Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Is belief in Guardian Angels doctrinal?

Comments on Heather King's essay on the Angels.
Catholic doctrinal teaching on angels is part of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  The existence of guardian angels is not child's play, it is not simply a cherished notion in Church tradition, that can be accepted or rejected upon whim.  Indeed, the teaching on Guardian Angels does 'rise to the level of doctrine' as it is part of the deposit of faith - not simply the 'mind of the Church'.
"It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls." - CCC

A light cursory reading of Heather King's essay for today's feast in Magnificat can perhaps give the impression that Catholic teaching on the angels is simply a 'cherished notion'.  Of course she goes on to quote Paul VI in affirming that angels are 'a truth of faith', yet it is this type of personal, casual commentary, when found in a source-book like Magnificat, that can confuse those who are more or less accustomed to filtered, cafeteria teachings on popular piety and devotion.  Faith is not about  feeling something is true, nor a  fairy tale, or myth, like children believing in the tooth fairy.  Sometimes I think Protestant and New Age notions infect our descriptions or expressions of the faith. 
The apostles entrusted the "Sacred deposit" of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. "By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful."  - CCC 

Though guardian angels are often depicted as effeminate beings in long flowing robes, escorting little children through the woods, the archetype, though charming to effeminate taste, is more or less a corruption of genuine iconography.  Eastern iconography is much more sober and doctrinal, traditionally depicting the angels vested in military, courtly or liturgical-priestly array.  They are thus represented to express their superior status, demonstrating power and strength as manly beings, relying upon such symbols of gender and uniform to express virtues necessary in the spiritual combat;  fortitude and prudence, wisdom and counsel, while denoting the angel's function as messenger, protector, defender, guide, and so on.  The child depicted with the angel does not so much reference the angel's protection of children, but rather symbolizes the soul to whom the angel is assigned.  Unfortunately, today even Orthodox icons are sentimentalized.  Misguided by popular romantic depictions of the angels, we imagine they are just for children and the pietistic.

But is the belief in Guardian Angels from conception to death doctrinal? 

Yes.  Fr. Hardon explains why.

There is a variety of doctrinal values, as we call them, in angelology. In general, however, we can distinguish six levels of doctrinal value in the science of the angels. Each of these levels has its own distinctive degree of certitude and corresponding obligation for acceptance by the faithful.

1) What is the first and highest level of doctrinal value in angelology?
The highest level of doctrinal value is where a doctrine has been defined by the Catholic Church as formally revealed by God.

2) What is this kind of doctrine called in Catholic theology?
It is called dogma. Not all doctrines are dogmas. Everything which the Church teaches is a doctrine. But not all doctrine is dogma. A doctrine becomes a dogma when it has been expressly revealed in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. Thus, the existence of angels and demons is a dogma of the Faith.
3) What is the second level of doctrinal teaching?
Doctrinal teaching is called dogmatic doctrine when it has been revealed by God, either in Scripture or in Tradition; but the teaching comes not from formal definitions by the Bishop of Rome or from councils of the Church approved by the pope. It is infallible doctrine, indeed, but the source of the Church's knowledge is derived from her unbroken teaching over the centuries. This is commonly called the Church's universal ordinary magisterium. An example of this kind of dogma would be the existence of guardian angels for all Christians. - Read more here.
Check your sources people.

Disclaimer:  I link and I like Heather King, her blog and her essays.  I'm not picking on her.  I still like Magnificat as well.  That's all.


  1. Heather King in the Magnificat... hmmm..

    I am so glad I have Divine Intimacy to guide me through the liturgical season!

    1. You can not go wrong with Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen.

  2. Thanks for post this.

    My favorite proof for guardian angels is that I'm still alive in spite of all the outright insane and stupid things I did growing up that should have maimed and killed me over and over again.


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