Most of what we’ve come to know and believe about angels is the result of medieval theology, mythology, art, and literature – not to mention modern movies and TV shows. Whether these views are accurate or not, popular concepts have earned the respect of many devoted religious and spiritual persons. And it is certain, wanting to believe in and understand all about angels is an important element of many people’s faith journeys.
Angels are mentioned 273 times in the Bible. Through the centuries, church leaders have declared that there are different types of angels, each having specific missions, while belonging to different orders. Jewish Rabbis generally believe that there are seven levels of heaven, with each level containing a certain class of angels. However, due to the 13th century influence of Thomas Aquinas, known as the “Angelic Doctor,” Western Christianity came to largely adopt the following angel structure:
The First Triad:
Seraphim – According to Christian theologians, of all the angels, the Seraphim (singular Seraph) are the closest to God. Their name means “The Burning Ones,” and their primary mission is to protect the throne of God. They constantly praise God and his creation. They are described as having six wings: two cover their faces, two cover their bodies, and two cover their feet.
Cherubim – These Cherubim (singular Cherub) are not the chubby baby angels we see in well-known works of art. The Cherubim mentioned in the Bible are fierce angels, and they are described as having four faces: one of a man, one of an ox, one of an eagle, and one of a lion. Their mission is also to protect the throne of God.
Thrones – From the Greek thronos (literally meaning throne or highly ornamented chair), the Thrones embody God’s divine justice. They are mentioned in the New Testament books Colossians and Revelations.
Note: The Ophanim (singular Ophan, also known as Wheels) are closely associated with the Thrones. They are mentioned in the book of Daniel and are described as appearing as a wheel within a wheel, with the Thrones moving within the wheel.
The Second Triad:
Dominions – These angels are also known as Lordships or Leaders. According to non-canonical sources, they look like humans, but with wings.
Virtues – Also known as Strongholds, the Virtues are in charge of supervising the movements of celestial bodies. They are associated with power and strength.
Powers – These celestial beings are warrior angels and are in charge of administering and distributing power among nations and individuals.
The Third Triad:
Note: The angels belonging to the third sphere of the angel hierarchy serve as divine messengers and protectors. Unlike the angels of the previous spheres, these angels are in more direct contact with humans.
Principalities – Also known as Rulers, the Principalities work closely with the Powers. Their primary function is to look over groups of people.
Archangels – Archangel comes from the Greek archangělǒs, which means chief angel. Thus, it means that the archangels are the highest ranking angels. Although many Christian theologians placed them in the lowest sphere, many others believe that they are among the most powerful of angels. Daniel’s “Watchers” are commonly associated with this type and in this triad.
Note: According to Pseudo-Dionysius, the seven archangels are Michael, Jophiel, Chamuel, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, and Zadkiel. According to certain metaphysical teachings, each of these archangels works on one of the Seven Rays.
Angels – The Angels are the lowest ranking angels, and the closest to humankind. They are also the most recognized. They are God’s messengers and also serve as intercessors. Their tasks also include: protecting, guiding, and inspiring human beings. It is said that each person has a guardian angel.
Note: Mystics claim that there are also “angel specialists.” For example, there are angels of healing, angels of protection, angels of love, angels of abundance, etc.
The Divine Comedy
In the 14th century, the above angel structure was widely accepted due to the popularity of Dante’s Divine Comedy. This epic poem was written in the first person, describing Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. At a deeper level, it is an allegory of the soul’s journey towards God.
Dante drew his inspiration from medieval Christian theology and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. As a result, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse.” One of the unique aspects of Dante’s epic poem was that he layered the underworld in like-fashion to Aquinas’ heavenly upper-world, including types of denizens (demons) associated with each lower layer.
Lower, darker levels:
Generally, it has come to be believed that The First Layer (deepest) is inhabited by fallen Seraphim types, grotesque in appearance and great in hidden knowledge. They can never reach earth, but influence humanity through dreams and visions. The Second Layer is inhabited by Dominions and Powers who sometimes break their chains to appear to their human devotees. They work tirelessly to incite rebellion and cause discord. Unlike the grotesque Seraphim, they usually appear as very beautiful, sexy, god-like humans. It is believed they do not like to engage in combat. When challenged, they flee to their abode below leaving heavy curses behind. The Third Layer (just below the earth’s crust) is occupied by fallen Virtues. Basically, they are demons who venture upward to do the dirty work on earth, tempting, deceiving, and abusing humanity. And yes, they like to fight!
All in all, some scholars believe there are roughly 66 underworld rulers, commanding approximately 6.66 million devils (666, how convenient). This is all the information I’m going to give you on this dark subject. You’ll notice, I didn’t provide any links. If you want to know more, you’ll have to do it without my help.