How were the Devil and his angels able to sin in heaven?

The Bible explains that the Devil and his angels were cast out of heaven, but being in heaven means that you have the beatific vision, right? And having the beatific vision means that you can’t/don’t want to sin, right?

So, how were the Devil and his angels able to sin there?

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Obviously they were given a choice of some sort, and obviously they made a choice.

Theologians have speculated of the centuries as to how/what occurred.

My favorite is that at some point the angels were made aware of the future of humans and the incarnation, and their sin was the sin of pride.


Heaven has multiple meanings.

The angels did not have the Beatific Vision before choosing, rather they had sanctifying grace. The Beatific Vision can only be had by angels after choosing good.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote “if there is anything which is above nature, the will cannot be inclined towards it, unless helped by some other supernatural principle.” (S.T. I Q62 A2)

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Isaiah 14:13

I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High.

The Empyrean Heaven is used as a name for the firmament.

Catholic Encyclopedia expains some of the meanings of heaven:

  • The blue firmament or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky
  • The region of the stars
  • The dwelling of God
  • The abode of the just (that see God’s face)

In the Holy Bible the term heaven denotes, in the first place, the blue firmament, or the region of the clouds that pass along the sky. Genesis 1:20, speaks of the birds “under the firmament of heaven”. In other passages it denotes the region of the stars that shine in the sky. Furthermore heaven is spoken of as the dwelling of God; for, although God is omnipresent, He manifests Himself in a special manner in the light and grandeur of the firmament. Heaven also is the abode of the angels; for they are constantly with God and see His face. With God in heaven are likewise the souls of the just (2 Corinthians 5:1; Matthew 5:3, 12).

Hontheim, J. (1910). Heaven. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in Summa Theologiae

“The angels were created in a corporeal place, not as if depending upon a body either as to their existence or as to their being made; … They were made in a corporeal place in order to show their relationship to corporeal nature, and that they are by their power in touch with bodies.”

I agree.
We have to be careful about projecting all of our notion of “sin” on angels. It’s likely there’s an element of disobedience, since we have the same Creator.

We have free will, to a degree, but it’s always partly influenced by other things. We often regret our actions.
I suspect angels were given one window of totally free will, ability to understand all the ramifications of their forever choice. Regret does not apply to them.

I think God gave them (and us, to different fashion) free will out of love, since it empowers them and us to love.

Of course, when we die, our choice (made over the course of 70 years, not in an instant) will then be for forever.

Chesterton wrote that Christianity is the only religion where God Himself is a gambler.

An angel does not have a material body. There are three time periods for humans: soul and body united before physical death, soul and body separated at death of the body, soul and body united after resurrection. The latter two can include the heavenly state with Beatific Vision. For angels the heavenly state with Beatific Vision is only after choosing good.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote:

I answer that, It is befitting an angel to be in a place; yet an angel and a body are said to be in a place in quite a different sense. A body is said to be in a place in such a way that it is applied to such place according to the contact of dimensive quantity; but there is no such quantity in the angels, for theirs is a virtual one. Consequently an angel is said to be in a corporeal place by application of the angelic power in any manner whatever to any place.

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The general doctrine is that angels came into existence without the beatific vision, their first act was to reflect on themselves and their knowledge (which is a good act appropriate for an angel). The disobedient angels followed that up by rejecting God’s will for them. The other angels chose to align their will to God’s. Only after this did the good angels obtain the beatific vision. The choice made by either was irrevocable, not because God gave them free will and took it away, but because of the nature of their intellects and will and that they’re not temporal beings.

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Yes, in one sense heaven means having the beatific vision. For example, we say that we hope to go to heaven after we die here on earth and in this sense heaven means our last end which is the beatific vision. Heaven/s also mean the whole space above the earth where the sun, moon, stars, and galaxies are such as it is written in Gen. 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

In the Bible, the heavens appears to be the natural abode of the angels. For example, in Psalm 148: 1-2 it says:
"Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens,
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels,
praise him, all his host!

All the angels were probably created in the heavens. Which heaven is debatable for there appears to be various levels of heavens in the Bible. The Hebrew word for ‘heaven’ in the Old Testament is always in the plural such as ‘heavens’. St Paul mentions that he was caught up to the third heaven presumably inferring that there is a first and second heaven. From various passages of scripture, some fathers of the church and various theologians such as the scholastics, speculate that there is a created invisible heaven which itself has various levels above the visible heavens we see. In this opinion, the highest heaven called the empyrean heaven is the home of the blessed human souls and the good angels. Not that the good angels never leave the empyrean heaven for many of them carry out God’s providence over the visible heavens and the earth but they always see God’s face, that is, the beatific vision.

As you mention, the Book of Revelation says the devil and his angels were cast out of heaven. This is not the heaven of the beatific vision but probably the place where they were created, i.e., some heaven in the heavens, not the highest heaven, but possibly the visible heavens or maybe some heaven above the visible heavens.

“Heaven” and “hell” both have multiple meanings. The angels did not experience the Beatific Vision until their choice to serve God.


They also have their free will. They can choose to be good or bad. They can rebel against God and follow God. Hence, they can decide on their own but these decisions would be their final conclusion because they’re almost perfectly made, their intellectual capacity and knowledge. If they sinned to God, they can’t be forgiven, unlike humans who are imperfect.

I have come to wonder if perhaps sinlessness is only possible for God, specifically because he is infinite. Infinitely wise, infinitely unselfish. It seems to me that as soon as you draw limits of finiteness around a being, that very limitedness makes them vulnerable to sin. By being finite, inevitably you would have blind spots, weaknesses, etc.

But that reminds me of what is going to be so exciting about the possibility of heaven. What a joy it will be to spend forever getting to know God, and yet never reaching the end of all His beauty and magnificence and wisdom.

I didn’t say that they are less perfect and not trying to. You’ll not believe my answer and keep on questioning me so, you may want to read CCC 390-395. Hope, it makes sense :no_mouth:

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