Ranks of Angels

In various theistic religious traditions, an angel is a supernatural spiritual being who serves God.

Abrahamic religions often depict angels as benevolent celestial intermediaries between God (or Heaven) and humanity. Other roles include protectors and guides for humans, such as guardian angels and servants of God. Abrahamic religions describe angelic hierarchies, which vary by religion and sect. Some angels have specific names (such as Gabriel or Michael) or titles (such as Seraph or Archangel). Those expelled from Heaven are called fallen angels, distinct from the heavenly host.

Angels in the art are usually shaped like humans of extraordinary beauty, though this is not always the case; sometimes, they can be portrayed in a frightening, inhuman manner. They are often identified in Christian artwork with bird wings, halos, and divine light.

Angels are represented throughout Christian Bibles as spiritual beings, which are intermediate between God and humanity: "For thou hast made him [man] a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour" (Psalms 8:4–5). Christians believe that angels have created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2–5; Colossians 1:16). Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible refer to intermediary beings as angels instead of daemons, thus giving rise to a distinction between demons and angels. In the Old Testament, both benevolent and fierce angels are mentioned but never called demons. The symmetry lies between angels sent by God and intermediary spirits of foreign deities, not in good and evil deeds.

In the New Testament, the existence of angels, just like that of demons, is taken for granted. They can intervene and intercede on behalf of humans. Angels protect the righteous (Matthew 4:6, Luke 4:11). They dwell in the heavens (Matthew 28:2, John 1:51), act as God's warriors (Matthew 26:53) and worship God (Luke 2:13). In the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus, angels behave as psychopomps. The Resurrection of Jesus features angels, telling the woman that Jesus is no longer in the tomb but has risen from the dead.

According to Augustine of Hippo, the term 'angel' refers to "the name of their office, not [...] their nature", as they are pure spirits who act as messengers, clarifying: "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."[ Gregory of Nazianzus thought that angels were made as "spirits" and "flames of fire", following Hebrews 1, and that they can be identified with the "thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities" of Colossians 1.

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 others 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 the doctrine about angels.

Forty Gospel Homilies by Pope Gregory I (c. 540 – 12 March 604) noted angels and archangels. The Fourth Lateran Council's (1215) Firmiter credimus decree (issued against the Albigenses) declared that angels were created beings and men were created after them. The First Vatican Council (1869) repeated this declaration in Dei Filius, the "Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith".

Thomas Aquinas (13th century) 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. According to the Summa Theologica, angels were created instantaneously by God in a state of grace in the Empyrean Heaven (LXI. 4) at the same time when he created all the contents of the corporeal world (LXI. 3). They are pure spirits whose life consists in knowledge and love. Being bodiless, their knowledge is intellectual and not through senses (LIV. 5). Differently from humans, their knowledge is not acquired from the exterior world (having acquired all knowledge they would ever receive in the moment of their creation); moreover, they attain to the truth of a thing at a single glance without the need of reasoning (LV. a; LVIII. 3,4). They know all that passes in the external world (LV. 2) and the totality of creatures. Still they don't know human' secret thoughts that depend on human free will and thereby are not necessarily linked up with external events (LVII. 4). They don't know the future unless God reveals it to them (LVII. 3).

According to Aquinas, angels are the closest creatures to God. Therefore, like God, they are constituted by pure form without matter. While they do not have a physical composition of matter and form (called ilemorphysm), they possess the metaphysical composition of the act (the act of being) and potency (their finite essence, yet without being. Each angel is a species to which a unique individual belongs to angels differ one from another by way of their unique and irrepetible form. In other words, form - and not matter - is their principle of individuation

Abraham and son

Archangel Michael

Archangel Gabriel


Jacob's Latter

Assumption of Mary

Four Horseman's of Apocalypses



From the Jewish Encyclopedia, entry "Angelology".

(Only these two angels are mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible; the rest are from extra-biblical tradition.)