Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Week in Review: Angelic Research

Dear Readers (both of you),

I'm afraid there isn't too terribly much to report this week. No classes met this week, as it was what the school has termed Reading Week, ostensibly intended to give students a wee bit of time and space to do research for big end-of-semester projects, or perhaps to just catch up on reading for classes. 

I was able to get a good deal of work done on two of my impending projects. In Introduction to New Testament, I'm doing a bibliography project (meaning I have to research and find twenty or so books and/or academic articles concerning my topic and write a brief paper on how I would proceed were I to be writing a full paper) on the way in which angels serve as models for human behavior in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. That is, in Luke and Acts there are many instances in which angels appear and do or say things, then people go and do likewise. Consider things like: the angelic host praising and adoring God that appears to the shepherds, followed by the shepherds going to the Christ-child and... praising and adoring God; or the angel who ministers to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by... Mary standing by Jesus at the cross; or the two angels appearing to the women at the tomb telling them that Jesus had risen, followed by the women... going to the Apostles and telling them that Jesus had risen; or Stephen preaching God's word, God's message (making Stephen a messenger, or angelos), and the text of Acts saying, "His face appeared like an angel's." There's a lot there, I think, as did my professor, apparently, who suggested the idea. I have to keep digging.

My other project is a long research paper for Philosophy of Nature. I'm writing on the development between the time of Aristotle and Aquinas of the idea that the celestial bodies (i.e. planets and stars) were moved by some sort of "intelligent substances," which Aquinas deemed to be angels. This wasn't just some poetic notion, "Oh, the stars are pushed along by fat baby cherubs." Not at all. It actually begins with a very sensible principle. Aristotle believed that all motion was for reaching some end or purpose; in essence, motion is for getting somewhere. Seems reasonable enough, right? He thought that things had their natural places toward which they would tend when set in motion. So, cannonballs, being made of "earthy" substances, would tend toward the earth, while fire or heat would rise toward the heavens, toward the eternal fires burning up there. But this presented a problem when dealing with the movements of the heavens, because they just seemed to keep going round and round, not reaching any sort of destination. If natural motion always goes towards some destination, and the heavens weren't moving toward a destination, then their motion couldn't be natural motion; something had to be pushing them, something that had its own purpose, so it had to be intelligent. Aquinas, with no sound scientific reason to reject Aristotle's physics, saw this notion of "intelligent substances" moving the heavens, took the Christian notion that God governs creation via the angels, and put two and two together: these "intelligent substances" moving the spheres must be the angels! Now fast-forward 800 years, with the advances in astronomy and physics made by Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, and we're pretty sure that the planets and stars move due to their following the paths shaped by the way in which space-time is warped by the mass of other bodies, that is, gravitation. Angels aren't needed as agents of motion in the heavens... but that doesn't mean they don't still exercise some governance over them. There's a great depiction of this idea in C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Check them out some time.

The attentive reader may have noticed that both of my research topics involve angels in some way. They suggest here that one use their papers and projects to develop potential thesis topics. I'm considering doing something or other on angels, but I've still got a few years before I have to nail anything down definitively. I could research my roommates contention that "Every time the San Francisco Giants lose, an angel gets its wings" (he's a big Dodgers fan), which I find to be theologically problematic in a number of ways, but there may not be too much scholarship on the subject. (For the sarcasm-detection-impaired, I clarify that that was a joke.) We'll see.

Well, I managed to crank out more than I anticipated. Hope it makes some sense to you.

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