October 2, 2012
Archbishop Fulton Sheen felt that because Christianity is the ultimate truth, one sees shades of it in other religions, both those existing before and those coming after, because each theology seeks for truth. So he would say that Christianity is the fulfillment of all other genuine attempts at theology. In an episode of his television show Life is Worth Living, entitled "The Yearnings of the Pre-Christian World", the Archbishop explains how the ancient world foreshadowed the coming of Christianity. Two years ago my knee jerk reaction would have been to think, "how arrogant!" Now, in addition to agreeing with him, I realize how silly it was to be offended that a Catholic Archbishop thinks Christianity is true.
Anyway, one such near-truth is Polytheism. Of course, this is the belief in many gods, for example, the Greek and Roman gods. The Monotheist asks, "how can there be order in the Universe with these competing gods?" Perhaps the Polytheist answers, "one god has more power than the others." Otherwise, how can their be any stability? What happens if the lesser gods work together to overpower the greater god? That would be a disaster. Others may believe that all of the gods are in harmony with each other in a New Age sort of Pantheism. The near-truth of Pantheism will have to be pondered on another day.
GK Chesterton claimed that Hinduism is not a religion at all, but rather a mythology with little expectation to be taken literally. It reminds me of the ancient Greeks who sacrificed to the many gods while their philosophers referred to God in the singular. Maybe the answer is that a working Polytheism isn't actually Polytheism. If we conclude that there needs to be a supreme God of the gods, Polytheism looks more like Monotheism. As Tertullian wrote in the second century AD: "The supreme being must be unique, without equal... If God is not one, he is not God."
Maybe it's a matter of semantics? If God means supreme being, then how can there be more than one?
In Judaism and Christianity, there exists one God with multitudes of spiritual beings, far more intelligent and advanced than we are, with the ability to interact with the material world. In fact, I've heard more about spirits, both good and bad, since becoming Catholic than I ever had before. We worship the one God rather than interacting with spirits directly by, for example, conjuring or fortune telling. I may ask the Angels and Saints to intercede for me by the Divine Power, but I don't call upon spirits directly. Because just like the Greek gods, some spirits have better intentions than others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2113) says: "Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc."
And really, why not make friends with the One who has ultimate power? Because who am I to discern whether a spirit, especially an angel or demon who is far more intelligent than I am, is good or bad? genuine or manipulative? This is part of why the Church canonizes Saints. If I mistakenly ask St. Anthony of Padua to heal me, rather than asking for his prayerful intercession, then I am assured that I have not accidentally sent an open invitation to some antagonistic spirit (like a dangerous, sparkly vampire).
However, when acting in obedience to God in response to our prayers, the good angels fulfill their primary role as God's messengers. "They are all ministering spirits, sent to care for those on the way to salvation."--Feast of the Guardian Angels (Morning Prayer, antiphon)
On the Feast of the Guardian Angels we thank them for their intercession, venerate them on account of their virtue and obedience, and marvel at their intellect which is so superior to ours. This glorifies God through our appreciation, rather than worship, of His creatures. And yet, the existence of such creatures does remind us of the radical strangeness of God becoming man, an event that so dumbfounded and outraged some of the angels that they were moved to disobedience.