WEEDING out some myths surrounding Christmas, a man who apparently knows a great deal about these things has thrown the nativity scene industry into a bit of tailspin by saying that an ox and a donkey weren’t present when Jesus popped out of the “Virgin” Mary’s womb.
Nor, said Pope Ratzinger, were any other beasts present. And in a blow to those who believe that the angels belted out the arrival of the baby Jesus in song, Ratzi said that while angels did descend to tell shepherds the “son of God” was lying in a manger nearby, they spoke, rather than harmonised.
In his latest book – Jesus of Nazareth: The
Infantile Infancy Narratives, just out in time for Christmas – the Pope does concede:
Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present.
Commenting in a beautifully written piece in The Observer yesterday, Tim Adams said the Pope’s pronouncement:
Goes to prove the point that there is no fun in being infallible if you can’t also be pedantic.
And he adds:
For most of us, I guess, such papal revisionism won’t result in too much seasonal anxiety beyond perhaps a momentary pause should we come to belt out ‘hark the herald angels sing!’ at a carol service. If they can’t even agree on that bit, you might wonder, where does it leave all the rest?
Adams’ observation is contained in an interview with a 58-year-old Irish widow and mother of four named Lorna Byrne, whose latest book, A Message of Hope from the Angels, has just been published.
Adams first points out that a large proportion of British people believe that angels – “whether singing or speaking”– actually exist.
In the most recent survey of opinion on such matters conducted by ICM for the Bible Society in 2010, 31 percent of the population professed a clear belief in angels, only 51 percent said they did not believe, and 17 percent were unsure.
This concurred with a YouGov inquiry asking the same questions in 2004, suggesting that heavenly minions were essentially recession-proof. The ICM survey found that belief was higher among British women (41 percent) than men (23 percent), slightly more common among over-45s than those aged 18 to 44, and more prevalent in London, where 40 percent of people of all creeds professed a faith in angels, than elsewhere.
Since she brought out her first memoir, Angels in My Hair, four years ago Byrne has sold well over half a million books in 50 countries with books translated into 27 languages, including Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. Websites and chat rooms abound, creating a burgeoning industry for other angel watchers.
In her latest book Byrne makes the point that Christmas is a particularly busy time for angel watchers.
In November they [the angels] all arrive with their little balls of light. I see them coming down as if down a hillside or a mountain.
Has she seen the Angel Gabriel?
He is an odd angel. Very beautiful. I never knew it was him, because he would often be there dressed as a biker …
As a biker?
Yes, something like that. I always wanted to reach up and touch his face. Would I say he is more incredible-looking than Michael the Archangel? I would have to say yes.
Before they parted company, Byrne identified Adams’ “guardian angel”:
Your guardian angel is giving a male appearance, really strong. He is standing about three feet behind you but enfolding you. And the cloak is this beautiful green and I smiled at him because he is showing me the emeralds all embedded in it. He just showed partially his wings, a fleeting appearance, but very wonderful, not feathers or silk, more like the air, and alive. Very alive. He won’t let you down …
Adams remains a sceptic:
My own faith in angelic intervention in worldly affairs has never extended beyond an annual, and generally tearful, family homage to the bumbling Clarence who saves Jimmy Stewart from despair and suicide and wins his wings in It’s a Wonderful Life; which is to say I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in Frank Capra.
Angel Agent Cormac