Christian angelology

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The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini at the National Gallery London, shows three hierarchies and nine orders of angels, each with different characteristics.
Eastern icon of nine orders of angels

In Christianity, angels are the agents of God. Various works of Christian theology have devised hierarchies of angelic beings. The most influential Christian angelic hierarchy was put forward around the turn of the 6th century AD by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his work De Coelesti Hierarchia (On the Celestial Hierarchy). He claimed to be an important figure who was converted by Paul the Apostle, who authored most of the New Testament, and his work enjoyed greater influence than it would have if he had used his actual name, until Erasmus publicised doubts about the age of the work in the early 16th century.[1]

Angels are organized into several orders, or "Angelic Choirs".[2][3]

As referred to in the theological doctrine of the communion of saints, in paradise there is a common and unique vision of the truth and contemplation of the face of God, without any kind of difference between angels or human souls. The Summa theologiae states that there exists different degree in respect of the creation, about the power of intercession to God and of direct entrustment in the human lives.


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 328, "the existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition."[4]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The whole life of the church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of the angels.... From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession."[5] "Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels...They belong to Him because they were created through and for Him."[6]

As Augustine of Hippo would remark, the angels were experiencing something new as the creation of God unfolded.[7] The 'good' angels seek at all times, to direct us towards the true source of happiness, God. They encourage us in worship of God.[8]

First Sphere[edit]

According to Pseudo-Dionysius, the first sphere of angels see and worship God directly, and communicate his will to angels who are closer to the life of man.


Tradition places seraphim in the highest rank in Christian angelology and in the fifth rank of ten in the Jewish angelic hierarchy. A seminal passage in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–8) used the term to describe six-winged beings that fly around the Throne of God crying "holy, holy, holy". This throne scene, with its triple invocation of holiness, profoundly influenced subsequent theology, literature and art. Its influence is frequently seen in works depicting angels, heaven and apotheosis. Seraphim are mentioned as celestial beings in the non-canonical Book of Enoch and the canonical Book of Revelation.


A cherub, as described by Ezekiel and according to traditional Christian iconography

In the Book of Ezekiel and (at least some) Christian icons, the cherub is depicted as having two pairs of wings, and four faces: that of a lion (representative of all wild animals), an ox (domestic animals), a human (humanity), and an eagle (birds).[9] Their legs were straight, the soles of their feet like the hooves of a bull, gleaming like polished brass. Later tradition ascribes to them a variety of physical appearances.[9] In Western Christian tradition, cherubim have become associated with the putto (derived from classical Cupid/Eros), resulting in depictions of cherubim as small, plump, winged boys.[10] St. Thomas Aquinas imagined Satan as a fallen cherub.[citation needed]


Thrones are a class of angels, based on an interpretation of Colossians 1:16. According to 1 Peter 3:21-22, Christ had gone to Heaven and "angels and authorities and powers" had been made subject to him. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his work De Coelesti Hierarchia includes the thrones as the third highest of nine levels of angels.

The ophanim refer to the wheels seen in Ezekiel's vision of the chariot (Hebrew merkabah) in Ezekiel 1:15–21. One of the Dead Sea scrolls (4Q405) construes them as angels. These "wheels" have been associated with Daniel 7:9 (mentioned as galgal, traditionally "the wheels of galgallin", in "fiery flame" and "burning fire") of the four, eye-covered wheels (each composed of two nested wheels), that move next to the winged cherubim, beneath the throne of God.

Second Sphere[edit]

West window of the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Somerton. It depicts Christ the King in the centre with nine angelic figures, each of them represents, higher row: Dominions, Cherubim, Seraphim, and Angels; lower row: Principalities, Thrones, Archangels, Virtues, and Powers.

Angels of the Second Sphere work as heavenly governors of the creation by subjecting matter and guiding and ruling the spirits.

Dominations or Lordships[edit]

The Dominations[11] (lat. dominatio, plural dominationes, also translated from the Greek term kyriotētes, pl. of kyriotēs, as "Lordships") or "Dominions" are presented as the hierarchy of celestial beings "Lordships" in some English translations of the De Coelesti Hierarchia. The Dominations regulate the duties of lower angels. It is only with extreme rarity that the angelic lords make themselves physically known to humans.


According to The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, the Virtues are known for their control of the elements. In addition to being the spirits of motion, they also assist in governing nature. They also assist with miracles, as well as encourage humans to strengthen their faith in God.[12][needs update]

Powers or Authorities[edit]

In The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, the Powers (lat. potestas (f), pl. potestates) (Greek: ἐξουσίαι) are given their name because they are angels who have power over evil forces, which the angels are able to restrain to keep them from doing harm.[12][needs update]

Third Sphere[edit]

Principalities or Rulers[edit]

The Principalities (Latin: principatus), also translated as "Princedoms" and "Rulers", from the Greek archai, pl. of archē (see Greek root in Eph 3:10), are the angels that guide and protect nations, or groups of peoples, and institutions such as the Church. The Principalities preside over the bands of angels and charge them with fulfilling the divine ministry. There are some who administer and some who assist.[12][needs update]

An example of a Principality angel that became the subject of a cult would be the Angel of Portugal.


Guido Reni's archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636) tramples Satan.

The word archangel is only used twice in the New Testament: 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 1:9.

In most Christian traditions Gabriel is also considered an archangel, but there is no direct literary support for this assumption. The term archangel appears only in the singular, never plural, and only in specific reference to Michael.

The name of the archangel Raphael appears only in the Book of Tobit (Tobias). Tobit is considered deuterocanonical by Catholics (both Eastern and Western Rites) and Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglicans. The Book of Tobit is not, however, acknowledged by most Protestant denominations. In it Raphael says to Tobias that he was "one of the seven who stand before the Lord", and it is generally believed that Michael and Gabriel are two of the other six.[citation needed]

A fourth archangel is Uriel. Uriel's name is not mentioned in the Western Christian Bible, but plays a prominent role in an apocryphal book read by Anglican and Russian Orthodox Christians, the Second Book of Esdras (fourth Book of Esdras in the Latin Vulgate). In the book, he unveils seven prophecies to the prophet Ezra. He also plays a role in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which is considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, and Ethiopian Catholic Churches. The Catholic Church generally does not regard Uriel as an angel[13] just as the Book of Enoch is not part of the Catholic Bible used by most Catholics either.

Another possible interpretation of the seven archangels is that these seven are the seven spirits of God that stand before the throne described in the Book of Enoch, and in the Book of Revelation.[14]

The Seven Archangels are said to be the guardian angels of nations and countries, and are concerned with the issues and events surrounding these, including politics, military matters, commerce and trade: e.g. Archangel Michael is traditionally seen as the protector of 'Israel' and of the ecclesia (Gr. root ekklesia from the New Testament passages), theologically equated as the Church, the forerunner of the spiritual New Israel.[citation needed]

An additional angel, Metatron, which entered the Christian tradition via Christian Kabbalah, is described in the Babylonian Talmud as a heavenly scribe and in the Zohar as the king of the angels. The apocryphal Books of Enoch (especially 3 Enoch) tell that Metatron was previously the biblical Enoch, who, upon his ascension to Heaven, was transformed into an archangel and given the name Metatron. He was then bestowed the positions of chief of the archangels, and told the secrets of creation.[citation needed]


An angel comforting Jesus, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1865–1879

The angels are the lowest order of celestial beings, and the most recognized. They are the ones most concerned with the affairs of people. Within the category of the angels, there are many different kinds, with different functions. The angels are sent as messengers to humanity. Personal guardian angels come from this class (Matthew 18:10).

Personal guardian angels[edit]

The angelic choirs circling the abode of God, from Dante's Paradiso, illustrated by Gustave Doré

Personal guardian angels are not of a separate order of angels. It is a common belief among Christians that they are assigned to every human being, Christian or not.

Individual angels and demons from the choirs[edit]

In John Milton's fictional Paradise Lost, Satan and the archangels belong to this choir ("archangel" has here the meaning of "most powerful angel", not the members of the second lowest choir). Beelzebuth is also addressed as prince of the seraphim in witchcraft litanies.[15] Beelzebub and Azazel were cherubim before their fall. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica states that Satan belongs to this choir, not to the seraphim.[full citation needed] Paradise Lost cites the demons Adramelec and Asmodai. Some sources mention Astaroth as well.[15][16]

Witchcraft litanies mention Belial.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2019.
  2. ^ Chase, Steven (2002). Angelic spirituality. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-8091-3948-4.
  3. ^ McInerny, Ralph M. (1998). Selected writings of Thomas Aquinas. p. 841. ISBN 978-0-14-043632-7.
  4. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church Paragraph 5. Heaven and Earth". Retrieved March 4, 2022.
  5. ^ Bordwell, David; the Vatican (2002). Catechism of the Catholic Church. Continuum International Publishing. p. 78 §§334–335. ISBN 0-86012-324-3.
  6. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, §331.
  7. ^ Klein 2018, p. 30.
  8. ^ Klein 2018, p. 61.
  9. ^ a b Wood, Alice (2008). Of Wing and Wheels: A Synthetic Study of the Biblical Cherubim. pp. 2–4. ISBN 978-3-11-020528-2.
  10. ^ Wood, Alice (2008). Of Wings and Wheels: A Synthetic Study of the Biblical Cherub. p. 1. ISBN 978-3-11-020528-2.
  11. ^ Guiley, Rosemary (1996). Encyclopedia of Angels. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.
  12. ^ a b c Isidore, Bishop of Seville (July 2006). The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville (PDF). Translated by Lewis, W. J.; Beach, J. A.; Berghof, Oliver; Barney, Stephen. New York: Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press. p. 161. ISBN 9780521837491.
  13. ^ Vatican bans rogue angels. Retrieved 2019-01-03.
  14. ^ Revelation 1:5.
  15. ^ a b c Jules Garinet: Historie de la Magie en France (1818)
  16. ^ Sebastian Michaelis: The Admirable History of the Possession and Conversion of a Penitent Woman


Further reading[edit]