Friday, December 26, 2014

The Angel Hierarchy: Sings Choirs of Angels

by Grace Elliott

Who knew there was a hierarchy of angels?

In the festive season, perhaps more than any other time, images of angels are all around us. This was brought home to me during a Christmas visit to the village of St Helens, on the Isle of Wight. To celebrate the season and raise money for charity, local business' and residents display angels in their windows.
Francesco Botticino's painting of "The Assumption of the Virgin Mary"
showing the three levels of angels.

However, it seems even mystical beings like angels are not as straightforwardly ethereal as you might think. Indeed, the Christmas carol with the lines "Sing choirs of angels", isn't necessarily referring to a group of celestial beings quite keen on music, but to the hierarchy of angels known as the "Nine Choirs of Angels".

It was medieval theologians who first proposed a system to rank angels in order of importance. It was Thomas Aquinas who drew on passages taken from the New Testament to suggest a three tier system, each subdivided into three, making a total of "Nine Choirs of Angels".

A bus shelter converted to a manger-
A modern interpretation of angels on the Isle of Wight

A Short Guide to the 9 Choirs of Angels

In case you are wondering, here is a list of the 9 Choirs of Angels (in order of rank)

#1 Seraphim

Described as the "burning ones" these angels are the highest ranked and caretaker to God's throne. In Isaiah 6: 1-8 a Seraphim is described as being a fiery, 6-winged being: with 2 wings to cover his face, 2 his feet, and with 2 he flew.

#2 Cherubim

Ranked number 2, Cherubim are described as guarding the tree of life in the Garden of Eden and the throne of God. They are symbolic of God's power, and in the Book of Revelations are alluded to as celestial attendants in the Apocalypse. Thomas Aquinas postulated that Satan was a fallen cherub.

An illustration held to be a Cherub

 #3 Thrones

These oddly named angels are slightly more distant from God and need the intercession of a throne in order to appeal to Him. They reside in the area of the universe where material form takes shape, and they represent Humility, Peace, and Submission.

#4 Dominions

These are Angels of  Leadership and regulate the other angels by making God's commands known to them

A driftwood angel -St Helen's

#5 The Virtues

Sometimes referred to as "the shining ones" the Virtues govern all Nature and control the elements. The seasons are subject to their command, as are the sun, stars, and moon. It is the Virtues who equip the just with courage, grace, and valor, and are also responsible for miracles. 

#6 The Powers

Counter-intuitively these are angels of darkness, who defend the earth and mankind from evil spirits. They are warrior angels and chief amongst them are Samael and Camael. 

#7 Archangels

Surprisingly, Archangels rank a relatively lowly number 7 in the heavenly scheme of things. Their name literally means "Chief" or "leading angel", and they have a unique role as God's messenger at critical times in history. Perhaps most well-known is Gabriel who appeared to the prophet David, and to Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist, and proclaim the Annunciation of Mary as mother of God.

A St Helen's angel

#8 The Principalities

These are slightly confusing angels who seem to have fallen from grace and be hostile to both God and man.

#9 Angels

Last, but certainly not least are the angels, the celestial rank and file so to speak. They are God's intermediaries with man, and have the power to observe and then intercede with God on man's behalf.

And finally, it has to be said that although scholars used the Bible as a reference source, scripture itself is not overtly illuminating on the subject and so it remains largely a matter of speculation.  

Grace Elliot is a veterinarian, freelance writer, and author of historical romance. 
To find out more about Grace visit her blog Fall in Love with History

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