Excursus: Hell’s Angels and Looking for God in All the Wrong Places
Posted by turmarion
This is a slight sidetrack in which I want to look a little more at the issues of free will we looked at last time.
We discussed human freedom (the existence of which and the need for which I do not deny) and whether or not God could have created Adam and Eve (mythologically speaking, as ever) so that they would never have sinned, while still being truly free. Our answer was inconclusive, though it appears to be “no”; however, there are other interesting aspects to this question.
We’re discussing the Fall of Man and the Atonement. Mankind–humans–aren’t the only beings who fell, though. Traditionally, the fallen angels–Lucifer and his angels, or Satan and his demons, as they became–fell before humanity did so. However, while we anticipate the salvation of at least some of the human race (all, for those of us who are universalists), the same does not seem to be true of the angels. The traditional teaching has been that once fallen, the choice of the demons is irrevocable and irremediable. In other words, they had one chance, and one only. Having failed, they are forever consigned to perdition. Personally, this has never made sense to me.
It is not illogical, actually. If we can posit mankind as never abusing their free will by sinning, then we can equally posit demons who never exercise their free will to repent. As in the first case, the latter has no clear logical contradictions in it. Of course, if there’s something about free will (at least for created beings) which is intrinsically indeterminate–that is, if it’s not possible to posit of a free being any freely willed state of being that is eternal–then just as we couldn’t posit an Adam and Eve who would never sin, then by the same token it seems we can’t posit fallen angels who will never repent. However, that line of reasoning, as we saw, is inconclusive. It might be better to go in other directions.
No theologian I’ve ever read actually gives an answer; they merely assert. “The will of the angels, once fallen, is fixed,” or something like that. Never an explanation as to why this is so. The best candidate for an explanation that I’ve heard came from discussion with Hector–I can’t remember if it was here or at Vox Nova. Anyway, he suggested that angels, being bodiless intellects, pure minds, are capable of much greater focus for good or evil, and not susceptible to outside influences as corporeal creatures are.
This actually makes intuitive sense to me. We poor humans, half soul and half body, find our minds hampered by the mortal coil that we wear. Pure evil–or pure good–is beyond us. We lapse in weariness from pursuing anything too ardently. I have often said that it is good humans have to eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, else I’d never pull myself away from some trivial pursuit or other, all too often something not spiritually beneficial to me. More dramatically, we hear the common (but true) cliché of the person who who says, “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” In other words, catastrophic illness was able to uproot them from their taken-for-granted mode of life and massively changed them.
Angels, of course, do not need to eat, sleep, or poop, nor do they get cancer. Thus the idea is that once focused on good (or evil), an angel, unlike a human, has nothing to cause him to veer from his chosen course. As I said, this does make intuitive sense to me. It’s not something that can prove the assertion with full rigor; but it seems plausible. Interestingly, it implies that the angels were not actually created good or bad, but neutral. If they’d been inclined either way at the start, they’d not have been able to make the decisions that would result in falling (or remaining loyal to God) in the first place.
In any case, I’m still not quite inclined to accept this on the grounds that I don’t like the concept of a God who creates beings doomed to eternal perdition; but that’s for another post. I’ll merely say here that in the Evagrian system, at least, and for some Medieval theologians, angels do have bodies, albeit bodies of a much finer nature than hours (think energy beings on Star Trek). Even if we accept that angels are pure minds, there are examples of humans who came to faith through purely intellectual study and speculation; so I’m not quite ready to write off the possibility of angelic conversion.
I actually have a suspicion about this. If one assumes that a demon, even after billions of years (or of aeviternity) can repent through free will, then this opens the door to the possibility that an angel–or one of the human elect who wins heaven–might, after billions of years of blessedness, fall through exercise of free will. Origen, in fact, was accused of harboring just this view. Supposedly he believed in a cyclic universe in which there were always some being saved and some falling, with everyone eventually returning to Heaven, then falling to start the cycle again. Whether Origen believed this or not, as with most of his thought, is notoriously unclear; but whether or not he did so, it certainly follows logically from a strong emphasis on free will even of saved or damned.
Thus, I suspect the eternity of Hell was defended as a safeguard for the eternity of Heaven. If it’s possible to get out of Hell, then it’s possible, in principle to fall from Heaven; thus denying the former helped to prevent any speculation as to the latter.
The actual reason given for the inability of the saints and angels to fall is the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is the experience of the blessed in Heaven whereby they see God as He truly is; or from another perspective, they fully experience Him as He is, as He sees Himself. Thus, since one can now truly see things from God’s perspective, he sees with full truth and accuracy the futility of sin and separation from God; and thus would never want to sin; and thus will never fall.
This seems reasonable, but it begs the question as to why God didn’t make the angels and humans so that they experienced the Beatific Vision from the moment of their creation? Actually, that seems easy to answer. If any lesser being was created with the Beatific Vision, it would, in a sense, never have experienced anything other than God; and thus would never really be able to be a true individual. It would be too close to the Source of Being to differentiate, which means it would be in effect a puppet lacking free will. To use Jungian terms, any created being needs to individuate first before it can reintegrate to wholeness–wholeness in union with God, in this case. In a sense, you really have to “sin to be saved”.
This still results in asymmetry. It seems not unreasonable to posit an experience of the Absolute–of God–by which the good angels and saved humans are rendered incapable of sin while maintaining their free will and individuality; but it doesn’t seem possible to make quite as definitive an argument as to why the damned must ever remain so. As a universalist myself, I don’t, in fact, think that’s the case; but that’s a post for another day.
Thus, regarding the Fall (both angelic and human), I postulate the following:
1. God wanted to make free creatures who would be true, free, individual beings. He desired this because He wanted them to be, as much as possible, like Him (the Orthodox doctrine of theosis), and who would freely love Him of their own free choice.
2. For this to be possible, He must create them somewhat separate from Himself so that His divine nature doesn’t overwhelm them and render them unfree and non-individuals.
3. Thus, humans and angels are created “good” in the sense of not yet being sinful; but “neutral” in the sense that they can decide either way.
4. After the decision, those who decide for God will ultimately attain the Beatific Vision (this was said to have been immediately in the case of the angels, but will not happen for us until the end of time, or perhaps the Particular Judgement). From that point, while they will still be free and individuals who are fully themselves, they will no longer be capable of sin or fall.
5. Whether those in Hell–or to put it another way, those who made the wrong choice and chose against God–are fixed in that state permanently is, philosophically speaking, at least, an open question. Traditional theology answers “yes”; univesalists answer “no”; some answer “maybe”.
Thus, it would seem to be metaphysically necessary that God create beings that will drift away from Him before coming back to Him so that they will be true individuals who are not mere puppets of God. The Atonement is necessary because the Fall is necessary. This is an interesting concept that I’ll develop more as we go on.
Update: As a slight aside, I’m adding here that I take for granted the real existence of created, immaterial intelligences–angels or Aeons if good, demons or Archons if bad–there are different names for them–that were made by God. I also assume some of them chose to become (or remain) good, while others made the opposite choice. I realize that the Hebrew mal’akh, the word translated as “angel”, means “messenger”; and I also realize that some have argued that the term properly means a manifestation of God rather than an independent being. That’s a discussion for another post. Suffice it to say here that I follow Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition in assuming the reality, as independent beings, of the angels (and devils). I bring it up here only because the issue was mentioned in a comment not long ago.
Part of the series Legends of the Fall.