The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake

A proper review of this book requires a little explanation of something we rarely encounter in our modern world: mysticism.

Experience is a very different thing than simple belief.  Belief requires faith, whereas experience removes the need for faith.  Because of this, mysticism by its very nature is the intermediate half-step between theology and science.  It is the nature of a mystic is to trust the personal experience and to learn what can be observed from it.  But in our modern world, mysticism is a concept most of us don’t encounter, let alone grasp on any level, unless we have some rather obscure hobbies and interests.  Fortunately, I do.  As a medievalist and angelologist, I am more than aware of the writings of prominent mystics Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Hildegard von Bingen, and St. Thomas Aquinas, who have contributed as much or more to the understanding of angels than pretty much anyone else since.  As a science enthusiast with a bent towards astronomy, I’ve likewise read works by Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  From the outside looking in, these thinkers represent polar opposites in their eras, their approaches, and their understandings, so much so that I’m sure the idea of putting their names together in the same paragraphs would ruffle some feathers on impulse.  But if you read the writings from all of the above and couple that with the mystical poetry of Rilke and Rumi, suddenly the ideas in both camps aren’t that different.

In the 21st century, the entire concept  of angels is not just mocked by the general public, it’s often ignored or dismissed by both the scientific and theological communities as simple medieval allegory.  And yet… belief in them persists.  Beyond mere belief, fully a third of the population claims to have experienced an angelic presence.  In other words, a third of the people of this world have had their first mystical experience.  That’s not something people will often talk about in public, but polling data generates some thought provoking ideas on that front.

With this in mind, this book is a dialogue between a scientist and a theologian.  The reason I opened this review with mention of Dionysius, St. Hildegard, and St. Thomas is because the writings of these three in particular in regards to angels are the springboard for the discussion within this book.  In addition to being a deep and multi-faceted conversation, I find it most refreshing that this isn’t a simple argument between two competing ideologies.  On the contrary, the very nature of this is that, as the title suggests, this is where science and theology attempt to find common ground and explain medieval understanding in 21st century terminology.  The result is surprising.  If you’re familiar with the concept of Noetic sciences, this is very much in that same vein.  If not, now you have something new to think about.  It’s a fascinating subject.  This book, in dealing with only the topic of angels, is an excellent starting place for a mammoth subject like that.

5 stars


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