Angels are divided into definite ranks, each with seperate duties and honors. However, as with all aspects of angeology, what these exact ranks are depends largely on the scholar asked. Still, one of the most common listings of hierarchy used is the Pseduo-Dionysis. The listing comprises nine distinct orders of angels within three major headings known as Choirs. Despite the many listings available, most contain the same ranks and differ only in the order presented.
First Hierarchy (Choir)
Clustered around the central core of purity.
The uppermost section of the hierarchy, these are the angels closest to the throne of God. It is they who unceasingly chant the Trisagion, "Holy, holy, holy..." and encircle the throne, existing off the love emanated by God. It is this fiery love which gives them the term 'fiery serpents'. In this form of fiery serpents, it is said that the light they give off is so intense, that not even other divine beings may look upon them. There is said to be four of these angelic beings. They are listed as the four holy beasts in the book of Revelation and are also described as angels with four faces and six wings. Seraphim have six wings, two cover their faces, two cover their feet, and two are for flying.The only Bible reference is Isaiah 6:1-7. One of them touched Isaiah's lips with a live coal from the altar, cleansing him from sin.
CHERUBIM (Cherub, singular for Cherubim):
Second to only the seraphim, the Cherubim hold the knowledge of God. It is also they who are often sent to earth with the greatest of tasks; the expulsion of Man from the Garden of Eden and the Annunciation of Christ were both performed by Cherubim. Spirits of the Harmonies. The guardians of the fixed stars, keepers of celestial records, bestowers of
knowledge. Chief rulers are Ophaniel, Rikbiel, Zophiel, and, before his fall, Satan.
In the Cabala, Cherub is one of the
angels of the air. In name as well as in concept, the
Cherubim are Assyrian or Akkadian in origin. The work, in Akkadian, is
karibu and means "one who prays" or "one who intercedes", although
Dionysius declared the word to mean knowledge. In ancient Assyrian art,
the Cherubim were pictured as huge, winged creatures with leonine or
human faces, bodies of bulls or sphinxes, eagles, etc. They were
usually placed at entrances to palaces or temples as guardian spirits.
In early Canaanitish lore, the Cherubim were not conceived of as angels.
[Cf. view of Theodorus, Bishop of Heracleaa, who declared, "these
Cherubims not to be any Angelical powers, but rather some horrible
visions of Beasts, which might terrify Adam from the entrance of
paradise", from Salkeld, "A treatise of Angels". It was only later that
the Cherubim began to be regarded as heavenly spirits. To Philo ("On
the Cherubim") they symbolized God's highest and chiefest potencies,
sovereignty, and goodness. They are the 1st angels to be mentioned (and
to be construed as angels) in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:22). They
guarded with flaming sword the Tree of Life and Eden, hence their
designation as the "flame of whirling swords." In Exodus 25:18 we find
2 Cherubim "of gold," one on either side of the Ark (see picturization
in Schaff, "A Dictionary of the Bible"). [Cf. "cherubim of glory
shadowing the mercy seat" in Hebrews 9"5.] In Ezekiel (10:14) 4
Cherubim, each with 4 faces and 4 wings, appear at the river Chebar
where the Hebrew prophet glimpses them. In I Kings 6:23, the 2 Cherubim
in Solomon's temple are carved out of olive wood. In Rabbinic and
occult lore, the Cherubim are prevailingly thought of as charioteers of
God, bearer of His throne, and personifications of the winds. In
Revelations (4:8) they are living creatures who render undeasing praise
to their Maker. Here St. John refers to them as beasts (holy, divine
beasts), 6-winged and "full of eyes within." John of Damascus in his
"Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" also speaks of the Cherubim as
"many-eyed". In Talmud the Cherubim are equated with the order Ophanim
(wheels or chariots) or the order Hayyoth (holy beasts) and are said to
reside in the 6th or 7th Heaven. In the Dionysian scheme, the Cherubim
rank 2nd in the 9-choir hierarchy and ar guardians of the fiexed stars.
Chief rulers, as listed in most occult works, include Ophaniel, Rikbiel,
Cherubiel, Raphael, Gabriel, Sophiel, and--before his fall--Satan, who
was, as Parente says in "The Angels", "the supreme angel in the choir of
Cherubim." In the early traditions of Muslim lore it is claimed that
the Cherubim were formed from the tears Michael shed over the sins of
the faithful. [Rf. Hastings, "Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics" IV,
616, "Demons and Spirits (Muslim)."] In secular lore the Cherubim have
been called "black cherubim" (Dante), "young-eyed cherubim"
(Shakespeare), "helmed cherubim" (Milton). Blake describes Satan as the
"covering cherub" and turns the Ezekiel vision of the 4 creatures into
his own "Four Zoas". The latter sound the 4 trumpets heralding the
apocalypse. As angels of light, glory, and keepers of the celestial
records, the Cherubim excel in knowledge. [Rf. Lindsay, "Kerubim in
Semitic Religion and Art."] The notion of winged, multiple-headed beasts
serving as guardians of temples and palaces must have been general in
many near-Eastern countries, for in addition to appearing in
Assyryan-Chaldean-Babylonian art and writings (where the authors of
Isaiah and Ezekiel doubtlessly first came upon them), they appear, as
already noted, in Canaanitish lore (with which the Israelites were, of
course, familiar, and which influenced or colored the accounts in
Genesis and other Old Testament books). An ivory from the collection of
king of Megiddo, circa 1200 B.C.E., reproduced on p. 45 of the
"Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible", showes a Canaanite ruler
seated on a throne, "supported by winged lions with human heads."
These, say the editors of the "Atlas", "are the imaginary, composite
beings which the Israelites called cherubim." As winged beasts with
human heads, 2 Cherubim are shown supporting the throne of Hiram, kind
of anceint Byblos (see reproduction, p 132, vol. A-D of "interpreter's
Dictionary of the Bible"). Among works of more modern times, Rubens'
"Apotheosis of James I" (hanging in the banqueting hall of Whitehall in
London and filling the long side panels) shows a precession of
Contrary to paintings on greeting cards and new age book covers, the cherubim are not depicted as fat, winged babies. Instead they are described as sphinx like creatures in Assyrian lore, or the angels gracing the Ark of the Covenant and Solomon's temple in biblical terms. The Old Testament does not reveal any evidence that the Jews considered them as intercessors or helpers of God. They were closely linked in God's glory. They are manlike in appearance and double-winged and were guardians of God's glory. They symbolized then, God's power and mobility. In the New Testament, they are alluded to as celestial attendants in the Apocalypse (Rv 4-6). Catholic tradition describes them as angels who have an intimate knowledge of God and continually praise Him.
Thrones are the Angels of pure Humility, Peace and Submisssion. They reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape. The lower Choir of Angels need the Thrones to access God. Also known as the Ophanim, these angels serve the primary function of being God's chariot. But besides this, they are also noted as being the dispensers of God's judgment; acting with impartialness and humility to bring about the desires of the Lord. Having the most bizarre physical appearance of the celestial host, they are described a great wheels, covered with a great many eyes and glowing with light. One explanation given for this (besides them acting as God's chariot), is that they mark the end of the first Choir, where the emanations of God begin to take on more material forms and as such exist in a state of transition.
Spirits of Will. Bring God's justice to us. They are sometimes called wheels and in
the Jewish Kabbalah, CHARIOTS or the MERKABAH. The occult book, the
Zohar, ranks wheels above seraphim, but other sources place them as
cherubim, the whole thing being confused. The ruling prince is Oriphiel
or Zabkiel or Zaphiel.
Second Hierarchy (Choir)
An ultimate unification with "God the Source". All Orders within this Triad strive to balance or reconcile such opposites as good and bad, matter and spirit and higher and lower, thus risking corruption in doing so.
DOMINIONS or DOMINATIONS:
Act as a sort of middle management between the upper choir and the lower, holding the task of regulating the duties of lower angels. They receive their orders from the seraphim and cherubim and are responsible for ensuring that the cosmos remains in order. It is only with extreme rarity that the dominations make themselves physically known to mortals, instead quietly concerning themselves with the details of existence.
Spirits of Wisdom, through them is manifested the Majesty of God.
They hold an orb or sceptre as an emblem of authority, and in Hebraic lore,
the chief of this order is named Hashmal or Zadkiel.
Given to two main tasks, the virtues not only are concerned with maintaining the aspects of the natural world, but also with bestowing blessings upon the material world as well. In their first task, they preside over the movements of the celestial bodies as well as events of weather including rain, snow, wind and the like. In the second, it is they who take the orders given to them and in turn convert them into miracles for God's favored. Variant names for them include the Malakim and the Tarshishim. Virtues are known as the Spirits of Motion and control the elements. They are sometimes referred to as "the shining ones." They govern all nature. They have control over seasons, stars, moon; even the sun is subject to their command. They are also in charge of miracles and provide courage, grace, and valor.
Spirits of Form. Holding one of the most dangerous tasks, the powers are responsible for maintaining the border between Heaven and Earth. Acting as a sort of elite guard, they constantly watch for demonic attack, and are the major line of defense and battle during heavenly warfare. They are also tasked with guarding the celestial byways between the two realms and ensuring that souls which leave the mortal world reach heaven safely. Perhaps not surpassingly, given their proximity to the nether regions, there are more angels from the ranks of the powers listed as fallen than from any other member of the hierarchy. They stop the efforts of demons to overthrow the world, or else they preside over demons, or perhaps (according to St. Paul) they are themselves evil. Ertosi, Sammael, or Camael (depending on source) is chief of the Powers.
Third Hierarchy (Choir)
Most exposed and vulnerable to any corrosion of flesh. Angels from these Orders are most well known to us simply because they are most like us.
The head of the final choir, the principalities watch over the mortal world directly, guiding and protecting the earth's nations, cities and towns. Also, they are given to the protection of religion and of politics. As such, they are assumed to be given more freedom to act than the lesser angels below them and are responsible for carrying out divine acts concerning their area of jurisdiction. Finally, they are given to the task of managing the duties of the angels. Spirits of Personality or Time. Protectors of religion. Nisroc, in Milton, is "of principalities the prime," and others, according to various sources, are named Requel, Anael, and
In the New Testament Principalities refers to one type of spiritual (metaphysical) being which are now quite hostile to God and human beings. (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col 1:16; 2:10, 15) Along with the principalities are the powers (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 1 Pt 3:22; 2 Thes 1:7); and cosmological powers (1 Cor 15:24; Eph 1:21; 3:10; Col 2:15);Dominions (Eph 1:21; Col 1:16) and thrones (Col1:16). The clarity of the New Testament witness helps see that these beings were created through Christ and for Him (Col 1:16). Given their hostility to God and humans due to sin, Christ's ultimate rule over them (ibid) expresses the reign of the Lord over all in the cosmos. This is the Lordship of Christ, which reveals God's tremendous salvation in conquering sin and death at the cross, and now takes place in the Church. (Eph 3:10)
ARCHANGELS and ANGELS:
Guardians of people and all physical things.
- Fire Spirits. Angels above the order of Angels.
It also serves to designate a specific rank of angels in the angelic
heirarchy. The term Archangels refers to the greater angels such as Michael
and Gabriel, known also as chief princes. The order can also refer to the
angels who stand at the throne of God, thus being the higher angel ranking.
While also listed as a way of defining an especially important angel, the term archangel is used here as the second to last rank in the celestial hierarchy. The confusion comes mainly from the ancient Hebraic way of defining angels which was simple angel and archangel. It was not until later that the hierarchy was defined, and many of the angels previous named as simply archangels were given new posts. Despite this, as a class the archangels are tasked with not only watching the duties of the angels, but also acting as the leaders in the divine army during battle.
Archangels are generally taken to mean "chief or leading angel" ( Jude 9; 1 Thes 4:16), they are the most frequently mentioned throughout the Bible. They may be of this or other hierarchies as St. Michael Archangel, who is a princely Seraph. The Archangels have a unique role as God's messenger to the people at critical times in history and salvation (Tb 12:6, 15; Jn 5:4; Rv 12:7-9) as in The Annunciation and Apocalypse. A feast day celebrating the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael is celebrated throughout the Church Sep 29. A special part of the Byzantine Liturgy invokes the "Cherubic Hymn" which celebrates these archangels and the guardian angels particularly. Of special significance is St. Michael as he has been invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles. The Eastern Rite and many others place him over all the angels, as Prince of the Seraphim. He is described as the "chief of princes" and as the leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over Satan and his followers. The angel Gabriel first appeared in the Old Testament in the prophesies of Daniel, he announced the prophecy of 70 weeks (Dn 9:21-27). He appeared to Zechariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptist (Lk 1:11). It was also Gabriel which proclaimed the Annunciation of Mary to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour. (Lk 1:26) The angel Raphael first appeared in the book of Tobit (Tobias)Tb 3:25, 5:5-28, 6-12). He announces "I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God." (Tb 12:15)
- Sons of life or of twilight. A rank which intermediates between God and Man. Angels are closest
to earth and earthly matters, whereas the archangels have more to do with
the heavenly realm. Both orders are very similar and they often cross in
their duties with each other.
The least (if one could say that about any angelic being) in the hierarchy, angels are given to two major tasks. First, they are responsible for watching over the affairs of mortals in a more direct manner than the principalities. Instead of watching entire nations, angels watch over households and individual souls, guiding them subtlety and keeping them safe from demonic attack. Also, they are the carriers of God's word to mankind, acting as messengers and couriers to both God and the upper ranks of angelkind as well. In Hebrew, they are called mal'akh, meaning "messenger", in Persian the word is angaros or "courier".
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