What are angels?

Question: If they are spirit beings, are they not then the Sons of God? What exactly is their purpose?

Answer: Since the best way to get the Course's perspective on any topic is simply to open the book and look for references to that topic, I would like to begin by listing all of the Course's references to angels:

Your newborn purpose is nursed by angels, cherished by the Holy Spirit and protected by God Himself (T-19.IV(C).9:4).

Around you angels hover lovingly, to keep away all darkened thoughts of sin, and keep the light where it has entered in (T-26.IX.7:1).

Angels light the way, so that all darkness vanishes, and you are standing in a light so bright and clear that you can understand all things you see (W-pI.131.13:2).

This [fear] do the body's eyes behold in one whom Heaven cherishes, the angels love and God created perfect (W-pI.161.9:1).

Say [God's] Name, and you invite the angels to surround the ground on which you stand, and sing to you as they spread out their wings to keep you safe, and shelter you from every worldly thought that would intrude upon your holiness (W-pI.183.2:2).

Watch with me, angels, watch with me today. Let all God's holy Thoughts surround me, and be still with me while Heaven's Son is born (W-pII.303.1:1-2).

My treasure house is full, and angels watch its open doors that not one gift is lost, and only more are added (W-pII.316.1:4).

God's angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless (W-pII.Ep.6:7-8).

[Christ] will not leave you comfortless, nor fail to send His angels down to answer you in His Own Name (S-2.III.7:5).

This is not really very much information—the Course tells us precious little about angels. But let's see what light these brief references shed onto this topic:

Are angels spirit beings? I can't say for sure, but certainly the implication seems to be that they are, just as we are. The quotes above certainly seem to suggest it. Some people may argue that the Course's descriptions of angels are simply metaphors for God's Love, and I think to a certain degree this is true. I personally doubt that there are literally beings with wings hovering around us and singing to us—I think Jesus is drawing on our traditional images of angels here.

But these metaphorical images may still point to real spiritual beings. The reference from Workbook Lesson 303 calls angels "God's holy Thoughts." We, too, are called "Thoughts of God" several places in the Course (for instance, see (W-pI.109.9), and in fact, we are told that creation itself consists of nothing but Thoughts of God: "Creation is the sum of all God's Thoughts" (W-pII.11.1:1). What I gather from all this is that everything that is real—creation, angels, ourselves—is a Thought of God, which leads me to believe that the true nature of angels is really not much different from our true nature. If this is so, then angels are spiritual beings, just as we are. And if angels are beings who are part of God's creation as we are, then certainly they are Sons of God, since the Course sees God's creation as synonymous with the Sonship: "We are creation; we the Sons of God" (W-pII.11.4:1).

What is the purpose of angels? The above Course quotes give us a good sense of their function. They protect our minds from darkness, and shine the light on our pathway home. They keep us safe from worldy thoughts that would intrude upon our holiness. They guard our treasure house, which contains God's gifts. They watch with us as Christ is born in our hearts, and nurse Him so that His holy purpose may grow in us. They are messengers of God's Love, who surround us and give us comfort.

A consistent picture emerges from these quotes: Angels are helpers, whose function is to protect our minds from the temptations of the ego so that the Christ in us may grow to full strength and maturity. This function of protection is also emphasized in two angel references that come from outside the Course itself. The first is a personal message Jesus gave to Helen, as recorded in Ken Wapnick's Absence from Felicity:

You [Helen, and by implication all of us] are wholly lovely. A perfect shaft of pure light….You were created above the angels because your role involves creation as well as protection (Absence from Felicity, p. 19).

The second is from The Gifts of God, Helen's collection of poetry. This was a poem written by Helen herself (entitled "Benediction") rather than dictated from Jesus, yet it beautifully captures the protective function of angels:

Angels are Thoughts that come from God to you.
Secure in their protection may you rest;
Quiet in the certainty that comes from them,
At peace in mind and heart and holiness;
Unmindful of the world, and sure that they
Are with you, watching over you, and fixed
In their determination to maintain
Your mind at rest within the peace of God (The Gifts of God, p. 4).

Taken together, these two references depict angels as Thoughts of God that serve to protect our minds, so that we may remain at rest in the peace of God. The first one is particularly interesting: It depicts us as above the angels (overturning the Biblical idea that we were made "a little lower than the angels" [Psalm 8:5]). We were created to create, while angels were created only to protect. The idea that angels were created to protect our minds also suggests that angels were not created until the separation happened, just like the Holy Spirit: "He [the Holy Spirit] came into being with the separation as a protection" (T-5.I.5:2). This similarity between the protecting function of angels and the protecting function of the Holy Spirit has led Robert Perry to suggest that angels may simply be aspects of the Holy Spirit.

This is pretty much all the Course tells us about angels, which may be less than satisfying for those who want detailed accounts of angelic hierarchies, names of particular angels, precise descriptions of what they look like, etc. But I think what the Course gives us is all we really need to know. Our minds can get very preoccupied with speculation about the nature of angels, a preoccupation which I think the Course would put in the category of "issues such as the validity of reincarnation" (M-24.4:2) and impractical "philosophical speculation" (C-In.1:1). The precise nature and function of angels is a tangential issue that can needlessly distract us from the important business of changing our minds.

What I think the Course does want us to get from its brief references to angels is simply that we have help. We are not alone as we struggle to awaken from the dream. God in His infinite Love for us has sent help in countless forms, including His angels. He wants us to know just how much help we really have, so that we will call upon that help in time of need. Let us, then, remember to call upon the many helpers God has given us, and let us be grateful for all the help we receive from them:

Helpers are given you in many forms, although upon the altar they are one. Beyond each one there is a Thought of God, and this will never change….He creates all Helpers of His Son while he believes his fantasies are true. Thank God for them for they will lead you home (C-5.1:3-4,8-9).

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