Appeared in Winter 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 4
Here is a famous saying of the twelfth-century theologian, Hugh of St. Victor:
When we cannot have complete certainty in a given matter, it is better not to push our inquiry too far. If ignorance is not a fault, presumption is.2
When it comes to understanding the angels by reason, and by pondering the Catholic Faith (as found in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition), we are trying to understand a world beyond our comprehension, because angels live outside of time and space. Therefore, both the theologian and the artist are in constant tension: while the former tries to explain something of these immaterial beings by stripping away material contexts of human knowing, the artist makes them very material-looking, in part because angels normally assume human forms of a masculine nature in the Old and New testaments.3
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