The Testing of Angels and Man


The purpose of anything is not in itself but in the mind of the maker.  With what purpose did God make material beings and spiritual beings and men who are both?  Each thing He made to serve Him, and to serve Him by being totally itself.  But within this total ordering of everything towards God there is a division:  for, under God, spiritual beings are an end in themselves, matter is not.  The earth is made for man, whereas man is not similarly made for the angels but men and angels alike for God only: they can serve one another, a reciprocal service of the children of one father: the immortal beings have no end but God Himself.

The subordination of the earth to man is stated by God at man's creation:

Increase and multiply,
and fill the earth, and subdue it,
and rule over the fishes of the sea,
and the fowls of the air,
and all living creatures that move upon the earth.  (Gn. 1:28)

Man's domination of the animals is not simply a tyranny, based upon man's misuse of the superior power that his intellect gives him.  It is a fulfillment of God's plan for animals and men.  It is a natural consequence of this domination that Adam was given by God. This was the beginning, and man had as yet done nothing to damage the perfection of his own nature or the completeness of his rule over the earth


God has told us that the destiny alike of men and angels is to see Himself, the Uncreated Splendor, face to face, not by means of any concept however rich, but direct - God Himself taking the place in the intellect of the idea of Himself, so that between the spirit of angel or of man and God nothing whatever shall intervene, not the purest concept, not anything at all.  This is the Beatific Vision, the seeing that is our bliss.  This is the end for which God has destined spiritual beings: it is an end for which their natural powers are totally inadequate, which is why we could not discover it for ourselves by examining those natural powers.  Angels and men alike need to have grafted into them by God powers enabling them to achieve this end which their natural powers could not achieve. Life, we have seen, is a principle of operation. Natural life is the principle by which we carry out the kind of operations that go with the kind of beings we are. The principle which is to enable us to operate above our nature is called supernatural life.  The object of this supernatural life is the Beatific Vision, the direct gaze upon God. Without it we cannot have the Beatific Vision.  We lack the power.


But in God's design neither angels nor men were to have the Beatific Vision without a previous testing. Consider the angels first.  God created them in the perfection of their nature as pure spirits.  Further, He endowed them with the supernatural life of which we have just spoken.  But they were not as yet admitted to the Beatific Vision.  They must first be tested.  What the testing was, we do not know; but we know that some of them failed in the test, and we know, too, that they failed through some form of self-assertion, assertion of self against God. In the Book of Job, we read:

In His angels He found wickedness (Job 4:18).

Further, we know that one of these rebellious angels was the leader of the rest.  We find such phrases as the "Devil and his angels" (e.g., Mt. 25:41) and "the Dragon and his angels" (Rev. 12:7).  This chief of rebellious angels is most commonly called Satan, a Hebrew word meaning adversary or accuser, which is roughly the meaning also of the Greek word Diabolos, from which our word Devil comes. He is worth closer study.

Strictly speaking there is one Devil: the rest are demons: he is princeps daemoniorum (Mt. 9:34).  It is usually held that the rebellion was his affair primarily: he seduced the rest.  The words Satan, Diabolos, Devil, express his nature: he is the enemy. Scripture has a handful of names for a devil of great power, and it is commonly thought that they are all his - the rest remain a nameless multitude of wickedness.
He is Asmodeus, the murderous fiend of the book of Tobias (3:8)
he is Beelzebub, Lord of Flies, in the Gospels
he is Belial, the one without use or profit (2 Cor. 6:15)
he is Apollyon, the exterminator (Rev. 9:11).

Our Lord describes him (John 8:44):

He, from the first, was a murderer; and as for truth, he has never taken his stand upon that;
there is no truth in him. When he utters falsehood, he is only uttering what is natural to him;
he is all false and it is he who gave falsehood its birth.

But to return to their great rebellion.  We have seen that their sin was some form of self-assertion. Let us pause at this first and most catastrophic of all sins to consider the nature of sin.  In angels or men sin is always an effort to gain something against the will of God. For angels and men sin is essentially ludicrous.  All alike are made by God of nothing; all alike are held in existence by nothing save the continuing will of God to hold them so.  To think that we can gain anything by hacking or biting or furtively nibbling at the Will which alone holds us in existence at all is a kind of incredible folly.  It is precisely because apart from God we should be nothing, that Pride is the worst of all sins, for it is the direct assertion of self as against God. Other sins are an effort to gain something against the will of God, pride is the claim to be something apart from the will of God.

Sin is incredible folly, but it is made to look credible by the ease and frequency with which we do it. Why?  There is a profound mystery here: a mystery at its very darkest when we ask how pure spirits could have been guilty of a folly so monstrous, but a mystery still even when any one of us consider his own most recent effort to gain something against God's will.  The rebellious angels must have known that it was madness, yet they did it; as any instructed Catholic knows and yet does it.  Sin, in fact, is not simply a matter of knowledge, it is a matter of that far more mysterious thing, WILL, its freedom of choice.  The will, can ignore the intellect's information and go for what it wants.  Even if the intellect knows that the thing will bring disaster, the will can choose it; even if it knows that the thing cannot be had at all, the will can still fix itself upon it.  Not even by the intellect is the will coerced.  Created beings are the resultant of infinite power working upon nothingness, and they are free to fix their choice anywhere between those two extremes.  To choose anything at all as apart from God is quite literally to choose nothingness, for apart from God everything is nothing.  To choose God is to choose the infinite.  Either way, whether we choose nothing or the infinite, we cannot be either, but we can possess either. We are free to choose.

The word freedom may easily mislead. In its first and most rudimentary sense it is the absence of coercion:  when we say that the will is free, we mean that we make our choices not coerced: we choose what we like. This does not mean, that the will has no proper object of its action: as the object of sight is color, so the object of the will is the good: unless a thing is seen by us as good in some sense, we cannot choose it at all.  But even a thing that we see as good, we need not choose.  And of two alternatives seen as good, we can choose which we will. It is the will which gives the victory to one alternative or the other: the will is not coerced by the objects of its desire.

The question instantly arises: how can our freedom to choose be reconciled with the omnipotence of God?  If we are really free, then there is something that escapes the power of God.  That created things cannot coerce our will is one thing: but that God cannot, is quite another.  The problem is deeply mysterious because there are too many elements in it that do not lie under our gaze. We are free: but clearly there is a proportion between the "free" and the "we": our freedom must have as much reality as we, but not more.  Our being is real but contingent, created of nothing: it is therefore no limitation to the infinity of God's Being that we lie outside it. Perhaps, just as our being does not limit God's infinite Being, so our freedom does not limit God's infinite Power.  In any event the fact of our freedom is certain:  God has said it.  He has told us of the alternatives of right and wrong, urged us to do right, warned us against doing wrong, promised reward for the one, threatened punishment for the other: told us in a hundred ways that we are responsible for our choices.  He who made us makes clear that He made us free to choose. 

But freedom to choose does not mean freedom to choose the consequences of our choice, for we are living in a universe, not a chaos: we can choose to do this or that, but the consequences of our choice will be governed by the laws of the universe in which we are.  It is only if we use our freedom of choice (that is our freedom to choose without coercion) to make choices in harmony with the reality of things - in harmony with what God is, with what we are and with what all other things are - that we achieve freedom in its second sense, namely fullness of being, the act of being all that by nature we are and doing all that by nature we are meant to do. Summarizing all this: we can choose what we want, and within our own limits what we shall do; but we cannot choose the consequences of what we do, nor can we prevent any action of ours - even our rebellion - from being used by God to His glory; we can only prevent its being used for our glory, too.

Them that glorify Me I shall glorify:
but they that despise Me shall be ignoble
.  (1 Kings 2:30)

All this, applies to angels and to men. The angels had chosen self as distinct from God: so far they were free, that is their choice was not coerced.  But they had collided with reality.  And the result could only be tragedy to them.  St. Peter tells us starkly:

God spared not the angels who sinned.  (2 Peter 2:4)

There are references in Scripture to a battle in Heaven, not between the rebellious angels and God, but between the rebellious angels and the faithful. We find in the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation (12.7)

Fierce war broke out in Heaven, where Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.
The dragon and his angels fought on their part, but could not win the day, or stand their ground in Heaven any longer."

It would seem that St. John here has in mind the continuing struggle between good and evil, but it is hard to think that he has not in his mind the first battle in that long campaign.  What we know with certainty is that Satan and his angels were cast out of Heaven into Hell.  Our Lord warns human sinners that their ultimate place may be that eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mt. 25:41) What was their state in Hell?  They had lost grace: by pride says St. Ambrose; their nature was badly damaged, particularly in the will: the Devil and the other demons were created good in nature by God, but by their own act they became evil.  (Decree Firmiter, Fourth Council of Lateran)

Of their own choice they had demanded independence of God, a life without God.  Faced with a choice between God and self, they had opted for self: love of self, grown monstrous, turned them to hatred of God, and in this hatred of God their wills were now set so that they would not change. Totally without God they could not be, if they were to continue in existence at all; but by their own choice they were to have, from now on forever, nothing of God but His presence sustaining them in being and His strict justice punishing them for their sin.

Angels, like men, are made by God and made for God: their very being is interwoven of needs which only God can satisfy.  The fallen angels refused the satisfaction, because that would have meant turning to God Whom they hated; so that they were left to the torment of needs which could not be satisfied. In their new state, the need for God, could not be satisfied, no need could be satisfied. Torn away from God, they were torn away from one another; torn away from the love of God, the very source of love was dried up in themselves.  Whatever positive values were still in them were there by the continuing action of God: hating God, they could only hate one another. In their continuing hatred of God, they were to continue their warfare against good; having lost their battle with the other angels, they were to continue to fight against the souls of men and in that warfare, they were to have victories, but such victories could only be minute satisfactions in an abyss of dissatisfaction.

But for the angels who triumphed in the test there was the Beatific Vision: they

behold the face of My heavenly Father continually (Mt. 18:10):

Now, gazing forever upon the unveiled face of God, their wills were united to His in love so utterly that sin was impossible to them: not coerced, in the intensity of their love, they could will only what God willed.  And in that life, they were fully themselves, every power in fullest operation, utterly fulfilled. That is freedom.


Man, too, was intended by God for the Beatific Vision, and he, too, was to have his probation.  But whereas the proving of the angels was a test for each separate angel, for the proving of man the test was by a representative man, the first man from whom all others come. Angels as we have seen do not procreate.  Being pure spirits, each has to be created separately as to his totality; there is no element in them that is not the direct creation of God, so that there is no organic connection between one angel and another.  They are not related to each other in anything comparable to the family relationships of men.  In that sense there is a human race but no angelic race. In that sense again there could be a representative man but not a representative angel.

Mankind was tested in one man.  We shall never exhaust the story of the testing. Adam was created perfect: this does not of course mean infinite.  All things have the perfection proper to them, when they are fully and completely the kind of thing God meant them to be.  Soul and body were perfect in themselves and properly related to each other.  The body was ruled by the soul and accepted the soul's rule without rebellion.  Within the soul reason ruled, and the first law of reason which is acceptance of the will of God.

As well as this total integrity, Adam had certain other perfections which, like it, we can only call preternatural.  He did not have to find out everything for himself, by experience and meditation upon experience and the comparison of his own experience with other people's.  He began with an initial equipment of knowledge, simply given to him by God.  Contained in this knowledge was all that he needed in order to live intelligently according to the plan God had for him.  There is no suggestion in all this that Adam could not grow in knowledge, but that he had from God all the knowledge that he needed. He had another two other gifts. The first is what theologians call impassibility: the universe made for the service of men literally could not harm him.  God would not allow it.  Nature and man were part of one harmonious order, until man wrecked it. Man was lord of the world. The other gift was immortality.  Death was not in God's original design.

God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. (Wisdom 1:13)

In the perfection He had planned for man, man was not to suffer the separation of soul and body which comes to us when the body is damaged to such a point by accident or the mere wear and tear of living that it can no longer respond to the animating power of the soul, and so disintegrates and is no more a human body.  In one sense death is natural since the body has parts and therefore can fall apart; but in another sense we feel it as an unnatural interruption of man's existence; since his immortal destiny is to be forever soul and body, why the temporary separation?  God would allow no accident to fall upon unfallen man; and the sinless soul in its first perfection was quite strong enough to supply for any wear and tear of the unrebellious body in a world which could not harm man.

We cannot conceive the natural excellence of Adam or of the woman made from him.  His supernatural splendor was greater still.  This paragraph and the three that follow must be read with the closest attention.  The doctrine they contain is essential to the understanding of the purpose of our existence, and therefore to the intelligent living of our lives.  As we have seen God intended that man should come to the Beatific Vision, the direct gaze upon Himself. We have seen likewise that this was beyond the powers of man's nature.  Man's intellect is made to know things by dint of ideas, and by its natural powers it has no other way of knowing.  When I say that I know someone, I mean that in my mind there is an idea of him and a mental picture of him.  As I get to know him better, the mental picture gets a little clearer and the idea gets enormously fuller and richer.  But the person himself is never in my mind, save by way of the idea.  That is the kind of knowing proper to man's intellect - to know things not direct, but by means of an idea.  But our destiny is to know God direct, with no idea however perfect aiding or intervening.  The intellect will be in direct and conscious contact with God Himself.  Since by nature direct knowledge is impossible to us, we must receive in our soul new powers to enable us thus to act above our nature, and for this God gives us, as He gave the angels, supernatural life.

This supernatural life is not a development of our natural powers; it is something over and above, something that our nature could never grow to, something that it can receive only as a direct gift from God.  The gulf between nonliving and living is not so great as the gulf between natural life and supernatural.  The purpose of this supernatural life, is that in Heaven we may see God direct.  But we do not wait until then to receive the supernatural life.  It is given to man in this life, and what man does with it is the primary story of his life. When we come to die, we are judged by the answer to one question - whether we have the supernatural life in our soul.  If we have, then to Heaven we shall surely go, for the supernatural life is the power to live the life of Heaven. It follows that the supernatural life, which we call also sanctifying grace, is not simply a passport to Heaven: it is the power to live in Heaven. If we are given the supernatural life here upon earth, it does not have its full effect of enabling us to see God direct. But it does have vast effects in the soul, enabling the soul to do things that by nature it could not do. For a full discussion of the operation of sanctifying grace in the soul we must wait until the third section of this book.  Here we can state it in summary.  By the gift of faith, the intellect is given a new way of attaining and holding truth, upon the word of God: by the gifts of

charity and


the will is given a new mode of loving God and effectively desiring to be with Him.  These three are called the THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES, because their direct object is God -
we believe in God,
we hope in God,
we love God
In addition, our souls are given what are called the MORAL VIRTUES -



temperance and


by which man is helped to handle the things of this created universe for the salvation of his soul.  Further still there are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Supernaturally endowed we can act so as to merit the supernatural reward.

And by this supernatural endowment we are raised from being merely creatures of God to being sons of God.  For the power to see God as He is, is a power which by nature belongs to God alone. By the supernatural life we are being given a share, a created share certainly, in God's own life. As created spirits we are in the likeness of God; but this natural likeness is as nothing to the supernatural likeness whereby, we are raised to such a likeness of His nature as joins children to their father.

God created Adam with this supernatural endowment. There was no first moment, in which Adam existed simply as the perfect natural man.  From the first moment of his creation until his fall Adam had two lives in him, the natural life and the supernatural life.  He dominated the world: he was subject only to God.  And in him the whole human race was tested.  The first member of the human race to come from him was Eve - the word means "life" or "living" - and she too had natural perfection and supernatural life.

There is much in their life that is too far removed from anything we have experienced. But on the side of their relations with God we get some light. Their first duty and also in that happy unfallen state their supreme pleasure, was prayer, both in the wider sense of the direction of the whole of life to God, and in the special sense of conversing with God - talking to Him and listening to Him. There is no one in whose company we so intimately and continuously are, and never to address Him is plainly funny - reminiscent of W. S. Gilbert's poem about the two Englishmen cast up on a desert island who would not speak to each other because they had not been introduced.

But if it is natural for us, as for Adam, to talk to God, what kind of thing would one say? There is the acknowledgment of God's glory by adoration and love; and the acknowledgment of our obligations to God by thanksgiving; and, since God wishes it so, there is the asking for what we want. All this was in Adam's prayer as it should be in ours.  But at first his prayer lacked what should be the most poignant element in ours, sorrow for sin.

Again, his prayer (like ours) would be an offering of the whole of himself to God, not of his soul only but of soul and body, too. There is the offering of other things, by way of sacrifice, which is the setting apart and consecrating to God of some part of all that He has given us. There is the offering along with others, by way of prayer and sacrifice in common. God gave Eve to Adam because it is not good for man to be alone. By his needs and by his powers he is bound up with others. This element, too, in his nature must be offered to God. The excuse a modern man gives for staying away from church - that he finds that he prays better alone - misses the point.  What he is doing is refusing to join with his fellow men in the worship of God, that is to say he is leaving the social element in his nature not offered to God.  Adam and Eve had their private prayers to God, but they prayed together, too. It is tempting to speculate upon other elements in this paradisaic life. What matters is that their splendor naturally and supernaturally was vast, and that they threw it away.


We should remember that this first period of human life, like the first period of angelic life, was one of probation, of testing.  What the test was for the angels, we do not know, but we know that it was a personal individual testing, one which each angel had to meet for himself, and that some of them failed in the test.  Of the testing of man, we know something more, there was this difference between the testing of men and of angels that the testing of the human race was not in each of us individually, but in the representative man, Adam.

We know something about the testing of the human race in Adam. God made Adam lord of the world, but with a condition attached: 

The Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees fair to behold and            pleasant to eat of; the Tree of Life       also in the midst of Paradise: and the Tree of knowledge of Good and Evil... and He commanded him, saying: Of every tree of Paradise thou shalt eat: but of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thou shalt not eat for in what day so ever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.

The phrase is profoundly mysterious: the condition God set for Adam's continuation in happiness must also be mysterious. How long Adam and his wife observed the prohibition and remained in union with God, we have no means of knowing.  Was it so much as one day?  We do not know.  All we know is that the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the fruit, promising that the result would not be death, but that their eyes should be opened and they should be as gods, knowing good and evil.  Eve ate of the fruit and gave to her husband, who ate, too.  They had failed in the test.  They had sinned against God; and their sin was some form of assertion of self as against God:

they should be as gods,

the serpent had said, perhaps in wry mockery of his own futile dream.  Like the rebellious angels, they had been free to choose, and had chosen, but had not been free to choose the consequences of their choice.  The consequences were calamitous for themselves and for the human race, at that moment and until the end of time: the consequences will not cease in the next life.  We shall not understand what has happened to mankind since, what is happening now, even within our own selves, unless we grasp very clearly what resulted from the fall of Man in Adam.

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