Throughout the bible we are told such and such sees an angel or an angel appears to such and such. But if an angel is immaterial and pure intellect how can one “see” it?
It’s not our place to try to logically grasp the spiritual world, especially when we barely understand our own. Don’t get caught up in seeing Angels, Spirits, etc. If you’re meant to see one, you will when it’s time.
Epiphanius - While we may not be able to ‘see’ the spiritual nature of the Angel, whether, righteous or demonic, God has the power, and indeed the authority and will, to permit humanity to perceive/be aware with its earthly senses those angels. whether of the light or indeed of the ‘darkness’.
Angels are powerful beings. They can generate a temporary visible appearance to show us.
Or it may be that ‘seeing’ an angel means that we become aware of them in a fashion that the witnesses described as being like seeing with their eyes.
We can only see an angel when God wants us to. There are several instances in the Bible of angels appearing, in human form, to people for specific purposes.
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Mary saw an angel at the Annunciation.
St. Joseph, Job, Jacob, Laban, the Wise Men, and whoever else, however, were visited by angels in their dreams.
Tobias was joined by the angel Raphael in his travels-- in disguise.
So those are the three ways we usually encounter.
People who encounter an angel face-to-face happen, but are extremely rare. Padre Pio would be one example of this kind of person. I know two people who have seen the angel that guards my old church, although I’ve only spoken to one of them. That person didn’t really have words to describe it, just that it was “big”.
People who are visited by angels in their sleep are going to be much more common. The angel has a message, but the person, for whatever reason, is not given the privilege of actually seeing them physically. A lot of times, you don’t actually see anything, even in your dream, but you hear.
People who are visited by angels in disguise usually happen in emergency situations. You’ve heard all the disappearing-stranger stories. So even though they’re immaterial, they’re allowed by God to take a certain guise to accomplish their work in the physical world.
I was going to suggest that every angelic appearance was a miracle (divine intervention) but then I remembered that St Paul said, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Cor 11:14) It seems contrary to God’s nature to cause Satan to appear as an angel of light. Thus, I think angels, even evil angels like Satan, have a natural ability to allow us to see them as they wish.
Peter Kreeft’s books/writings will help:
Maybe you have already encountered one
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
I always presumed they could take human form when they needed to. Whether we are literally seeing a human or our mind is just telling us that we are is up for debate.
I’ve heard of cases where someone was certain they were interacting with a real human but later learned nobody else who bore witness saw the ‘human’.
Like the woman who was walking alone. She saw this scary looking man and immediately said a prayer. The man did not bother her. Later the man was arrested after assaulting other women and she recognized him. She sought him out and asked him: Why didn’t you attack me? I was alone. I was a prime target. And he told her: Why would I attack you? You had those big men walking with you.
^I’m paraphrasing the story because I don’t remember it exactly but things like this happen all the time.
I kind of feel like I met an angel once. During my conversion. I was in a very bad place. I was weighed heavily down by my sins and didn’t know where to turn or who to go to. I felt as if God could never forgive me for all of my sins.
After a week of literally sobbing my eyes out every night and begging God for forgiveness and mercy, I was worn thin.
I live in a very small town. Where everybody knows everyone and I worked at a little store where 99% of the customers were regulars.
But at the end of my week of contrition this man came through my till. He wasn’t buying anything. He just came to my till, reached out and grasped my hands, smiled ever so gently while looking me straight in the eyes and said: God bless you.
Then, as suddenly as he’d appeared, he simply left.
I’d never seen him before and never saw him again after but when he touched me it was like electricity running through my entire body. I’ve never felt anything like it. Normally I would flinch away from the touch of a stranger but for some reason I just didn’t.
I knew, in my heart, that he had been sent from God to reassure me and it was directly after this that I came to the Catholic Church.
Whether he was an actual angel or not who knows? But he was a huge blessing.
Nobody else saw him. Nobody saw him touch me. Nobody witnessed any of that interaction. So I don’t know what to think.
Anyway, God is above intellect. He is above our eyes. He is above it all and I have no doubt angels could appear to be physically present while not actually being physical. Our brains can be fooled.
There are people who teach on this . how to development of spiritual gifts and anointing.
As most of the replys demonstrate. I don’t know and it’s a mystery . dominant
Angels are pure spirit and as such, are immaterial and lack bodies; the OP is correct about this. However, when it becomes necessary for them to interact with us, they do have the ability to take on human form. ‘Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face.’(1 Corinthians 13:12) We see now with the eye of the flesh, so angels must have bodies for us to see them; but in Heaven we will see with the eye of the spirit.
It’s also possible God allows angels to take on appearances other than human. St. John Bosco’s story indicates it may have been an angel who for many years would appear as a large dog to protect him in dangerous situations.
Angels may manifest themselves in a form we understand. They may take temporary physical form using earthly materials; St . Thomas Aquinas speculated on this, perhaps using water (sorry can’t give you a quote on this.) Since they are intelligence’s our intellect may be able to perceive them, or they interact with us via the brain. So I think they reveal themselves to us at a intellectual level that we perceive, or manifest themselves to us visually of temporarily physically.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that an Angel can assume a body.
“I answer that, Some have maintained that the angels never assume bodies, but that all that we read in Scripture of apparitions of angels happened in prophetic vision—that is, according to imagination. But this is contrary to the intent of Scripture; for whatever is beheld in imaginary vision is only in the beholder’s imagination, and consequently is not seen by everybody. Yet Divine Scripture from time to time introduces angels so apparent as to be seen commonly by all; just as the angels who appeared to Abraham were seen by him and by his whole family, by Lot, and by the citizens of Sodom; in like manner the angel who appeared to Tobias was seen by all present. From all this it is clearly shown that such apparitions were beheld by bodily vision, whereby the object seen exists outside the person beholding it, and can accordingly be seen by all. Now by such a vision only a body can be beheld. Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (Article 1; I:50:1), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.”
What a beautiful story!! Thank you for sharing.
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