Ask a Priest – Do Angels have Free Will?

13 Dec 2013

Dec 13, 2013

The Angels in Heaven are always obedient to God. So does this mean that they do not have free will?

A spiritual nature by definition has the capacity of free will. We can also see that they did have free will by the fact that some chose to rebel against God and others chose to remain faithful.

“For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment;”

This quote from 2Peter 2:4 refers to some of the angels sinning. If they did not have free will then they could not have sinned, because one of the requirements to sin is that it is a free choice to reject God.

As you can read here, in article 3, Aquinas defends the proposition that angels have free will.

Yet, the matter is not so straightforward. In his book “The Angels in Catholic Teaching and Tradition,” Fr. Pascale Parente refers to the opinion that there was a time when angels were in a time of probation, when they could choose to accept or reject God. So, he explains:

“Being entirely free from apssions and all sensitive appetites, the act of the Angelic will is determined exclusively by the Angelic mind with a decison and a firmness that are final and admit of no reverse. It was exactly this quality that made the fallen Angels incapable of conversion and repentance. For an Angel to sin – at the time of their probation when they were still free to do so – is to assume an immutable attitude against God, an aversion that will never end.” (p. 36)

Then, he goes on to explain:

“Once established in grace and admitted to the Beatific Vision, the Angelic will, not less than the human will, can no longer choose between good and evil. The choice it has made of the Good is now an eternal choice. In the eternal possession of the Supreme Good they can still choose what they please, but their choice is always guided by the love of the Supreme Being and is only a choice between good and better.” (p. 37)

Therefore, the situation of the Angels is similar to what will be the situation of those humans who after their judgment and being in Heaven will be. Could a human in Heaven rebel against God? I recommend this explanation by Fr. William Saunders.

As he notes, we are dealing with matters that are difficult to explain or understand. He goes on to say that:

“Therefore, while we retain our free will in heaven, we naturally choose to love the Lord. Now it would be contrary to who we are to choose to sin and thereby to reject this perfect life, truth and love that is God. For example, an eighth grade student asked me once, “Can God murder someone?” “God could because He can do all things,” I replied. “But God would not because to murder is evil and to do evil would be against His all-good nature.” Likewise, in the original question, “Is it possible, but not probable at all because of the beatitude we share in heaven with God.”

Regarding Angels he said:

“However, if these angels were in heaven, why would they rebel against God? Both Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110) and Clement of Alexandria (d. 211) speculated that at the beginning, the angels did not possess the full beatitude of heaven. Instead, they underwent a period of trial and those that made the choice to serve and to love the Lord and to remain faithful to Him attained the full happiness of heaven, whereas those that rebelled were cast into hell.”

Which is the conclusion that Aquinas arrived to Q.62, article 8:

“I answer that, The beatified angels cannot sin. The reason for this is, because their beatitude consists in seeing God through His essence. Now, God’s essence is the very essence of goodness. Consequently the angel beholding God is disposed towards God in the same way as anyone else not seeing God is to the common form of goodness. Now it is impossible for any man either to will or to do anything except aiming at what is good; or for him to wish to turn away from good precisely as such. Therefore the beatified angel can neither will nor act, except as aiming towards God. Now whoever wills or acts in this manner cannot sin. Consequently the beatified angel cannot sin.”

Therefore, yes, Angels do have free will, but after the initial choice they make to accept God then they will not choose evil, so their choice is always for the good.