What is an Angel?
An Angel is a supernatural being who protects and guides humans. The word ‘Angel’ comes from a mixture of Old English word engel (hard g) and an Old French word angele. Both engel and angele are derived from the Latin word angelus – which means messenger.
Angels are traditionally portrayed with large, white feathered wings on their backs, a halo and flowing robes and they’re often bathed in light.
The Nine Choirs of Angels
God created various orders of Angels. The Bible* puts those orders into nine groups, called the Nine Choirs.
*Col. 1:16; Eph. 1:21;
The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini (in the National Gallery London) shows the Nine Choirs in their three hierarchies.
There may be more groupings but these are the only ones that have been revealed to us. The Seraphim is believed to be the highest Choir and the most intimately united to God – and the Angelic Choir is the lowest.
A Brief History of the Angel
Angels have appeared in most religions
for thousands of years.
Let’s have a look at how some religions view them.
Angels in the Torah
The Torah (the central reference of the religious Judaic tradition) refers to Angels as Messengers of God, Messengers of the Lord, Sons of God, The Holy Ones and the Upper Ones
They are also regularly referred to as supernatural messengers and God himself is the Theophanic Angel – the messenger. In Ezekiel’s Vision by Raphael, God is held aloft by winged cherubs, a winged lion and a winged horse.
Credit: By Raphael – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=157762
Judaism doesnt mention worshipping angels but they are invoked and conjured at times of need.
Angels in the Bible
In the Bible, Daniel is the first person to call an individual angel by name. In Daniel 9:21 he mentions Gabriel – God’s primary messenger – and in Daniel 10:13, he mentions Michael – the holy fighter. In the Book of Genesis, Abraham and Lot meet three angels. One told Abraham about the child he would soon have and the other two were there to save Lot and to destroy the out-of-control towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.
After the Bible was written, Angels became more significant and developed specific roles. Archangels were seen as part of the heavenly host.
Throughout the bible, Angels are shown as spiritual beings between God and humans:
Psalms 8:4-5 “You have made him (man) a little less than the angels…”
Psalms 148:2-5: “Praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts…”
Colossians 1:16: “…for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created …”.
Angels in Christianity
It’s believed that the Jewish understanding of Angels partly came from the Egyptians. The later Christians then took their understanding from Judaism.
Christians typically saw the Angel as a messenger from God.
The individual messengers were named
Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel and Lucifer
By the late 400s, it was agreed that angels fell into different categories, each with their own missions and tasks.
From the years 300 to 500 AD, Angels took on the look and characteristics that we recognise today but there was disagreement about the nature of them. Some people believed that they had physical bodies like humans while others said that they were totally spiritual.
Some theologians suggested that Angels were not divine because they ranked under the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Interaction with Angels in the New Testament
The New Testament includes many meetings and conversations between angels and humans. Three instances of angelic appearances announce the coming births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
An Angel appears to Zechariah to tell him that even though he is old, he will have a child – John the Baptist.
In the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary to tell her about the coming birth of Jesus Christ. This beautiful image is called “Annunciation” and was painted by Henry Ossawa Tanner in1898. It’s rare because Tanner chose to depict the Archangel Gabriel as pure light. I really love it! What do you think?
Luke 2:10 Angels proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds.
Luke 22:43 An angel comforts Jesus during the Agony in the Garden.
Matthew 4:11 After Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, “…the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.”
Matthew 28:5 After the Resurrection of Jesus and the stone being rolled back by angels, an angel speaks at the empty tomb.
Angels in Islam
Believing in Angels is one of the six Articles of Faith – the fundamental beliefs which every Muslim must follow.
In Islam, Angels are spiritual creatures that serve Allah. They have no free will and can only do what Allah tells them to do. They are messengers who take communication to people and carry many other other responsibilities, such as testing people’s faith by curing their illness and giving them great wealth.
Angels, such as Gabriel (thought to be the very same Gabriel as the one in the Christian New Testament), is mentioned in the Quran.
Angels are often found in Islamic art, which shows their importance. Here is Muhammad advancing on Mecca, with the angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and Azrail. (Siyer-i Nebi, 16th century)
Credit: http://www.ee.bilkent.edu.tr/~history/ottoman33.html :Siyer-i Nebi: The Life of the Prophet 1595., Hazine 1223, folio 298a, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12046955
Angels in the Kabalah
The Kabalah believes that there are four worlds, with ours being the last. Kabbalists see angels as existing in the worlds above as an extension of God – and they carry out his commands. After the angel has finished its’ task, it stops existing.
Kabbalists see Metratron as one of the highest angels. He is believed to be a scribe and is mentioned in the Talmud and Merkabah mystical texts.
In sacred geometry, the archangel Metatron oversees the flow of energy in a mystical cube known as Metatron’s Cube, which contains all of the geometric shapes in God’s creation. It is said to represent the patterns that make up everything God has made. These duties tie in with Metatron’s work overseeing the Tree of Life in Kabbalah. Metratron sends creative energy down from the top (the crown) of the tree toward all the parts of creation.
Michael is seen a warrior for Israel.
Gabriel is mentioned in the Bible, the Talmud and many Merkabah mystical texts.
Angels in Sikhism
Although there are references to the angel of death, Sikhism has never had a system of angels. It prefers guidance without a specific appeal to supernatural beings.
Angels and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Mormons see angels as messengers from God. They believe that angels are sent from God to deliver messages, minister to man, teach the doctrine of salvation, call for man to repent and offer guidance.
Latter Day Saints believe that
angels are either the spirits of humans who are deceased or who have not been born yet
are humans who have been resurrected or translated and have physical bodies of flesh and bones.
They also believe that:
Adam, the first man, was and is now the archangel Michael
Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah
The Angel Moroni first lived in a pre-Columbian American civilization as the 5th-century prophet-warrior named Moroni. The image of the angel Moroni blowing a trumpet is commonly used as an unofficial symbol of the LDS Church.
Angels in Theosophy
The Theosophical Society believes that:
Devas (any of the spiritual forces or beings behind nature) live in the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system (Planetary Angels) or inside the Sun (Solar Angels)
They help to guide the operation of the processes of nature such as the process of evolution and the growth of plants
They appear to be the same size as a human but made from colored flames.
Some (but not most) devas originally incarnated as human beings.
Devas can be observed when the third eye is activated.
Theosophists also believe that when the third eye is activated, nature spirits, elementals (gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders), and fairies can also be observed. These beings have never lived on earth as humans and are seen as being on a specific line of spiritual evolution called the “deva evolution.” Eventually, as their reincarnate and their souls progress, they will incarnate as devas.
Angels in Zoroastrianism
In Zoroastrianism (followed by the late Freddie Mercury – real name Farrokh Bulsara) the world is seen as a being in a continual state of battle between good and evil, darkness and light and angels are seen as the opposing force to demons.
Faravahar or Farohar is a well-known symbol for both Persians and the Zoroastrian faith. The word ‘Faravahar’ is derived from an ancient Iranian word: ‘Fravarane’ which means ‘I choose‘. The word is also associated with the ‘Fravashi’. The Fravashi is a guardian angel and guide and is thought to be the divine, uncorrupt and unpolluted part of the human soul. The Fravashi is the soul which ascends to Heaven when the human’s earthly life ends.
The wings either side of Faravahar have 3 layers of feathers each. The layers represent the three pillars of Zoroastrianism – good words, good reflection orthought and good deeds.
The lower part of the Faravahar’s robes is in three parts too. These lower three stand for bad words, bad thoughts and bad deeds.
The scrolled loops on either side represent good and evil.
So Faravahar embodies both good and bad forces. This reflects the Zoroastrian philosophy of working to promote positive forces and to suppress negative ones. The symbol of Faravahar reminds Zoroastrians that their life’s purpose is to live a good life. That way, their souls can progress spiritually and ultimately unite with Ahura Mazda who is the Supreme Lord of Zoroastrianism.
Some Other Historic
Views of Angels
According to St Augustine (13 November 354 – 28 August 430 – early Christian theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity and Western philosophy)
“‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel'”
Saint Thomas Aquinas
In the 1200s, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 7 March 1274 – Italian Dominican friar, Catholic priest, theologian and immensely influential philosopher) related angels to Aristotle’s metaphysics in his works Summa contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and in his treatise on angelology called De substantiis separatis. Thomas Aquinas agreed with Matthew 24:36 that “Although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient,” (knowing everything that there is to know about everything).
The Firmiter Credimus Decree
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council issued a decree called Firmiter credimus. The decree announced that angels were created beings and that men were created after them.
In 1869, the First Vatican Council agreed with this definition in Dei Filius (the “Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith”.)
Chaplet (prayer) of Saint Michael
In 1851 Pope Pius IX approved the Chaplet (prayer) of Saint Michael. The prayer was based on a private revelation said to be given to the Carmelite nun Antonia d’Astonac by the Archangel Michael in 1751.
Saint Gemma Galgani
In a biography of the beautiful Saint Gemma Galgani…
(March 12, 1878 – April 11, 1903 – an Italian mystic, cannonised as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church in 1940 and one of the few Saints that we have a photograph of)
…written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo (Galgani’s spiritual director) Galgani stated that she had spoken with her Guardian Angel.
Role of Angels in Catholic teachings
Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address titled “Angels Participate In History Of Salvation.”
In the address, he suggested that modern thinking should come to see the importance of angels.
Read More about what Pope Francis had to say about Guardian Angels…it’s amazing!
Founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement
Joseph Smith, Jr. (December 23, 1805 – June 27, 1844 – American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement) described his first encounter with an angel:
“While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant …
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me.”
I’ll end with my current favourite Angel figure (although the list is long and growing!).
Lladro Porcelain Protective Angel sculpted by Ernest Massuet