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The Catholic Belief in a Guardian Angel

Like Catholics, Protestants also believe in the existence of angels. They likewise believe that angels are often given the task of ministering to the needs of the faithful (Heb 1:14). But the belief that every human being has a personal guardian angel, specially assigned by God to watch over him “from infancy to death,” is not merely a pious or popular Catholic belief. It is official Catholic teaching:

From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. - Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 336.

Where did this Catholic belief come from? Sacred Tradition!


Scriptural Basis

The doctrine that everyone has a personal guardian angel is also found in the Bible, though it is not explicitly stated. In St. Matthew's Gospel, Christ said, "See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt 18:10). Notice how Christ said that their angels always see the face of His Father, which means that because they stand continually in the presence of God, they also have continual access to Him. If the person or child under its watchful care needs help, the guardian angel can immediately plead with the Father on his or her behalf.

Guardian Angel

Oil Painting by Domenichino (1581-1641)

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The Teaching of the Fathers

The Bible may not have been very explicit in saying that everyone has a guardian angel, but that has been the understanding and faith of the Church Fathers. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Jerome (a Father of the Church) as saying that souls are so precious "that each from its birth has an Angel set in charge over it!” (Catena Aurea: Matthew, Ch. 18:10–14) Writing in the third century, St. Methodius of Olympus (another Father of the Church) also said that everyone, including those who are born of adulterous parents, receives a guardian angel at birth:

'Whence, also, we have received from the inspired writings, that those who are begotten, even though it be in adultery, are committed to guardian angels." St. Methodius, Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse II, Ch. 6.

The idea that only those who have been baptized have guardian angels might have been the view of some early Christians, but it was never taught by the Church. According to the Church, everyone, not just baptized Christians, has a guardian angel from birth. This teaching is also based on Holy Scripture. For Christ’s words in St. Matthew’s Gospel were addressed to the Jews, whose children were yet unbaptized. This implies that baptism is not necessary for receiving angelic protection and that children receive their guardian angels at birth. St. Thomas Aquinas explained this in his Summa Theologiae, Part I, Q. 113, Art. 4.

There had been some speculation among theologians about whether babies receive their guardian angels at birth or at the moment of conception. St. Anselm held the latter view because he did not think that God would allow a child to be without a guardian angel from the time it was conceived until it was born. But St. Thomas Aquinas made the point that, prior to their birth, babies are not necessarily without protection because they are under the care of their mother's guardian angels. See his Reply to Obj. 3 in the work cited above.

Paintings by celebrated artists often depict guardian angels protecting children. This has led many people to think that guardian angels merely protect little children. But the Church Fathers did not think so. In his Oration and Panegyric Addressed to Origen, Argument 4, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus claimed that his guardian angel protected him until adulthood. In the literature of the world, there is also a belief that our guardian angel is matched by a personal demon who constantly seeks our damnation. This idea is reflected, for instance, in Christopher Marlowe's play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (pp. 34–35 and others), where Doctor Faustus is portrayed as receiving competing advice from his guardian angel and his demon. 

Many people also think that guardian angels protect individual souls only. Yet we know from St. John the Evangelist that each church or community of believers also has its own guardian angel (Rev 1:20), a teaching repeated by St. Gregory Nazianzen in Oration 42, No. 9. Now, if each church has a guardian angel appointed by God to watch it, then it has become many Catholics’ pious belief that, in his special love for us, it is probable that God also appointed a guardian angel to watch entire cities, countries, and nations. St. Clement of Alexandria says that "regiments of angels are distributed over the nations and cities" (in Stromata, Book VI, Ch. 17). St. Basil agrees, saying, “Just as all the angels share a single designation, so too they share a nature that is absolutely the same. Yet some of them preside over the nations, whereas others accompany each individual believer” (Against Eunomius, III, 1, p. 186).

Prayer to Our Guardian Angel

Seeing how our Guardian Angel protects us, it is fitting that we pray to them daily and occasionally throughout the day. There is a short prayer to the Guardian Angel that is granted a partial indulgence by the Church, which may be found in the Enchiridion of Indulgences, 1999:

"Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom his love entrusts me here, enlighten and guard, rule and guide me. Amen." (Grants #18, p. 52)

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