The first term of the academic year is called the Michaelmas Term. Michaelmas is another name for the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, which is celebrated on the 29th September, just before the term starts.
Angels appear in the Bible as heavenly creatures, worshipping in heaven and sent to do God’s work on earth. Angels watch over us, Jesus tells us. These mysterious and wonderful creatures thus challenge our tidy notions that we have got it taped, that we understand everything. That is a very appropriate thought with which to begin the academic year, since we are here to learn. There is always something more, always something we don’t yet understand.
Like angels, dreams take us beyond what we securely know. Freud tells us that dreams tell us things about our subconscious desires and fears, things that our waking selves cannot consciously face up to, but which nevertheless have a powerful effect on how our lives go. It is no accident that often in the Bible angels appear in dreams.
Indeed, this College, Emmanuel, gets its name from such a dream. At the beginning of St Matthew’s gospel an angel appears to reassure Joseph about the coming birth. He (or she) quotes from Isaiah … a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." The word ‘angel’ is based on the Greek word for messenger , but in general we can say that angels appear in the Bible as personifications of the presence and action of God.
And although the raw material for belief in angels is clearly deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition, there are clear foreign influences as well. So angels also pull us up short when we might be tempted to over-literalism in our faith. Angels are colourful and beloved by artists. But in its more elaborate forms particularly, belief in angels has to be approached with, shall we say, a generous spirit, if not taken with a pinch of salt. There appears to be no sharp line between literal belief and the language of metaphor and picture.