In the beginning, men and angels were created to be under the leadership of the Incarnate Word
We now enter into Chapter VII of the first book of The Mystical City of God. In the first paragraphs Ven. Mary of Agreda explains the creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo – while the earth was empty, the heavens on the other hand were populated with the radiant spirits of the angels. She describes the trial of the angels, and in particular that of Lucifer and how he, on account of his own beauty and gifts, fell into the most hideous self love and pride. While he adored the Triune God (the first test of the angels), out of a sense of compulsion rather than charity and gratitude, his fall came from the second and third test. The Venerable describes it thus:
In the second place, the angels were informed that God was to create a human nature and reasoning creatures lower than themselves, in order that they too should love, fear and reverence God, as their Author and eternal Good. They were informed that these were to stand in high favor, and that the second Person of the blessed Trinity was to become incarnate and assume their nature, raising it to the hypostatic union and to divine Personality; that therefore they were to acknowledge Him as their Head, not only as God, but as God and man, adoring Him and reverencing Him as God-man. Moreover, these same angels were to be His inferiors in dignity and grace and were to be His servants. God gave them an intelligence of the propriety and equity, of the justice and reasonableness of such a position. For the acceptation of the merits foreseen of this Man-God was exhibited to them as the source of the grace which they now possessed and of the glory which they were to obtain. They understood also that they themselves had been, and all the rest of the creatures should be created for His glory, and that He was to be their Head. All those that were capable of knowing and enjoying God, were to be the people of the Son of God, to know and reverence Him as their Chief. These commands were at once given to the angels. (n. 89)
The paragraph above is loaded, one to be read through carefully and reflected upon. As my algebra teacher used to tell us about story problems: “Read, reread it, and re-reread it.” It is pointless to start the algebra if the story is not clear!
The main theme is this – the headship of Christ over the Angels. Revealing this to the angels was indeed a failproof test of their humility and charity. They knew the divine beauty of their Creator, the Most Holy Trinity; they also knew their own dignity and beauty as His illustrious creatures; but now they would see the humility of their Creator and be called to humbly serve. The decree of God, even before creating, was that the second Person of the Trinity should be incarnate of the Virgin Mary and that all creation should be subject to Him as King and Head. In effect, this meant that a lower nature, namely that of man which is made up of spirit and matter, was to be exalted above the purely spiritual nature of the angels and that the angels were to serve and adore Him – not only as their God, but even in His human nature, that is, they were to be subject to Him as both God and man.
Note once again that Mother Mary of Agreda presents to us a single economy of divine grace for men and angels, the grace of Christ – gratia Christi. From the beginning all graces and glory were given to both angels and men through Christ the Mediator. She notes that the grace of the angels came through “the merits foreseen of this Man-God,” that Christ was the “source of grace which they now possessed and of the glory which they were to obtain.” This is an important element of the doctrine of the absolute primacy of Christ, namely, that all of creation was given existence in the beginning with Christ, the Chief and Head, in mind and that all graces given to men and angels flow from the merits of Christ (Christ’s foreseen merits in the case of the angels and man until Christ’s coming, and Christ’s obtained merits for mankind at the time of His earthly sojourn until He comes in glory). [For more on a single economy of grace as opposed to two economies, one before the fall and one after the fall, see the links HERE and HERE and HERE]
So how did this test of the angels pan out? What was their response to the revelation of the Incarnation?
To this command all the obedient and holy Angels submitted themselves and they gave their full assent and acknowledgment with an humble and loving subjection of the will. But Lucifer, full of envy and pride, resisted and induced his followers to resist likewise, as they in reality did, preferring to follow him and disobey the divine command. This wicked prince persuaded them, that he would be their chief and that he would set up a government independent and separate from Christ. So great was the blindness which envy and pride could cause in an angel, and so pernicious was the infection that the contagion of sin spread among innumerable other angels. (n.89)
But as if this were not enough, God revealed the joint predestination of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Incarnate Word and that they were to serve her, a mere creature without the hypostatic union, as their Queen. The Venerable recounts:
Then [after the revelation of the Incarnation] happened that great battle in heaven, which St. John describes (Apoc. 12). For the obedient and holy Angels, filled with an ardent desire of hastening the glory of the Most High and the honor of the incarnate Word, asked permission and, as it were, the consent of God, to resist and contradict the dragon, and the permission was granted. But also another mystery was concealed in all this: When it was revealed to the angels that they would have to obey the Incarnate Word, another, a third precept was given them, namely, that they were to admit as a superior conjointly with Him, a Woman, in whose womb the Only-begotten of the Father was to assume flesh and that this Woman was to be the Queen and Mistress of all the creatures. The good Angels by obeying this command of the Lord, with still increasing and more alert humility, freely subjected themselves, praising the power and the mysteries of the Most High. Lucifer, however, and his confederates, rose to a higher pitch of pride and boastful insolence. In disorderly fury he aspired to be himself the head of all the human race and of the angelic orders, and if there was to be a hypostatic union, he demanded that it be consummated in him. (n.90)
The decree constituting him inferior to the Mother of the Incarnate Word, our Mistress, he opposed with horrible blasphemies. Turning against the Author of these great wonders in unbridled indignation and calling upon the other angels, he exhorted them, saying: “Unjust are these commands and injury is done to my greatness; this human nature which Thou, Lord, lookest upon with so much love and which Thou favorest so highly, I will persecute and destroy. To this end I will direct all my power and all my aspirations. And this Woman, Mother of the Word, I will hurl from the position in which Thou hast proposed to place her, and at my hands, the plan, which Thou settest up, shall come to naught” (n.91)
This description of the Venerable certainly sheds light on the nefarious pride of Lucifer and discloses why he wanders about the world like a roaring lion seeking to devour souls (cf. 1 Pt 5:8). He loves himself in such a disorderly fashion that he cannot support anyone being above him, not even Christ or His Mother. In us, frail human beings, he sees an image of Christ and since he could not thwart the Incarnation he seeks to at least thwart its fruits in us. Destroying souls redeemed by Christ is, as it were, his diabolical way of “getting even” with God.
At this point, the Venerable narrates, God told Lucifer that the very Woman he refused to honor would crush his head (cf. Gen 3:15) and that if he brought death into the world this same Woman, in her humility, would offer the remedy in her Son. The test of the angels, according to the Venerable, concludes as follows:
The Almighty at this conjuncture worked another wonderful mystery. Having given to all the angels a sufficiently clear intelligence of the great mystery of the hypostatic union, He showed them the image of the most holy Virgin by means of an imaginary vision (I speak here according to our way of understanding such things). They were shown the perfection of the human nature in the revelation of an image representing a most perfect Woman, in whom the almighty arm of the Most High would work more wonderfully than in all the rest of the creatures. For therein He was to deposit the graces and gifts of His right hand in a higher and more eminent manner. This sign or vision of the Queen of Heaven and of the Mother of the Incarnate Word was made known and manifest to all the angels, good and bad. The good ones at the sign of it broke forth in admiration and in canticles of praise and from that time on began to defnd the honor of the God incarnate and of His holy Mother, being armed with ardent zeal and with the invincible shield of that vision. The dragon and his allies on the contrary conceived implacable hatred and fury against Christ and His most holy Mother. Then happened all that which is described in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, which I will explain, as far as it has been given me, in the following chapter. (n.93)
Certainly no theatrical drama can compare to the reality of these events! Angels and men alike will only find their salvation if they say, led by the Holy Spirit, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk 1:42). Indeed the Incarnation is at the center of God’s creation and we must believe in Christ Jesus if we are to be saved. The test of the angels is also our test. In Christ and His Church there is eternal salvation; outside of Christ and His Church there is eternal damnation. May the Mother of God and our Guardian Angel assist us to respond in love, humility and gratitude for the gift we have received in Jesus. “I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith” (Ph 3:8-9).