘For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places’ (Eph 6:12).
But, thanks be to the mercy of God, if there be spirits who lie in wait for us, others there are given us by His Almighty Providence to assist us, and their power is not inferior to the power of the evil spirits. They are bent upon protecting us and benefitting us in every manner for again it is written:
‘For He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone’ (Ps 91:11, 12).”
– Alexis Henry M. Cardinal Lepicier, O.S.M.
1. Taken from ‘The Unseen World: An Exposition of Catholic Theology in Reference to Modern Spiritism’, Sheed & Ward, 51 Paternoster Row, E.C., UK, 1929, 332 pp.
2. The Cardinal writes: “[W]e may infer from the fact that angels can move bodies wherever they wish, that they also possess a mediate power in causing substantial and other intrinsic changes to take place in the universe. The wonders wrought by Pharaoh’s mgicians, and recorded in Holy Scripture, are ample proof of what we advance… As, on the one hand, these pure spirits possess a knowledge of physical and chemical laws far surpassing our own knowledge, and as on the other, their power is of such vast range, we must assume that there are hardly any phenomena in the world which they cannot produce in one way or another.”
3. See the transfer of Habakkuk to Babylon by the angel’s power. (Dan 14:35)
4. cf. ‘Rituale Romanum’ tit. X, cap. 1, De exorcizandis obsessis a daemonio.
– From “Christ to the World”, N 3, May-June 2008, Vol 53.