Once Upon An Aevum: Part I.

The following post is the first part of a short story in honor of the Holy Guardian Angels.  It will be continued next week.

“Do you suppose it could be a simple acquiescence, an offering up of autonomy?”

Angelo stood, waiting silently, and did not respond to Sacerdos’ query. He didn’t understand why his higher-ranking friend Sacerdos would flatter him by asking him such difficult questions.

As if any among the mighty choirs knew what the Test would be. Angels filled and brilliantly lit the unbroken cavern of cloud, yet kept silent in their separate choirs. Just above Angelo in the Angelic choir stood the Archangels, flexing their rods of leadership, ready for the Test. Next came the Principalities and Virtues, wearing on their liveries symbols of their multifarious abilities: fires, lightning, winds, water, and quakes. Above them floated the Powers with their massive weapons: flaming swords, luminous spears, explosive arrows, and other instruments of destruction. In close communication with the Archangels sat the Dominions in their cloaks of authority. Spiraling to the top of the cavern flew the Thrones with their hands folded in adoration, the Cherubim with their gloriously wise eyes, and the Seraphim with their flames blazing solely with love. All the myriads awaited the Test just like Angelo, the lowest angel of all.

He was ambivalent about being the lowest angel, right below Sacerdos, who was an angel of sacrifice. Angelo knew, however, that the Test and what followed would make him sure of his purpose.

Sacerdos, clad in a dull-red tunic, turned and smiled through his dark beard, communicating his thoughts frankly to Angelo. “I wonder what this Test will be. Surely it will be a rare privilege to gain a glimpse into the Divine Plan as regards us!”

Angelo did not reply. He relied more on the opinions of higher angels: wise Cherubs such as Minerva and Jegudiel and Seraphs such as Lucifer and Melkor. They all agreed some greater view of the Divinity would result, though to what degree none could guess. As to the Test itself, every angel hoped for the best: a trial that would suit his own powers. Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” hoped for a darkness to overcome, Brahma and Vishnu and Shiva of the Virtues wanted some test of harmony. But Michael, Seraph of loyal service, insisted that such speculations meant nothing. “Who are you to try and probe the Mind of the Lord before He has spoken?” he would say. “Prepare yourself for the Test by humble meditation and works of power. Start yourself afire in preparation and do not guess what is to come.”

So, closing his eyes, Angelo quit conjecturing, and waited.

A stir rippled among the uncountable host and Angelo looked up. Descending slowly through the ranks to the cavern’s center was a small orb: dark, dull, and insignificant, but unusual. It had no intelligence, no spiritual powers, and no life. Most striking of all, however, it was material.

Despite the great distance to the orb, Angelo could extend his intellect to examine it and know it was grossly, unmistakably, unequivocally material and finite.

“What could this mean?” he asked Sacerdos. “Do you suppose it is part of the Test?”

“Perhaps each of us is expected to serve in making this speck into something great and glorious,” mused Sacerdos.

Angelo imagined what he could form with it, careful not to let his thought immediately become reality. What worthwhile act could one do with matter? Even if it were living matter, it could never come anywhere near even his own lowly station in use or glory, nor could it ever thank the one who created or molded it. Worst of all, it decomposed; it never stayed what it was made into. Even God would hardly make matter unchangeable: there would be no point. Despairing of anything he could do, Angelo wondered if only his poor intellect had no use for matter.

Suddenly, the Seraphim flared up and the rest of the choirs bowed their heads low. God’s Speech murmured to each angel, mainly from above, but also unmistakably from below and behind each one. No Being could be seen. It seemed as if the Voice were speaking to each angel alone, though all knew the same message came to all. The Test had come.

Angelo’s wings tingled as he recollected himself to listen. Angels never feel nervous, since nervousness originates in corporeal bodies. Rather, Angelo grasped at the knowledge the Maker imparted with fearful eagerness.

At the Deity’s command, Angelo obediently re-extended his intellect towards the orb. He felt a great surge as the minds of the myriads reached into the orb, gently prodding it from top to bottom and conversing about it. Each angel, even Angelo, had the power to crush the ball of space and dirt with a single thought, but all abstained and waited.

The ball was made mostly of a thin black fluid contained by a transparent membrane: completely lifeless and thoughtless. Within the fluid shone billions of specks of burning gas; Angelo noted nearly as many as angels in the firmament. Tiny rocks, also insignificant and lifeless, wandered around some of the burning specks. In fact, Angelo realized, only one rock in the entire orb could sustain any forms of material life. Angelo tried to imagine any use for the rocks or for the mold that might grow on the one rock. He imagined himself in the orb and viewed the gas specks as if they were massive infernos of heat and light, but detected no value.

“This puzzles me, Angelo,” Sacerdos remarked, gazing at an especially small gas ball. “What kind of satisfaction or goodness can the Creator create from this? He needs no fulfillment, but how does this fulfill anything at all? Does He merely want us to obey Him, sacrificing ourselves even to the meanest of His commands?”

Wrinkling his brow, Angelo attended to the Voice as it spoke again.

The Lord of Creation declared his intent to place an angel in charge of each glowing speck and system of rocks: the stars and galaxies, the planets and asteroids. But central to His Plan was the one planet able to sustain life. Terra of the Virtues would rule there and give it her name, with the various elements commanded by other angels.

At this, a stir arose among the Principalities, all of whom were assigned to either a star or to elements on Terra’s planet. “Why,” Angelo heard them wonder, “should the Unsearchable One seek to fulfill his Plan on this pebble among the stars? What is material life to Him?” Their fellows in the other choirs urged them to hush their murmuring; the Lord spoke again.

The Provident One then told what would come to life on the planet Terra, including a being called Man, made of both a corruptive body and an immortal spirit. The Omniscient showed the hosts a vision of a man’s body: fleshy, weak, ungainly and disproportioned, hardly worthy of a spirit’s infinite value. Angelo expected at least something that reached heavenward more than the mere upright stature and absurd arms. Even less impressive was Man’s soul: stupid, earthy, subject to bodily passions, and capable of only rudimentary thought and love. In fact, Angelo saw that Man could never naturally love another purely for the other’s sake; Man had to expect at least a small return or internal satisfaction for his love. Nevertheless, Angelo sensed that Man was worth creating and even lovable: perhaps as lovable as a small rodent would be to a man, but not more.

Continuing, the Unchanging One described what the angels would do in the material world. The Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones were to pray to Him for the men and inspire them with reverence; the Principalities and Virtues were to guide the workings of Nature in relation to men; the Powers were to guard men against rebellious spirits and runaway portions of Nature; the Angels and Archangels were to watch over the men themselves; and the Dominions were to command all the angels in the sphere in helping the men.

“Sacerdos, is this the Test?” Angelo queried. “Unless some of our brethren are foolish enough to rebel, this seems the easiest Test one could imagine.”

But already, many of the Principalities and Virtues grumbled at having to operate mere balls of gas and cataracts of water for the sake of such paltry beings. Jupiter, chief of the Principalities, the Lord of Lightnings, spoke aloud.

“And these men we must try to lead to your Majesty: what will they do? With free will, what choices will they be given, even as we are given now?”

To all the choirs’ surprise and dismay, the Divinity revealed Man’s first important action: sin. Sin committed by a creature the angels were supposed to bring to God. Sin committed despite all the gifts God planned to give men. True, since men were flesh as well as spirit, their sinful choice wouldn’t be complete: they would have a chance to repent. But such a sin by such creatures: wanting to be gods!

Angelo hadn’t received his specific role in the orb yet, but he knew he was to take charge of a human being: one descended from this first wretched sinner and struck with the consequences. He heard all the hosts around him seething with an indignation he shared. To be assigned to a paltry soul, who kills his own life by disobedience! Angelo could tell some of the angels were leaning very heavily towards rebellion…