This past night I had numerous ideas flood forth after finishing the second chapter of Wolfgang Smith’s Christian Gnosis. Toward the end of the chapter, Prof. Smith speaks of the parallels which the Catholic cosmology has with that of the Hindu beliefs, namely a triple-division of “worlds” or “realms.” This lead me to draw forth all of the information that I know regarding the worlds beyond our own, and seek to elucidate these ideas within the bounds of Christianity in an effort to reveal the image of the Trinity within creation. I would also like to touch upon the choirs of angels, the soul, and glorification of the body. This is going to be a long post, with some orthodox information and a lot of speculative ideas linking them together.
The Trinitarian Image of the Cosmos
I again return to a letter which I had referenced and expounded upon in an earlier post, In Quest of Esoterism, based upon the book In Quest of Catholicity also by Wolfgang Smith. In this first letter of the book, Prof. Smith speaks of the “aerial realm” which is the psychic plane that exists between the corporeal world and the celestial world of Heaven. Based upon the belief held by some Eastern Orthodox Christians, this aerial realm is the abode of the demons. Within this realm are demonic toll houses where the demons question each soul pertaining to their sins, trying to seek payment so they can justify dragging that soul to Hell. The guardian angel of the soul stands with them and argues on their behalf, calling out the lies of the demons when they attempt to accuse the soul of sins that had been mere temptations. This is not the general belief of Eastern Orthodox regarding the soul after death, but it plays into the direction which I’d like to explore.
Further, Wolfgang Smith compares the idea of the aerial toll houses with that of the writings of Lutheran mystic, Jacob Boehme. Boehme describes the relationship of the corporeal and aerial planes as “in the same place,” alluding to a superimposition of one over the other. Boehme believes that after the Fall, the kingdom which Lucifer had built was destroyed and over the ruins was laid the foundation of the material world. Which, he argues, is what we see in the creation at the beginning of Genesis. It is not the creation of the world ex nihilo, but the restoration of creation in accordance with the Will of God. Unfortunately, this imposition of the aerial and corporeal worlds allows the demons a certain level of influence over man and the physical world. Prof. Smith makes the connection between the idea of aerial toll houses and that of Jacob Boehme to the “middle plateau” which Fr. Malachi Martin so often spoke about in radio interviews. At one point, Fr. Martin was on the air with a guest caller who claimed to be a “remote viewer” with the military. Over the course of the conversation, Fr. Martin makes mention of the extreme danger that comes with entering this middle plateau, alluding to the same suspicion of Wolfgang Smith as the realm of the demons.
I have come to agree with this assessment, and seek to link it to the Catholic dogmas of Purgatory and Hell. As for the claims of it being the realm of the demonic, in Catholic Tradition the preternatural deals with the world of the spiritual creatures whereas the supernatural deals exclusively with God. For the purposes of this post, I would like to utilize the term “preternatural” as referencing the aerial world and extend “supernatural” to encompass those spirits which are in the celestial realm.
Returning to the subject of the demons, the means by which demons interact with the corporeal world in fact aligns with the notion of the preternatural world being their dominion. As the demonic, and by extension angels, can influence the body, mind, and will of men but cannot touch the intellect as it resides in the celestial realm of the soul. This broad reach of influence corresponds to the notion that our world overlaps with another. While demons are pure spirit without bodies, they have to act through subtle means with the physical world. Picture ripples on the surface of a pond; the fish residing below can influence the water’s surface through their own distortions and movements, while those on the surface only just see the ripples. This is how I picture the way that the demons interact with our own world. They can manipulate the physical from “behind and below” but do not surface and directly influence corporeal beings. As I will go in to detail later, there are limitations in place on movement between worlds. In short, the demons are limited to their subtle influence on the corporeal world as evidenced by their means of interaction.
The intertwining of the corporeal with the preternatural is not only present within Catholic and Orthodox teaching, but can be found in all non-Catholic religions as well. In particular, the “spiritual” practices of other religions deals exclusively with that of the preternatural realm rather than the supernatural realm of God. Hence the dangers warned by exorcists in the Church of the practice of occult and pagan traditions, because these ways do not offer a path to supernatural existence. They lead directly to the aerial world of the demons. Wolfgang Smith makes a point of this in Christian Gnosis when he speaks on the requirements of grace in order to ascend to Heaven. Based upon the ideas of the aerial world, all souls must pass through this realm on their way to Heaven. Yet many become trapped as they lack the “sufficient grace” to enter into Heaven. And, as I will expand upon later, since grace only flows through and from the Catholic Church in baptism, those souls who are firmly outside Christianity have absolutely no hope of entering the celestial world. They may have vestiges of it in their own traditions, as I know many Easterners do, but they have no real means of acquiring it outside of grace.
The Middle Plateau
I now want to take some time to look at this aerial realm or “middle plateau” of the preternatural in light of Catholic teaching on Purgatory and Hell. Purgatory is associated with the purification of souls that are destined for Heaven, but still retain some stains of sin on their person. Therefore, in order to even tolerate standing in the Presence of God they must be purified. This can only be accomplished through fire, as the Church teaches. Thanks to the visions of the saints, we are able to determine just what awaits those souls who merit Purgatory, namely fire, suffering, and hope.
In light of the knowledge of this so-called “middle plateau,” I’ve come to suspect that Purgatory resides within this preternatural world of fire. And it is fire which links Purgatory to the sufferings of Hell. I’ve come to suspect, through the superimposition of worlds, that Purgatory and Hell reside in the same plane just on different “levels.”
The greatest punishment of Purgatory is in the first level above the darkness. The demons can touch it there. There is heat and cold, darkness and confusion, all coming from the punishment of Hell.–Revelations to St. Bridget
Almost all theologians teach that the damned in Hell and the souls in Purgatory, suffer the action of the same fire.–St. Robert Bellarmine
I believe that it is a difference of degree between the two states, where the penitent soul is afflicted by fire only insofar as the stains of sin remain whereas the damned soul is afflicted eternally and to a much greater degree. And what determines the intensity of this fire has much to do with whether sufficient grace is present within a soul. Grace determines whether a soul is “light” enough to ascend to Heaven, where sin weighs down a soul to the Pit. Men are expected to amass great graces in order to escape the preternatural world, because without them they have no light to guide their way and their mobility is greatly restricted by the snares and burdens of sin. Hence why Our Blessed Lord often spoke of mortifying ourselves against the world, as it only hinders the accrual and maintenance of grace.
Ascension is central to movement from the corporeal through the preternatural to the celestial. I think this too corresponds to the flames of Hell and Purgatory and their varying intensities as well. Those souls completely burdened with mortal sins drop to the lowest reaches of the aerial world and face the most intense fires of Hell. While those souls suffering purification reside toward the very “top” of the flames, nearest the celestial gates where their sufferings are relieved by the knowledge of their salvation. I like to compare this idea to the image often found in the Old Testament of the animal sacrifices offered by the Israelites, and even found in pagan cultures. That of the immolation of the flesh of the animal so that the offering may ascend through the smoke to Heaven. That flesh which remains is charred and consumed by the flames, much as how the damned souls are consumed in the fires of Hell.
I don’t need to say much about Heaven, at least anything that could do it true justice. To those souls which successfully traverse the fires of the preternatural plateau and align themselves with Divine grace achieve the absolute maxim and end of their existence, which is Heaven. As there is fire in Hell and fire in Purgatory, so too is there fire in Heaven. But this is not a fire of purification or punishment, but one of purity and Love. The fire of the Divine Presence sanctify the soul and illuminate it with It’s own Essence. Based upon Catholic Tradition, and the poetic illustration of Dante’s Paradiso, we can come to know that even in Heaven does grace form a hierarchy. With those souls most pleasing and obedient to God residing nearer to His Presence, with the Blessed Virgin Mary seated directly at the right hand of the Trinity within Their Essence. All rejoice and praise God in absolute perfect joy and endless fulfillment, joining with the Seraphim in singing “Holy Holy Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts!”
I would now like to touch briefly on judgment and the role that it plays in the cosmology that I am illustrating. To start, there are two kinds of judgment in Catholic theology: particular and general or final. Particular judgment is what a rational soul faces immediately after death, and general judgment is what all rational souls face after Resurrection. I am going to focus primarily on particular judgment for the time being.
Particular judgment is necessary for all rational souls in their journey toward God and is something that is spoken of again and again throughout Sacred Scripture. Upon death, the soul of the deceased is brought immediately to the Presence of the Just Judge, Jesus Christ. In His Presence, all of the merits and sins of the soul are weighed and scrutinized. Christ goes over every last action and idle word of the scrutinized soul and bases His judgment of them upon the graces they have received and the graces they have squandered. Accompanying the soul is his guardian angel who argues in his defense as well as a demon that had been assigned to them by Satan who accuses them of their sins. Once Christ has determined the state of the soul, He either immediately condemns them to the eternal sufferings of Hell, the purification of Purgatory, or the bliss of the “Third Heaven.” Those with mortal sins on their souls face spiritual death and Hell, those with sufficient grace and minor stains of sin go to Purgatory, and those with sanctifying grace ascend to Heaven.
Only rational souls, such as men, are subjected to judgment. Anything lesser, such as plant or animal souls are not eternal or immortal and do not face judgment. Given what I have written so far regarding the fiery nature of the preternatural world, I suspect that natural souls like that of animals are simply annihilated in these flames upon ascending from the physical realm. I would like to explore the differences of the souls next.
The Trinitarian Image in Creatures
Now that I’ve laid out an overview of the three worlds of creation, we should take a look at the soul. Firstly, I would like to briefly illustrate how I see the Trinity operating within this hierarchical cosmology, keep in mind that things get even more speculative here on out.
There are three worlds associated with creation, as there are Three Divine Persons within the Blessed Trinity. Each of these worlds mirrors one Person within the Trinity. Now, I will say that these associations in no way are meant to illustrate a subordination of one Person to another, nor does it suggest that One is more God than the Other. I merely see a reflection of the personal qualities of each Divine Person within each world of the Divine Cosmology. First, God the Father, who presides over all of creation, is associated intimately with that of the celestial world of Heaven. As He transcends creation, far above the Divine Intelligences and saints, all of these worlds constitute His Kingdom. Next, I associate the Holy Spirit with that of the preternatural world as His influence on the Church Militant after the Ascension corresponds with an underlying interaction similar to that of the superimposed state of the two lower worlds. Third, God the Son, the Word made Flesh, presides over the corporeal world as it was He Who lowered Himself to put on the clay of the human form. Each Person of the Trinity is fully God yet has His own office within creation to form the Godhead. Each can interact with the worlds outside of Their office, as They rule the whole of creation, which is evidenced by the visitation of the Three Angels to Abraham, the revelation of God to Moses on Sinai, the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, the Transfiguration of Christ, etc. God chooses to have each Person act in a specific manner pertaining to the instruction and rule of His creatures.
As this Trinitarian image is reflected in the created worlds themselves, so too is it reflected in the notion of corpus-anima-spiritus. This phrase, or term, whatever we shall call it, is a sort of outline of the three-fold state of being within man. Corpus, or corporeal, speaks of the physical world which consists of base matter, energies, forces, physical laws, as well as composites such as animals and man. Within the corpus there are things which simply exist, things which exist and live, and things which exist, live, and reason. Each consistent with the tripartite modes of being. Unpacking this even more, we can find that those things which simply exist are minerals, energies, forces, etc. all of which are purely corporeal with no life in them, corpus. Next, we can see that plant life and animals constitute that of those which exist and live, where they have a soul that is their form but do not have the capacity for reason or rationalism, corpus-anima. Finally, there are those things which exist, live and reason which are the rational beings, men, the corpus-anima-spiritus as man is a composite not only of the natural modes of being but the eternal, spiritual as well. These three modes of being which combine to form composites pertain solely to the corporeal world. Quite obviously, there exist creatures of spiritus, but they dwell in the higher worlds.
The idea of ascension between plateaus comes into play when looking at the essential makeup of material beings. As obviously purely corporeal things do not die, or ascend to the preternatural. Yet those with souls do hold the capacity to move between worlds, reiterating what I said earlier about the ascension and subsequent annihilation of natural souls. Finally, we are left with those creatures who possess spiritus or immortal souls which can traverse all three plateaus, albeit the celestial is only obtainable through grace, as covered earlier. Now that I’ve somewhat given an overview of physical creatures, I’d like to look at the angelic, or Divine Intelligences.
Divine Intelligences, or angels as they are generalized, are pure spiritual creatures who inhabit both the preternatural and supernatural (in the sense defined above) worlds. They not only comprise angelic minds, but also those of the demonic. Those who reside in the Divine Presence of Heaven gaze eternally upon the Face of God in Divine contemplation and adoration.
Pseudo-Dionysius, a mystic theologian of the 5th or 6th century A.D., organized the Divine Intelligences into a series of offices or “choirs.” It is unknown just where he draws his conclusions from, but he supports them with much reference to neo-Platonic traditions and Sacred Scripture. St. Thomas Aquinas adopts the pseudo-Dionysian “angelology” and implements it into his own scholastic synthesis.
There are nine identified choirs of Intelligences as supported by pseudo-Dionysius and Aquinas, and the nine of these are further split into three triads (do we again see the triple-form structure here?) The nine choirs, starting from the highest, are as follows:
- Seraphim; the “burning ones,” are the highest Intelligences who burn from unceasing revolution of the Godhead, casting out flames from their excessive charity. They are depicted as having six wings, two covering their faces, two their feet, and two of which they fly.
- Cherubim; they are the guardians of Eden and the Throne of God. Described as having four faces, that of a man, eagle, lion, and ox with four conjoined wings covered with eyes, a lion’s body, and the feet of oxen. St. Thomas Aquinas identified Satan as a fallen Cherub.
- Thrones; or “Ophanim,” Elders, are living symbols of God’s justice and authority. They appeared to Ezekiel as a wheel-within-a-wheel covered with a multitude of eyes, yet Christian sources describe them as elders who discern the Will of God and offer the prayers of men.
- Dominions; or “Lordships,” regulate the duties of the lower Intelligences, it is extremely rare that they make themselves known to men. They are believed to appear with wings in the standard representation of angels, but holding scepters with orbs of light.
- Virtues; or “Strongholds,” signs and miracles are made through this choir of Intelligences, mounting upwards in fullness of power to an assimilation with God.
- Powers; or “Authorities,” supervise the heavenly bodies to maintain the order of the cosmos. They are warriors, who engage and oppose the demons, in particular those who manipulate matter in the universe and cast demons into perdition. Represented as armored soldiers wielding shields and weapons.
- Principalities; or “Rulers,” the angels which guide and protect nations, groups of peoples, and institutions. They preside over the bands of angels charging them to fulfill the divine ministry. They are said to carry out the orders given by the higher choirs and bestow blessings on the corporeal world. These Intelligences are said to inspire men in ways such as art or science, they are often depicted as crowned with a sceptre.
- Archangels; the “chief angels” of which St. Michael is a member. They are often given special duties to the propagation of Divine Revelation to man. Often depicted as winged warriors, this choir of angels is sometimes associated with the “seven spirits of God” in St. John’s Apocalypse, giving way to the notion of the “seven archangels.”
- Angels; the lowest order of celestial Intelligences, they are most intimately concerned with the affairs of men. There are many classes within this choir, the most notable being the messengers such as St. Gabriel and the guardian angels who protect and guide each man.
Now that I’ve outlined the various choirs of angels, we can see by their office that they can be further grouped into three triads: Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, and Powers; Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. Based upon their duties and office, the highest of these triads are those most closely associated with the Trinity and therefore reside mainly in the celestial creation. Offering up their adoration and burning charity as they sing and praise the greatness of Almighty God.
The next triad I have come to associate with the preternatural, or aerial, world. These being the Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. Given that their duties consist of the maintenance of order within material creation, the dissemination of God’s Will and Virtue, and the restraint of the demonic, it is only fitting that these choirs are positioned within the second realm. My belief of the presence of Purgatory and Hell within this world imposed over our own supports the idea of these choirs practicing their office from the veil of the aerial plateau.
Finally, the lowest triad governs the corporeal world, given that their roles are most associated with the affairs of men. They rule over physical creation in order to uphold the Divine Order and maintain the flow of graces to all of the faithful throughout the lower world. These choirs of angels are the ones who men have had the most interaction with, and those whom we know the most about via Divine Revelation.
While each of these choirs have their own associations with a specific created world, they are still free to ascend and descend between the worlds pertaining to their duties. This is given to us in Sacred Scripture with Jacob’s dream of the angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven. The Prophet Ezekiel was privy to look upon the Cherubim and Thrones, Isaiah witnessed the glory of the Seraphim, and St. Francis of Assisi was given the gift of the stigmata from a Seraph in cruciform. As God freely moves between the worlds, so too are the celestial beings given the privilege of free movement.
Apart from location, the way in which information emanates from the Trinity to the lower worlds corresponds to the celestial choirs. Duty and office is primarily associated with the hierarchy of the choirs, but there is also the intellectual capacity of the angels which comprise each. Keep in mind that even the most lowly of angels outshines even the most brilliant man by magnitudes, the knowledge of God provided to the highest choirs far exceeds that of the lower choirs. Therefore, the higher choirs must provide knowledge from the Throne of God to the lower choirs, illuminating each subsequent choir until it reaches the intended recipient. Higher Intelligences can also expand the knowledge of lower Intelligences through direct illumination, comparable to the operation of God through grace to enlighten the simplest of men with great wisdom.
Glorification of the Body
I would like to end this extensive treatise of cosmology with a look at how the Trinitarian hierarchy of being is reflected in the glorified form of the elect. Glorification is the great sensible gift that the elect are to receive after the Resurrection, where the body and mind is in complete obedience and subjection to the spirit. It is the natural state of man that God originally intended before the emergence of Original Sin. It utilizes the concept of corpus-anima-spiritus to bring the physical body into complete union with the spirit, so that it takes on qualities that previously were exclusive to purely celestial beings.
We first see the glorified form of man in the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, where his form shines with a light far exceeding the sun and his clothes take on a purity whiter than wool. Christ’s glorified body makes a complete appearance after His Resurrection, when He exhibits the supernatural gifts that are a part of the glorified:
- Impassibility: The glorified body no longer suffers pain or corruption, is not subject to carnal passions, does not require food, rest and does not age. The body is entirely spiritualized.
- Subtlety: The body is not subject to the laws of material nature, as it can pass through objects and completely communicate itself to a neighbor (much like the illumination of the angels). This unrestricted movement imitates the freedom of the celestial beings and the Trinity, as it allows the elect to move between worlds freely. We’ve seen this movement with apparitions of the saints, Our Lady, and Christ.
- Agility: The body is completely unified with the soul, allowing it to act in any manner conceivable, it is no longer physically restricted and could allow the elect to fly, levitate, augment their strength, move at incredible speed, and much more as it is now of the spirit.
- Clarity: The light of Glory, which was glimpsed on Mount Tabor by the Apostles. The elect possesses the intellectual Light of God and can see God within His unapproachable Divine Radiance. The glory of the heavenly bodies are crystalline, halos will be visible as a sign of the Kingly reign of Christ, doctors will have crowns, martyrs will be marked with the instruments or scars of their martyrdom, and our own crosses from our corporeal life will be translated into wonderful gifts.
Through not only the structure of the created worlds, the choirs of the angels, the order of the body and soul, we can once more see the Divine Light of the Trinity within the transfiguration of man after the Resurrection. As the image of the Trinitarian hierarchy is reflected in the glorified form of the elect.
I pray that my extensive mediation on the cosmological qualities of creation have sufficiently shown the “mark” of the Trinity within several different states of being. Establishing the Triune structure of the cosmos, with the celestial, preternatural, and corporeal realms; the Trinitarian composition of the rational creature; the triads which comprise the nine choirs of angels and their own roles within the bounds of creation; and finally the Light of Glory reflected within the Resurrected body of the elect. It was my intent to establish these ideas as they came to me over the weekend, and I hope that I can expand upon them more as I gain even more knowledge of the mysteries of God’s creation.
God bless you for reading.