CSFF Blog Tour: Angels in Art and Reality

A few months ago, the CSFF toured Eye of the Sword. The book’s “angels” set off discussions as to what angels really are and if the beings in Eye of the Sword merited the name (you can guess, by the quotation marks, where I came down on the question). Now, for Angel Eyes, I would like to consider different aspects of the angels’ portrayal and what foundation they have in Scripture.

Angels are sometimes female – From the Victorian era onward, much of angel iconography has been of beautiful women with wings. Some Christians have said, in reaction, that all angels are male. This is not quite the whole truth.

All angels shown in the Bible are male. But, as Donald Rumsfeld once said, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The fact that the Bible does not prove the existence of female angels is not itself proof that no female angels exist.

I will, then, classify Shannon Dittemore’s use of a female angel as “speculative”.

Angels have wings – Ezekiel, in his extraordinary call to prophethood, witnessed the four living creatures – cherubim, with four wings. Isaiah, in his commission, saw seraphs with six wings flying around God’s throne. Daniel wrote that Gabriel came to him in “swift flight”.

The four-winged angels of Angel Eyes are, then, a mixture of the Scriptural (at least some angels have wings) and the speculative (we do not know that all have wings, or any beside the cherubim have four wings).

Angels have halos – Ah, no. This is another idea about angels we derive from art and not from Scripture. But since the Bible never counters the idea, it comes under “speculative”.

Angels are beautiful (and demons are hideous) – As far as I can recall, the Bible says nothing about the appearance of demons. Angels are sometimes described – the four living creatures in great detail. They made a strong impression on Ezekiel; I daresay they would make a strong impression on all of us.

I cannot do justice to the description of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and 10; I will only mention the premier facts: the cherubim had four wings, four faces, forms like a man’s, feet like a calf’s, and were covered with eyes. I am sure that if we ever saw the cherubim, merely aesthetic beauty would fall into its true insignificance, but no one will consider this description one of beauty.

Daniel also described an angel he saw in a vision: “I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.”

The appearance of angels often had a kind of radiance. When the angel appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” Of the angel who rolled the stone from Jesus’ tomb, we are told, “His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.” When the women went to the tomb, they were met by men in “clothes that gleamed like lightning”. Jesus Himself said that He would return in His glory, and the glory of the Father, and “of the holy angels”.

Perhaps the angels were beautiful, but what most struck those who saw them was light, brightness, glory – and what such people usually felt was fear.

Yet I wonder if Christians’ fantasy-novel descriptions are – at least in part – consciously metaphorical. C. S. Lewis wrote that “Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings … because most men like birds better than bats.” Perhaps Christian novelists portray angels as beautiful, and demons as hideous, for the same reason.

So to finally reach the conclusion, Shannon Dittemore’s descriptions are speculative, with a measure of Scriptural truth.

C. S. Lewis also wrote that angels “must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.” And it is surely true that if we are to write novels about angels, much of what we write must be speculative. Angels remain hidden from us. I do not mind the speculation, though I believe Christian writers should refrain from contradicting what the Bible reveals to us. And in that, Angel Eyes holds true.