Monday, September 29, 2008

Michael and the Angelic Host

Guido Reni. Michael the Archangel. 1636. Santa Maria della Concezione. Rome.

There is a fascination with angels in the populace, sometimes it veers from the silly to the disturbing. In the early middle ages (745) the last greek pope, Zacharias, counseled against spiritual explorations beyond the acceptable. Saint Paul also cautioned. The western church restricted latria to three particular angels — Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, whom are mentioned in canonical Scripture.

Knowing this, I was surprised to see, painted on the ceiling vault of Our Lady of Lourdes, Cleveland, four archangels. Besides, the three we recognise to-day, there was Uriel. Now, the eastern church [byzantine and orthodox] recognise all the angels, on 8 November, with the Synaxis*of the Archangel Michael and the Angelic Host. Uriel is mentioned in the non-canonical (H)enoch and 4 Esdras.

In the pre-1969 calendar, Gabriel had 24 March (as the angel of the Annunciation†), Michael had 8 May and 29 September and Raphael had 24 October. To-day they have to-day. Now, many christians are unfamiliar with Raphael. His name means “God has healed”. He identifies himself in Tobias xii. 14-15:

And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son’s wife from the devil.
For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord.

Also in other places, he is assumed to be, the angel of healing.

Gabriel announces to Zaccharias the forecoming birth of his son, John [the Baptist]. Gabriel is also assumed to be the horn blowing angel of the Apocalypse. The function of the angel is as a messenger, from God to man. It can be said, as a point of conjecture, that these bodiless spirits are only angels, when they are exercising that office specifically. And they may be fearsome or awesome in appearance, for they seem to start their conversations and messages, “Fear not”. Saint Paul names nine orders of angels.

Each one of us has a guardian angel, perhaps more. As Jesus tells us:
See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew xviii. 10.
He is our special friend, whether we realise it or not.

Now, Michael is well known. He is the warrior prince of the heavenly host, our particular champion. The greeks refer to him as Archistrategos. He has appeared in apparitions, famously to Jeanne d’Arc. In 1888, after a vision, Leo XIII composed the first of his prayers to Saint Michael‡:
Saint Michael the Archangel,
Defend us in battle;
Be our protection 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, thrust into hell
Satan and all evil spirits
Who wander through the world
For the ruin of souls. Amen.
And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels:
And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.
And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. — Apocalypse xii.7-9.
Many reproductions use Reni’s painting as a basis, sometimes a balance is clearly held in Michael’s left hand. In statues, often, Satan is in the form of the dragon. The Ukrainians have Michael armed with a trident. It is his trident that appears on their flag. A common devotional item has, the Leonine prayer, with a picture of the triumphant Michael, defeating Satan.
*Synaxis = collecta = assembly, gathering, reunion ~ synagogue, congregation. There is also the Synaxis of the Holy Seventy (Disciples), the Synaxis of the Theotokos and of Joseph the spouse and guardian of the Virgin, the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel.
† And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. — Luke i. 28.
‡In a very mangled and jumbled movie, Gangs of New York, Scorcese put every major character of 19th century New York City into the same generation. At the beginning of that generation he quotes, in an improper context, this prayer, several decades before its existence.
Some years before PBS broadcast a musical Christmas pastoral, La pastorela (1991) with Linda Ronstadt as Saint Michael. It was the superior film.
nota bene: Diego Velázquez painted a Portrait of Innocent X, c. 1650. Does his face look like Satan
’s in Reni’s painting? Maffeo Barberini was Pope Urban VIII (1623-44), his brother, Antonio Cardinal Barberini O.F.M.Cap., commissioned the Reni painting. Giovanni Battista Pamphilj was Pope Innocent X (1644-55). Roman politics had often centered on familial, baronial rivalries. This politics entered the church often. The Barberini and Pamphilj families vied in the 17th century, and Reni’s brush was available. Reni needed a large income.

No comments: