Was the Old Law given through the
mediation of angels or was it given directly by God?
It seems that the Old Law was given
directly (immediate) by God and not through the
mediation of angels (per angelos):
Objection 1: Angel
means messenger, and so the name ‘angel’ implies
ministry and not dominion—this according to Psalm 102:20ff.
(“Bless the Lord, all you His angels ..... His ministers
(ministri)”). But the Old Law is said to
have been given by the Lord; for Exodus 20:1 says, “The
Lord spoke these words .....” and later adds, “For I
am the Lord your God.” And this same manner of
speaking is frequently repeated in Exodus and in the
succeeding books of the Law. Therefore, the Law
was given directly by God.
As John 1:17 says, “The Law was given by Moses.” But
Moses received it directly from God; for Exodus 33:11
says, “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is
wont to speak to his friend.” Therefore, the Old Law was
given directly by God.
As was explained above (q. 90, a. 3), it is the role of
the ruler alone to make law. But God alone is the ruler
of the salvation of souls, whereas the angels are
“ministering spirits,” as Hebrews 1:14 puts it.
Therefore, since the Old Law was ordered toward the
salvation of souls, it was inappropriate for it to be
given through the mediation of angels.
But contrary to this:
In Galatians 3:19 the Apostle says, “The Law was given
through the angels at the hand of a Mediator.” Again, in
Acts 7:53 Stephen says, “You have received the Law under
the direction of angels.”
The Law was given by God through the mediation of angels.
In addition to the general reason that Dionysius gives
in De Caelesti Hierarchia, chap. 4, viz., that
“it is appropriate for divine realities to be brought
to men by the mediation of angels,” there is a special
reason why the Old Law had to be given through the mediation
For it was explained above (a. 1‑2) that the Old
Law was imperfect and yet disposed men for the perfect
salvation of the human race that was going to come about
through Christ. But it is evident in the case
of all ordered powers and crafts that the one who ranks
higher performs the principal and perfect act by himself,
whereas it is through the mediation of his helpers (per
suos ministros) that he does the things that dispose
[the patient] for the ultimate perfection. For
instance, a ship‑builder puts the ship together
by himself, but he prepares the materials through the
mediation of the assistant craftsmen.
it was fitting that (a) the perfect law of the New Covenant
should be given directly by God Himself made man, but
that (b) the Old Law should be given to men through
the mediation of God’s ministers, viz., the angels.
And it is in this way that the Apostle, at the beginning
of Hebrews, establishes the preeminence of the New Law
over the Old Law; for in the New Testament God “has
spoken to us in His own Son,” whereas in the Old Testament
“His word was given through the angels.”
Reply to objection 1:
As Gregory notes at the beginning of Moralia, “The
angel who is described as having appeared to Moses is
variously called ‘the angel’ and ‘the Lord’. He is called
‘the angel’ by reason of the fact that he served by
speaking exteriorly, whereas he is called ‘the Lord’
because, presiding interiorly, he administered the power
of speaking.” Hence, the angel was also, as it were,
speaking in the person of the Lord.
Reply to objection 2:
As Augustine points out in Super Genesim ad Litteram
12, Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord spoke to Moses face
to face,” and a little later adds, “Show me Your glory.”
Therefore, Moses was sensing what he saw and desiring
what he did not see. Therefore, he did not see
the very essence of God, and in this sense he was not
directly instructed by God.
Therefore, when Scripture says, “He spoke to him “face
to face,” it speaking in accord with the opinion of
the people, who thought that Moses and God were speaking
with their mouths, because God was speaking to him and
appearing to him through creatures subject to Him, i.e.,
through the angel and through the cloud.
alternative reply is that “seeing God’s face” refers
to a certain preeminent and intimate contemplation that
falls short of the vision of God’s essence.
Reply to objection 3:
It is the role of the ruler alone to institute law by his
own authority, but he sometimes promulgates an instituted
law through others. And so God instituted the Law by His
own authority, but He promulgated it through the angels.