Every once in awhile you read something that makes everything click into place, a puzzle long scattered in your mind comes together all at once.1 A passage from Tolkien recently set this clicking together in motion, on the subject of the angels:
I had not long ago when spending half an hour in St Gregory’s before the Blessed Sacrament when the Quarant’ Ore was being held there. I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote (or millions of motes to only one of which was my small mind directed), glittering white because of the individual ray from the Light which both held and lit it. (Not that there were individual rays issuing from the Light, but the mere existence of the mote and its position in relation to the Light was in itself a line, and the line was Light). And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God’s very attention itself, personalized. And I do not mean “personified,” by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real (finite) person.
Letter 89, To Christopher Tolkien
The love of God is a person. It’s a stunning insight, one flowing naturally from the reality of God as three-in-one.2 Love, the highest name of God, must have an object, and the love of God, as the most perfect instance of love (indeed, to call it an instance is essentially a confusion, for all love simply is participation in the Love that is the inner life of the Trinity) must have an object appropriate to the lover. Thus the lover, the Father, is a divine person. The beloved, the Son, a divine person infinite and equal to the Father as befits the perfect object of the Father’s love, and the love of the Father and the Son is itself a person, the Spirit.3
But what about the love of God for lesser, finite things? This too, Tolkien notes, is a person:
As the love of the Father and Son (who are infinite and equal) is a Person, so the love and attention of the Light to the Mote is a person (that is both with us and in Heaven): finite but divine: i.e. angelic.
In other words, angels are the love of God for the distinct aspects of creation. Staggering in itself, there are a few implications that are worth noting:
- Your guardian angel is God’s love for you, so perfect as to be a divine, albeit finite, person.
- Every single bit of creation from the smallest mote to the biggest stars has an attendant angel. There are as many angels as there are things, and all are fundamentally creatures of God’s love.
- With this understanding, we can begin to grasp the import of the concluding line of Dante’s Comedy, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” The celestial bodies are truly moved through the heavens by angels, by the personal attention and love of God, and so too are all other things.4
- Moreover, when the Psalmist writes that “the heavens declare the glory of God,” our minds ought to turn towards the singing of the angelic choir. The angels, the personal manifestations of God’s love, do not merely move the cosmos, they sing it in praise of its Creator. This is the celestial music, the music of the spheres, which we bring our inner being into alignment with through our participation in the love of God. The whole of creation is, therefore, a vast and beautiful love song.
1. This phenomenon is, I believe, inspiration in the truest sense of the word. Some fragment of the world acts as a key in the mind, directing it toward the contemplation of higher things from whence it can be illuminated. In the light from above, what was previously obscure becomes apparent in a sort of interior vision.
2. It was, perhaps, no accident that I encountered this passage shortly before Trinity Sunday.
3. And this is why, in loving, we are conformed to God. The more we participate in the intercommunicative love of the Trinity, the more we come to resemble the divine persons, as the love of God transforms us to become more receptive/worthy of being beloved by the divine. More, it entails that in loving we attain to greater degrees of personhood. Love of neighbor and love of God makes us more of a person, more real.
Also, since God loves every fragment of creation (the individual motes, as Tolkien observes), we see that it is this love that acts as the motive force behind the movement of the cosmos back to its ultimate culmination in union with the Creator.
4. The objection that this truth is superstitious, simplistic, or somehow superseded by scientific accounts of planetary motion reveals only the intellectual carelessness and, frankly, the stupidity of the objector.