Tuesday 29 September 2015

Michael - 'one who is like unto God'

In this extract from a homily for the feast of Saint Michael preserved in the Leabhar Breac, the writer lays out the nine Orders and Grades among the angels and the ways in which they aid mankind. It ends with a summary of the ways in which the great Archangel is 'like unto God'. Irish devotion to Saint Michael reflected an awareness of his role as the 'weigher of souls' after death, a motif which finds expression on Irish high crosses, as well as his role as the champion in the battle against the Antichrist, which was mentioned in the eighth-century poetry of Blathmac, as well as in the Martyrology of Onegus:

"At the fight against the multitudinous Dragon
of our Michael stout, victorious,
the soldier whitesided, hostful,
will slay Wrathful Antichrist."

The Leabhar Breac, the 'Speckled Book' dates to the 15th-century but contains a collection of materials, some of which are much earlier in date. When this particular homily dates from I don't know, but certainly Irish devotion to Saint Michael and his place in the Irish Antichrist tradition can be established at least as far back as the eighth-century. The anonymous homilist writes:

Now, there are nine Orders and nine Grades among the angels of Heaven, as the Scripture enumerates. Seraphim are the first grade, i. e., 'burning,' because they burn with the love of the Lord for ever without intermission in the presence of God. Cherubim are the second grade, the translation of this name being 'multitude of knowledge and wisdom' ; for it is they who drink most abundantly of the well of the knowledge of the deity. Throni, meaning the 'seats ' and thrones of the King, are the third grade ; for it is from them that the Lord delivers his righteous judgments on every man in the world. The fourth grade are Dominationes, the powers and 'lordships' holding sway over mankind, and because they rule and govern the five following grades. Principatus are the fifth grade ; 'princedoms' presiding over actions, for they are the high princes of the noble spirits that are placed in charge of the divine services over their subjects. Potestates, 'powers,' are the sixth grade, from their authority over mankind. It is this Order that keep down the attacks and inflictions and pestilences of the wicked spirits, the devils, so as not to allow them to assault or vent their rage on men as they desire. Virtutes are the seventh grade, the spirits by whom are effected ' miracles ' and wonders among the saints and righteous. Archangeli are the eighth grade, i.e., 'chief messengers,' for it is they who announce the mighty wonders and the excellent tidings to mankind. Angeli are the ninth grade, i.e., 'declarers,' because they declare the will of God and every just cause to the seed of Adam according to the commandment of the Lord.

This noble assembly of the angelic host do not stand in need of proper names ; for even the names we have given them are derived from the services in which they are engaged towards mankind. Thus the name Gabriel means the 'might of God,' on account of the great force and influence on the world of the thing he foretold, viz., the conception and birth of Christ. Raphael is explained 'medicine of God'; it was he who went to Tobit for the assistance and healing he brought to Tobit's eye. Michael, whose festival and memory are observed in the Church of God on the anniversary of this day, denotes 'one who is like God'; and this name is not without special validity and reference to him; for Michael is like unto God in many ways. To him were shown the five victories: 1, his being a mighty champion in casting down the haughty demons by the word of the Lord, and in hurling them with his arrow into hell from the upper realms; 2, it is he who fights with the devil for the soul of every believing person when it issues from his body; 3, it is he who will give decision in the presence of God on behalf of the holy and righteous in the day of doom; 4, he will fight against Antichrist on Mount Sion in the end of the world, and will gain the victory and triumph over him; and 5, after this victory he will rule for ever with the saints without end or limit in the heavenly kingdom.

'XVI. On the Archangel Michael' , The Passions and the Homilies from Leabhar Breac - Text, Translation and Glossary by Robert Atkinson (Dublin, 1887), 452-453.

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