When my first-born daughter, who interestingly enough was referred to by my mother as Grandma’s Special Angel, was about three or four years old, she used to love to dance, pose, and smile into the big wall length mirror we have in our house. Something about her own image was absolutely captivating to herself. As a young father, I often wondered about the virtue (or lack thereof) of this practice. Those around me assured me there was nothing to worry about.
One day, however, something transpired that not only had me really worried about my daughter, but also gave me bone chilling insight into the sin of the angels. The morning unfolded as any other: as was her custom, my daughter began playing in front of the mirror, admiring her own reflection, etc. Then something terrifying happened: peering deeply into the mirror, my daughter became transfixed. It was as if my daughter, and the space around her, became frozen in time. Perhaps I had seen one too many low budget 1980’s horror movies involving mirrors, but I sensed something sinister about the whole situation and frantically called out to her. She didn’t move. I rushed over to her, overcome with the foreboding thought that as cute as she looked, if she stayed there a moment longer, I would lose her forever. She would stay stuck in this moment and would miss out on growing up, dating, marrying, becoming a mother and, please God, entering into heaven.
Apparently, the moment was over in a nano-instant and others around me assured me that my panic was unwarranted. After a bit of prayer, I, too, was convinced of this truth. She was Ok. But I was also convinced of something else: this experience was akin to the sin of the angels.
I had often struggled with how the angels could sin. After all, angels were created in a single instance totally “complete” if you will. In reference to the order of nature, they were perfect. They had perfect intellects, pristine infused knowledge, and appetites that possessed their natural goods right from the get-go (See St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica I, Q50 thru Q60). Granted, as wonderfully crafted and as beautiful as these creatures were, they were not so perfect as to exhaust the generosity of God the Father. The Father wished to raise them from their perfect natural status into the supernatural perfection that only the beatific vision could afford. This vision, however, requires the free willed choice of intellectual creatures; God forces the beatific vision onto no one. In other words, the angels had a choice to make, a test to pass. Were they going to love something, or more appropriately Some One, up and above themselves? Or were they going to deny their Maker and the Maker’s desire for them to reach such heights? Were they going to say, “no?” Given their perfection, one would think the conclusion was forgone: they would, of course, all say yes.
Many did say yes, but some, sadly, said no. At the risk of oversimplifying things, these angels that became demons got stuck looking in the mirror. It wasn’t a situation so much of the angels choosing evil for evil’s sake, nor was it a situation where they chose a good improperly understood. Enamored with their own beauty and their own perfection, they refused to contemplate the “Other”. They refused to turn their gaze to God the Father and His invitation to a loving relationship. Like my fear for my daughter, these angels refused to “grow up”, so to speak. Or perhaps the better language to use would be, they refused to “grow out.”
What a tragedy. May we avoid the same!
Author’s note: I had often contemplated the sin of the angels and had difficulty understanding how they could do such a thing. When the incident with my daughter occurred I felt as though I had been given some insight. I was never confident in sharing this analogy, however, especially in my professional role as a teacher, until recently. What changed is that I happened to stumble across the wonderful work of author Walter Farrell. His A Companion to the Summa: Volume One (published by Sheed and Ward, New York, 1941), gives compelling insight into the whole affair. In fact in Chapter 11, interestingly enough, Fr. Farrell compares the sin of the angels to a glamour girl. He writes: “We have a rather accurate picture of the process if we can imagine the glamour girl of the year, looking her very best as she prepares to step out of her room, stopping, as she naturally would, for one last approving glance – and standing transfixed by her own beauty. So the angels, considering their own beauty and perfection where enchanted. There they stopped, captivated, refusing to let their minds consider the further supernatural end to which that lustrous natural beauty was ordered” (Farrell p. 243).