The Angels & Their Mission by Jean Danielou

Sophia Institute Press, 2009

ISBN 978-1-933184-46-3

Originally published in French in 1953, published in English in 1957 by The Newman Press, The Angels and Their Mission is one of the many great titles being brought back into print by Sophia Press.  I picked this out as part of the Catholic Company review program, and like all the titles I’ve chosen so far as part of that program, I can highly recommend it.

The book is a survey of the teachings of the early church fathers about angels.  Themes are arranged historically, starting with “The Angels and the Law” (of the Old Testament) and ending with “The Angels and the Second Coming”.  A full five chapters are devoted to the roles angels play in the current lives of believers — in the church, in the sacraments, in the spiritual life, as guardians, and at the time of death.

The survey is thorough and eye-opening.   Included are mention of certain beliefs held by one or another church father that are not consistent with catholic doctrine, but were, presumably, open theological questions at the time.  One of the most interesting things I learned was that the old cartoon depiction of an angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, each pushing and pulling at the human soul, is in fact a long-held belief taught by the church fathers.

–> And this is why I find this book invaluable.  We hear very little about angels these days.  Here is a book that remedies the doctrinal ignorance that plagues modern christians.

This is not, however, a beginner book.  The text is readable, along the lines of any of Pope Benedict’s popular works — my new word for this book was “Trisagion”.  Although I think the ideas presented would be interesting for a non-catholic who wants to compare beliefs about angels, I suspect that you really need a working knowledge of the catholic faith in order to make sense of the information.  If you are not yet comfortable consulting The Catechism of the Catholic Church, this book might not be for you.

Likewise, a little background in patristics would go a long ways.  All the quotes from the fathers are footnoted, though there is no guide to the abbreviations used in the footnootes.  If you’ve never read any of the church fathers, a book like Pope Benedict’s The Fathers would be an excellent pre-read to get you ready for this one.

Know in advance that this a book you read for information, not entertainment.  It is not light — the writing is clear but technical.  It is not humorous — no punny subheadings — and it does not contain any heartwarming Chicken-Soup-For-the-Angel-Lover’s-Soul type anecdotes.  Unlike Pope Benedicts’ writings, there are not inspiring pastoral comments tied into the theological survey.

–> But if you want to know what the historic church teaching is on a topic, here it is.  Laid out systematically, so that is is easy to find the information that you want.  And the theology is, as theology always is, inspiring and edifying on its own.

So I recommend this book as one for the shelf.  While there is value in reading the book cover-to-cover, you can safely go straight to to the chapter of interest, to be informed and delighted there where you really wanted it.

And because the book is so rich with information, you can’t possibly read it once and have retained everything.  For a catechist or apologist, you will want this at hand so that when someone asks, “Well, what *do* catholics beleive about  . . . <insert angel topic>??” you can quickly get to the appropriate chapter and review the historic teaching.

Good book.  It took me a long time to finish it, mostly due to personal busyness.  And I ended up with two copies, because I misplaced the first in the process of dragging it everywhere trying to get it read.  Now I’m glad, because I really want to keep a loaner copy on hand, without letting *my* copy off the shelf.