Every one of us has two guardian angels, a good one encouraging, and a bad one tempting – patristic sources

Via Twitter I learn of this fascinating statement by Prof. Tom Ward:

I just learned through Peter Lombard (Sent II.XI) that Gregory of Nyssa and Origen thought that each human soul not only has a (good) guardian angel, but a (bad) tempting angel (=demon). I’d always thought this was just a cartoon thing.

I enquired about the source:

… the translator of Lombard (Silano), offers only this: “Gregory of Nyssa, De vita Moysi, following Origen, In Lucas, hom.12.”

Let’s look up the sources.  It’s good to have this here, since material is disappearing from twitter all the time at the moment.

Gary Hartenburg looked at the Gregory of Nyssa reference:

Gregory of Nyssa: there is a trustworthy teaching from the tradition that after the fall, God “appointed an angel with an incorporeal nature to help in the life of each person and…he also appointed the corrupter who, by an evil and maleficent demon, afflicts the life of man” (bk. 2, ¶45).

That’s from The Life of Moses, trans. Malherbe and Ferguson; p.165 n71 has a number of further references.

That footnote reads:

… The guardian angel is already in Hermas, Vis. 5.1-4. See Danielou, The Angels and their Mission according to the Fathers of the Church (Westminster, Md., 1957), pp. 68-82. The “two spirits” is in Hermas Mand. 5.1.1-4, Rabbinic speculation (G.F. Moore, Judaism, 1, pp. 479-493), the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QS 3-4); cf. the angels of God and of Satan in Barnabas 18. Philo, Quaes. Ex. 1.23, states, “Into every soul at its very birth there enter two powers, the salutary and the destructive.” See article on “Demon,” Dict. Spir. 3: 160-168.

However these references do not seem very relevant to our question of two angels, and neither of the Hermas references is relevant.

The Origen, Homilies on Luke, homily 12, (FOC translation by Thomas Scheck) reads:

4. It was indeed a great joy to these shepherds, to whom the care of men and provinces had been entrusted, that Christ had come into the world. The angel who administer ed the affairs of Egypt received a considerable advantage after the Lord came down from heaven, for the Egyptians could become Christians. It profited all who governed the various provinces, for example, the guardian of Macedonia, the guardian of Achaea. and the guardians of the other regions. It is not right to believe that wicked angels govern individual provinces, and good angels do not have the same provinces and regions entrusted to them. I think that what Scripture says about individual provinces should also be believed more generally about all people. Two angels attend each human being.  One is an angel of justice, the other an angel of iniquity.13 If good thoughts are present in our hearts and justice springs up in our souls, the angel of the Lord is undoubtedly speaking to us. But. if evil thoughts turn over in our hearts, the devil’s angel is speaking to us. Just as there are two angels for individuals. so. I believe, there are different angels in individual provinces, some good and some evil.

5. For example, very wicked angels kept watch over Ephesus, on account of the sinners who lived in that city. But, because there were many believers in that city, there was also a good angel for the church of the Ephesians. What we have said about Ephesus should be applied to all the provinces. Before the coming of the Lord and Savior, those angels could bring little benefit to those entrusted to them, and their efforts were not powerful enough to bring about success. What indicates that they were hardly able to help those under their charge? Listen to what we say.14 When the angel of the Egyptians was helping the Egyptians, hardly one proselyte came to believe in God. And this took place when an angel was administering the Egyptians.

In the same text, homily 35 contains this:

3.  I have to touch on some more hidden matters, that we might understand that the adversary is of one sort, while the three other persons—that is, the ruler, the judge, and the debt collector—are of another sort.  We read that the angel of justice and the angel of iniquity argued about Abraham’s salvation and his loss, as each of the camps wished to claim him for itself.  The condition is. of course, that someone should be willing to accept a writing of this kind.7

But. if it displeases anyone, he should go to the book entitled The Shepherd.  There he will find that two angels are present to every man: a wicked angel, who exhorts him to wrongdoing: and a good angel, who urges him to do everything good.8   Elsewhere, too. it is recorded that two angels attend a man. for good and for evil. The Savior, too, mentions the good angels when he says, “Their angels always see the face of my Father, who is in heaven.”9

You should also ask whether the angels of those who are little children in the Church “always see the Father’s face,” while others’ angels do not have the liberty to behold the Father’s face. For, we cannot hope that everyone’s angel always sees “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  If I am in the Church, no matter how very little I am, my angel enjoys the liberty and the trust always to see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”10

4. But. if I am an outsider, and not a member of that Church “that has neither spot nor wrinkle, nor anything of that sort.” and the facts prove that I am not a member of such a congregation, then my angel does not enjoy the trust of beholding “the face of the Father, who is in heaven.”  For this reason the angels care for good people. They know that, if they guide us well and lead us to salvation, they too will enjoy the trust of seeing the Father’s face. If salvation is secured for men by their care and diligence, they always behold the Father’s face. So too, if someone perishes through their negligence, they realize that the matter is a danger to them.

A good bishop, the best steward of a church knows that, if the sheep of the flock entrusted to him are kept guarded, it is because of his meritorious service and virtue. Realize that the same is true of the angels.  If someone who was entrusted to an angel sins, the angel is disgraced. And the opposite is also true. If someone entrusted to an angel, even the least person in the Church, makes progress, it redounds to the angel’s glory. For, they will see “the face of the Father, who is in heaven,” not sometimes, but “always.”  Other angels never see it. For, according to the merit of those whose angels they are, the angels will contemplate the face of God either always or never, little or much. God has clear and certain knowledge of this matter. So does someone found to be instructed by Christ, rare as that is.

7. See J. T. Milik, “4 Q Visions de ‘Amram et une citation d’Origene,” Revue Biblique 79 (1972) 77-97, who studied an apocryphal writing from Qumran on Amram, the father of Moses and Aaron.  Milik believes that the text was translated into Greek and read by Origen, who alludes to it here. Hence “Abraham” is an incorrect reading for “Amram.”

8. Cf. Homily 12.4-6 and Hermas, Shepherd 36.2-10.

Which is certainly an interesting point of view!  Some of it is clearly coming from apocryphal literature.  But let’s look at the references to the Shepherd of Hermas.  A number of English translations are at the Early Christian Sources Project, here.  I’ve chosen the Synder translation.

Here’s Mandate 6, chapter 2 (= Shepherd, 36) (online here):

The two angels in man (36:1-10)

Mandate 6, Chapter 2

36.1. “Now hear,” he said, “about faith. There are two angels with man, one of righteousness and one of evil.” 2. “How then, sir,” I said, “will I know their powers, since both angels live with me?”

3. “Listen,” he said, “and understand. The angel of righteousness is delicate and modest and meek and quiet. So whenever this one rises up in your heart, he speaks with you at once concerning righteousness, sincerity, reverence, contentment, and every righteous deed, and every glorious virtue. Whenever all these things come up in your heart, know that the angel of righteousness is with you. So these are the works of the angel of righteousness. So trust this one and his works.

4. Now observe the works of the evil angel. First of all, he is ill tempered and bitter and foolish, and his works are evil, destroying the servants of God. So whenever this one comes into your heart, know him by his works” [cf. Matt. 7:16].

5. “Sir,” I said, “I do not understand how I will recognize him.” “Listen,” he said. “Whenever ill temper or bitterness comes over you, know that he is in you; then comes the desire for many affairs and the extravagance of many kinds of foods and intoxicating drinks, much carousing and various and unnecessary indulgences and desires for women, and covetousness and great arrogance and pretention and whatever things resemble and are similar to them. So whenever these things come to your heart, know that the angel of evil is in you.

6. So when you recognize his works, shun him and do not trust him, for his works are evil and harmful to the servants of God. Here you have the powers of both angels; understand them and trust the angel of righteousness. 7. But shun the angel of evil, because his teaching is evil in every case. For if any man is faithful and the thought of that angel comes to his heart, that man or woman will surely commit a sin. 8. But again, even if a man or a woman is very wicked, and there comes to his heart the deeds of the angel of righteousness, of a necessity he will surely do something good.

9. So you see,” he said, “that it is good to follow the angel of righteousness, to bid farewell to the angel of evil. 10. This commandment shows things concerning faith, so that you might believe the works of the angel of righteousness, and by doing them live to God, but believe that the works of the angel of evil are bad, so by not doing them you will live to God.”

Whoever knew that this cartoon trope goes all the way back to Hermas; indeed probably earlier?