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Inability of Satan and his angels to repent?


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#1 Mikael Oz

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 11:22 AM

Dear Readers,

I wonder if you could help me with identifying an argument I have come across in an 7th/8th century manuscript which was produced by a Syrian Orthodox patr? He argues that Satan and his angels (demons) had the opportunity to repent from the time of their fall until the crucifixion of Christ. After, Christ's crucifixion, they no longer can repent, but they have become inheritors of hell. And, kingdom and hell are not 2 creations, but hell is a support of the kingdom. Hell is there for man to fear it so that he will repent and aim at good deeds to be worthy kingdom of heaven.

Now, I wonder which early church fathers are for this idea? if you have come across any church fathers who discuss similar issues in Syriac/Aramaic. Or, Greek texts which were translated into Syriac in the 4th-7th century. I would really appreciate if you could help me by e-mailing me the authours and the name of their texts. Thank you...

#2 Darren

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 10:05 PM

I was recently watching a program with a priest called Father Mitch Pacwa, and someone asked him a question about something he had previously said about angels sinning.

If i remember correctly he said angels are not like people in that once they have decided to turn away from God they can change their minds. In the same way the angels who chose to remain loyal to God cannot change their minds, something like that.

#3 Moses Ibrahim

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 10:16 PM

I was recently watching a program with a priest called Father Mitch Pacwa, and someone asked him a question about something he had previously said about angels sinning.

If i remember correctly he said angels are not like people in that once they have decided to turn away from God they can change their minds. In the same way the angels who chose to remain loyal to God cannot change their minds, something like that.


This is not what the Orthodox Church believes. On the contrary, the Orthodox Church believes that the angels can repent yet they do not chose to do so of their own will, or should I say because of their majestic pride. There are many stories and one such story told by Elder Paisios of a monk who implored God to save Satan. The demon was making funny faces and mocking a monk who prayed to God to save the devil and his demons. The monk realized that God would save the devil if only the devil and his demons would repent. Yet the devil being willfully blinded by his satanic level of pride has chosen to continue his rebellious act against God.

#4 Father David Moser

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 10:59 PM

This is not what the Orthodox Church believes. On the contrary, the Orthodox Church believes that the angels can repent yet they do not chose to do so of their own will, or should I say because of their majestic pride.


That's not what I'm seeing in St John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of The Orthodox Faith; Book 2; Chapters 3 & 4)

Speaking of angels, he says:

The angel's nature then in rational and intelligent, and endowed with free will, changeable in will, or fickle. For all that is created is changeable and only that which is uncreated is unchangeable. All all that is rational is endowed with free-will. As it is then, rational and intelligent, it is endowed with free-will: and as it is created, it is changeable, having either the power to abide or progress in goodness, or to turn towards evil.

It is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance.


And then speaking of the devil and demons he says:

Note further, that what in the case of man is death is a fall in the case of angels. For after the fall there is no possibility of repentance for them, just as after death there is for men no repentance.


This then would indicate that the demons cannot repent. The angelic hosts are changeable in that they were created in harmony with God, but they can depart and turn away from that (although St John says that this is difficult). Having changed, however, it seems that they are not able to change back (that is repent) as they are incorporeal (the capacity of man for repentance it seems is the consequence of his having a corporeal body).

Fr David Moser

Edited by Father David Moser, 08 February 2008 - 11:13 PM.
typos


#5 Moses Ibrahim

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Posted 08 February 2008 - 11:57 PM

That's not what I'm seeing in St John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of The Orthodox Faith; Book 2; Chapters 3 & 4)

Speaking of angels, he says:


And then speaking of the devil and demons he says:


This then would indicate that the demons cannot repent. The angelic hosts are changeable in that they were created in harmony with God, but they can depart and turn away from that (although St John says that this is difficult). Having changed, however, it seems that they are not able to change back (that is repent) as they are incorporeal (the capacity of man for repentance it seems is the consequence of his having a corporeal body).

Fr David Moser


Fascinating... thank you for this post, according to the Greek Elders I was under the impression that they could repent yet they wouldn't do it.

I would also like to mention here Father, since this issue has been brought up. In the book, A Night On the Holy Mountain by Metropolitan Heirotheos Nafpaktos the monks are clearly praying for the devil and his demons. Why would they do this if it is clearly stated in St. John of Damascus's work that the incorporeal beings cannot repent? And just another quick question, did a lot of the Holy Fathers agree with St. John of Damascus or were there a few who agreed, or was St. John the only one who believed so? Thank you Father and forgive my ignorance.

Your blessing!

Edited by Moses Ibrahim, 09 February 2008 - 12:13 AM.


#6 Nina

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Posted 09 February 2008 - 12:38 PM

I might be wrong but from what I know, fallen angels can not repent. Fathers pray for them out of love. Because divine love knows no boundaries. However fallen angels can not repent.

The moment when Satan fell was a moment of test for all of the angels and those who fell, remain fallen. Those who did not fall can not fall. At the moment of fall of Satan, Archangels Michael took leadership and said the beautiful expressions we also say during Holy Liturgy:

Over all the Nine Ranks, the Lord put the Holy Archangel and Leader Michael (his name in translation from the Hebrew means "who is like unto God") -- a faithful servitor of God, wherein he hurled down from Heaven the arrogantly proud day-star Lucifer together with the other fallen spirits. And to the remaining Angelic powers he cried out, "Let us attend! Let us stand aright before our Creator and not ponder that which is displeasing unto God!" According to Church tradition, in the church service to the Archangel Michael concerning him, he participated in many other Old Testament events. Fr. Stephen Janos



#7 Mikael Oz

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Posted 10 February 2008 - 09:43 AM

I might be wrong but from what I know, fallen angels can not repent. Fathers pray for them out of love. Because divine love knows no boundaries. However fallen angels can not repent.

The moment when Satan fell was a moment of test for all of the angels and those who fell, remain fallen. Those who did not fall can not fall. At the moment of fall of Satan, Archangels Michael took leadership and said the beautiful expressions we also say during Holy Liturgy:



You are right. Accordig to most of the fathers, the angels were created with freedom. However, since they chose evil, it has been sowed in their nature to repent. This is why the argument I have listed is uniqe and I can not find it anywhere else. Nevertheless Issac the Syrian, believes the Hell is temporarily. This is to say, the evil will go to Hell, and be tortured/punished, but subsequently they will progress, and everybody will be at the same level in Kingdom, due to God's mercy. Could you please only answer if you have seen anything similar to the first argument!! Thanks..

#8 Antonios

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Posted 11 February 2008 - 05:51 AM

Dear Mikael,

Welcome to the forum! I wish I could give you the answer you are looking for, but I unfortunately, have other questions instead!

Which Syrian Orthodox patriarch wrote the statements you refer to in your opening post? I find what you wrote about hell being a supporter of the kingdom (of which I assume to be the kingdom of heaven) as well as it's design to act as a deterrent through the emotion of fear as something slightly different from my own understandings, as lacking as they are. You write that these writings are from the 7th/8th century?

Also, your last statement of St. Isaac's belief regarding a universal salvation, I believe, is not maintained by the majority witness of the Church. It is something I do recall having been alluded to by various Patristic sources, (I believe Origen to be one of the them), and while it is not something outside the power of God if He wills it, I think the overwhelming consensus is that it is a mystery.

In regards to the fascinating discussion regarding whether fallen angels or demons or even satan can repent, I think the answer was given by the other contributors. They cannot repent, and this may be precisely why we can. Perhaps even this may tell us something about our own role in creation. Maybe this can give us insight into why mankind was created, and why God entered into creation, Himself assuming material matter.

Through His redeeming actions, when we align our will with His, we enter His kingdom and assume the uncreated energies of God. Lovingly, this is an eternal movement towards Him, in growing communion with Him. When we do not heed His commandments and willfully align to His will, which is the definition of actions of fallen angels, we do not partake of the divine nature, and rather retract further and further from His Light, an eternal estrangment, an ever-increasing movement away from Him, an unsleeping worm as it were.

The time we have to effect the steering of this movement is here and now, in this life, in this body, while our will is still free (free as in the patristic sense of the word). When our souls and bodies depart, we become slaves to our corrupt will and any chance of salvation from this self-induced banishment is in God's hands and in His mercy. This is why we pray for those who departed from this material world and we say have fallen asleep in the Lord. Because, in order to repent and freely align your will to God's, you must be awake.

In Christ,
Antonios

#9 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 11:46 PM

It is not susceptible of repentance because it is incorporeal. For it is owing to the weakness of his body that man comes to have repentance.


This brings to mind something I've thought about off and on for many years which may be very much beyond the pale...and off the wall.

First, consider the reprecosity of our bodies to creation. There is light and eyes to see it, air and lungs to breath, hunger and food that answers to that hunger. In short, our being corresponds to and has a living communion with the rest of creation. Our capacities and appetites correspond to our environment.

This being so then what capacity is being subverted when a man or an animal for that matter is possessed of an evil spirit? Why does this "vulnerability" even exist? It seems that it must have a "right use" a proper mode of corresponding with creation...or perhaps God...that is exploited by the demons (either one or a multitude) when a man opens himself to their influence in some significant way.

So with regard to the linkage that St. John makes between the possibility of repentance and corporeality it occurs to me that this "faculty" could presumably serve as a means of repentance for fallen angels either now (less likely) or in the age to come (safer). Thus if a fallen angel is willing by "possessing" a humble wise and holy someone who is willing to receive them then with that person serving as kind of "abbot" might not his body function as a "monastery" that would allow demons access to the corporality without which they cannot repent.

It may be just too bizarre an idea...but I wonder.

#10 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 09:13 PM

Dear Robert, you wrote:

So with regard to the linkage that St. John makes between the possibility of repentance and corporeality it occurs to me that this "faculty" could presumably serve as a means of repentance for fallen angels either now (less likely) or in the age to come (safer). Thus if a fallen angel is willing by "possessing" a humble wise and holy someone who is willing to receive them then with that person serving as kind of "abbot" might not his body function as a "monastery" that would allow demons access to the corporality without which they cannot repent.

It may be just too bizarre an idea...but I wonder.


I'll certainly need more time to absorb what you've posed!

As an aside in the meantime, it is a very ancient confession of the fathers, that transience is bound up in materiality. That is, creation has the tendency to move, whether toward right or wrong, because it is material, and therefore temporal. But the spiritual orders, which are immaterial, are not bound to time through matter. This allows Irenaeus to say that angels, for example, are in their 'full perfection', whereas humankind has to grow, since it is infantile (referring to its created state in Eden).

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#11 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 11:05 PM

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place? If one links the capacity for change to createdness then the assertion seems plausable to me (as if I actually knew anything), but to link it to immateriality raises more questions than it answers (again as if I actually knew anything). If created immateriality only admits one "change" then that too can be provisionally worked with.

It would seem then that a fallen angel who sought to repent would then (if possible) have to trade in one mode of existence for another...but this track looks like it could lead to wackyville very easily (though it might serve as grist for a couple of fine speculative fiction novels).

And I suppose all this speculating is as fine as far as it goes if it doesn't go too far, but right at the heart of the issue is this: something in us recoils from the idea that one once as glorious as one of God's angels can mess up so completely that there is no more hope for them...ever. While with us, even the worst of us, through the prayers of the Church and/or some holy elder still cling to a thread of hope for deliverance, at least until the Judgement. How does a heart that has learned to burn (or wants to) with love for all God's creation give up hope for any part of it as utterly and for all time beyond repentance and thus salvation?

Granted free will is part of the image of God. It is necessary for both angels and men to possess to be morally accountable. And some...men and angels will presumably make an eternal wrong use of that will. But that caveat does not answer the question that asks then how can/will those fallen beings find grace to become once more as they were created to be?

#12 Nina

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 11:07 PM

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place?


Because that was their test.

#13 M.C. Steenberg

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Posted 24 February 2008 - 11:13 PM

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place?


Because that was their test.


Though this comment doesn't at all respond to Robert's query. He raises a good question that deserves some good patristic exploration.

INXC, Dcn Matthew

#14 Darren

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 12:50 AM

I don't know if this makes sense, but we are all decended from Adam and Eve, and so Christ redeemed us all because we are from two original parents whos sin was to disobey God in the garden of Eden. We are all effected by this fall.

Angles existed before man kind, and they do not reproduce as mortals do. Therefore wouldn't that mean that each individual angel who chose to rebel against God is entirely responsible for their own sin of rebellion, and would need a personal redeemer?

Therefore wouldn't angels have known that there was no turning back once they had decided to rebel against God? Unlike Adam and Eve who were decieved, it could be argued that the fallen angels rebelled against God with full culpability of the consequences of their rebellion.

#15 Father David Moser

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 12:52 AM

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place?


The impression that I get from reading St John's chapters in the "Exposition" is that for angels, the change is kind of a one way thing - they can change, but cannot change back. If I can I'll go back and look at it some more, however, if I don't get the chance then I recommend St John of Damascus (Exact Exposition of The Orthodox Faith; Book 2; Chapters 3 & 4) as a starting point.

Fr David Moser

#16 Antonios

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 12:55 AM

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place?


Dear Robert,

Excellent question, to which I can not recall offhand the answer to from my limited readings of the Fathers. Being that the angels were created before the creation of the material cosmos, I wonder if this may be an attributable factor. God alone is Uncreated- the angles and the cosmos are not. In this, there is a commonality. So my wonder is, is there a connection between the point of creation of the material world and the fixed dispositions of the immaterial spiritual powers (i.e. angels)? Did the introduction of time in this plane of existence somehow affect or even possible limit the spiritual powers? Okay, now my head hurts...

In Christ,
Antonios

#17 Kornelius

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 03:03 AM

Please refer to the next post!

Edited by Kornelius, 25 February 2008 - 03:52 AM.


#18 Kornelius

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 03:30 AM

So with regard to the linkage that St. John makes between the possibility of repentance and corporeality it occurs to me that this "faculty" could presumably serve as a means of repentance for fallen angels either now (less likely) or in the age to come (safer). Thus if a fallen angel is willing by "possessing" a humble wise and holy someone who is willing to receive them then with that person serving as kind of "abbot" might not his body function as a "monastery" that would allow demons access to the corporality without which they cannot repent.


It seems to me from what you are saying, that you believe that fallen angels are at a disadvantage when it comes to repentance vis-a-vis humans by virtue of being incorporeal. Hence, you suggest for a possession to take place, with the corporal being of the saint being the channel toward their repentance. I will assume that this is what you believe and continue with my comment accordingly.

First of all my friend, incorporeity or lack thereof have nothing to do with repentance. Whether one has a corporal or incorporal existence, repentance is independant of either one, for it belongs to the spiritual realm, which brings us to the realization that we humans are indeed at a disadvatage vis-a-vis angels, for they are not bound to visible symbols in knowing God and participating in Him.

Dionysius the Aeropagate stated:

"Compared with the things that merely are, with irrational forms of life and indeed with our own rational natures, the holy ranks of heavenly beings are obviously superior in what they have received of God's largess. Their thinking processes imitate the divine. They look on the divine likeness with a transcendent eye. They model their intellects on Him. Hence it is natural for them to enter into a more generous communion with the Deity because they are forever marching toward the heights, because, as permitted, they are drawn to a concetration of an unfailing love for God, because they immaterially receive undiluted the original enlightenment, and because, ordered by such enlightenment, theirs is a life of total intelligence."

As you may see, the Aeropagate speaks of the two different modes of knowing God; for the angels is a direct knowledge, a comunication between spirit and spirit, whereas for us humans revelation happens by means of sensible forms. In other words, the angels, not only the holy resplendant ones, but also the fallen ones - since that time which is older than the creation of the world, a time of which St. Basil spoke of as supra-temporal, aeonic, eternal (yet not co-eternal with God) - have been in a special spiritual communion with God. Repentance although not yet necessary "activated" at the time before the angelic fall, it was potentially intrinsic part of the spiritual realm within the infinite wisdom of God. Who more than angels - who commune spirit to spirit with God - can have access to this spiritual virtue (repentance)!

Certainly, according to many holy fathers, Man still has a more privileged position overall, for God became human not angel, and He will sit on His throne in eternity having both the divine and human nature. Furthermore, angels were created to be ruled by the Creator, whereas Man was created to rule over the creation.

Finally, in light of the previously mentioned privileged position certain fathers attribute to Man, let us assume for the sake of argument, that incorporeity puts fallen angels at a disadvantage, i.e., when it comes to repenting. Saint Basil the Great speaks of a most "subtle" body belonging to the angels, that lets them perceive and influence the material world. Therefore, either way, the fallen angels have no excuse for not repenting that is linked to their existential being. The real reasons as St. Basil explains are: freedom of will, life of free choice, yet choosing alienation from God and pride, which cultivated an evil second nature in them.

With regard to the question of immateriality and changeableness, if angels being immaterial are somehow "fixed" in their dispositions, how then does one account for the fall of some of them in the first place?


Because that was their test.


The angels were not somehow "fixed" in their dispositions prior to the angelic fall. The holy angels, however, are forever fixed in their disposition, for as Nina says at the moment when they showed their steadfastness with Archangel Michael, that moment, the decision taken at that very moment was their test. Perhaps Nina's concise language caused confusion in the understanding of her response, but patristically she is correct.

Edited by Kornelius, 25 February 2008 - 04:01 AM.


#19 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 09:29 AM

First of all my friend, incorporeity or lack thereof have nothing to do with repentance.


Well this is part of what is in question since a previous poster quoted St. John of Damascus on just this point. My comments were a speculation predicated provisionally on the truth of St. John's statements...or at least his statements as presented and interpreted by the poster.

As for believing in a fallen angel needing to "possess" (with permission) someone in order to effect its own repentance...I do not believe this, but I have wondered about it especially in the light of what St. John says about repentance and incorporality and in light of the naked fact that in certain circumstances both men and beasts may be possess and wonder what this "capacity" both to possess or be possessed is. Granted when evil spirits are involved it is something perverse...but a thing perverted is only something created good put to an improper use....which raises the question what is the "right use" of the ability...why does it exist at all?

#20 Darren

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Posted 25 February 2008 - 11:28 AM

Well this is part of what is in question since a previous poster quoted St. John of Damascus on just this point. My comments were a speculation predicated provisionally on the truth of St. John's statements...or at least his statements as presented and interpreted by the poster.

As for believing in a fallen angel needing to "possess" (with permission) someone in order to effect its own repentance...I do not believe this, but I have wondered about it especially in the light of what St. John says about repentance and incorporality and in light of the naked fact that in certain circumstances both men and beasts may be possess and wonder what this "capacity" both to possess or be possessed is. Granted when evil spirits are involved it is something perverse...but a thing perverted is only something created good put to an improper use....which raises the question what is the "right use" of the ability...why does it exist at all?


Evil will often try and be the counterfeit of good. If it is Gods intention that our bodies should be indwelt with the Holy Spirit, then the opposite of this would be that evil wants our bodies to be possessed by a perverse spirit.




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