Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Nowadays the term “development of doctrine” is often abused to justify the deformation of doctrine, as when some theologians claim that the Church’s teaching on usury has been superseded and abrogated in the light of the modern “science” of economics. A good example of a genuine development of doctrine can be found in the Church’s understanding of the timing of the creation of the angels, a topic about which the Fathers of the Church held differing opinions. As explained below, the variety of opinions on this question resulted from the fact that the language of Moses in Genesis One on the creation of light on Day One could be interpreted in a number of different ways. It was only when Pope Innocent III convened the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 to define the dogma of creation to refute the errors of the Albigensian-Catharist heretics that the timing of the angels was clarified once and for all.
On the Timing of the Creation of the Angels
Two of the greatest Bible commentators of the last 500 years, the Belgian Jesuit Cornelius a Lapide and the last Doctor of the Church to write a detailed commentary on Genesis, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, explained how the Fourth Lateran Council resolved this long-standing question. According to a Lapide:
You will ask, Where and when were the angels created? Some have thought that they were created before the world. This was the opinion of Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome and St. Hilary. Others such as Acacius and Gennadius have also thought that they were created before the world. However, I hold that they were created together with the world in the beginning of time, and that their creation took place in the empyrean heaven, for they are its citizens and inhabitants. So teach St. Bede, Peter Lombard and the scholastics along with St. Augustine, St. Gregory, and Rupert. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes: “The angels came forth from God like the rays from the sun.” Moreover, as St. Gregory the Great says: “They broke forth like sparks from flint.” To be sure, the [Fourth] Lateran Council under Innocent III declared: One must believe with firm faith that from the beginning of time God created from nothing both spiritual and corporeal creatures, viz., the angelic and the mundane. This declaration is properly said against Origen, who thought that souls were created before bodies, [but] the Council’s words seem too well expressed and clear as to be able to be twisted into another meaning. Wherefore, my opinion is no longer just probable, but is both certain and de fide, for this is what the Council itself declares and defines.
This commentary has a special importance for those who fight to defend the traditional dogma of creation because the parallelism between the creation of the angels and the creation of the corporeal creatures excludes both theistic evolution and progressive creation. This is because just as God created all of the angels at once from the beginning of time—and each angel is a distinct species in scholastic theology—so did God create all the different kinds of corporeal creatures “from the beginning of time” for man who, created last in the Hexameron, sums up in himself the spiritual and the corporeal orders of the created universe.
Like Cornelius a Lapide, St. Lawrence of Brindisi was a master of all of the Biblical languages and was familiar with all of the greatest commentators on the Bible in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. In his Commentary on Genesis One, St. Lawrence agrees with a Lapide that it was Lateran IV that finally settled the question of when the angels were created. He writes:
There are three different opinions about what is actually meant by the terms heaven and earth: (1) St. Basil, John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose (in his Hexaemeron) and many others simply think heaven is a bodily creature, i.e. the heavenly body; (2) St. Augustine and Origen understand heaven to be a spiritual creature, i.e. the angels; and (3) the Venerable Bede and Strabo think it means the empyrean heaven, which immediately in the beginning was created filled with the angels who were created along with it. In the noun heaven, they understand there are two natures, (1) the bodily, i.e. the empyrean heavens, and (2) the spiritual, i.e. the angels. Accordingly, they assert that at the same beginning moment the heaven and the angels were created.
This last argument is exceedingly appealing. If, according to the firstmentioned opinion, we are to understand in Genesis 1 that heaven means heavenly bodies, i.e. the firmament, which it says was made on the second day, then a question remains: Why was no mention made of spiritual creatures (namely, the angels), inasmuch as among creatures they are the most important and special? I am not mistaken in saying that many people accepted that opinion, to the extent that Moses spoke to an uneducated people, who were not capable of understanding spiritual beings. Yet in many passages of the Bible, and in Genesis, too, angels very clearly are mentioned many times. It follows if no mention is directly made of the creation of angels, people might have believed them to be uncreated. But if we should affirm, in accordance with the second opinion, that in Genesis angels ought to be understood by the word heaven, someone will ask in rebuttal: Why was no mention made of the most excellent body, the most worthy of all, when other lower forms are mentioned in the sacred text? If, however, we accept the sense of the third explanation,  that in Genesis the empyrean heaven was created at the same time as the angels in it, everything is plain and every question arising theretofore is silenced. Thus the first, more powerful, and the highest spiritual and corporal creatures—the angels and the First Heaven (which the Saints called by the Greek word empyrion)—are not missing from the catalogue of creation. It is called empyrion or “fiery” because of the prominence of the place and the splendor of its light. This explanation, embracing both spiritual and bodily creatures, comprises everything within the other two opinions. It contains the thesis of St. Augustine, who was mindful of only spiritual creation, and it embraces the opinion of St. Basil, who supposed only a bodily creature.
This opinion was ratified by the Fourth Lateran Council held under Pope Innocent III. The Holy Roman Church professes that, from the beginning, God at once created corporeal creatures (those belonging to the world) and spiritual creatures (the angels). We find the same doctrine in the Decretals. Even the original Hebrew text of Genesis seems to be in agreement with this belief, where for heaven it reads hashamayim, a noun in the dual number, as if there were two kinds of heavens, to wit, a spiritual heaven and a corporeal heaven.
Also, by the term heavens not only is the corporeal heaven perceptible, the acceptance of which is very common in Sacred Scripture, but also spiritual creatures are very clearly perceived, as in Deuteronomy where it says, Give ear, O heavens, while I speak and the same in Isaiah, where we rightly understand that the inspired author is referring to spiritual inhabitants of the heavens. Job seems to teach the simultaneous creation of the angels in the empyrean heaven with the corporeal heaven when he says, Where were you when I founded the earth…when the morning stars sang in chorus and the sons of God shouted for joy. The happy spirits of that most eminent heaven and the brightest and most splendid stars of all of the most excellent empyrean heaven are set there, praising God together in the morning, and this occurred at the beginning of their creation . . .
The Holy Icons Bear Witness to the Double Meaning of Light
We have often had occasion to point to the iconographic tradition in the Catholic Church as an authoritative witness to the true doctrine of creation; and it is worth noting that the traditional Catholic icon of the creation of the light on the first day of the Hexameron makes present to the faithful the very reality that a Lapide and St. Lawrence of Brindisi expound in their commentaries on Genesis One. The Holy Icon of the Creation of the Light on Day One shows God creating the Holy Angels and physical light at the same time, exactly as St. Lawrence teaches in the commentary quoted above.
Through the prayers of Our Lady of the Angels, may the Holy Ghost guide us into all the Truth!
P.S. We have received a permit to hold a “demonstration,” i.e., an evangelization outreach in front of the Natural History Museum in the Mall in Washington, D.C., on June 18. However, we need more volunteers to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. If you would be willing and able to join us from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., tomorrow, Sunday, June 18, please email me as soon as possible at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.P.S. Our annual leadership retreat has been scheduled to take place from August 27-September 2, 2023, at the Apostolate for Family Consecration retreat center in Bloomingdale, Ohio. For more information or to register, please contact me at email@example.com. If you know of any young adults who would like to attend gratis in exchange for helping out during the retreat, please let me know.