Sunday, September 26, 2010

Angels & Demons 24: Angels as the Personification of God’s Creative Fiats

On pages 74-75 of my book, Disneology: Religious Rhetoric at Walt Disney World, I describe the difference between the two types of “words/Words” used by God, according to Kenneth Burke:

“Even though, theoretically, God, like humans, uses symbols or words, he uses two types of words. Burke calls the first type--words he uses in creating the world: (capitalized) ‘Word.’ If God speaks a ‘Word,’ that Word has ‘omnipotence’ (or, at least, the total power necessary to complete its task). In Genesis 1:3, God speaks a Word (‘And God said, ‘Let there be light’’). The very Word he speaks has the ‘omnipotence’ to produce light. Psalms 33:9 confirms the power of this (capitalized) Word: ‘He spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and [the universe] stood fast.’ The Word of God has tremendous power. Isaiah 55:11 goes so far as to suggest that God’s Word is infallible--it cannot fail: ‘So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

How, then, can God give a command (word) to Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and have that word fail to achieve its purpose? How is it possible that after the command from God was issued, Adam and Eve ate anyway? The second type of word God uses is (lower-case) ‘word.’ Burke offers theological distinctions between ‘word’ and ‘Word.’ This (lower-case) ‘word’ has much less power to affect humans. Burke identifies the basis upon which he distinguishes between the two types of words--the negative. . . . Burke, however, is most interested in what he calls the hortatory negative, the negative of command, as with the ‘Thou shalt not’s’ of the Ten Commandments.

Clearly implied in any ‘Thou shalt not’ is the element of free will or choice. We do not tell anyone ‘Thou shalt not’ do something it is impossible to not do. It does no good to tell a baby not to cry. We do not tell people not to digest the food in their intestines. We do not tell someone not to let his or her heart beat, hair or fingernails grow, or kidneys work. We do not use such hortatory negatives because people have no choice in such matters. On the other hand, if we tell people, ‘Thou shalt not kill, lie, steal, rape, commit adultery, or slander,’ it is clear that humans have free will or choice in such matters. They may choose either to kill or to not kill. They may choose to lie or to tell the truth. They may choose to steal or to refrain from stealing, to rape or refrain from raping, to commit adultery or to refrain from committing adultery, to slander or not to slander. Having this distinction in mind, I should point out that, although God’s utterance is presented as ‘Word’ in the case of the creative fiat (‘Let there be light!’), God’s utterance might be understood as ‘word’ in the case of the Ten Commandments. In the first instance, there is no implicit free will attributed to that which is created. In the second instance, humans to whom the Ten Commandments are directed are implicitly credited with free will.”

One of the reasons angels were considered by Jewish teachers to be incapable of sinning is that they were considered to be generated by God’s use of “Word” (capitalized). When Ginzberg (in V:21) states, "Out of every word uttered by God angels are created," he is picturing angels as the personification of God’s creative fiats. He presents these angels, not as the free moral agents humans are, but as the commissioned forces that are charged with making certain that God’s Words are infallibly fulfilled. One might view such angels as more like robots than humans. They do not have the (human free-will) options of deciding NOT to fulfill God’s commands. When God says, “Let there be light,” an Angel of Light (Gabriel?) is created who infallibly produces light. When God says, “Let there be a firmament (or separation) dividing the waters above the earth from the waters on the earth,” an Angel of the Firmament (Hlm Hml) is created who infallibly produces that separation. When God says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” an Angel of Plants (Sachluph) is created to fulfill God’s command. There are angels of the Sun, the Moon, the Planets, and the Stars. There are angels of the fish, the fowl, the tame beasts, and the wild beasts.

On page 25 of his Dictionary of Angels, Gustav Davidson writes:

“There were 7 [angels of Creation] in the beginning (i.e., at the time of Creation) . . . who set down the events of the ‘first days.’ The 7 angels of creation usually given are Orifiel, Anael, Zachariel, Samael (before this angel rebelled, and fell), Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael. The Book of Enoch reports that the angels of Creation reside in the 6th Heaven.”

Although Davidson reports that Samael rebelled and fell (in the Book of Enoch), Jewish angelology could not ultimately accept the premise that an angel could do anything counter to his explicit instructions from God. Angels were nothing more than personified spirit forces that were charged with carrying out the terms of God’s creative fiats. As Isaiah 55:11 reports: ‘So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ To put this in Burkean terms, God has a (capitalized) Word, that may be personified as an angel, whose sole task and capability is to effect the result commanded in God’s creative fiat.

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