“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5.8
Are humans alone in the universe as intelligent beings? The Catholic Church has always believed and taught that the answer is no: the universe is in fact filled with many kinds of intelligent, other-worldly beings that we call angels. And they are up to all sorts of amazing things!
Here are 12 important things for all Christians to know about these mysterious beings from another realm:
1) Angels are absolutely real
Angels are not just a pious fiction or a superstition: they are absolutely, positively real – as a real as you and me and anything else. They are actively involved in our world and play a crucial role in human history. (CCC 328)
2) Every Christian has a guardian angel
The Catechism quotes St. Basil saying “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” (CCC 336)
3) Demons are also very real
All angels were originally created good, but some angels made a choice to disobey God. These fallen angels are called “demons.” Hell was originally prepared as a place for demons. (CCC 391ff; Matthew 25.41)
4) There is a dramatic spiritual war going on for human souls
The choice to fall away from God was irrevocable for demons. But humans, at least as long as they are alive on earth, still have a choice. Angels and demons are engaged at this moment in a dramatic spiritual war, battling to influence human souls either toward or away from God.
Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and demons continue to tempt human beings away from God today. (CCC 391ff)
5) St. Michael the Archangel is the leader of the Lord’s angelic armies
St. Michael is a faithful angel who leads good angels in spiritual battle against fallen ones. His name literally means “Who is like God?,” which represents his faithfulness to God when other angels rebelled. (cf. Revelation 12.7)
6) Satan is a leader of the fallen angels
Like all demons, he was originally a good angel who chose to turn away from God. As a creature, he remains finite and subject to God’s providence. (CCC 391, 395)
In the Gospels, Jesus resisted Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4, Luke 4), called him the “father of lies,” a “murderer from the beginning” (John 8.44), and said Satan came only to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10.10).
7) Any involvement with the occult or demonic forces is gravely sinful
Demonic forces are nothing but evil and humans should have nothing to do with them. Any involvement in the occult – whether it be divination, horoscopes, clairvoyance, mediums, etc – even if with “good” or “innocent” intentions, is gravely sinful and highly dangerous. (CCC 2116-2117)
8) Exorcism remains an active practice of the Church
In the Gospels, Christ and his Apostles regularly make explicit battle against demons, often exorcizing them from possessed individuals. The Church continues this act of spiritual warfare for the good of souls.
A minor exorcism is included in the baptismal rite. In the case of demonic possession, priests with special permission from their bishop can perform solemn exorcisms. (CCC 1237, 1673, 550)
9) We can also engage in spiritual battle through prayer and other spiritual practices
The Our Father prayer, given by Christ himself, includes a request to “deliver us from evil.” The Church also encourages the use of the Prayer to Saint Michael. Written by Pope Leo XIII, it calls for the final imprisonment of Satan to hell. Fasting has also been traditionally used as a spiritual weapon.
But the best way to aid the fight against demonic forces is to simply live a holy life following after Christ.
10) Many saints have engaged in explicit, even physical, battles with demons
Beating them up, appearing as terrifying beasts, making dreadful sounds, even setting things on fire.
11) Satan was definitively defeated by Christ
In his passion, death, and resurrection, Jesus definitively defeated the powers of Satan. This fact is progressively manifested in the history of the Church until the Second Coming of Christ. (cf. CCC 550)
12) Christ is the King of the whole angelic world
Jesus Christ is the King of the Universe, and that includes the spiritual realm. Angels were created by Christ at the beginning of the world to be his servants. Even demons, who have chosen to disobey God, ultimately remain under the control of God’s providence. (CCC 331)
How long have angels existed? Far longer than man, Scripture tells us—yet not as long as God, who is eternal. Unlike God, who has always existed, angels are created beings. They were created by God. As Hebrews 1:7 tell us, “And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers [or servants] a flame of fire’” (quoting Psalms 104:4).
And like everything else, they were created through the divine Word who became Jesus Christ: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).
When were these beings brought into existence?
Before the world existed
The angels’ beginning was far back in time, before mankind was created—before the earth was even formed. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” However, the Bible doesn’t tell the whole story in one or even several verses.
We learn later in the Bible that there are three heavens from an earthly perspective: first, the atmosphere of the birds and the clouds; second, outer space of the sun, moon and stars; and third, the spiritual heaven of God’s throne, actually called “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).
Yet though it is third in positional relation to us, this spirit realm was actually created first.
God and the Word—the divine Being who would later be born in the flesh as Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3; John 1:14)—formed other spirit beings to inhabit this realm with Them. These beings were the angels, who existed before our world was created. This is clear from a fascinating, eye-opening passage in the biblical book of Job.
When Job, beset with terrible calamity and suffering in spite of being a very devout follower of God, began to question God’s judgment, God responded with pointed questions to help him realize he didn’t have the wisdom to question God. In His response, in the form of questions to Job, God revealed some details about His creation of the physical world:
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’” (Job 38:1-7, emphasis added throughout).
The “sons of God” here is a designation for the angels—called “sons” or children by virtue of their having been created by God. The “morning stars” seem to refer to the angels as well, as they are later symbolized by stars (see Revelation 1:20; Revelation 12:4).
The New International Version puts Job 38:7 this way: “… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” The New Revised Standard Version translates it as “… when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
In this passage, God reveals information no man could have known, since no human being was present at creation. God described the earth at its creation as a dazzlingly beautiful jewel floating in space. The creation events were so magnificent that all the angels sang and shouted in exultation.
They were in perfect harmony and agreement at that time.
We see here that angels have emotions. They were joyful. In other places we find them extolling God the Father and Jesus Christ in ongoing praise (Psalms 148:2; Luke 2:13-15; Revelation 5:11-12). We also see God’s angels later having great joy over a person who repents of sin (Luke 15:10).
And in various places we see them displaying care for God’s people (1 Kings 19:5-7; Psalms 34:7; Psalms 91:11; Daniel 3:28; Matthew 2:13, Matthew 2:19-20; Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43; Acts 12:7-10). Thus they are thoughtful, feeling beings.
Created with free moral choice, they were also capable of wrong thoughts and feelings, and some succumbed to these, which is how evil spirits or demons, led by Satan the devil, came into the picture. We’ll go into this more later (see “What Is the Origin of Satan and Demons? ”). Thankfully, many more angels made the right choice to remain faithful to God.