An angel is a supernatural being found in many religions, whose duties are to assist and serve God. They typically act as messengers, as believed in the main three monotheistic religions.
The English word originated from Latin, angelus, which is itself derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, ángelos, meaning "messenger" (double gamma "γγ" is pronounced "ng" in Greek). The closest Hebrew word for angel is מלאך, mal'ach, also meaning "messenger". "Angel" is also used in the English version of the Bible for the following three Hebrew words:
- אביר, abbir, Psalms 78:25 (lit. "mighty")
- אלהים, Elohim, Psalms 8:5
- the obscure שנאן, shin'an, in Psalms 68:17
Angelology is a branch of theology that deals with a hierarchical system of angels, messengers, celestial powers or emanations, and the study of these systems. It primarily relates to kaballistic Judaism and Christianity.
Angels in Zoroastrian Religion
Zoroastrianism recognizes various classes of spiritual beings besides the Supreme Being (Ahura Mazda): The Amesha Spentas, Yazatas, and Fravashis. In practice (cf. Sad Dar, chapter 26), Zoroastrians pick a patron angel for their protection, and throughout their lives are careful to observe prayers dedicated to that angel.
Amesha Spentas (Phl. Amahraspandan) ("Archangels")
Literally, "Beneficent Immortals", these are the highest spiritual beings created by Ahura Mazda. Their names are:
- Vohu Mano (Phl. Vohuman): lit. Good Mind. Presides over cattle.
- Asha Vahishta (Phl. Ardwahisht): lit. Highest Asha, the Amahraspand presiding over Asha and fire.
- Khshathra Vairya (Phl. Shahrewar): lit. 'Desirable Dominion', the Amahraspand presiding over metals.
- Spenta Armaiti (Phl. Spandarmad): lit. 'Holy Devotion', the Amahraspand presiding over the earth
- Haurvatat (Phl. Hordad): lit. 'Perfection or Health'. Presides over water.
- Ameretat (Phl. Amurdad): lit. 'Immortality', the Amahraspand presiding over the Earth.
Fravashis (Phl. Farohars) ("Guardian Angels")
Also known as Arda Fravash ("Holy Guardian Angels"). Each person is accompanied by a guardian angel (Y26.4, 55.1), which acts as a guide throughout life. They originally patrolled the boundaries of the ramparts of heaven (Bd6.3, Zs5.2), but volunteer to descend to earth to stand by individuals to the end of their days. Ahura Mazda advises Zarathushtra to invoke them for help whenever he finds himself in danger (Yt13.19-20). If not for their guardianship, animals and people could not have continued to exist, because the wicked Druj would have destroyed them all (Yt13.12-13).
The Fravashi also serves as an ideal which the soul has to strive for and emulate, and ultimately becomes one with after death (Y16.7, 26.7, 26.11, 71.23, Yt22.39) (See Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism, pg 232-243, 375-378)
They manifest the energy of God, and preserve order in the creation. They are said to fly like winged birds, and are represented by a winged disk, often with a person superimposed (as in the above representation).
Angels in the Tanakh
The Biblical name for angel, מלאך ("malach"), obtained the further signification of "angel" only through the addition of God's name, as "angel of the Lord," or "angel of God". Other appellations are "Sons of God"; and "the Holy Ones".
According to Jewish interpretation, 'Elohim is almost entirely reserved for the one true God; but at times 'Elohim (powers), bnēi 'Elohim, bnēi Elim (sons of gods) (i.e. members of the class of divine beings) were general terms for beings with great power (i.e. judges or alternately, some kind of super powerful human beings). Hence they came to be used collectively of super-human beings, distinct from God and, therefore, inferior and ultimately subordinate (e.g. Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6).
Angels are referred to as "holy ones" (Zechariah 14:5) and "watchers" (Daniel 4:13). They are spoken of as the "host of heaven" (Deuteronomy 17:3) or of "Adonai" (Joshua 5:14). The "hosts," צבאות Tzevaot in the title Adonai Tzevaot (alternatively, Adonai Tzivo'ot), Lord of Hosts, were probably at one time identified with the angels. The identification of the "hosts" with the stars comes to the same thing; the stars were thought of as being closely connected with angels. However, God is very jealous of the distinction between Himself and angels, and consequently, the Hebrews were forbidden by Moses to worship the "host of heaven". It is probable that the "hosts" were also identified with the armies of Israel, whether this army is human, or angelic. The New Testament often speaks of "spirits," πνεύματα (Revelation 1:4).
Prior to the emergence of monotheism in Israel the idea of an angel was the Malach Adonai, Angel of the Lord, or Malach Elohim, Angel of God. The Malach Adonai is an appearance or manifestation of God in the form of a man, and the term Malach Adonai is used interchangeably with Adonai (God). (cf. Exodus 3:2, with 3:4; Exodus 13:21 with Exodus 14:19. Those who see the Malach Adonai say they have seen God (Genesis 32:30; Judges 13:22). The Malach Adonai (or Elohim) appears to Abraham, Hagar, Moses, Gideon, &c., and leads the Israelites in the Pillar of Cloud (Exodus 3:2). The phrase Malach Adonai may have been originally a courtly circumlocution for the Divine King; but it readily became a means of avoiding anthropomorphism, and later on, when angels were classified, the Malach Adonai meant an angel of distinguished rank. The identification of the Malach Adonai with the Logos, or Second Person of the Trinity, is not indicated by the references in the Hebrew scriptures; but the idea of a Being partly identified with God, and yet in some sense distinct from him, illustrates a tendency of Jewish religious thought to distinguish persons within the unity of the deity. Christians think that this foreshadows the doctrine of the Trinity, whereas Kabbalist Jews would show how it developed into Kabbalistic theological thought and imagery.
In earlier literature the Malach Adonai or Elohim is almost the only angel mentioned. However, there are a few passages which speak of subordinate superhuman beings other than the Malach Adonai or Elohim. There are the cherubim who guard the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 18, Genesis 19 the appearance of God to Abraham and Lot is connected with three, afterwards two, men or messengers; but possibly in the original form of the story God appeared alone (Cf. 18:1 with 18:2, and note change of number in 19:17). At Bethel, Jacob sees the angels of God on the ladder Template:Bibleverse, and later on they appear to him at Mahanaim Template:Bibleverse. In all these cases the angels, like the Malach Adonai, are connected with or represent a theophany. Similarly the "man" who wrestles with Jacob at Peniel is identified with God (Genesis 32:24, 30). In Template:Bibleverse the seraphim, superhuman beings with six wings, appear as the attendants of God. Thus, the pre-exilic literature rarely mentions angels, or other superhuman beings other than God and manifestations of God; the pre-exilic prophets hardly mention angels. An angel of Template:Bibleverse might be the Malach Adonai, as in 19:5, cf. 7, or the passage, at any rate in its present form, may be exilic or post-exilic. Nevertheless we may well suppose that polytheists in ancient Israel believed in superhuman beings other than God, but that the inspired writers have mostly suppressed references to them as unedifying.
Once the doctrine of monotheism was formally expressed, in the period immediately before and during the Exile (Template:Bibleverse and Template:Bibleverse), we find angels prominent in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel, as a prophet of the Exile, may have been influenced by the hierarchy of supernatural beings in the Babylonian religion, and perhaps even by the angelology of Zoroastrianism (it is not, however, certain that these doctrines of Zoroastrianism were developed at so early a date). Template:Bibleverse gives elaborate descriptions of cherubim (a class, or type of angels); and in one of his visions, he sees seven angels execute the judgment of God upon Jerusalem. As in Genesis, they are styled "men"; malach, for "angel", does not occur in Ezekiel. Somewhat later, in the visions of Zechariah, angels play a great part; they are sometimes spoken of as "men", sometimes as malach, and the Malach Adonai seems to hold a certain primacy among them Template:Bibleverse. The Satan also appears to prosecute (so to speak) the High Priest before the divine tribunal Template:Bibleverse. Similarly in the Job the bnei Elohim, sons of God, appear as attendants of God, and amongst them, Satan (Hebrew ha-satan), again in the role of public prosecutor, the defendant being Job (Job 1, 2. Cf. Template:Bibleverse). Occasional references to "angels" occur in the Psalter (Pss. 91:11, 103:20 &c.); they appear as ministers of God.
The seven angels of Ezekiel may be compared with the seven eyes of God in Zechariah 3:9, 4:10. The latter have been connected by Ewald and others with the later doctrine of seven chief angels (Tobit 12:15; Revelations 8:2), parallel to and influenced by the Ameshaspentas (Amesha Spenta), or seven great spirits of the Persian mythology.
During the Persian and Greek periods, the doctrine of angels underwent a great development, partly, at any rate, under foreign influences. In Daniel, c. 160BCE, 71 angels, usually spoken of as "men" or "Angel-princes", appear as guardians or champions of the individual nations, defending them as God sits in council with them over the world; grades are implied, there are "princes" and "chief" or "great princes"; and the names of some angels are known, Gabriel, Michael; the latter is pre-eminent (Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse, 20-21), he is the guardian of Israel's leading Kingdom of Judah. Again in Tobit a leading part is played by Raphael, "one of the seven holy angels". (Tob. 12:15.)
In Tobit, too, we find the idea of the demon or evil angel. In the canonical Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures, angels may inflict suffering as ministers of God, and Satan may act as accuser or tempter; but they appear as subordinates to God, fulfilling His will, and not as independent, morally evil agents. The statement (Job 4:18) that God "charged his angels with folly" applies to all angels. In Daniel, the princes, or guardian angels, of the heathen nations oppose Michael, the guardian angel of Judah. But in Tobit, we find Asmodeus the evil demon, τὸ πονηρὸν δαιμόνιον, who strangles Sarah's husbands, and also a general reference to "a devil or evil spirit", πνεῦμα (Tobit 3:8, 17; 6:7).
The Fall of the Angels is not properly a scriptural doctrine, though it is based on Gen. 6:2, as interpreted by the Book of Enoch. It is true that the bnē Elohim of that chapter are subordinate superhuman beings (cf. above), but they belong to a different order of thought from the angels of Judaism and of Christian doctrine; and the passage in no way suggests that the bne Elohim suffered any loss of status through their act.
The guardian angels of the nations in Daniel probably represent the gods of the heathen, and we have there the first step of the process by which these gods became evil angels, an idea expanded by Milton in Paradise Lost. The development of the doctrine of an organized hierarchy of angels belongs to the Jewish literature of the period 200 BC to A.D. 100. In Jewish apocalypses especially, the imagination ran riot on the rank, classes and names of angels; and such works as the various books of Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah supply much information on this subject.
Appearance of angels
In the Hebrew Bible, angels often appear to people in the shape of humans of extraordinary beauty, and often are not immediately recognized as angels (Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse); some fly through the air; some become invisible; sacrifices touched by them are consumed by fire; and they may disappear in sacrificial fire, like Elijah, who rode to heaven in a fiery chariot. Angels, or the Angel, appeared in the flames of the thorn bush (Template:Bibleverse; Judges 6. 21, 22; Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse). They are described as pure and bright as Heaven; consequently, they are said to be formed of fire, and encompassed by light Template:Bibleverse, as the Psalmist said (Template:Bibleverse): "He makes winds His messengers, burning fire His ministers." Some verses in the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon depict angels wearing blue or red robes but no such reference occurs in the Protestant books.
Though superhuman, angels can assume human form; this is the earliest conception. Gradually, and especially in post-Biblical times, angels came to be bodied forth in a form corresponding to the nature of the mission to be fulfilled—generally, however, the human form. Angels bear drawn swords or other destroying weapons in their hands—one carries an ink-horn by his side—and ride on horses (Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse et seq.). It is worth noting that these angels carry items that are contempory to the time in which they visit (perhaps angels are bound by the technology which humans have achieved, or perhaps the items they carry have symbolic significance). A terrible angel is the one mentioned in Template:Bibleverse, as standing "between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand". In the Book of Daniel, reference is made to an angel "clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: his body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude" (Template:Bibleverse). This imagery is very similar to the description of Jesus in the book of Revelation. Angels are thought to possess wings (Template:Bibleverse), as they are described in the Bible, and depicted in Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian art. They are commonly depicted with halos.
In Christian iconography, the use of wings is a convention used to denote the figure as a spirit. Depictions of angels in Christian art as winged human forms, unlike classical pagan depictions of the major deities, follow the iconic conventions of lesser winged gods, such as Eos, Eros, Thanatos and Nike.
Angels are portrayed as powerful and dreadful, endowed with wisdom and with knowledge of all earthly events, correct in their judgment, holy, but not infallible: they strive against each other, and God has to make peace between them. When their duties are not punitive, angels are beneficent to man (Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse; Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse).
The number of angels is enormous. Jacob meets a host of angels; Joshua sees the "captain of the host of the Lord"; God sits on His throne, "all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on his left"; the sons of God come "to present themselves before the Lord" (Gen. xxxii. 2; Josh. v. 14, 15; I Kings, xxii. 19; Job, i. 6, ii. 1; Ps. lxxxix. 6; Job, xxxiii. 23). The general conception is the one of Job (xxv. 3): "Is there any number of his armies?" In the book of Revelation, the number is "a thousand thousands, and many tens of thousands".
Though the older writings usually mention one angel of the Lord, embassies to men as a rule comprised several messengers. The inference, however, is not to be drawn that God Himself or one particular angel was designated: the expression was given simply to God's power to accomplish through but one angel any deed, however wonderful.
Angels are referred to in connection with their special missions as, for instance, the "angel which hath redeemed," "an interpreter," "the angel that destroyed," "messenger of the covenant," "angel of his presence," and "a band of angels of evil" (Gen. xlviii. 16; Job, xxxiii. 23; II Sam. xxiv. 16; Mal. iii. 1; Isa. lxiii. 9; Ps. lxxviii. 49, R. V.). When, however, the heavenly host is regarded in its most comprehensive aspect, a distinction may be made between cherubim, seraphim, chayot ("living creatures"), Ofanim ("wheels"), and Arelim (another name for Thrones). God is described as riding on the cherubim and as "the Lord of hosts, who dwelleth between the cherubim"; while the latter guard the way of the Tree of Life (I Sam. iv. 4, Ps. lxxx. 2, Gen. iii. 24). The seraphim are described by Isaiah (vi. 2) as having six wings; and Ezekiel describes the ḥayyot (Ezek. i. 5 et seq.) and ofanim as heavenly beings who carry God's throne.
In post-Biblical times, the heavenly hosts became more highly organized (possibly as early as Zechariah [iii. 9, iv. 10]; certainly in Daniel), and there came to be various kinds of angels; some even being provided with names, as will be shown below. My girlfriend Katie Klimko. <3
In the Bible, angels are a medium of God's power; they exist to execute God's will. Angels reveal themselves to individuals as well as to the whole nation, in order to announce events, either good or bad, affecting humans. Angels foretold to Abraham the birth of Isaac, to Manoah the birth of Samson, and to Abraham the destruction of Sodom. Guardian angels were mentioned, but not, as was later the case, as guardian spirits of individuals and nations. God sent an angel to protect the Hebrew people after their exodus from Egypt, to lead them to the promised land, and to destroy the hostile tribes in their way (Ex. 23.20, Num. 20.16).
In Judges (ii. 1) an angel of the Lord—unless here and in the preceding instances (compare Isa. xlii. 19, Ḥag. i. 13, Mal. iii. 1), a human messenger of God is meant—addressed the whole people, swearing to bring them to the promised land. An angel brought Elijah meat and drink (I Kings, xix. 5); and as God watched over Jacob, so is every pious person protected by an angel, who cares for him in all his ways (Ps. xxxiv. 7, xci. 11). There are angels militant, one of whom smites in one night the whole Assyrian army of 185,000 men (II Kings, xix. 35); messengers go forth from God "in ships to make the careless Ethiopians afraid" (Ezek. xxx. 9); the enemy is scattered before the angel like chaff (Ps. xxxv. 5, 6).
Avenging angels are mentioned, such as the one in II Sam. xxiv. 15, who annihilates thousands. It would seem that the pestilence was personified, and that the "evil angels" mentioned in Ps. lxxviii. 49 are to be regarded as personifications of this kind. "Evil" is here to be taken in the causative sense, as "producing evil"; for, as stated above, angels are generally considered to be by nature beneficent to man. They glorify God, whence the term "glorifying angels" comes (Ps. xxix. 1, ciii. 20, cxlviii. 2; compare Isa. vi. 2 et seq.).
They constitute God's court, sitting in council with Him (I Kings, xxii. 19; Job, i. 6, ii. 1); hence they are called His "council of the holy ones" (Ps. lxxxix. 7, R. V.; A. V. "assembly of the saints"). They accompany God as His attendants, when He appears to man (Deut. xxxiii. 2; Job, xxxviii. 7). This conception was developed after the Exile; and in the Zechariah, angels of various shapes are delegated "to walk to and fro through the earth" in order to find out and report what happens (Zech. vi. 7).
In the prophetic books, angels appear as representatives of the prophetic spirit, and bring to the prophets God's word. Thus the prophet Haggai was called God's messenger (angel); and it is known that "Malachi" is not a real name, but means "messenger" or "angel". In I Kings, xiii. 18, an angel brought the divine word to the prophet.
In some places, it is implied that angels existed before the Creation (Gen. i. 26; Job, xxxviii. 7). The earlier Biblical writings did not speculate about them; simply regarding them, in their relations to man, as God's agents. Consequently, they did not individualize or denominate them; and in Judges, xiii. 18, and Gen. xxxii. 30, the angels, when questioned, refuse to give their names. In Daniel, however, there occur the names Michael and Gabriel. Michael is Israel's representative in Heaven, where other nations—the Persians, for instance—were also represented by angelic princes. More than three hundred years before the Book of Daniel was written, Zechariah graded the angels according to their rank, but did not name them. The notion of the seven eyes (Zech. iii. 9, iv. 10) may have been affected by the representation of the seven archangels and also possibly by the seven amesha spentas of Zoroastrianism (compare Ezek. ix. 2).
Angels appear in several Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) stories, in addition to the ones previously mentioned above. These include the warning to Lot of the imminent destruction of Sodom. Many Bible chapters mention an "angry God" who sends His angel to smite the enemies of the Israelites. Traditional Jewish biblical commentators have a variety of ways of explaining what an angel is. The earliest Biblical books present angels as heavenly beings created by God, some of whom apparently are endowed with free will. Later biblical books in the Tanakh present a stunningly different view of angels, as the Jewish beliefs about such things developed over the many years covered in the Bible. Such a differing perspective on angels is discovered in the Book of Ezekiel, where these angels bear no relation whatsoever to the former understanding of what an angel was.
The archangels named in post-exile Judaism are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jerahmeel. Gabriel and Michael are mentioned in the book of Daniel, Raphael in the book of Tobit (from the Protestant Apocrypha or Catholic and Orthodox Deuterocanon) and the remaining four in the book of Enoch from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox).
Maimonides and rationalism
In the Middle Ages, some Jews developed a rationalist view of angels that is still accepted by many Jews today. The rationalist view of angels, as held by Maimonides, Gersonides, Samuel Ibn Tibbon, etc., states that God's actions are never mediated by a violation of the laws of nature. Rather, all such interactions are by way of angels. Even this can be highly misleading: Maimonides harshly states that the average person's understanding of the term "angel" is ignorant in the extreme. Instead, he says, the wise man sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as "angels" are actually metaphors for the various laws of nature, or the principles by which the physical universe operates, or kinds of platonic eternal forms. This is explained in his Guide of the Perplexed II:4 and II:6.
- "...This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the 'angels which are near to Him', through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move....thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world."
- "...Aristotle's doctrine that these disembodied spheres serve as the nexus between God and existence, by whose mediation the sphere are brought into motion, which is the cause of all becoming, is the express import of all the Scriptures. For you will never in Scripture find any activity done by God except through an angel. And "angel", as you know, means messenger. Thus anything which executes a command is an angel. So the motions of living beings, even those that are inarticulate, are said explicitly by Scripture to be due to angels.
- ...Our argument here is concerned solely with those "angels" which are disembodied intellects. For our Bible is not unaware that God governs this existence through the mediation of angels...(Maimonides then quotes discussions of angels from Genesis, Plato, and Midrash Bereshit Rabbah)...the import in all these texts is not—as a primitive mentality would suppose—to suggest any discussion or planning or seeking of advice on God's part. How could the Creator receive aid from the object of his creation? The real import of all is to proclaim that existence—including particular individuals and even the formation of the parts of animals such as they are—is brought about entirely through the mediation of angels.
- For all forces are angels! How blind, how perniciously blind are the naïve?! If you told someone who purports to be a sage of Israel that the Deity sends an angel who enters a woman's womb and there forms an embryo, he would think this a miracle and accept it as a mark of the majesty and power of the Deity—despite the fact that he believes an angel to be a body of fire one third the size of the entire world. All this, he thinks, is possible for God. But if you tell him that God placed in the sperm the power of forming and demarcating these organs, and that this is the angel, or that all forms are produced by the Active Intellect—that here is the angel, the "vice-regent of the world" constantly mentioned by the sages—then he will recoil. For he [the naïve person] does not understand that the true majesty and power are in the bringing into being of forces which are active in a thing although they cannot be perceived by the senses.
- The sages of blessed memory state clearly—to those who are wise themselves—that every bodily power (not to mention forces at large in the world) is an angel and that a given power has one effect and no more. It says in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah "We are given to understand that no angel performs two missions, nor do two angels perform one mission."—which is just the case with all forces. To confirm the conclusion that individual physical and psychological forces are called "angels", there is the dictum of the sages, in a number of places, ultimately derived from Bereshit Rabbah, "Each day the Holy One creates a band of angels who sing their song before him and go their way." Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, LXXVIII. When this midrash was countered with another which suggests that angels are permanent...the answer given was that some are permanent and other perish. And this is in fact the case. Particular forces come to be and pass away in constant succession; the species of such forces, however, are stable and enduring....[Giving a few more examples of the mention of angels in rabbinic writings, Maimonides says] Thus the Sages reveal to the aware that the imaginative faculty is also called an angel; and the mind is called a cherub. How beautiful this will appear to the sophisticated mind—and how disturbing to the primitive."
One can perhaps say that Maimonides thus presents a virtual rejection of the "classical" Jewish view of miracles; he and others substitute a rationalism that seems more appropriate for 20th and 21st century religious rationalists.
In the New Testament angels appear frequently as the ministers of God and the agents of revelation (e.g. Template:Bibleref (to Joseph), 4:11. (to Jesus), Luke 1:26 (to Mary), Acts 12:7 (to Peter)); and Jesus speaks of angels as fulfilling such functions (E.g. Mark 8:38, 13:27), implying in one saying that they neither marry nor are given in marriage (Mark 12:25). Angels are most prominent in the Apocalypse. The New Testament takes little interest in the idea of the angelic hierarchy, but there are traces of the doctrine. The distinction of good and bad angels is recognized, with the good angels Gabriel (Luke 1:19), Metatron (Rev. 10:1 - no name is mentioned there so it could merely be a writer's suggestion rather than a fact - ), and Michael (Daniel 12:1), and the evil angels Beelzebub, (Mark 3:22) Satan (Mark 1:13), and Apollyon (Rev. 9:11); ranks are implied, archangels (Michael, Jude 9), principalities and powers (Rom. 8:38; Col. 2:10), thrones and dominions (Col 1:16). Angels occur in groups of four or seven (Rev 7:1). The Angels of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor are described in Rev. 1-3. These are probably guardian angels, standing to the churches in the same relation that the angel-princes in Daniel stand to the nations; practically the angels are personifications of the churches.
The archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary in the traditional role of messenger to inform her that her child would be the Messiah, and other angels were present to herald his birth. In Matt. 28:2, an angel appeared at Jesus' tomb, frightened the Roman guards, rolled away the stone from the tomb, and later told the myrrh-bearing women of Jesus's resurrection. Alternately, in Mark 16:5, the angel is not seen until the women enter the already-opened tomb, and he is described simply as "a young man." In Luke's version of the resurrection tale (Luke 24:4), two angels suddenly appear next to the women within the tomb; they are described as being clothed in "shining apparel." This is most similar to the version in John 20:12, where Mary alone speaks to "two angels in white" within the tomb of Jesus.
Two angels witnessed Jesus's ascent into Heaven and prophesied his return. When Peter was imprisoned, an angel put his guards to sleep, released him from his chains, and led him out of the prison. Angels fill a number of different roles in the Book of Revelation. Among other things, they are seen gathered around the Throne of God singing the thrice-holy hymn.
Angels are frequently depicted as human in appearance, though many theologians have argued that they have no physical existence, but can incarnate. Seraphim are often depicted as having six wings radiating from a center concealing a body, as depicted in the Bible. Starting with the end of the 4th century, angels were depicted with wings, presumably to give an easy explanation for them travelling to and from heaven. This is also heavily implied by the Scriptures. Scholastic theologians teach that angels are able to reason instantly, and to move instantly. They also teach that angels are intermediaries to some forces that would otherwise be natural forces of the universe, such as the rotation of planets and the motion of stars. Angels possess the beatific vision, or the unencumbered understanding of God (the essence of the pleasure of heaven). Furthermore, there are more angels than there are anything else in the universe (although when first written this would have probably not included atoms since atomic structure was not known).
- Main article: Hierarchy of Angels
Religious thought about the angels during the middle ages was much influenced by the theory of the angelic hierarchy set forth in The Celestial Hierarchy, a work of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, an unknown 5th century author or authors writing in the style of Dionysius the Areopagite. The creeds and confessions do not formulate any authoritative doctrine of angels; and agnostics have tended to deny the existence of such beings, or to regard the subject as one on which we can have no certain knowledge. The principle of continuity, however, seems to require the existence of beings intermediate between man and God.
Some Christian traditions hold that angels are organized into three major hierarchies which are subdivided into orders called Choirs, and list as many as ten orders of angels. The Celestial Hierarchy is the source of the names that have become part of tradition: Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. In this hierarchy, the Cherubim and Seraphim are typically closest to God, while the Angels and Archangels are most active in human affairs; however, in some traditions Archangels are considered the highest-ranking order, and it is notable that there are fewer Archangels than any other category. Many of these names come from verses in the Bible which would appear at first to be referencing a literal thing, although retroactively suggesting that they really mention angels can also make sense in the context. For example the verse in Paul "our struggle is not with earthly things but with principalities and powers" (meaning according to most theologians the fallen angels of those choirs, used as an example of all the fallen angels).
Some Christian traditions also hold that angels play a variety of specific roles in the lives of believers. For instance, in Catholic teaching each person is assigned a guardian angel at their birth (although never defined by the Anglican or Orthodox churches, nevertheless it is personally held by many church members and most theologians that in these denominatios the Angel is assigned at Baptism). Each consecrated altar has at least one angel always present offering up prayers, and a number of angels join the congregation when they meet to pray (in Catholicism the teaching is that thousands of Angels descent around the altar to adore the Host as it is consecrated, as they did at the stable to herald the physical birth of Jesus). In the story of the 40 martyrs of Sebaste, in which 40 Christian Roman soldiers were made to stand naked on a frozen lake in the snow until they renounced their faith, angels were seen descending from Heaven placing the crowns of martyrs on their heads.
Certain Christian traditions, especially the Reformed tradition within Protestantism, the Anglican Church, and the Catholic Church, hold that references to the "Angel of the Lord" are references to pre-Incarnation appearances of Jesus.
Some medieval Christian philosophers were influenced by the views of Maimonides, and accepted his view of angels. Today, these views of angels are still technically acceptable within many mainstream Christian denominations.
Satan, Beelzebul, and the rest of the demons are thought by Christians to be angels who rebelled against God and were expelled from Heaven. Christianity generally does not recognize the existence of other religions' gods, but some schools of thought consider such beings to be rebellious celestial spirits who oppose the Trinity and fraudulently present themselves as gods.
In many informal folk beliefs among Christians concerning the afterlife, the souls of the virtuous dead ascend into Heaven to be converted into angel-like beings. The Bible does state that at the resurrection, people will be like the angels with regard to marriage and immortality (Luke 20:35-36), and teaches such a transformation, for instance, at 1Cor 15:51, it states that the saints will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3). Flavius Josephus in Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades, VI, teaches of resurrected men and woman. Zechariah 5:9 could be interpreted that there are also female angels. The statement of 1Cor 11:10 could be interpreted as if male angels could be vulnerable to female attractiveness by raping woman--which would produce a giant (Gen. 6) or bring about the end of the world by conceiving the Antichrist. Official doctrines of most Christian churches teach that the virtuous are resurrected at the end of time, having a physical body again, unlike angels (see Swedenborgianism for a church that does officially and systematically teach that people enter heaven immediately after death).
It is also commonly held belief in many modern christian traditions that the immortal soul of a human that has died and risen to Heaven can eventually become an Angel themselves. Some views consist of and automatic incarnation based on the purity of ones soul, others believe in a form of trial for less pure souls to seem if deemed worthy to join.
- Main article: Angels in Islam
In Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, angels are called "Maalikah". The belief in angels is central to the religion of Islam, beginning with the belief that the Qur'an was dictated to the Prophet Muhammad by the chief of all angels, the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). Angels are thus the ministers of God, as well as the agents of revelation in Islam.
In Islam, angels are benevolent beings created from light and do not possess free will. They are completely devoted to the worship of God (Allah) and carry out certain functions on His command, such as recording every human being's actions, placing a soul in a newborn child, maintaining certain environmental conditions of the planet (such as nurturing vegetation and distributing the rain) and taking the soul at the time of death. Angels are described as being excessively beautiful and have different numbers of wings (for example, Gabriel is attributed as having six-hundred wings in his natural form). They can take on human form, but only in appearance. As such, angels do not eat, procreate or commit sin as humans do.
According to the majority of Islamic scholars, angels are incapable of committing sin, and therefore cannot fall from grace, excluding Iblis who chose to do evil because he had free-will and is not considered as a fallen angel, but a separate entity made of fire called jinn. Scholars cite the following Quranic ayat (verse), "And when We said to the Angels; "Prostrate yourselves unto Adam." So they prostrated themselves except Iblis. He was one of the jinn..." (Surat Al-Kahf, 18:50). Angels, unlike the fiery nature of jinn, are beings of goodness and cannot choose to disobey God, nor do they possess the ability to do evil.
The archangel Jibril is attributed with sending the message of Allah to all the Prophets (including the Psalms, Torah, Bible and Qur'an. Other angels include Michael (Mikaeel) who discharges control of vegetation and rain, Sarafiel (Israfil) who will blow the trumpet on Yaum al Qiyamah (the day of resurrection), and Azrael (Izra'il), the angel of death (as opposed to the Christian view that Gabriel is the angel of death). The angels Nakir and Munkar are assigned to interrogate the dead before judgement day; and there are nineteen angels over-seeing the punishments of hell unflinchingly (Surat Al-Muddaththir, 74:30). There are eight massive angels that support the Throne of God (Surat Al-Haaqqa, 69:17). Every human being is assigned two angels to scribe a record of all actions done by the individual throughout their life, which will be used in evidence for or against the person by Allah on the day of judgement.
Humans do not turn into angels upon death, rather they are physically resurrected in body and soul and judged by God on judgement day (and that should they end up in Jannah (heaven), they are given perfect bodies).
Latter-Day Saint views
Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism), and several of his associates, claimed that they were visited by angels on multiple occasions and for a variety of purposes in conjunction with the restoration of the gospel of Jesus.
According to the official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (Bible Dictionary entry on "Angels"):
- "These are the messengers of the Lord, and are spoken of in the epistle to the Hebrews as 'ministering spirits'. We learn from latter-day revelation that there are two classes of heavenly beings who minister for the Lord: those who are spirits and those who have bodies of flesh and bone. Spirits are those beings who either have not yet obtained a body of flesh and bone (unembodied), or who have once had a mortal body and have died, and are awaiting the resurrection (disembodied). Ordinarily the word 'angel' means those ministering persons who have a body of flesh and bone, being either resurrected from the dead (reembodied), or else translated, as were Enoch, Elijah, etc. (D&C 129)."
Joseph Smith, Jr. described his first angelic encounter thus (Joseph Smith History 1:31-33):
- "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. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.
- "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."
People who claimed to have received a visit by an angel include Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris. Although Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris all eventually became disaffected with Smith and left the church, none of them retracted their statement that they had seen and conversed with an angel of the Lord, and indeed, even defended their claim of angelic visitation to their deaths.
In Zoroastrianism, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but this is not strictly correct since they don´t convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water...).
In English, the Sanskrit word Deva is usually translated as "god" (though sometimes left as "Deva"), which certainly gives a polytheistic appearance to Hinduism. Many Hindus say that this is a poor practice, because the best word for God in Sanskrit is Ishvara (the Supreme Lord). The Devas may be better translated as angels or demigods. They are celestial beings with supernatural powers, but also weaknesses. They grant material benefits to humans upon praying and sacrificing to them, though they don't carry the message of Ishvara to the humans as in Abrahamic religions (a category of such beings also exist, called "devaduta" or "duta"). Examples of such devas are Indra, Mitra, Ashvins, Varuna, etc. Buddhism and Jainism also use the word "deva", but in different senses.
Aleister Crowley tried to teach people to attain what he called "the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel". Within the system of Thelema, the Holy Guardian Angel is representative of one’s truest divine nature. Citing Crowley, people have linked the term with the Genius of the Golden Dawn, the Augoeides of Iamblichus, the Atman of Hinduism, and the Daemon of the gnostics.
According to most Thelemites, the single most important goal is to consciously connect with one’s HGA, a process termed "Knowledge and Conversation." By doing so, the magician becomes fully aware of his own True Will. For Crowley, this event was the single most important goal of any adept:
It should never be forgotten for a single moment that the central and essential work of the Magician is the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Once he has achieved this he must of course be left entirely in the hands of that Angel, who can be invariably and inevitably [be] relied upon to lead him to the further great step—crossing of the Abyss and the attainment of the grade of Master of the Temple. (Magick Without Tears, Ch.83)
Crowley felt that attaining Knowledge and Conversation was so important, that he staked the claim that any other magical operation was, in a sense, evil.
Angels as a development step of the soul
Some mystics believe, that a soul is growing in steps from minerals, plants and animals to men. When the human body dies, a soul could become an angel. The Persian Sufi mystic poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi wrote in his poem Masnavi:
- I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
- I died as a plant and rose again an animal.
- I died as an animal and arose a man.
- Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
- I shall die once again as a man
- To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
- Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
- I shall become what passes the conception of man!
- Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
- Sings to me in organ tones, 'To him shall we return.'
- (Translation from Wikisource, Masnavi I Ma'navi, Book III, Story XVII)’’
The Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg has a similar imagination. In his late work Conjugal Love he describes, that a soul of a man and a soul of a woman are united by the marriage in Heaven to become an angel.
Angels in the media
In the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, angels came to be viewed in a post-modern light, with an all-too-human edge of fallibilty , giving rise to the so-called 'chain-smoking angel' who appeared in such films as Constantine starring Keanu Reeves and Michael starring John Travolta.
- Hierarchy of angels
- Angels in art
- Angelici, ancient sect that worshipped angels
- Angel of death
- Guardian angel
- Neon Genesis Evangelion
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