Angels were created long ago, before the earth existed. When God created the earth, the angels began singing in applause. —Job 38:4-7.
What is the purpose of angels and the extent of their powers? Angels serve as messengers of God (the word angel is derived from the Greek angelos meaning messenger). Angels can speak, sing, play musical instruments and dance but they are not omnipresent, omniscient or omnipotent and are not meant to be worshiped by us mortals.
Do angels have names and free will? The Bible only names the four Archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. Other angels have names too, but they chose not to reveal them; all angels have the freedom to choose between right and wrong . . . those who chose wrong joined Lucifer who, in his rebellion, became the first fallen angel.
Do angels have feelings? Angels experience emotions such as joy and longing but do not marry; in western art they are depicted as ageless and having a gender (baby angels — putti — are a bit different and we will discover more about them around St. Valentine’s Day).
How many angels are there? The Bible does not state an exact number, but it attests to their vast number. In a vision the apostle John caught a glimpse of “hundreds of millions of angels.”
May this holiday season bring you peace, good tidings and great joy.
Buon Natale, Felice Hanukkah e Felice Anno Nuovo!!!
An elegant gondola with its striped-shirt gondolier plying one of Venice’s 177 canals, silently gliding beneath one of its 450 stone bridges. Extravagant carnival masks … simultaneously concealing their wearers’ identities and projecting fantasies. Blown glass … dizzying bouquets of translucent color magically forged from sand. Or, perhaps that architectural confection that feels more like an imagined Xanadu than an inhabited city. No other place on the planet conjures such images! The novelist Thomas Mann called Venice “the most improbable of cities” … and all on a piece of real estate just two times the size of Central Park.
La Serenissima, long may you float. The world’s prayers are with you.
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With ghosts and goblins everywhere and Halloween just around the corner, I figured it’s a great time to talk about one of my favorite motifs in art: memento mori. Memento mori is Latin for “remember death.” The phrase is believed to have originated from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would stand behind a victorious general as he paraded through the streets; as the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in his ear: “Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!” . . . “Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”
We moderns don’t like to think too much about death unless treated more as a camp statement of style, but for those living in antiquity all the way up to the beginning of the 20th century, death was seen as a motivator to live a virtuous life. To help reflect on this, artists created paintings, sculptures and mosaics depicting skulls, skeletons and other symbols of death to encourage contemplation on how you live your life. Romans also used the phrase memento mori to remind one another of the brevity of life, and that death makes us all equal . . . and to remember to live life and each day to its fullest. By honoring death, you thus honor life. The flip of Memento Mori is Carpe Diem … seize the day. Rejoice, and be glad in it!