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Friday, January 4, 2013

Hierarchy of angels: Who's on first?

Archangel Michael (Guido Reni, 1636)
Although many have heard about angels on high, relatively few can identify which ones are highest.

Judaism has long had a "top ten" hierarchy of angels.  The great medieval sage Maimonides ranked them highest-to-lowest as follows:  #1 Chayot (Ezekiel's "living beings"); #2 Ophanim (fiery "wheels"); #3 Erelim ("the courageous"); #4 Hashmallim (from Ezekiel 1:4); #5 Seraphim (six-winged "burning ones" that circle God's throne singing "holy, holy, holy"); #6 Malakim (God's "messengers"); #7 Elohim ("powers" or "godly beings"); #8 Bene Elohim ("sons of godly beings"); #9 Cherubim (protective "guardians"); and #10 Ishim ("souls of fire").

Christianity has a number of angelic hierarchies, the most popular of which was put forth by the philosopher/theologian "Dionysos" (aka "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagnite") circa the early sixth century.   His book, The Celestial Hierarchy, was a major influence on Thomas Aquinas, who divided angels into these three hierarchical groups with three orders apiece:  #1 Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones (aka Ophanim); #2 Dominations (aka Hashmallim), Virtues (aka Strongholds that "supervise the movement of heavenly bodies"), and Powers (aka Authorities that are "completely loyal to God"); #3 Principalities (aka Rulers that "bequeath blessings to the material world"), Archangels (aka Messengers that are "guardian angels of nations and countries"), and Angels (lower-ranked Messengers that are "the ones most concerned with the affairs of living things") .  These nine orders of angels (said to be based upon their proximities to God) are the ones that were recognized by Pope Gregory I.

Angels in Islam "have no free will and therefore can do only what God orders them to do."  Although this
seems to preclude the need for an angelic hierarchy, one nevertheless somewhat exists.  Having revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad - Jibrail, aka Jibril (the Judeo-Christian "Gabriel"), is said to be "the greatest of the angels."  Other archangels are also emphasized.


Copyright January 4, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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