In Judeo-Christian tradition the scales of Saint Michael the Archangel measure souls for eternity, weighing justice & mercy for us but also justice & mercy from us.
In September 2010, when These Stone Walls was but a year old, I wrote a post that was to become one of the most-read posts of the last decade. I had no idea at the time that it would find readers year after year on six of the seven continents. (Is there no one reading TSW in Antarctica?) The post was “Angelic Justice: St. Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed.”
The last word of its title, “Hesed,” is a Hebrew term associated with two central tenets of salvation: Mercy and Righteousness. The story that post tells began within these stone walls and brought about a resurgence of interest in this Patron Saint of Justice. Over time, his Angelic Presence — his name means “who is like God” – has developed a seemingly mystical connection with this imprisonment.
This connection began with a simple gesture from a devout young man named Alberto Ramos. Sent to prison at age 14 for murder – a back-alley drug deal gone horribly wrong – Alberto was a psychology student of mine at age 18 in a prison program for college credit. Alberto also lived in the same prison unit as me. His painfully amazing story was told on These Stone Walls in “Why You Must Never Give Up Hope for Another Human Being.”
A startling thing happened after I wrote it. The mother of the young man who died in that Manchester, NH alley that night read it. Then she agonized over it. Then she had a conversion of heart, something she says she would not have thought possible after years of entrenched bitter resentment toward Alberto.
She forgave him, and wrote of her forgiveness in a moving comment on that post. She also decided to try to help him.
Mere words cannot capture the meaning of “Hesed” relative to the Scales of Saint Michael and the weighing of souls, but the mother of that murdered boy attained it as much as any human being can. A conversion of heart that sets aside bitterness to give way to mercy made her righteous in the eyes of the Lord.
Some of the images of Saint Michael with his scales depict Satan, even while subdued under his feet, reaching to tip the scales by stifling our ongoing conversion. The battleground of spiritual warfare is our very soul, and the battle is real.
One day Alberto walked into my cell carrying a card with a painting on it. He silently climbed up onto a concrete counter and taped the image above my door. “You need this here,” he said, “and you should never take it down.” It was a startling image depicting this scene from the Apocalypse:
- “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, ‘but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, the ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to Earth and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, ‘Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Anointed One, for the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who night and day accused them before God.’” (Revelations 12:7-10)
At the center of the painting was St. Michael the Archangel, sword in one hand and scales in the other, subduing Satan after a fierce battle. I asked Alberto why he thinks I need this. “Because you were falsely accused,” he said, “And you need his protection so you won’t be bitter and never trust anyone again.”
GUARDIAN OF THE COVENANT
Sometime later, Alberta was moved to another prison in another state, but I have for years pondered what he said. I did not include his warning about bitterness when I first wrote in “Angelic Justice” of his placing that image above my door. I am not certain why I left it out. But I have come to see that false witness is a powerful tipping of the scales in the measure of souls, and so is succumbing to bitterness. We are far more spiritually vulnerable than most of us realize.
In Jewish tradition, Saint Michael is one of the four angels who stand in the Presence of God. The Book of Daniel (12:1) also identifies Michael as “One who stands beside the sons of your people,” an allusion that he is the guardian of God’s chosen people. His name is mentioned in the Shema, a prayer from Hebrew tradition:
- “In the Name of the Lord God of Israel, on my right hand stands Michael, on my left, Gabriel, before me, Uriel, behind me, Raphael, and above me, the Divine Presence of Yahweh.”
Every mention of Michael in the Hebrew Scriptures identifies him as an advocate for Israel and therefore an advocate for the Covenant relationship with God. Advocate in that sense is used in the same manner that someone falsely accused of a crime might describe his defense attorney.
And Satan is presented as prosecutor. It is fascinating that in the Book of Revelations, the scene of Satan’s expulsion from heaven by Michael and his angels ends with a declaration: “The accuser of our brethren is cast out.” The offense for which Satan accuses us is something he himself is denied: a hope for salvation. In ancient traditions, Michael defends the righteous in the presence of Yahweh in our final judgment.
Like much of what I write at These Stone Walls my post “Cardinal Pell and I Are Judged Guilty for Being Accused” appeared on the professional social media site, Linkedln where it had hundreds of views. I rather like Linkedln even though I have never actually seen it. It’s a little tamer than some other social media platforms where the give and take can become overbearing.
So I was a little surprised when even at the venerable LinkedIn, MY rational and factual defense of Cardinal Pell ran into some pointed opposition. One writer who identified himself as “a practicing Catholic” wrote that Cardinal Pell is in prison where he belongs for “abusing children.” Several readers responded that the evidence does not support that claim. In my response, I wrote that his practice of Catholicism needs more practice.
The abuse crisis in the priesthood is a two-edged sword in seemingly equal measure. It is ‘a story of clerical corruption, but it is also a story of false witness. Clerical corruption has had ample play in the news media, and social media has been no exception. False witness, however, is grossly under-reported.
Also under-reported are the wonderful expressions of Catholic faith by people of real fidelity undaunted by the arena in which scandal plays out on the front page. A TSW reader just sent me a video link with a GTL message on my tablet. The 15-second video depicts a scene from the Eucharistic Congress that took place this month in the Diocese of Charlotte.
THE ORIGIN OF THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT
From the first signs of Satan’s pursuit of the hearts and souls of humankind, the Covenant conscripts us into Saint Michael’s battle against evil. The separation of light from darkness in the human relationship with God portrays Saint Michael as a warrior tasked with the protection and defense of human souls, and the preservation of the covenant.
Written contracts did not exist in the Hebrew society of our Old Testament. In their place, the spoken word had the authority of a signed contract. A blessing or curse was understood to follow the person to whom it was directed for all of his or her life. Spoken words were thus carefully considered.
The parties of a covenant were bound by mutual agreement with serious repercussions for those who violated its terms. God’s covenant with Abraham was seen in Jewish culture as the foundation of our relationship with Yahweh (For that story, see “The Feast of Corpus Christi and the Order of Melchizedek.”)
However, the covenant with Israel itself, the covenant that made Israel a people of Yahweh, was the Sinai Covenant in the Book of Exodus (19:1-ff). It made them a people because it set down ethical standards for being a people. The Covenant was set down in the stone tablets of the law, and had the authority of God’s Presence housed in the Ark of the Covenant.
One of these sacred tenets, the Eighth Commandment – “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” – is thought by both Jewish and legal scholars to have an unusual origin: Genesis, Chapter 39. When Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and taken down to Egypt, he was purchased as a slave by Potiphar, a high ranking officer of Pharaoh.
In the account in Genesis (39:6-21), Potiphar’s wife repeatedly pursued Joseph but he would not consent. In one episode, she tried to grab his garment, but he fled, tearing off a section of his garment in her hand. She later accused him of sexual assault using the garment as evidence against him.
For this, Joseph was unjustly imprisoned. Alan Dershowitz, a Jewish scholar and Emeritus Professor of Law at Harvard, addressed this in his book, Genesis of Justice (Warner Books, 2000):
- “The Ninth Commandment [Eighth in the Christian texts] – “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” – derives directly from Potiphar’s wife bearing false witness against Joseph and Joseph then bearing false witness – even as a pretense – against his brothers. [His brother] Yehuda’s desperate question, ‘How can we clear ourselves?’ is answered by this prohibition and the subsequent procedural safeguards that rest upon this Commandment.” (Genesis of Justice, p 250).
The subsequent procedural safeguards were laid out in the Books of Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus. The accusation of a single witness, without evidence or corroboration, could not result in a conviction. The testimony of a witness who had a financial stake in the outcome of a juridical trial could not be admitted as evidence against the accused. Today’s juridical proceedings have fallen far from these safeguards.
In both its active and passive forms, false witness was seen in the Covenant as a slayer of souls. Safeguards against it were implemented from the earliest days of Salvation History. In its active form, false witness was any testimony not based on absolute truth. In its passive form, it spreads through rumor, innuendo, and judgments based on bias and agendas instead of facts.
THE NECESSITY OF ALLIES IN SPIRITUAL WARFARE
It is because of the great danger to the soul that false witness poses that Saint Michael the Archangel took up his cosmic role, as described in the passage from the Book of Revelations above, to cast out the false accuser who no longer has a place in heaven.
Hebrew Scripture and tradition was not unique in this concept. Egyptian mythology depicts a rite in the underworld in which the heart of the deceased was weighed on a set of scales against a “truth feather.” If the heart was heavy with falsehood and false witness, it could not pass on to paradise.
The grave effect of false witness on the person accused, on the souls of accusers, and on the Covenant with God is reflected throughout Sacred Scripture as evidenced in just this partial sampling of passages:
- Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Exodus 23 1-2 “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing to bear witness in a lawsuit.”
- Exodus 23:6-7 “You shall not pervert justice. Keep far from a false charge. Do not kill the innocent or those in the right for I will not acquit the guilty.”
- Deuteronomy 5:20 “Neither will you bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Deuteronomy 19:18 “If the witness is a false witness, having testified falsely against another, then [the judge] shall do to that witness what he intended to do to the other. So shall you purge the evil from your midst.”
- Psalm 27:12-[This is one many priests could plea to their bishops] “Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen up against me.”
- Proverbs 6:16-19 “There are six things that the Lord abhors: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, a hand that sheds innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked plans, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.”
- Proverbs 19:20 “A false witness will not go unpunished.”
- Proverbs 25:18 “Like a war club, a sword, or a sharp arrow is one who bears false witness against a neighbor.”
This list of excerpts from the Word of the Lord could go on for pages. We live in an age of falsehood, a time when the rule of law is collapsing under the weight of political correctness, identity politics, and moral relativism. These will spell the ruin of both souls and society.
This is why we have allies in spiritual warfare behind These Stone Walls, and we are more than willing to share them with you. They include Mary, Mother of God, whose heart was wounded by seven swords; Saint Maximilian Kolbe, wrongly imprisoned under an evil regime, who gave his life for another; Saint Padre Pio, falsely accused, suspended from priestly ministry, even while openly bearing the wounds of Christ.
And Saint Michael the Archangel who prevailed when “the accuser of our brothers was cast out who night and day accused them before God.” (Revelations 12:10) False witness, sans repentance, is a path to spiritual ruin for eternity.
- Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do you, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, cast into hell Satan, and all evil spirits who prowl about this world seeking the ruin of souls.
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- Angelic Justice: St. Michael the Archangel & the Scales of Hesed
- To Guard You in All Your Ways: Archangels on These Stone Walls
- Saint Michael the Archangel and the Art of War
- Patron Saints for Struggling Souls