Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thoughts from a Michael about Michaelmas

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel also known as Michaelmas. Being a Michael, it caused me take a moment to reflect upon my namesake.

Feasts, saints and angels are things which I think are primarily of interest to Catholics or high Anglicans (high as in church, not high as a kite). I've lived most of my life without knowing the occasion Michaelmas existed.

My parents made deliberate choices when naming myself and my brothers; we each have two middle names, one for a name from my father's side and the other from my mother's. Thus, rather than picking and choosing from either side of the family for our given names, instead we received names from the Bible. I have seen the name Michael defined as "He who is like God." What a name to live up to!

Going strictly by the text of the Bible, St. Michael is one of only two angels who received names (the other is Gabriel). Yes, some churches have traditions which include the likes of Raphael or Azrael. To them I say: that's fine, but have you spoken to Mormons about Moroni lately?

When I see how angels are represented in Hollywood films, television shows, novels and comic books, I get the idea that a great deal of undue emphasis has been placed upon them. Yes, we Christians recognize angels as servants working directly with God, but so what? Yes, they enjoy a relationship with God the likes of which no one on Earth can achieve, but they don't appear to possess the same level of free will as we do.

Or do I have that wrong? Are angels capable of self-determination in equal measure to humans, but are simply much better able to obey God's will because of the closeness they already share? I suppose questions like these are what sustain the discipline of Angelology.

But what does St. Michael mean to me? You have to look to his references in the Bible to figure him out; he's best remembered for this passage from Revelation 12:7-9:

7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

It's because of this passage that St. Michael is often depicted in combat with dragons, making him perhaps the second-best known dragon slayer among the saints (St. George had a good publicity man). As a man with a lifelong interest in super heroes, I can get behind this idea of Michael as the angel of action, the lancer who steps out from obscurity to defeat the main villain. Very good showing, Michael!

But the other reference to Michael the Archangel is... problematic. It appeared one book earlier in the Bible - Jude 1:9:

9 Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

You read that and think, "oh yeah, it's Michael against the Devil; that's something he did, it sounds right." But then you might wonder "what's that about Moses?" You see, people aren't quite clear what exactly the event being referred to is. It hasn't even been agreed whether it refers to a Biblical account! (Zechariah 3:1-2 is one suggestion).

Once again I'm reminded of my connection to super hero literature. "Hm, a question of canon? Perhaps a retcon? Sounds just like comics!"

St. Michael versus the Spectre
by John Ostrander & Tom Mandrake

I actually do appreciate that Michael is such a strong name; though my goal is not to become an angel (again, that's Hollywood mythology), becoming "like God" is something I strive toward.

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