The Creation of Angels
The patristic teaching about the difference between time, the age and eternity has already been set out. This teaching is empirical. It is the result of the revelational theoria granted to the glorified saints.
The God-seers, who share in the illuminating and glorifying energies of God, see angels and departed saints in the glory of God and discern another dimension of time. They called this higher level of time the ‘age’, and differentiated it from the perceptible time of the creation in which they lived before the experience of seeing God, but also from the inapproachable Light in which God dwells, which they called ‘eternity’. St Gregory the Theologian says that the age is time that will stop moving, and time is the age that is measured while in motion. What is clear is that the age is another level of time, and is distinct from eternity, which is ascribed to God.
a) Angels of Light
The angels, the noetic spirits created by God, live in the ages. Therefore angels are themselves called ‘ages’. The Apostle Paul writes in a characteristic passage: “[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds [in Greek aidnas, literally: ‘ages’]” (Heb. 1:2).
“The time of the angels is in the ages without end, as angels are not restricted by matter. Thus angels move in intervals of time that do not resemble our own.”
“Man has a slight conception of what time is, but he understands almost nothing about the ages, unless he reaches glorification and has spiritual insight, and sees an angel himself. Then he has experience of an angel.”
As angels are creations of God and came from non-being into being, they have a beginning and are created. The Old Testament speaks in parallel of the uncreated Angel, the Angel of Great Counsel, who is the Word, and of the created angels, who are creations of God.
“There is an interpretative rule that St Basil the Great expresses very clearly: Wherever the Angel in the Old Testament is called God – because there are different kinds of angels, there are created angels as well – wherever the Angel who appears to the Prophets is called God, He is Christ.”
The Apostle Paul sets out the difference between the uncreated Word and created angels:
“For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? And again:I will be to Him a Father, and He shall be to Me a Son’? But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.’ But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, Ο God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions'” (Heb. 1:5-9).
The Word of God sits on the right hand of the Father, whereas the angels are ministering spirits who serve: “But to which of the angels has He ever said: ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation? (Heb. 1:13-14).
As creatures of God the angels are material beings, but they are of more subtle matter than our own. They are not referred to as immaterial beings, as God is immaterial Spirit, but they are described as ‘ethereal beings’.
“The Fathers of the Church not only say that the soul is corporeal — the soul is material — but so are the angels. Remember that well-known passage from St John of Damascus that says that, compared with visible things, the angels are bodiless. Why do we call the angels bodiless? Because they are invisible. In comparison with God they are dense matter.
So the Fathers do not accept the existence of immaterial things.
Only God is immaterial and immortal by nature; the angels and the soul are not.”
Being created is linked with matter and mortality. Only God is by nature uncreated, immaterial and immortal, whereas human beings and angels are by nature created, material and subject to death.
“The Fathers explain that only God is immortal by nature, and man and the angels are not immortal by nature.
The teaching of the Fathers of the Church is, therefore, that the angels are material beings, at least in comparison with God. They are not purely immaterial spirits. This is based on the patristic distinction between ‘created’ and ‘uncreated’. Only what is uncreated is by nature immortal: God Himself, Who is uncreated.”
Thus the angels and human souls are ‘mortal by nature’, but immortal by grace. Because everything that has a beginning also has an end. This does not mean that at some time angels and human beings will cease to exist, as God has willed that they should remain immortal. The angels are also called ‘noetic beings’, because they have a noetic faculty (energy), but not a rational faculty (logiki). Man has both noetic and rational faculties (energies), whereas angels only have a noetic faculty. Man is the summary of creation and God’s most perfect creation. For that reason, in order to save humankind and sanctify creation, the Word of God assumed human, not angelic, nature.
“Apart from the rational faculty (energy), the Fathers speak about a noetic faculty (energy). They made a clear distinction, saying that the angels are noetic beings, whereas human beings have reason (logos). Man has reason and the angels have nous. So the noetic faculty is different from the rational faculty. The Fathers of the Church continuously make this distinction.
If you want to look in detail at this subject you ought to read Dionysios the Areopagite who, when speaking about human beings, every time he says ‘reason’ (logos) also says ‘nous’, and every time he says ‘nous’ also says ‘reason’. Reason and nous go together when he speaks about human beings. When he talks about angels, he usually calls them ‘noetic beings’. They are ‘noetic beings’, ‘noetic powers’. We are rational beings but also noetic beings, because we have both, whereas the angels are solely noetic.”
It is a basic principle of patristic teaching that there are no immutable beings; all things are in motion. Even in the other life there will be no fixed state.
“St Dionysios believes in eternal motion, that perfection is eternal motion. He rejects immobility. He believes in growth in perfection, that even the Cherubim, the Seraphim, the Powers and all the angels are always ascending from glory to glory in ceaseless upward progress, despite the fact that they are glorified and behold the glory God. In the Platonic tradition, by contrast, perfection is immobility and immutability.
In the Greek philosophers we find immutability as the fulfilment of human perfection. Whereas in the Father of the Church who is allegedly the most hellenising and philosophical of them all, we find ceaseless motion as the foundation of glorification.”
Even the angels, despite their constant motion, can never attain to knowledge of the essence of God and can never become uncreated. “Not even angels know” the essence of God.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Protopresbyter John S. Romanides