Were angels ever babies? (And what do we really know about them?)

March 30, 2011

Faith and Reasons

CNS photo/ Bob Roller

When an inquiring young Catholic asked this question, I started wondering what the church teaches about the heavenly hosts. My guess is that the questioner saw the tiny naked beings popularly called cherubs or “putti” in Italian, which appear in Renaissance and Baroque art. Despite the fact that many of these creatures appear in religious paintings, neither the church nor Scripture offer evidence that angels actually look like babies.

Like us, angels are creatures made in God’s image and likeness. But they are spirits who only appear in human form when they’re sent to help us. There’s no record of an angel appearing as a baby.

Pope John Paul II gave this description of angels in a 1986 general audience: “Their purely spiritual being implies first of all their nonmateriality and their immortality. The angels have no “body” (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of men), and therefore they are not subject to the laws of corruptibility which are common to all the material world.”

Nine orders of angels correspond to their measure of perfection and assignments: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. In art the cherubim are often represented as chubby babies, but in the Old Testament the prophet Ezekiel describes them by saying “their form was human but each had four faces and four wings” (Ezekiel 1: 5-6).

Angels are spirits but they have a free will and intellect.  Jesus tells us that those who have risen will be like the angels (Luke 20:36). For now, though, they’re superior to us and they have the privilege of always seeing God (Matthew 18-10).

God made the angels to carry out his will in the world, the Church Fathers taught. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the angels belong to Christ (CCC331).

Angels are interested in our lives and their job is always to help us (Matthew 18:10). “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?” (Heb.1:14).

Scripture records many instances when angels have served as God’s messengers, most notably appearing to Our Lady at the Annunciation.  The church also teaches that the angels are charged with protecting us and being concerned for our salvation. As St. Jerome wrote, “They manifest the omnipotence of God.”

Because the angels’ job of helping, protecting and delivering messages to us is so huge, it’s a good thing they’re not babies. According to the Catechism, “the whole life of the church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC334).

About Susan Klemond

I'm a freelance writer who enjoys writing about the Catholic Faith, local issues and people. I love the challenge of learning about the Church and discovering the reasons behind her teachings.

View all posts by Susan Klemond