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HOW DO WE JOIN THE CHOIRS OF ANGELS DURING OUR EARTHLY LIFE? – “ON THE NINE ORDERS OF ANGELS AND THEIR MEANING” – BY ST ANTHONY OF PADUA

“WHOEVER, THEN REPRESENTS IN HIMSELF THESE NINE ORDERS…AND FROM THEM ORDERS AND SHAPES THE LIFE OF HIS BODY, CAN BE TRULY CALLED A ‘RULER’, OF WHOM IS SAID, ‘A CERTAIN RULER.'”

“Let us say, then: ‘There was a certain ruler, whose son was sick at Capharnaum.’ Let us see what these four: the ruler, his son and his sickness, and Capharnaum, mean; and say a little about each. Any faithful person is called a ‘ruler’, after the King of kings of all creation, the Lord Jesus Christ, who rules angels in heaven and men on earth; because he has within himself a kind of representation of the heavenly orders, and consists of the four elements from which all creation is made. There are nine orders, which we will arrange in three orders of three.

In the first order are Angels, Archangels and Virtues; the Angels representing obedience to the commandments, the Archangels the keeping of the counsels, and the Virtues the miracles of a holy life. You belong to the angelic order when you obey the Lord’s command; thus the prophet Malachi says:

‘The lips of a priest shall keep knowledge’, etc. [Mal 2:7]

Regarding this, see the Gospel, ‘A blind man sat by the way’ [Quinquagesima]. You belong to the order of Archangels when you strive to fulfil not only the commandments, but also the counsels of Jesus Christ. Whence Isaiah counsels you:

‘Take counsel, gather a council.’ [Is 16:3]

You belong to the choir of Virtues when you shine with the wonders of a holy life. Whence it says in John:

‘He that believeth in me, the works that I do he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.’ [Jn 14:12]

The Gloss says, ‘What the Lord does in us with our co-operation is greater than everything he does without us; that a just man is made from a wicked one is greater than all heaven and earth and the rest. Those things pass away, but this remains; and in them there is only God’s work, but in this there is also his image. And though he created the angels, it seems a greater thing to justify sinners than to create just men; for though each manifests an equal power, this shows a greater mercy.’

‘I SAW AN ANGEL COMING DOWN.’

In the second order are Principalities, Powers and Dominions. Note that there are three things in us which we should control, if not as kings then at least as rulers. These are our thoughts, our eyes and our tongue. Principalities subdue the evil spirits, and we should subdue evil thoughts, which are set alight by evil. Whence John says in the Apocalypse:

‘I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand; and he laid hold of the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.’ [Apoc 20:1-2]

Moral interpretation: The angel is the just man, who comes down from heaven when he strives to shape his way of life, as he lives on earth, according to the purity of heaven. The key is discretion, with which the just man closes and opens the abyss of thought. He ‘closes’ when he restrains them, he ‘opens’ them when he judges them. The chain in his hand is penance in his works. A chain holds fast, and holds by means of many links. When contrition is linked to confession, confession to satisfaction, and satisfaction to love of neighbour, there is made a great chain with which the just man can bind the dragon, the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan. ‘Dragon’ denotes the spirit of pride, ‘serpent’ the thoughts of poisonous lust, ‘devil’ (‘the one cast down to his ruin’, in Hebrew) avarice, and Satan, the adversary, the malice of discord. The just man binds all these with a chain for a thousand years; subduing the dragon of pride by contrition of heart, the serpent of lust by confession, the devil of avarice by satisfaction and almsdeeds, and the Satan of discord by love of neighbour. This ‘for a thousand years’, the perfect number, meaning by final perseverance.

Again, we ought to have power over our eyes, which are like ‘the robbers who had stolen a little maid out of the land of Israel’ [cf 4(2) Kg 5:2], that is, modesty from the mind of the just man. We should say with Job: ‘I made a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin’ [Job 31:1]. In Genesis, the Lord says to Cain:

‘If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? But if ill, shalt not sin henceforth be present at the door? But the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.’ [Gen 4:7]

Sin at the door is the concupiscence of the flesh in the eyes. If we exercise power over them, our carnal appetite will be under us, being subject to the yoke of reason.

Again, we should have dominion over our tongue, which is like a harlot,

‘talkative and wandering… not bearing to be quiet, not able to abide still at home; now abroad, now in the streets, now lying in wait at the corners.’ [Prov 7:11-12]

Otherwise, as James says,

‘it defileth the whole body and inflameth the wheel of our nativity, and kindleth a great wood.’ [Jas 3:6,5]

If we abide in this threefold order of Principalities, Powers and Dominions, we shall truly be rulers.

ON THE THREEFOLD CHARITY: ‘ONE CHERUB STRETCHED OUT HIS ARM.’

In the third order are Thrones, Chreubim and Seraphim. We are Thrones when we humble ourselves within ourselves, and judge ourselves. Whence it says in the Psalm:

Give to the king thy judgement, O God. [Ps 71:2]

God gives his judgement to the king (that is, to the just man) that he may judge himself, so that God may not find anything to condemn him. The Apostle says,

‘If we should judge ourselves, we should not be judged.’ [1Cor 11:31]

O God, give me your judgement, that I may make your judgement my owwn, and in making my own judgement, I may escape yours!

‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. [Heb 10:31]

Again, Cherubim represent the fullness of knowledge, which is charity. Whoever has this is full, and knows how he should walk. We are Cherubim, then, when we do good with charity. Whence it says in Ezekiel:

One Cherub stretched out his arm from the midst of the cherubims to the fire that was between the cherubims; and he took and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen. [Ezek 10:7]

Note that in this text cherubim are referred to once in the singular and twice in the plural, because charity is threefold: to yourself, to God and to your neighbour. You who are a cherub as to yourself, then, should stretch out the hand of holy working from the midst of the cherubim (the charity of God) towards the fire of a holy life, which is between the cherubim (holy and charitable men), and of that fire (the example of a holy life) give to the man clothed in linen (any faithful Christian, clad in the faith of the Lord’s Incarnation). As the Apostle says,

As many of you as have been baptised in Christ have put on Christ. [Gal 3:27]

Unless you are first a cherub in yourself, you cannot stretch out your hand from the midst of the cherubim to the fire which is between the cherubim; so begin with your own charity first, and then you can have charity for others.

Again, Seraphim means ‘burning’. We are Seraphim when we are on fire with compunction, overflowing with tears for ‘the upper and the nether watery ground’ [cf. Jg 1:14-15].

I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I, but that it be kindled? [Lk 12:49]

says the Lord: that it may melt what is frozen. Whence the Bride says in Canticles:

My soul melted when my beloved spoke. [Canticles 5:6]

Whoever, then, represents in himself theses nine orders, as we have explained them, and from them orders and shapes the life of his body, made up of the four elements, can be truly called a ‘ruler’, of whom is said, ‘A certain ruler.’

CAPHARNAUM

There follows, ‘Whose son was sick at Capharnaum’. The ruler’s son is the soul of anyone faithful to Jesus Christ; who lives unharmed as long as he lives in the order described. But when he dwells at Capharnaum, he becomes sick to death. Capharnaum means ‘field of fatness’ or ‘farm of consolation’… [pride, gluttony, lust, love of worldly prosperity etc.] All those who commit these abominations, like the ruler’s son at Capernaum, lie sick unto death with a sickness of the soul. Therefore the ruler is insistent in his prayer, that his son may be freed from sickness and restored to health. May he grant this, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

 
 

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