Do Angels Become Incarnate? Thomas Aquinas vs. Hollywood

It’s amazing how many TV shows and movies there are about angels. To name just a few you have It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Touched by an Angel (1994-2003), Highway to Heaven (1984-1989), Angels in the Outfield (1951 and the remake in 1994), Michael (1996), Angels in the Endzone (1997), The Preacher’s Wife (1996), Supernatural (2005 – current) and I am Gabriel (2012). The problem is that a steady diet of these kinds of movies and shows can lead to some misperceptions of angels. Supernatural is rife with this sort of thing like angels not knowing where God is and needing the help of humans in their battle against demons. The distinction between good and bad angels is seriously blurred in the series. A common element in many of these films (there are exceptions like Angels in the Outfield) is that the angels seem to be genuinely human albeit with some unusual powers. Without thinking about it the viewer can end up thinking that angels can essentially become incarnate.

There are two extremes to avoid and Thomas Aquinas tries to help us here. The first mistake is to think that angels do not assume bodies. That is, that they are merely apparitions. Thomas says Scripture is clear that angels often appeared and these appearances were “seen commonly by all.”  He explains, “. . . for whatever is beheld in imaginary vision is only in the beholder’s imagination, and consequently is not seen by everybody.” (ST 1 Q51 Art 2) When angels do appear they are seen by multiple people at the same time hence they are not what we would call simply hallucinations. This does not mean, however, that they are incarnate or genuinely human. Thomas continues, “. . . so it is not contrary to the truth of the holy angels that through their assumed human bodies they appear to be living men, although they really are not.” (1 Q51 Art. 3 ad. 1) He continues, “Properly speaking, the angels do not talk through their assumed bodies; yet there is a semblance of speech, in so far as they fashion sounds in the air like to human voices.” (1 Q51 Art. 3 ad. 4)

The idea is that while angels may assume a human body  they do not become human. Thomas believed that angels assumed “bodies of air, condensing it by Divine power in so far as is needful for forming the assumed body.” (1 Q51 Art. 2 ad. 3)


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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