An angel is a supernatural being in various religions and mythologies. Abrahamic religions often depict them as benevolent celestial intermediaries between God and humanity. Other roles include protectors and guides for humans, and servants of God. Abrahamic religions describe angelic hierarchies, which vary by sect and religion. Some angels have specific names or titles. Humans have also used "angel" to describe various spirits and figures in other religious traditions. The theological study of angels is known as "angelology". Those expelled from Heaven are called fallen angels, distinct from the heavenly host.
Angels in art are usually shaped like humans of extraordinary beauty. They are often identified In Christian artwork with bird wings, halos,
and divine light.
EtymologyThe word angel arrives in modern English from Old English engel and the Old French angele. Both of these derive from Late Latin angelus, which in turn was borrowed from Late Greek ἄγγελος angelos. Additionally, per Dutch linguist R. S. P. Beekes, ángelos itself may be "an Oriental loan, like ἄγγαρος." Perhaps then, the word's earliest form is Mycenaean a-ke-ro, attested in Linear B syllabic script.
The rendering of "ángelos" is the Septuagint's default translation of the Biblical Hebrew term malʼākh, denoting simply "messenger" without connoting its nature. In the Latin Vulgate, this meaning becomes bifurcated: when malʼākh or ángelos is supposed to denote a human messenger, words like nuntius or legatus are applied. If the word refers to some supernatural being, the word angelus appears. Such differentiation has been taken over by later vernacular translations of the Bible, early Christian and Jewish exegetes and eventually modern scholars.
Abrahamic religionsTorah uses the terms מלאך אלהים, מלאך יהוה, בני אלהים and הקודשים to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as העליונים.
The term מלאך is also used in other books of the Tanakh. Depending on the context, the Hebrew word may refer to a human messenger or to a supernatural messenger. A human messenger might be a prophet or priest, such as Malachi, "my messenger"; the Greek superscription in the Septuagint translation states the Book of Malachi was written "by the hand of his messenger" ἀγγέλου angélu. Examples of a supernatural messenger are the "Malak YHWH," who is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God, or God himself as the messenger
Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms "come to mean the benevolent semi-divine beings familiar from later mythology and art." Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel in Daniel 9:21 and Michael in Daniel 10:13. These angels are part of Daniel's apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all apocalyptic literature.
In Daniel 7, Daniel receives a dream-vision from God. As Daniel watches, the Ancient of Days takes his seat on the throne of heaven and sits in judgement in the midst of the heavenly court an like a son of man approaches the Ancient One in the clouds of heaven and is given everlasting kingship.
Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: "In the postexilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the 'sons of God' who were members of the Divine Council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as 'angels', understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans." This conception of angels is best understood in contrast to demons and is often thought to be "influenced by the ancient Persian religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, which viewed the world as a battleground between forces of good and forces of evil, between light and darkness." One of these is hāšāṭān, a figure depicted in the Book of Job.
Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos inasmuch as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different from God himself, but is conceived as God's instrument.
In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels took on particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Although these archangels were believed to rank among the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe; he is briefly mentioned in the Talmud and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel, is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel and briefly in the Talmud, as well as in many Merkabah mystical texts. There is no evidence in Judaism for the worship of angels, but there is evidence for the invocation and sometimes even conjuration of angels.
According to Kabbalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action. Angels exist in the worlds above as a 'task' of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task. This is derived from the book of Genesis when Abraham meets with three angels and Lot meets with two. The task of one of the angels was to inform Abraham of his coming child. The other two were to save Lot and to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained his view of angels in his Guide for the Perplexed II:4 and II
Maimonides had a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of the Bible. Maimonides writes that to the wise man, one sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as "angels" are actually allusions to the various laws of nature; they are the principles by which the physical universe operates.'s musician angels from the Basilica dei Santi Apostoli, now in the sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica, between circa 1803 and circa 1805
Hierarchy, in his Yad ha-Chazakah: Yesodei ha-Torah, counts ten ranks of angels in the Jewish angelic hierarchy, beginning from the highest:
|1||Chayot Ha Kodesh||See|
|8||Bene Elohim||"Sons of Godly beings"|
|10||Ishim||"manlike beings", see,|
IndividualsFrom the Jewish Encyclopedia, entry "Angelology".
- Michael , kindness of God, and stands up for the children of mankind
- Gabriel , performs acts of justice and power
- Jophiel, expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden holding a flaming sword and punishes those who transgress against God.
- Raphael , God's healing force
- Uriel , leads us to destiny
- Samael , angel of death—see also Malach HaMavet
- Sandalphon , battles Samael and brings mankind together
According to St. Augustine, " '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'." Basilian Father Thomas Rosica says, "Angels are very important, because they provide people with an articulation of the conviction that God is intimately involved in human life."
By the late 4th century, the Church Fathers agreed that there were different categories of angels, with appropriate missions and activities assigned to them. There was, however, some disagreement regarding the nature of angels. Some argued that angels had physical bodies, while some maintained that they were entirely spiritual. Some theologians had proposed that angels were not divine but on the level of immaterial beings subordinate to the Trinity. The resolution of this Trinitarian dispute included the development of doctrine about angels.
The angels are represented throughout the Christian Bible as spiritual beings intermediate between God and men: "You have made him a little less than the angels ...". Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on : "praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts ... for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created ...". The Forty Gospel Homilies by Pope Gregory I noted angels and archangels. The Fourth Lateran Council declared that the angels were created beings. The Council's decree Firmiter credimus declared both that angels were created and that men were created after them. The First Vatican Council repeated this declaration in Dei Filius, the "Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith".
Thomas Aquinas relates angels to Aristotle's metaphysics in his Summa contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and in De substantiis separatis, a treatise on angelology. Although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.
InteractionThe New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10.
According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, "...the Devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him." In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels.
In 1851 Pope Pius IX approved the Chaplet of Saint Michael based on the 1751 reported private revelation from archangel Michael to the Carmelite nun Antonia d'Astonac. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her guardian angel.
Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address titled "Angels Participate In History Of Salvation", in which he suggested that modern mentality should come to see the importance of angels.
According to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, "The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture."
The New Church (Swedenborgianism)The New Church denominations that arose from the writings of theologian Emanuel Swedenborg have distinct ideas about angels and the spiritual world in which they dwell. Adherents believe that all angels are in human form with a spiritual body, and are not just minds without form. There are different orders of angels according to the three heavens, and each angel dwells in one of innumerable societies of angels. Such a society of angels can appear as one angel as a whole.
All angels originate from the human race, and there is not one angel in heaven who first did not live in a material body. Moreover, all children who die not only enter heaven but eventually become angels. The life of angels is that of usefulness, and their functions are so many that they cannot be enumerated. However each angel will enter a service according to the use that they had performed in their earthly life. Names of angels, such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, signify a particular angelic function rather than an individual being.
While living in one's body an individual has conjunction with heaven through the angels, and with each person, there are at least two evil spirits and two angels. Temptation or pains of conscience originates from a conflict between evil spirits and angels. Due to man's sinful nature it is dangerous to have open direct communication with angels and they can only be seen when one's spiritual sight has been opened. Thus from moment to moment angels attempt to lead each person to what is good tacitly using the person's own thoughts.Latter Day Saint movement views angels as the messengers of God. They are sent to mankind to deliver messages, minister to humanity, teach doctrines of salvation, call mankind to repentance, give priesthood keys, save individuals in perilous times, and guide humankind.
, Paradise'', illustration by Gustave Doré
Latter Day Saints believe that angels either are the spirits of humans who are deceased or who have yet to be born, or are humans who have been resurrected or translated and have physical bodies of flesh and bones, and accordingly Joseph Smith taught that "there are no angels who minister to this earth but those that do belong or have belonged to it." As such, Latter Day Saints also believe that Adam, the first man, was and is now the archangel Michael, and that Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah. Likewise the Angel Moroni first lived in a pre-Columbian American civilization as the 5th-century prophet-warrior named Moroni.
Smith described his first angelic encounter in the following manner:
Most angelic visitations in the early Latter Day Saint movement were witnessed by Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who both said they had been visited by the prophet Moroni, John the Baptist, and the apostles Peter, James, and John. Later, after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Smith and Cowdery said they had been visited by Jesus, and subsequently by Moses, Elias, and Elijah.
Others who said they received a visit by an angel include the other two of the Three Witnesses: David Whitmer and Martin Harris. Many other Latter Day Saints, both in the early and modern church, have said they had seen angels, although Smith posited that, except in extenuating circumstances such as the restoration, mortals teach mortals, spirits teach spirits, and resurrected beings teach other resurrected beings.
The Quran is the principal source for the Islamic concept of angels. Some of them, such as Gabriel and Michael, are mentioned by name in the Quran, others are only referred to by their function. In hadith literature, angels are often assigned to only one specific phenomena. Angels play a significant role in Mi'raj literature, where Muhammad encounters several angels during his journey through the heavens. Further angels have often been featured in Islamic eschatology, Islamic theology and Islamic philosophy. Duties assigned to angels include, for example, communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person's actions, and taking a person's soul at the time of death.
In Islam, just like in Judaism and Christianity, angels are often represented in anthropomorphic forms combined with supernatural images, such as wings, being of great size or wearing heavenly articles. The Quran describes them as "messengers with wings—two, or three, or four : He adds to Creation as He pleases..." Common characteristics for angels are their missing needs for bodily desires, such as eating and drinking. Their lack of affinity to material desires is also expressed by their creation from light: Angels of mercy are created from nur in opposition to the angels of punishment created from nar. Muslims do not generally share the perceptions of angelic pictorial depictions, such as those found in Western art.
Although believing in angels remain one of Six Articles of Faith in Islam, one can not find a dogmatic angelology in Islamic tradition. Despite this, scholars had discussed the role of angels from specific canonical events, such as the Mi'raj, and Quranic verses. Even if they are not in focus, they have been featured in folklore, philosophy debates and systematic theology. While in classical Islam, widespread notions were accepted as canonical, there is a tendecy in contemporary scholarship to reject much material about angels, like calling the Angel of Death by the name Azra'il.
Ibn Sina, who drew upon the Neo-Platonistic emanation cosmology of Al-Farabi, developed an angelological hierarchy of Intellects, which are created by "the One". Therefore, the first creation by God was the supreme archangel followed by other archangels, who are identified with lower Intellects. From these Intellects again, emanated lower angels or "moving spheres", from which in turn, emanated other Intellects until it reaches the Intellect, which reigns over the souls. The tenth Intellect is responsible for bringing material forms into being and illuminating the minds.
In Folk Islam, individual angels may be evoked in exorcism rites, whose names are engraved in talismans or amulets.
Some modern scholars have emphasized a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels.
ZoroastrianismIn Zoroastrianism there are different angel-like figures. For example, each person has one guardian angel, called Fravashi. They patronize human beings and other creatures, and also manifest God's energy. The Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, although there is no direct reference to them conveying messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ; they initially appeared in an abstract fashion and then later became personalized, associated with diverse aspects of the divine creation.
NeoplatonismIn the commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato, Proclus uses the terminology of "angelic" and "angel" in relation to metaphysical beings. According to Aristotle, just as there is a Prime Mover, so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers.Sikhs – the Sri Guru Granth Sahib – figuratively mentions a messenger or angel of death, sometimes as Yam and sometimes as Azrael :
In a similar vein, the Sri Guru Granth Sahib talks of a figurative Chitar and Gupat :
However, Sikhism has never had a literal system of angels, preferring guidance without explicit appeal to supernatural orders or beings.
Hermetic QabalahAccording to the Kabbalah as described by the Golden Dawn there are ten archangels, each commanding one of the choir of angels and corresponding to one of the Sephirot. It is similar to the Jewish angelic hierarchy.
|Rank||Choir of Angels||Translation||Archangel||Sephirah|
|1||Hayot Ha Kodesh||Holy Living Ones||Metatron||Keter|
|4||Hashmallim||Glowing ones, Amber ones||Tzadkiel||Chesed|
|8||Bene Elohim||Sons of Elohim||Michael||Hod|
TheosophyIn the teachings of the Theosophical Society, Devas are regarded as living either in the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system or inside the Sun and they help to guide the operation of the processes of nature such as the process of evolution and the growth of plants; their appearance is reputedly like colored flames about the size of a human. It is believed by Theosophists that devas can be observed when the third eye is activated. Some devas originally incarnated as human beings.
It is believed by Theosophists that nature spirits, elementals, and fairies also can be observed when the third eye is activated. It is maintained by Theosophists that these less evolutionarily developed beings have never been previously incarnated as humans; they are regarded as being on a separate line of spiritual evolution called the "deva evolution"; eventually, as their souls advance as they reincarnate, it is believed they will incarnate as devas.
It is asserted by Theosophists that all of the above-mentioned beings possess etheric bodies that are composed of etheric matter, a type of matter finer and more pure that is composed of smaller particles than ordinary physical plane matter.
OtherSuitably the Greek magical papyri, a set of texts forming into a completed grimoire that date somewhere between 100 BC and 400 AD, also list the names of the angels found in monotheistic religions. Except in this saga they appear as deities.
Numerous references to angels present themselves in the Nag Hammadi Library, in which they both appear as malevolent servants of the Demiurge and innocent associates of the aeons.human being, which they believe can be attained through a connection with God. It is expanded as a state of being rather that an entity.
New religious movementsBaháʼu'lláh, founder of the Baháʼí Faith, describes angels as people who "have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations", and have "clothed themselves" with angelic attributes and have become "endowed with the attributes of the spiritual". ʻAbdu'l-Bahá describes angels as the "confirmations of God and His celestial powers" and as "blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world" and "been released from the chains of self", and "revealers of God's abounding grace". The Baháʼí writings also refer to the Concourse on High, an angelic host, and the Maid of Heaven of Baháʼu'lláh's vision.
Satanismheavily promotes what it calls "literary Satanism", the idea of Satan and fallen angels as literary figures and metaphors. In particular, the novel Revolt of the Angels by Anatole France is seen as an example of this tradition. In it, a guardian angel by the name Arcade organizes a revolt against Heaven after learning about science.
In artAccording to mainstream Christian theology, angels are wholly spiritual beings and therefore do not eat, excrete or have sex, and have no gender. Although their different roles, such as warriors for some archangels, may suggest a human gender, Christian artists were careful not to given them specific gender attributes, at least until the 19th century, when some acquire breasts for example.
In an address during a General Audience of 6 August 1986, entitled "Angels participate in the history of salvation", Pope John Paul II explained that "he angels have no 'body'." Christian art perhaps reflects the descriptions in Revelation 4:6–8 of the Four Living Creatures and the descriptions in the Hebrew Bible of cherubim and seraphim. However, while cherubim and seraphim have wings in the Bible, no angel is mentioned as having wings.
The earliest known Christian image of an angel—in the Cubicolo dell'Annunziazione in the Catacomb of Priscilla —is without wings. In that same period, representations of angels on sarcophagi, lamps and reliquaries also show them without wings, as for example the angel in the Sacrifice of Isaac scene in the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus.
The earliest known representation of angels with wings is on the "Prince's Sarcophagus", attributed to the time of Theodosius I, discovered at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, in the 1930s. From that period on, Christian art has represented angels mostly with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Four- and six-winged angels, drawn from the higher grades of angels and often showing only their faces and wings, are derived from Persian art and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth. They often appear in the pendentives of church domes or semi-domes. Prior to the Judeo-Christian tradition, in the Greek world the goddess Nike and the gods Eros and Thanatos were also depicted in human-like form with wings.
Saint John Chrysostom explained the significance of angels' wings:
Angels are typically depicted in Mormon art as having no wings based on a quote from Joseph Smith.
In terms of their clothing, angels, especially the Archangel Michael, were depicted as military-style agents of God and came to be shown wearing Late Antique military uniform. This uniform could be the normal military dress, with a tunic to about the knees, an armour breastplate and pteruges, but was often the specific dress of the bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor, with a long tunic and the loros, the long gold and jewelled pallium restricted to the Imperial family and their closest guards.
The basic military dress was shown in Western art into the Baroque period and beyond, and up to the present day in Eastern Orthodox icons. Other angels came to be conventionally depicted in long robes, and in the later Middle Ages they often wear the vestments of a deacon, a cope over a dalmatic. This costume was used especially for Gabriel in Annunciation scenes—for example the Annunciation in Washington by Jan van Eyck.
Some types of angels are described as possessing more unusual or frightening attributes, such as the fiery bodies of the Seraphim, and the wheel-like structures of the Ophanim.