Thursday, 2 October 2008

Who is like unto God?

Like Agnes, I too have been doing some seasonal research for Michaelmas, but having missed the feast itself, will have to be content with publishing within Michaelmas term.

The photograph accompanying this article is of an icon of the Archangel which I was recently given. I have had rather a devotion to St. Michael for some time, particularly since being disturbed by what are vaguely referred to as "night terrors." I found that reminding myself that I had such an ally against real terrors also armed me against those that were a product of my own over-active subconscious.

After deciding to write something about St. Michael, I realised how very little I actually knew about him. I did not know, for example, that the Hebrew name Michael translates as "Who is like unto God?" which was also the battle cry of the angels as they expelled Satan from Paradise. I was interested to read, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, that as well as fighting against Satan, he is also believed to fulfill the offices of rescuing the souls of the faithful from the enemy at the hour of death, being the champion of church and bringing the souls of men to judgement. And this is all as well as being the patron of everything from paratroopers to Cornwall by way of (apparently, and I hope this is true) haberdashers, fencing and hatters!

Among the many interesting things I found on the internet, I came across a more suspicious webpage. On first scanning it, the presence of Leo XIII's prayer to St. Michael and the repeated occurence of the word papal led me to think that it must be Catholic. On closer inspection, however, it turned out that I had been misled. The repeated word was not papal, but Paypal, and the site was selling candles, anointing oil and "grains of paradise" in order to obtain favours from the Archangel- whose name was here translated as above, but without the question mark. The substitution of the relative pronoun for the interrogative seemed to turn St. Michael from God's champion into some sort of demi-god, who could be got on side by the judicious burning of bay leaves.

Angels seem to have a particular appeal for (I don't know how to refer to them: alternative religions?) either as "spirit guides" or as powerful beings with the ability to grant requests seemingly independently of God. Reading this sort of thing, apart from making me cross about being accused of appropriating Jewish "angelology" by people who are quite happy to appropriate prayers composed by the Pope, made me think about how we do, or should, think about angels ourselves.

Angelic saints are clearly different to human saints in a number of ways. From our point of view, their example cannot teach us how to live our lives in the same way as those of the earthly saints can. The angels "who see Him face to face" might not seem to be very relevant to our struggles with temptation and doubt. However, as that same hymn says, we can ask them to "help us to adore Him." We do not have the clear vision of the angels, but, by prayer, we can share some of the confidence of this saint who confronts the devil with the unanswerable question: "quis ut deus?"

St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this day of battle! Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls! Amen

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