Protestant reformists were afraid statues of angels in churches could encourage idolatry.
Protestant reformists were afraid statues of angels in churches could encourage idolatry.

Both Catholic and Protestant Bibles provide plenty of references to angels acting as God’s messengers and offering guardianship and protection. As to a specific belief in guardian angels, there is nothing written in scripture to define exactly what this means. Without clear, written direction, beliefs among Protestants can vary significantly. Some accept that there is a one-to-one ratio between every person and a guardian angel. Others believe there are many guardian angels protecting everyone. Still others believe Jesus offers so much protection there is no need for guardian angels.

Origins of Protestantism

There is a very good reason that the word ‘protestant’ contains the root ‘protest.’ Protestant religions came into being after Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for protesting corruption in the church. One practice he disapproved of was the sale of indulgences. Buying an indulgence essentially meant believers paid the church to grant them forgiveness from sin. Another of Luther’s concerns involved using statues of angels and saints in religious services. Protestant reformists believed this practice could encourage idolatry.

The Ten Commandments

Protestants have a different version of the Ten Commandments than Catholics. In the Protestant version -- which is closer to the Jewish version than the Catholic one -- the second commandment forbids the worship of graven images. The Catholic version does not specifically address graven images or idolatry -- and their second commandment is the third for Protestants. These numbering differences result in a final difference. The tenth commandment for Protestants forbids coveting a neighbor’s wife or anything else the neighbor has in his possession. In the Catholic version, the ninth commandment addresses the neighbor’s wife, while the tenth addresses the neighbor’s other possessions.

Idol Worship and Angels

Despite the missing reference to graven images in the Catholic Ten Commandments, one of the original tenets of Christianity involved prohibitions against idol worship. Protestant reformists accused church leaders of breaking or at lease side-stepping this rule by encouraging believers to pray to the statues of angels for intervention with God. Reformists feared believers could begin worshiping the angels instead. Rather than being messengers of God, angels in this sense would begin to be viewed as gods or at least god-like. This fear led protestors to begin damaging, destroying or removing statues and carvings of angels from churches.

The Persistence of Angels

Protestant reformists might have been able to reduce the appearance of angel images in churches, but there was never a drive to remove angels from religious belief. It’s likely they would have failed, if they’d tried. The Protestant Bible contains nearly 300 references to angels, and many Protestants -- including John Donne and Milton -- have written about angels while attempting to understand humankind’s place in the universe. These writers saw angels as intermediaries between men and God. While the nature of angels is not clear, Protestants tend to accept that angels do exist, that they bring about miracles and that they help the dying transition into the next life. As to guardian angels, many Protestants seem willing to accept that they have guardian angels watching over them.