Angels and bodies

Would someone be able to explain this section of the Catholic Encyclopedia article about “spirits”?

"Matter has generally been conceived as in one sense or another the limitation of spirit. Hence, finite spirits were thought to require a body as a principle of individuation and limitation; only God, the Infinite Spirit, was free from all admixture of matter. Thus, when we find the angels described as asomatoi or auloi, in the writings of the Fathers, this properly means only that the angels do not possess a gross, fleshly body; it does not at all imply a nature absolutely immaterial. Such Scripture expressions as “bread of angels”, “they shall shine as the angels”, as well as the apparitions of these heavenly beings, were adduced as proofs of their corporeality. So speak Sts. Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Hilary, Origen and many other Fathers. Even in Scholastic times, the degree of immateriality that belongs to finite spirits was disputed. St. Thomas teaches the complete simplicity of all spiritual natures, but the Scotists, by means of their famous materia primo prima, introduced a real composition, which they conceived to be necessary to a created nature. As regards the functions of spirits in the world, and their active relations to the visible order of things, see GUARDIAN ANGELS and DEMONOLOGY. Scripture abounds in instances of their dealings with men, chiefly in the character of intermediaries between God and His servants. They are the heralds who announce his commands, and often too the ministers who execute His justice. They take a benevolent interest in the spiritual good of men (Luke 15:10). For these reasons, the Church permits and encourages devotion to the angels.

I’m sort of confused… I thought Angels don’t have bodies? It doesn’t say that they have bodies here, but it talks about something not entirely immaterial, that I don’t understand… what’s the teaching of the Church about this? :confused:

Angels are non-corporeal beings with free will.

From one many articles on EWTN about angels:

According to Sacred Scripture the angels, inasmuch as they are purely spiritual creatures, are presented for our reflection as a special realization of the “image of God”, the most perfect Spirit, as Jesus himself reminds the Samaritan woman in the words: “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24). From this point of view the angels are creatures closest to the divine exemplar. The name given to them by Sacred Scripture indicates that what counts most in Revelation is the truth concerning the tasks of the angels in regard to man: angel (angelus) in fact means “messenger” The Hebrew malak, used in the Old Testament, signifies more precisely “delegate” or “ambassador”. The angels, spiritual creatures, have a function of mediation and of ministry in the relationships between God and man. Under this aspect the Letter to the Hebrews says that Christ has been given a “name”, and therefore a ministry of mediation, far superior to that of the angels (cf. Heb 1:4).

Monica, you may want to explore this site:



Thank you… the ideas that you posted is basically how I understand the Angels. I’m just confused why Catholic encyclopedia said this and what it meant… maybe it meant something more philosophical or detailed than I can understand. Maybe “immaterial” refers to something very precise that I don’t know the meaning of well…

I am not sure about the Catholic teachings at this point.

However, the first thing one should know about post 1 is that not every word of theologians and saints automatically becomes a doctrine. When there are both Scotists and St. Thomas Aquinas, one may eventually find different opinions, but not always. The umpire is the major Ecumenical Catholic Church Council guided by the wisdom of the promised Holy Spirit.

If you have the *Catechism of the Catholic Church Second Edition, *Angels start at CCC 328. The CCC Index of Citations, starting on page 689, can be useful.

If you have questions and, just as important, your comments, I will get back here when I can.

Each human person is worthy of profound respect.

Just read this article tonight :angel1:
What are angels made of, according to Scripture, Summa Theologica, poetry

Thank you! that lead me to read more of St Thomas and I came across this:

St Thomas would say they don’t have a material nature

What this means, as in many Church teachings, is that there are different legitimate schools of thought on many issues and not only on the fine points.

There is no doubt that angels do not have physical bodies by nature because they are spiritual creatures.
However the Church appears to have various explanations of what “spiritual” may mean over and above that.

The Catechism does not clarify this matter clearly from what I can see.
However as 95% of Church teaching is Aquinas we can assume your present understanding is the mainstream one. Namely, angels are pure spirits as opposed to possessing “spiritualised matter”.

However it does seem acceptable to hold to minor Catholic traditions on this point if you wish.

What is spiritual matter? I don’t know, I follow Aquinas myself as I believe it is more consistent with what those words mean on earth.

However it would appear that Mary and Jesus in their glorified bodies appear to have “spiritual matter” in some sense (they no longer are visible on earth and could walk through walls) so it is not a stupid concept. This is the quality of “subtility” that glorified bodies possess.

Also remember that in the ancient cosmology/science (which underpins much Catholic philosophy) apart from the tangible elements of earth air fire and water there was the fifth element only present in space beyond the sphere of the moon where angels and God were believed to dwell. It was called “aether”. This is likely what the ancient traditions of “spiritual matter” are in fact referring to.

However since medieval times modern science has clearly disproved such ancient “science”. Hell is not below the ground, heaven is not beyond the moon, the planets and stars are neither gods nor angels nor eternal.

Therefore this alternative tradition re the angels has speed wobbles now.

Hi, Monica!

(I don’t know what the Church Teaches)

What I understand from the excerpt you’ve presented is this:

  • the angels are created beings
  • though they are created beings they do not possess a material body (temporal value: physical matter)
  • they posses a body which is fluid beyond the material reality of our finite existence
  • because they posses a body they are not some displaced “energy,” as electricity that can be contained and channeled

Hope this helps.

Maran atha!


Hi, Monica!

…don’t forget that much of the language is different because they both reflect a specific understanding and the cultural understanding of the times when the theses were introduced.

Maran atha!


Has anyone stopped to think that maybe this kind of thing just cannot be explained, or explained in a way that we can understand anyway?

In the few accounts where angels take on human form, and even eat food, drink liquids, have physical interaction with humans, it is clear they do have some kind of material bodies, but where the physical matter comes from and what it actually is, imo, is something none of us could begin to understand.

I chalk it up just one of those things God can do that is totally incomprehensible to us, if God wishes it to happen…IT HAPPENS. If he wanted to have all the trees suddenly uproot and start walking around like people, he COULD make that happen, and we could test, examine til we were blue in the face, but we could never scientifically explain HOW it happened.

Hi, Mike!

I concur with you!

It is our limited understanding that “compromises” God’s Revelation; consider John’s admonishment of Israel:

[FONT=“Garamond”][size=]8 ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, 9 and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”, because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these** stones**

. (St. Matthew 3:8-9)
…and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein has nothing of God:

6 I shall put sinews on you, I shall make flesh grow on you, I shall cover you with skin and give you breath, and you will live; and you will learn that I am Yahweh.”‘

(Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Maran atha!



Or the more extreme stories of angels are just that…embellished stories so far as the scientific details go but true as far as the religious message goes.

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