Where do we get the idea that angels are pure intellect or spirit?

Aquinas, I believe, said that angels are pure intellect. But why does he assume this?

He had a graduation of beings, in ascending order of perfection, in which animals (created physical beings) were lower than human beings (created physical bodies with intellectual souls), in turn far lower than God, who is pure intellect.

He conjectured that there must be created beings between us and God, who would be pure intellect, and so closer to Him.


Yes, I think I remember that argument. But what if someone objected to that by saying that most of the images of angels in the Bible are of beings with physical bodies. Could one argue that they aren’t pure intellect but perhaps soul-matter composites like us?

Well no; from a strictly Aquinian perspective the whole “perfection” of angeldom lies in their bodilessness. Thomists would say that the Biblical descriptions are figurative and do not imply genuine bodyhood.

As a non-Thomist, I do not find the argument convincing, although I would not attempt to get into a debate with Aquinas :):


What is a convincing argument for you then? I’m just trying to understand why the Church teaches that angels are pure spirit; what is the basis for this belief?

The Church says that the Angels are pure spirit. I trust the Church, so that is good enough for me.


That’s a good argument for anyone who believes the Church has the authority of Christ (which I do), but I guess I’m just really hung up on why the Church came to that idea of angels. I’m cursed with a constant anxiety of trying to figure out the reason behind things.

I agree; although if Aquinas were alive today he might change some of his script.:tsktsk:


Hebrews 1

13 But to which of the Angels said he at any time: *Sit on my right hand, until I make thy enemies thy footstool?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for those, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?

How can they take on human form from time to time then? Its not just taking on that form, they have also eaten food, drank liquids, interacted with the physical world.

Where did the ‘mass’ of the bodies the angels were using, come from? This is assuming they did not ‘take over’ an already human body for their agenda though, which I do not believe they did.

We are talking about servants of God on missions from God, here. It would be nothing at all for God (or the angel itself, if that is among its powers) to form a temporary body, either of real matter or some unearthly simulacrum.


Archangel Raphael:
“Even though you saw me eat and drink, I did not eat or drink anything; what you were seeing was a vision.”
‭‭Tobit‬ ‭12:19‬

Thank you for that! The Book of Tobit has much symbolism in it, and information about what angels can do for us with the gifts and powers God has given them.

The angels are of great benefit to us if we call upon them, and ask for their intercession.

Angels are not pure intellect. They obviously have free will. So they possess intellect (the gift of reason) and free will. They also have abilities, analogous to the abilities we have by our body: to see and hear, to be able to affect physical objects, to be able to communicate with one another (and sometimes with human persons). So angels are intellect, will, and ability.

It comes from Aristotle and reasoning with the Scriptures.

“Pure spirit” is better than “pure intellect,” since the will is distinct from the intellect. They don’t have bodies, clearly. But they can pretend, like a puppet, through compressing air or some such thing.

well, if they can communicate with us and appear to us, in various forms, I wonder why more people are not able to recognize it, or it be a common thing?

I have read many accounts of people claiming an angel helped them in one way or another, but then its a mystery if it was an angel or just some good person who wants to remain anonymous. Seems like the world we live, it would be a good thing if angels communicating with humans happened more often and were recognized as such, why should there be any mystery if it was an angel or not?

The Lord decides what is a good thing, not us. The Lord sees the bigger picture and allows what is best for our salvation.

This is a harsh metaphor perhaps, but following the generally accepted idea of the hierarchy of beings, angels are to us as we are to animals. So, when is the last time you bothered interfering in the lives of geese or pigs or walruses? Maybe this idea is at work? What do you think?

Well, yesterday I saw on PBS these folks tending to goose hatchlings in the wild, so it does happen.

And we interfere with pigs all the time. Bacon bits, anybody??!!

I’m not at all sure that I accept the Aquinian theory of hierarchy of being. But even without it, we are predominately body-beings, and angels are bodiless; which creates only a very narrow window for interaction between classes.


The Thomistic idea is not original. It’s Aristotelian.

It’s very simple. The greater a thing’s power or freedom or knowledge, the nobler a thing it is. So, from the least noble to the most noble in nature:

Dead matter: rocks, minerals, etc.
Merely living matter: plants (and plant-like things)
Sensitive matter: animals
Rational matter: humans
Rational spirit: angels
Cause: God

Aristotle inferred the existence of angels from the gap between man and God in his experience, zoologist as he was. In all his time studying the tide pools of ancient Greece, he never saw something that would go in that gap. It was fitting, he reasoned, that there would be some creature nobler in nature than us but obviously less noble than God, since he could easily conceive of such a creature.

We on the other hand have experience with the angels and are taught on Divine authority of their existence. That makes for a perfect Thomistic argument: fittingness, experience, and Scriptural testimony.

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