Angels and Demons: On the Cosmic Reality and Theological Importance of Angelology and Demonology

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
Feast of St Bernard
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Several things have aligned in my life to bring me to this letter. The first is my annual re-read of C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). I’m currently in the beginning of Perelandra. The second is what re-reading this always leads me to, this interview with John Milbank, here’s a textual reproduction of the most important part. The third was this post, “Have We Made Satan too Powerful” by my friend Adam Tomlinson. Since I’ve written on the others before, I’ll give a quick summary of Adam’s post.

Adam, rightfully, reminds us that Satan is not as powerful as God. In short, he reminds us that we are not gnostics. We don’t believe in co-eternal and co-powerful gods of good and evil. Therefore, when we act like Satan is directly attacking us, or our church, or our small group we may very well be giving him too much power, namely omnipresence since others are saying the exact same thing in completely different parts of the world at the same time. Nevertheless, as Adam admits, just because it isn’t Satan himself does not mean that it isn’t one of his followers (whether human or demonic).

What I have often found, however, is that while many Christians, especially in the West (and particularly in Protestant churches, though Catholics and Orthodox can be confused on this as well), is that while we’ll readily admit the existence of Satan and the demons, angels aren’t something we particularly believe in or even think about. Now I’ve written to you about angels before, but there’s one thing I want to make perfectly clear. Angels and demons are created beings.

It’s easy to forget that they are created since they are so different from us in some obvious ways. They don’t have bodies, or at least don’t have bodies like ours. While they can take shape, as Scripture makes very clear, they don’t seem to be corporeal in the way things we’re used to interacting with are. They aren’t like rocks or trees or animals, we don’t often see them (although that’s likely a problem with our sight) or sense them in any physical way. Yet I can say unequivocally that there is at least one angel with me now as I write this though I am not sensibly aware (as in I cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell it) of its presence. But it is here nonetheless.

What is more, that they are created means that they, like us (and everything else that exists), belong to the created order. What this means, in other words, is that angels belong to and exist in the created cosmos. Now, I don’t mean the universe when I say cosmos, at least not how we normally understand it. They aren’t in “space” (a rather inappropriate name for the beauty that lies beyond our atmosphere). They aren’t on some other planet or in some other solar system. Rather they are part of created existence itself. Therefore they, and their abode, namely heaven, are part of our cosmos and their reality, which is many ways more real than our own, often intersects with ours. It is for the reunification of their realm and ours that we look forward to. Supposedly (I’ve studied this somewhat and have found no ancient or medieval evidence of this), the ancient Irish and Welsh Christians believed in “thin” places, places where the boundary between heaven and earth is thinner than in others. I used to be rather infatuated with this idea. Now, however, I think thick is a better adjective. There are places in our world that thicker than others because our reality is filled with a greater reality, although a created one, nonetheless.

So, why is all this important? For this reason, if angels and demons belong to our cosmos, if they can and do interact with us, then we need to be aware of that and we need theologies that give proper space to these beings. According to the Scriptures (insofar as we can take these numbers literally) for every demon out there two more angels exist. This means that whenever we think about demons working to foil the plans of God’s kingdom and God’s people, there are more angels working, in one way or another, toward the consummation of God’s plan for all of reality.

The angels are also waiting for our deification. Theologians like Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor describe human beings as microcosms. In us comes together the material, the vegetable, the animal, and the rational. While the first three categories cover pretty much all created things that we typically experience here on earth the fourth is, along with a reference to God himself, a reference to the angels who are pure intelligences. This means there is something of rocks, trees, dogs, and angels in us. Christ infused into that nature the divine as well. Therefore, just as all lower creation awaits with longing the coming of the sons of God (deified humanity), so too does the higher creation, the angels and archangels and cherubim and seraphim. Their fate is tied to ours. And let’s not forget that Scriptures tell us “that we will judge angels?” (I Cor 6.3), which is presumably a reference to demons. Therefore we need more than a theology with only a mind of the terrestrial, we need a celestial theology as well. This is what people like John the Theologian, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus, and Thomas Aquinas, and all Christian mystics are constantly trying to tell us. We should really start listening.

Yours,
David

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That Hideous Strength: The Cosmic and Enchanted Earth

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
8 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

That Hideous Strength is perhaps often viewed as one of the strangest and weakest of Lewis’s fictional books. It certainly makes little sense if we think of it as the culmination of a Space Trilogy since the entire book takes place on Earth. What’s more this book makes a sudden introduction of Arthurian mythology that is completely absent from the previous two. Some even criticise it for its portrayal of gender and male-female relationships (This however, is contested by Alison Milbank who seems to think Lewis get this more right than wrong. I don’t have a source for this as it is something she said in her class on Fantasy and Religion). And yet, for all of this, I cannot help but love this book.

It helps that I am something of a sucker for all things Arthurian. As evidenced by these posts. But even beyond this, Lewis does something very interesting on a cosmic level in this book. The book sets the tale of two protagonists, Jane Studdock and her husband Mark. Jane and Mark are still newly married, both academics, though she has put her work to the side for the time beings, finding it hard to return to it (she’s doing a PhD on Donne). Jane is troubled by dreams she’s having. She later finds out that she is a seer, that is, sometimes she dreams things that are currently happening. It’s important to note two things, first, Jane does not dream or predict the future. She is simply capable of dreaming the present. Second, Jane does not do this by calling upon spirits of any kind. It is, rather, hereditary. And it is this point that I find most interesting. Lewis has constructed a world where a human creature can, while asleep, ‘dream things true’ as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. In some ways, this is the epitome of an enchanted cosmos. Jane sees the present, and even more, she sees the present in a way that is useful to the Christians she eventually fully joins at the St Anne’s Manor. Lewis doesn’t make it obvious that these are visions given to Jane by God in say the way Daniel, Paul, John, or others have had visions. She isn’t seeing heavenly realities, but what she sees becomes guided by the influence the Director has over her. She is an enchanted human being, with a native ability that is intended for good uses, but can be turned to evil.

However, the enchantment runs even deeper than this. When Merlin is awakened or brought back into time, what his state was before his reanimation is uncertain, he is ravenous to reconnect with the rocks, fields, and trees around him. But he isn’t allowed to. The Director, the current Pendragon, will not allow him, it is no longer, according to God it would seem, acceptable. Nevertheless, the Director himself has the ability to tame animals in a way no other human can. Mice come at his beck and call to clean up crumbs; a bear lives with them (along with a few other animals); they have a garden, which doesn’t seem to have any particularly enchanted properties to it (not like the animals do), but living within nature does seem to be an integral aspect of their lives at St Anne’s. In fact, the garden growing, animal raising people of St Anne’s are contrasted with the N.I.C.E. and their desire to denature the Earth.

On the Angelic end of things, which has been the focus of the previous two letters in this series, there is decidedly less and more. Because the lens through which we see the world is the uninitiated Jane, rather than Ransom himself, encounters with the angelic are terrifying. There is a scene where Ivy, a member of the group at St Anne’s is reflecting on the Director’s encounters with angelic beings behind the planets (the wanderers) in the cosmos. ‘“Do you know,” said Ivy in a low voice, “that’s a thing I don’t understand. They’re so eerie, those ones [angels] that come to visit you. I wouldn’t go near that part of the house if I thought anything was there, not if you paid me a hundred pounds. But I don’t feel like that about God. But he ought to be worse, if you see what I mean.” “He was, once,” said the Director. “You are quite right about the powers. Angels in general are not good company for men in general, even when they are good angels and good men. It’s all in St. Paul. But as for Maledil Himself, all that changed: it was changed by what happened at Bethlehem.”’ Lewis does something I can’t quite fully account for here. Throughout the series, he has somewhat acted as though Earth, Thulcandra, the Silent Planet were purely under the sway of Satan and that the other Oyarsa cannot enter it, and that its own eldila are not always on our side (even if they aren’t always against us). This makes little sense when compared with Scripture where throughout the Old Testament and Apocrypha angels not only appear but aid humanity in obvious ways. In the New Testament, they fade somewhat behind the glory of Christ, but are still present. Perhaps, however, what Lewis is doing here is distinguishing between the hierarchies. Those great beings who guard and move the planets cannot enter into ours easily and are bad company for us, but those who are intended to work directly with us are not as bad company for us. Still, though, it is clear that we are meant to commune directly with God and not simply through the angels.

In the end, what That Hideous Strength gives us is the cosmic come home. The grand movements in the Fields of Arbol (Lewis’s “Old Solar” for the Cosmos) are affected by and affect what happens on Earth, not in an astrological way, but because the whole Cosmos, created and upheld by God, is also governed by his created beings and all of it is tending toward one end. It is all tending toward the overcoming of the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, of the overcoming of Britain with the kingdom of Logres. Let me leave you with the discussion of Logres in That Hideous Strength, keeping in mind that this discussion not only applies to every nation, but to the whole cosmos.

‘“It all began,” he [Dr Dimble] said, “when we discovered that the Arthurian story is mostly true history. There was a moment in the Sixth Century wen something that is always trying to break through into this country nearly succeeded. Logres was our name for it––it will do as well as another. And then … gradually we began to see all English history in a new way. We discovered the haunting.”

‘“What haunting?” asked Camilla.

‘“How something we may call Britain is always haunted by something we may call Logres. Haven’t you noticed that we are two countries? After every Arthur, a Mordred; behind ever Milton, a Cromwell: a nation of poets, a nation of shopkeepers: the home of Sidney––and of Cecil Rhodes. Is it any wonder they call us hypocrites? But what they mistake for hypocrisy is really the struggle between Logres and Britain.”

….

‘“It was long afterwards,” he said, “after the Director had returned from the Third Heaven, that we were told a little more. This haunting turned out to be not only from the other side of the invisible wall. Ransom was summoned to the bedside of an old man then dying in Cumberland. His name would mean nothing to you if I told it. That man was the Pendragon, the successor of Arthur and Uther and Cassibelaun. Then we learned the truth. There has been a secret Logres in the very heart of Britain all these years: an unbroken succession of Pendragons. That old man was the seventy-eighth from Arthur: our Director received from him the office and the blessings; tomorrow we shall know, or tonight, who is to be the eightieth. Some of the Pendragons are well known to history, though not under that name. Others you have never heard of. But in every age they and the little Logres which gathered around them have been the fingers which gave the tiny shove or the almost imperceptible pull, to prod England out of the drunken sleep or to draw her back from the final outrage into which Britain tempted her.”

….

‘“So that, meanwhile, is England,” said Mother Dimble. “Just this swaying to and fro between Logres and Britain?”

‘“Yes,” said her husband. “Don’t you feel it? The very quality of England. If we’ve got an ass’s head, it is by walking in a fairy wood. We’ve heard something better than we can do, but can’t quite forget it … can’t you see it in everything English––a kind of awkward grace, a humble, humorous incompleteness? How right Sam Weller was when he called Mr. Pickwick an angel in gaiters! Everything here is either better or worse than––”

‘“Dimble!” said Ransom….

‘“You’re right, Sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no special privilege for England––no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”

‘“Aye,” said MacPhee, “and it could be right good history without mentioning you and me or most of those present. I’d be greatly obliged if anyone would tell me what we have don––always apart from feeding pigs and raising some very decent vegetables.”

‘“You have done what is required of you,” said the Director. “You have obeyed and waited. It will often happen like that. As one of the modern authors has told us, the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else. But don’t jump to conclusions. You may have plenty of work to do before a month is passed. Britain has lost the battle, but she will rise again.”’

Let us be Logres in the midst of Britain.

Sincerely yours,
David

Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
20 September 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy: Perelandra and the Cosmic Christ Event

David Russell Mosley

St John Chrysostom’s Day 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In Lewis’s Perelandra, we get much less of the angelic. Perelandra, or Venus as we know it, is at the point of decision where Tellus before it had failed. Two rational creatures, in the shape––but not in any of the standard hues––of humanity, have evolved from a rather fishier biological background and have been separated. The woman, along with first meeting Ransom who has been sent there to aid the planet ward off the attacks of Satan, meets the tempter. This time, the tempter takes on the body of Dr Weston from Out of the Silent Planet. The book is made up primarily of these three characters: the Perelandrian Eve, Ransom, and the possessed Weston. Ransom and Weston thus battle not only for the Lady’s soul, but, in a way, for the whole planet. There are many interesting facets of this book. It can be read as a kind of suppositional commentary on Genesis 2 and 3. What fascinates me about it, however, is the cosmic level.

Lewis gives us a cosmos where the planets are ruled and governed by angelic beings, as I discussed in my last letter. Yet while Oyarsa was an ever present character, though unseen at first (and then only seen dimly when present), the eldila are unseen and mostly unknown on Perelandra (we later discover that at least the oyarsa of Perelandra is present, but more on that in a moment). What intrigues me is the way Lewis’s cosmos is connected. Too often, both in our real discussions of whether any potentially existent extraterrestrial beings or their depiction in science fiction focuses on the purely localised nature of the Christ event. We either assume that the extra terrestials would be damned by nature, in need of salvation, or at the very least, unaffected by what happened on Earth. Lewis challenges this. In Out of the Silent Planet, we have a world that is populated before humanity’s Fall, but during the angelic rebellion. Malacandra is thus peopled with creatures of varying shapes and sizes. Perelandra, however, gives us human shaped creatures. In fact, Ransom learns from the lady that there will be no more hrossa, no more sorns from here on out all rational creatures will come in the shape of a human. Why? Because Christ became human. While humanity’s fall did not cause the Fall of the entire Cosmos, it affected how the Cosmos would develop.

Earth becomes a step in the Cosmic dance that is tending toward the Beatific Vision. Both its Fall and its Redemption effect the direction of the rest of Cosmos. For a while, I was concerned about this. It seemed almost to make the Cross (and even the Incarnation) merely a reaction. The Oyarsa of Malacandra even tells Ransom that because Adam and Eve fell at this same point of decision, something greater (namely the Incarnation) happened there. Therefore, on Perelandra, what didn’t happen on Earth happened there instead. However, I was wrong to think this a reactionary view. By reactionary, I mean that God was surprised by the Fall and replied with the Incarnation, that is, plan A failed and so now it is time for plan B. Instead, however, Lewis gives us a cosmos where the Fall is not necessary, but is used to play an integral role in the development of the entire cosmos. It is the means by which the Son’s becoming human is, in some ways facilitated, but it is not a reaction, it is an eternal plan. It is necessary for the Son to become incarnate for all rational creatures, all ensouled creatures, are intended for deification, for the beatific vision. Thus, in Lewis’s cosmic vision, this is done on Earth, in part to combat the Fall, but in full to bring about the deification of all hanu (ensouled, rational creatures). It is for this reason, the Lord and Lady of Venus are human shaped yet green. It is for this reason there will be no more creatures like those seen on Malacandra. The Fall may have facilitated a need for incarnation, for we could not have been fittingly redeemed without it (not that we absolutely could not have been redeemed without it, but that is a letter for another day), but it is not the only reason for it. Rather, it’s ultimate purpose is to return the entire Cosmos, that is all of Creation, to God in deification. Christ’s becoming human has shaped the course of history, both tellurian and Cosmic.

In these first two books, Lewis’s Cosmic focus is extraterrestial. When I write about That Hideous Strength, we will see how Lewis takes this Cosmic understanding of the Universe and applies to the life lived on Earth. Until then, I remain,

Sincerely yours,
David

The Enchanted Cosmos-A Response to Matt Moser at Christ and University

David Russell Mosley


3 March 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

 Over on Christ and University, Matt Moser has been doing a series on the difficulties of teaching Dante. In his most recent post Moser notes that a significant issue in reading Dante is his cosmology which we no longer share on a broad societal level. This is an issue one often sees when reading Ancient and Medieval literature. In a sense, this is precisely what C. S. Lewis seeks to address in his The Discarded Image. The medievals, Dante, thought differently than we do about the way world works. One of the most common cases of this is an issue over spontaneous generation. The ancients and medievals thought flies came from decaying meat, spontaneously, or, usually, through some juxtapositional of the Zodiac.

This, however, is not the kind of problem we’re dealing with in Dante, nor is it the main problem we deal with in most of the Ancient and Medieval writers. Instead, as Moser notes, it is an issue of enchantment, or even more, an issue of seeing the Universe as a Cosmos (which means order). Moser writes, 

‘This is the challenge of reading Dante. His cosmic imagination is difficult to apprehend because we inhabit an a-cosmological, disenchanted world. But more importantly, this is the challenge of Dante: “See the world you inhabit in this way,” he bids us. “To see order is to see goodness; to see harmony is to see beauty. To see goodness and beauty is to see truth. To see truth is to behold God.”’

Moser then connects this to education as such. In a cosmological understanding of education all the branches of the University are connected, they interpenetrate one another. But this is not the way we view education or the Cosmos. So it causes Moser to ask, ‘Is there a way to forge a cosmic imagination in our students given the a-cosmological world we inhabit today?’

I certainly do not wish to pretend that I have the one answer to this, the one solution that will fix all of education and our disenchanted vision of the universe. However, I think an aspect of the answer is in the problem. You see, the post is about the difficulties of teaching Dante, yet teaching Dante is one of the solutions to this problem. To put it more frankly, in order to get students to understand a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe we need to teach them about thinkers who have a cosmic and enchanted vision of the Universe. Even more so, if we agree with those thinkers, as Moser and I do, then we need to model that vision. 

There are perhaps two things for which I am most frequently criticised here at Letters from the Edge of Elfland. The first is a jumble of my relatively theological conservatism (meaning I think Jesus is really the Son of God and the Bible is the word of God, etc.) and my qualified support of thinkers like John Milbank and the school of theology known as Radical Orthodoxy. The other critique, however, is based on my writing about things like Faerie, and King Arthur, and Enchantment. Nevertheless, I won’t stop precisely because this is the vision of the world our Christian forebears had, not always couched in the terms I have inherited from the Medieval and Romantic British, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and German traditions, but it was nevertheless a world where miracles were possible by the grace of God. It is a world where angels existed, as did demons. It is a world where God became man and now bread becomes flesh and wine blood. It is a world where humans can become gods or devils, but only by grace or its rejection. I think there are many ways to lead students to this kind of understanding (or at least to understand that this is how Dante et al., saw the world): not least of which are the reading and writing of fiction (especially fantasy), and reading the Ancients and Medievals themselves. However, to lead students to an even deeper understanding of the Cosmic vision of the Universe is to live it and to live it, unashamedly, in front of them.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley