This week's question jumps in from the ridiculous to the sublime, and yet it's a question I have heard in jest since before I entered seminary. "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" Before I offer the definitive (Ha!) answer to this riddle, let's take a quick peek at what's beneath it.
Even before seminaries, which are schools for advanced degrees for ministers, the religious professional has been engaged in studies that often seem excessive to laity. Many would argue that, though the minister should indeed be thoroughly versed in scripture, there is no need in studying such topics that could reek havoc in the church. For instance, the authorship of the "books of Moses," also called the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Tradition has taught that Moses wrote them, but in the past couple of centuries scholars have discounted Mosaic authorship such that few ministers now believe Moses had much to do with the writing of these books, with the exception of being the chief character in them. The point is, what's the point? Is it scripture or is it not, and if it is who cares who wrote it?
However, many ministers, myself included, find this type of scholarship helpful in understanding the setting of the passages etc. But what about the really inane studies by theologians? One scholar, whose name fortunately escapes me, devoted much of his life in trying to prove the apricot was the forbidden fruit in Eden. Others have written volumes over the vowel placing (pointing) of the Hebrew word for YHWH (the proper name for God). And on it goes. And yet, scholarship for the sake of scholarship has its rewards. Without the relentless pursuit of these devoted men and women, we would still cling to many "church traditions" that are based not on historical accuracy, but on idle speculation.
Nonetheless, for the past millennium, and most likely the past several millennia, laity have wondered at the seemingly silly pursuit of much of religious scholarship, and this is where our question comes. In satirical fashion, someone ages and ages ago, asked a theologian, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" And believe it or not, some have taken the gauntlet seriously.
And now, for the definitive answer: Angels are the humble messengers of God, created, sentient beings who set the heavenly standards for grace, peace, and humility. No angel, since the fall of Lucifer and his band, has ever engaged in one-up-angelship. So the answer to the theological question is simple. Only one angel at a time could dance on the head of a pin, for no other would dare try to steal the limelight from a performance offered in grace, peace, and no little style.