Thomas Aquinas

On Angels and Demons

Introduction by Robert Pasnau

How many on the head of a pin...?

Thomas Aquinas believes that the world is full of angels. There are more angels than the total number of human beings past, present, and future and maybe even more angels than there are bits of matter in the universe.

He thinks this is surely the way things are, because why would God make a world full of imperfect material things, without at the same time making far more perfect spiritual things?

What is an angel?

Angels just are created minds without bodies. God is a mind without a body, too, but God is the creator, not a creature. Human beings are created minds, but we are minds created to animate within a body. (Souls are supposed to be separately created outside the body and simultaneously infused into the body.)

Hence one of the things that makes angels special is that they fall in between human beings and God. They are wholly immaterial in the way that God is, but yet created in the way that we are. The fact that angels were created and are not little gods means that they are finite, or limited, in all their powers. They are not omniscient like God is and they are not all-powerful. Nor are they perfectly good. On the contrary, like human beings, angels are capable of doing either good or bad, and some chose to do bad.

How to Read Thomas Aquinas' Texts

In reading these selections from Aquinas, it is important to understand that he begins each discussion by asking a question (Utrum) and then offers a series of arguments for the conclusion that is the opposite of the one he ultimately wants to defend. Then he gives one or more arguments for the side he favors (Beginning with the phrase sed contra).

When the arguments for both sides of the question have been stated, he gives his own answer to the question (beginning Respondeo.), and finally he answers each of the initial arguments for the other side. By far the most important part of each selection is his own answer (the respondeo section, sometimes known as the corpus of an article). Most of the texts you will encounter in these four lessons are selections from the respondeo section.