How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?


#1

Someone teaching the 4 pillars class on Creed was talking about angels and “things unseen.”

She went on to say that in the Middle Ages, theologians fought about the answer to the question “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” (Yes, I’ve also heard the expression as “How many angels can dance on the point of a sharp needle?”)

Then she said The Church agreed on a specific number.

Really? Has anyone else heard of this?

I thought that in the Middle Ages, it was St. Thomas Aquinas dealing with the crazy questions because non-Christian philosophers were trying to “prove” the existence or non-existence of God buy debunking the old “Take it on faith” policy and use reason & logic. I am hoping Aquinas gave the answer as “an infinite number” since we can’t put human limits and qualifiers on the spiritual realm. But now I’m confused since the instructor of this class seems to think there is an actual number. HELP!!!

And since it is a class, I’ll need references, please.


#2

I’ll let someone else handle the specific Aquinas subject but I CAN tell you this:

Angels are only spirit, they’re not made up of any matter. They’re intangible so you can’t assign mass, size, volume, or anything PHYSICAL to an angel because that’s not their nature (they can manifest physically but that doesn’t change their nature).

So the simple answer would be: none, all, or any number in between (which from 0 to infinity can be quite a bit).

This kind of questioning leads nowhere though (unless it leads you to understand an angle’s nature and why such a question is so silly). :stuck_out_tongue:


#3

Thanks. I completely agree that angels are spirit and therefore however many want to be on the head of a pin could - 0, some or all . . . .

I also agree that the conversations tomorrow are going to lead nowhere if this is the kind of thing we have to discuss.

The instructor also made the claim that since angels are spiritual and do not have human bodies, they don’t have wings either. But what about the quote in the OT (Isaiah maybe?) about the Seraphim with 6 wings - one set covering their faces, 1 set covering their feet and 1 set to fly? I’m reluctant to bring that up because it’s the UNSEEN world - I’ve never seen an angel so I don;t know if they have wings. I’m just grateful to know they are there to help us!


#4

I think the only thing you’ll find dancing on the head of a pin is bacteria.

…and Elvis.


#5

LOL!
Yep, I’m hoping my angel has more important things to do and more important places to be! Wouldn’t want my angel mixed in with all that bacteria!!!


#6

One angel can fit on a pin. All creatures are finite, so you can’t have an infinite number of creatures in one place.


#7

Yes and no. No, because you are equating corporeal creatures with incorporeal creatures. Only one marble can fit on the head of a pin because all of the available space is taken up by the marble. That is to say, the marble is enclosed by the space and there is no space left over. However, angels, being incorporeal, are not enclosed by space at all, rather, angels enclose space (Summa I, Q 52, art 1).

But yes because, it only makes sense to talk about an angle being anywhere insofar as the angle is acting on that space. It only takes one angel to make the marble on the head of a pin spin counter-clockwise. If this were to happen we would say that both the marble and the angel are on the head of the pin. And so according to Aquinas there can only be one angel in any given space (Summa I, Q 52, art 3).

However, I would argue, that one angel could be making the marble spin counter-clockwise, another angel could be making the marble move up and down, another angel could be making the very tip of the pin glow red hot, and another angel could be making the center of the marble turn to water. In this scenario you would have one marble and four angels all on the head of a pin.

As a side note, the original question “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” came from those who were mocking Scholastic Philosophy. I can see why.

Yours in Christ.


#8

hmm…
I’m actually gonna steer away from the, spirits can fit on everything or nothing philosophy.

The heart of the question (I think) is what can Angels do, or how much power does an Angel have?
The answer to this is, whatever God allows.

So with your question, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?
I say, however many God allows.


#9

I wonder if i could beat an angel in an arm wrestle


#10

how friendly are they?:slight_smile:


#11

Yes… but I don’t think anyone ever said that there were an infinite number of angels.
Actually quite the contrary, according to Aquinas… the number of creatures, however large, is finite. :slight_smile:


#12

We might as well ask “How many pins can fit on the head of an angel?”


#13

42 of course.


#14

The question of how many angels can sit on the head of a pin is an example often used to discredit what is known as scholasticism in which the scholars are sometimes referred to as “the schoolmen.” What began as valid intellectual inquiry devolved over time into a rigid,unsupportable structure consisting of inferences and conclusions piled atop one another which led eventually to disputations over things such as the inquiry of the number of angels who could sit on the head of a pin. The reasons for the deterioration of scholasticism are many and varied. In my opinion, one was the human penchant to reduce intellectual inquiry to inane formulas.


#15

I am not sure if any scholastic or medieval theologian every actually posed this question. Aquinas would surely have noted that angels, as spiritual beings, do not take up space, so the question is meaningless.


#16

What if angels from another pin attempt to engage in melee combat?


#17

Since this thread has failed to die, perhaps it is a sign that it has yet to be answered with satisfaction. Maybe then, people will stop mocking it (probably not though). I’ve always been annoyed when people bring up this question as a way to make fun of philosophy and theology … even if they do it without the intention of criticizing scholasticism! Don’t get me wrong, I make fun of philosophy and theology all the time (and sometimes, according to a lot of uptight Catholics, bordering on irreverence). But whether you’re out to destroy scholasticism or merely getting innocent laughs out of it (which I do), I think that “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” thing just makes for a really bad, stupid, inane, ignorant, dumb joke … BUT it makes for a legitimate question.

Perhaps I am the undead spirit of scholasticism trying to wreak vengeance on those who have desecrated its medieval grave, or else maybe I’m just bitter at the really bad rap that scholasticism has gotten from a lot of clueless modernists, and now I want to push the other direction as hard as possible. Maybe I’m saying there’s so much deeper stuff to laugh at in philosophy than this overrated, over-abused question that the scholastics probably never actually asked.

Okay, I’m glad I got that out of my system.:cool:

Now, I’m going to take the question seriously, as a couple already have (and some have already basically answered it).

First of all, it was said:

Yes and no. Depends what you mean.

Since angels are non-physical, they are not “in space” at all as we are. So, in that sense of being in space, the answer to “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” is zero.

Nonetheless, as evident from Scripture and cases of angelic encounters, angels can “act” (that is, do something) on physical matter. Whenever that happens, it is understood that such an angel is present in the space that it is acting on (and Aquinas says this very thing). In that sense, angels can be in space.

What I have said here, has already been said in a previous post:

Examples, of course, of angelic acts in the physical universe includes, of course, instances of demonic possession, where the demoniac causes things to levitate and whatnot. Demonic infestation is the case where places are possessed or haunted by demons, where phenomena such as mysterious sounds and moving objects are known to occur. When such things happen, it is common to say that demons are “in that place.”

Now, to answer the infamous question, another useful thing to keep in mind, already posted:

This is where it gets controversial and perhaps unknowable. *First of all, I don’t see how a given space could be limited to one angel acting on it. * I might even contend that statement. For, why could not one angel push something in a given space, while at the same time another push against it in that same given space (as may happen with angels and demons)?

**If a given space was not limited to just one angelic action upon it, then a potentially infinite number of angels could dance on that pin!
**
If, on the other hand, given spaces were limited to just one angelic action, then the prospects of answering this question with any certitude gets really grim.

First of all, how big is a “given space.” One cubic inch? One cubic picometre? Or perhaps it’s more abstract and perhaps each angel can only affect one particular accident of a given substance at a time. If we answer this particular question (if it’s possible), we will have our answer to the pinhead enigma.

In my opinion, even with the spacial limitation theory, I believe it would still be a potentially infinite number of angels that could party on that stupid thing. The reason for this is that angels have full and complete intuition regarding physical matter (Aquinas says this I think), and this would suggest (perhaps not prove) that they would know how to exert the right physical change such that they could exert an infinitesimal amount of force on that pin … each having a force so small that a potentially infinite amount of those tiny forces could be packed together next to each other to cover even such a tiny area (though not tiny compared to infinitesimally small forces) as the head of a pin.

This of course assumes that space is continuous and not discrete. If it were discrete (and I don’t blame anyone for not understanding this … because I don’t either) then we would have to measure the discrete units of space to come up with the answer (which would be a job for quantum physics if they ever figure out how to do that), for then it would be only one angel per discrete unit of space. But, really, I think space is continuous, so let me shut up about that.

So, assuming space is continuous, and angels are not limited to the size of space that they can act on, the answer to the infamous question “How many angels can fit on the head of a pin?” is … an INFINITE amount.

Yes, it’s true that there are a finite amount of angels in existence (according to Aquinas), so, if you want, rephrase the answer to: ALL OF THEM (however many there are)

There! There’s your answer! Objections? Maybe I’m crazy. Clearly I am crazy. :whacky: But about this? I don’t think so. I’m getting a drink …


#18

For a good reference read Peter Kreeft’s book Angels (and Demons): What do we really know about them?

The answer, which has been discussed here pretty much is on page 70. The answer is an infinite number of angels because place does not confine spirit.


#19

I don’t think you’re crazy at all! I fact, I agree completely. :thumbsup: Glad to know I’m not the only one. :cool:

Only thing I could possibly “object” to in your post is the entertainment of even the possibility of the idea that space could be discrete… my understanding of the matter (though I haven’t yet gained a sufficient grasp on this to explain it or argue it) is that such a position is absolutely absurd on a philosophical level.


#20

Thanks, man. I needed affirmation.:slight_smile:

Yeah, entertaining the idea of discrete space certainly kills brain cells. I felt dirty even talking about it.


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