Angels' knowledge

Question: Did God let all the angels know of the details of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection before time began?

Peter Tate, Long Beach, California

Answer: It is a common tradition in the Church, but not a biblical or defined teaching, that God revealed his plans for the Incarnation to the angels. But that tradition usually does not hold that the Lord revealed to them a detailed description of the events.

The traditional understanding is that Lucifer, one of the highest-ranking angels, was so angered at the thought that God would join himself to the human family, instead of the angelic ranks, that he rebelled against God and took about one-third of the Angels with him. In the ensuing war in heaven, St. Michael the Archangel and his ranks prevailed, and Satan was cast out of heaven and fell to the earth.

Though the angelic rebellion is related in the Scriptures (Rv 12:1-17; Lk 10:18; Is 14:12-15), the details are often symbolic and do not indicate the exact reason for the rebellion of the angels.

But the reason we should be cautious in assigning too much knowledge to the angelic ranks, fallen or not, is that in Scripture, Satan shows a significant degree of uncertainty at the time of the Incarnation. He seems vaguely aware that God’s plan for the Incarnation is underway, but the details elude him. Jesus is able to make a stealthy incursion into Satan’s domain of this world. Satan, sensing something, stabs wildly in the dark, killing the Holy Innocents, but Jesus escapes. During the temptations in the desert, Satan once again seems to be testing Jesus to find out if he is the Lord.

So, if Satan is unclear as to the Incarnation, it is not likely he knew the details of the paschal mystery either.

All of this indicates that it is unlikely that God gave all the angels detailed knowledge of the paschal mystery. It may well be true that certain angels (Gabriel, for example) who were included in the events received knowledge in greater detail, but we cannot be sure.

Forms of baptism

Question: My non-Catholic wife sees my baptism as unacceptable because I was not immersed in water. How can I answer her?

Name, location withheld

Answer: While the words to be used for baptism are given us by the Lord (see Mt 28:19), the exact method — immersion or infusion (pouring) — is not mentioned.

Historically in the Church, immersion was used more widely than today. The first generations of the Church included a much higher percentage of adult converts. But as infant baptisms became more numerous, immersion was both difficult and even dangerous. Hence the pouring of water over the head became more common.

Today the Church permits and encourages immersion for adult baptisms, but pastoral and practical matters often make this more difficult to do.

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It would seem that your wife is dogmatizing what is merely her preference. This is a common human tendency wherein we see only our experience and preference as authentic or allowable. This is not always so. Scriptural images of baptisms in the Jordan River are beautiful. But it does not follow that only rivers and creeks are valid locations.

Perhaps, given your wife’s background, you might humbly ask her to show where in Scripture baptism by full immersion is always required and where other forms such as pouring are explicitly disallowed.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.