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September 25, 2006




I love my religion.

It's like a giant collection of stuff that can be nuked.... (In non-navy terms, nit-picked or "you think too much"ed)

All borrowed from Zoarastrianism



(How gauche of me--again!)

Paul Hoffer

I always understood the Church teaching that there were different orders of Angels: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim with each order having a different function in the Kingdom of Heaven. Considering that angels belonging to the different orders are depicted differently in the Bible, that would suggest that there are different kinds or races or species of angels so-to-speak.

Brother Cadfael

Peter Kreeft's book on angels is quite good, and, to my recollection, he follows Aquinas on this point quite persuasively.

Matt McDonald

"rather than a Thomistic perspective"

While I agree that Benedict XVI is an Augustinian, I don't think that that implies any opposition to the work of St. Thomas. What St. Thomas' work does is apply logic and reason to the faith. This is most necessary and is the basis for much of our theology so far as it goes beyond revelation. The idea that one can be opposed to this is something like what Paul warns us of in 1 Cor 1:12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith: I indeed am of Paul; and I am of Apollo; and I am of Cephas; and I of Christ. 13 Is Christ divided?

That is not to say that one can't have a particular focus or interest in the work of a particular area, just caution is necessary to exclude what is true about the fundamentals, or any other area of focus.

As far as the discussion about the species of angels, it seems to me that if we accept St. Thomas' understanding of how creatures are related by species, then it is can be proven that they are not a species. If we want to think of "species" in another way, then his proof would not apply. It's a semantic difference. Angels are not related the way you and I are related, with a common ancestry. We are all brothers and sisters in a real sense, angels are not in a real sense, but certainly in that we are all creatures of the father.


I have a question that may or may not be related- I as Lutheran was always taught the "Sethite" view of Genesis 6: 1-5.(Unbelievers marrying believers at the time) But some evangelicals teach that this passage(supposedly supported by the book of Enoch) means that angels intermarried and interbred with human women producing Nephelim or the Giants which would have been destroyed in the Flood(but there were a few around afterword since David had to kill one (Goliath)). At any rate the idea was to plooute the human lineage that the Savior was supposed to come from. This is completly foriegn from what I was taught as I was taught (As A Lutheran) that angels are pure spirit and although they can assume physical form- cannot produce children) as they would have no DNA, right? ) What is the Catholic view on this or is there one?


I'm not sure there's an official Catholic view, as such; the "Sethite" view seems to be most in line with the Church Fathers however.

See also this Q&A on EWTN.com.


Thank you MenTalguY!

J.R. Stoodley

Paul Hoffer,

As far as I know, those "orders" of angels are Medieval mythology that the Church has never taught. At most the official use of the word "Archangel" for Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael suggest an endorsement of that idea. Also most of those names do appear in the bible, but not together, with nothing to suggest some are not synonymes for each other, and certainly no suggestion of such a hierarchy. Anyone know better than me?

Jay E. Adrian

I believe it was Dionysius the Areopagite (Pseudo-Dionysius) who first outlined the nine "choirs" of angels that we have carried to this day. In any case, it comes from the Patristic era.

J.R. Stoodley

In any case I don't consider Pseudo-Dionysius a reliable sourse of Apostolic teaching. Especially since the Bible does not seem to support his angelology. The four living creatures are fairly clearly the personification of all creation, but they seem to be the origin of the idea of the Saraphim. The Principalities and Powers of Paul if I recall correctly clearly refer to demons not good angels. The cherubim are a form of representing more or less angelic creatures in ancien Middle-Eastern art.

I don't doubt that there are greater and lesser angels, but this specific heirarchy seems like a big old bucket of semi-gnostic hogwash.

Matt McDonald

J.R. Stoodley,

there 2 references to archangels in the Douay-Rheims Bible, so your suggestion that there are no greater or lesser angels is the "hogwash".

As to the details of cherubim, seraphim, etc. etc. I don't think I have time to do the necessary research, but I'm sure there's significant support for it. The fact that it was widely held throughout the Church certainly lends some credibility.

I don't know why you would suggest such a beleif to be even semi-gnostic, there is a hierarchy among men, in the Church, the family, and even the Blessed Trinity, why not among the angels?

Jared Weber

Stoodley: To say that Principalities and Powers are automatically demons is not correct. St. Paul may just as readily have said that we contend against angels (because, well, we do), but that wouldn't have meant that all angels are evil.

In fact, other writings by Paul seem to support (or rather, they at least do not contradict) Psuedo-Dionysius's rendering. For example, he says in Ephesians that Christ is raised up "above all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion" and in Colossians that "[i]n Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers."

Strictly speaking, then, God did not create demons. He created angels who, of their own volition, chose evil and therefore became demons.

Also, I'd never heard it asserted that the four living creatures were the origin of the idea of the Seraphim, but rather, that they are first described in Isaiah chapter six.

Also, that Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are distinct and separate from one another can be gleaned from the mere fact that they have different characteristics and that they used to have distinct feast days, until they were combined into one feastday for all three--which, by the way is this Friday, Sept. 29. However, until that happened Sept. 29 was known only as Michaelmas.

J.R. Stoodley

To be clear, I agreed above that there are no doubt greater and lesser angels, made reference to the archangels and how that specific designation is supported by the Church, and never claimed or heared claimed before that Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are the same being.

Now, why would we contend against angels who are fellow servants of God? This makes no sense to me.

Also, why is Michael the apparent leader of the angels in Revelation if the archangels are the second-lowest rank?

Also the Seraphim are always depicted with three pairs of wings, one pair extended and two pairs covering themselves, just like the living creatures of Isaiah and Revelation, and the NAB actually calls these the seraphim in the footnotes.

I call this heirarchy semi-gnostic because it dosn't have to do with revelation or salvation but is an essoteric heirarchy dreamed up by a shady character rather late in the patristic period. His popularity in the Middle Ages (when he was mistakenly thought to be from apostolic times, before they realized he was paraphrasing from much later neoplatonic books) and the passing down of his angelology to the present time does not make him right.

As for my calling this stuff semi-gnostic, I was refering to the esoteric spirit of these unautoritative speculations, which like gnosticism reflect the spirit described by St. Paul when he wrote to Timothy "I repeat the request I made of you when I was on my way to Macedonia, that you stay in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to teach false doctrines or to concern themselves with myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the plan of God that is to be received by faith." (1 Tim 1:3-4)

Stephen JPG

I've never understood why "thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers" had to refer to angels specifically...

Couldn't they just be, you know...thrones, dominions/dominations, principalities, and powers? Christ is certainly above all of these, and all of these (variations on temporal organizations of power) do attack the Christian soldier.

J.R. Stoodley

Stephen JPG,

You may have a point as regards Col 1:16.

"for in him [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.

However, consider Eph 6:12

"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Clearly this refers to Satan and his demons, not human beings (flesh and blood), and certainly not good angels.

These are the kinds of verses this heirarchy is based on (besides imagination) which is one reason why I do not believe it.

Dr. Eric

"Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy opinions vary; St. Basil (Hom. de angelis) and other Greek Fathers, also Salmeron, Bellarmine, etc., place St. Michael over all the angels; they say he is called "archangel" because he is the prince of the other angels; others (cf. P. Bonaventura, op. cit.) believe that he is the prince of the seraphim, the first of the nine angelic orders. But, according to St. Thomas (Summa Ia.113.3) he is the prince of the last and lowest choir, the angels. The Roman Liturgy seems to follow the Greek Fathers; it calls him "Princeps militiae coelestis quem honorificant angelorum cives". The hymn of the Mozarabic Breviary places St. Michael even above the Twenty-four Elders. The Greek Liturgy styles him Archistrategos, "highest general" (cf. Menaea, 8 Nov. and 6 Sept.)."

From the Catholic Encyclopedia

Jared Weber

Stoodley: Short answer for now. We contend against angels in the same way that we might contend against men. Those angels are evil (what we call demons) just as those men (if we are on God's side) are evil. But we still call them "men." Why is it startling to hear the same thing with regard to angels (in the broadest sense)?

J.R. Stoodley


Nothing at all. I must have misunderstood you. I thought you were saying that these "principalities and powers" that we are contending against are actually these choirs of good angels. Naturally demons can still be called angels.

It does seem odd though to use their former ranks, to designate them, for instance calling a fallen principality a principality or a fallen power a power. You might as well call Satan a seraph.

It still seems plain as day to me though that St. Paul wasn't refering to a heirarchy of angels thought up by some 5th century guy from which these demons fell but was using terms like "principalities," "powers," and "world rulers" to describe the dominion the demons have over this fallen world.

Dr. Eric

"It does seem odd though to use their former ranks, to designate them, for instance calling a fallen principality a principality or a fallen power a power. You might as well call Satan a seraph."

There are some who believe that Satan was a "lower" angel like a Cherub or a Principality, otherwise St. Michael couldn't have thrown him out of Heaven.

Also, we still refer to Hugo Chavez as President even though he hates our guts. Even our enemies deserve the respect due to their offices.



>>>Also, why is Michael the apparent leader of the angels in Revelation if the archangels are the second-lowest rank?

Perhaps God elevated him to a highly exalted status because he led the charge against Lucifer and his rebellious angels? Just a guess....

>>>I call this heirarchy semi-gnostic because it dosn't have to do with revelation or salvation but is an essoteric heirarchy dreamed up by a shady character rather late in the patristic period.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Angels, Pope St. Gregory the Great preached the following in a Homily:

"We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tell us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: 'above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination'; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: 'whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers'. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels."

(From http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01476d.htm )

>>>There are some who believe that Satan was a "lower" angel like a Cherub or a Principality, otherwise St. Michael couldn't have thrown him out of Heaven.

Ezekiel 28:11-19, a passage often applied to Lucifer, indicates that he was a cherub (vs 14).

In Jesu et Maria,

Jared Weber

The explanation I'd read (I'll find the source later) is that St. Michael is by nature an archangel, second lowest of the choirs, but that he, by virtue of his actions during the War in Heaven, was promoted to the station of Prince of the Heavenly Host. It is similar to the way in which Mary is, by nature merely human, but by virtue of her Fiat, Queen of Heaven (Queen of the Angels).


Great post as always, Jimmy! One small correction: on Aquinas's theory, there IS a second principle of individuation, namely form. The angels ARE individuated--by their forms--otherwise they would not be individual angels!

What matter does that form does not, on Aquinas's view, is to make possible many individuals WITHIN a species.

Again, great post! You turn out such consistently good work, it's incredible.

Maybe not all borrowed from Zoaristianism. But Persians may have influenced. Bill912 asked for evidence so here it is:

Many secular scholars beilieve that Judeo-Christianity owes a great debt to Zoroastrianism in regards to the introduction of angelology and demonology, as well as the fallen angel Satan as the ultimate agent of evil, comparing him to the evil spirit Ahriman. As the Iranian Avestan and Vedic traditions and also other branches of Indo-European mythologies show, the notion of demon had existed long before.

It is believed that Zoroastrianism had an influence on Jewish angelology[3], and therefore modern Christian angelology, due to the appearance of elements from Zoroastrianism in Judaism following Israel's extended contact with the Persian Empire while in exile in Babylon,[4] which have led some to believe that Zoroastrianism borrowed these beliefs from Judaism. Borrowed notions may include, the introduction of Satan as a supreme head over the powers of evil (present mainly in Christian and Islamic theology), in contrast to God[5]: comparing Satan to Angra Mainyu (also known as Ahriman) of Zoroastrian faith[6], who was the arch-enemy of Ahura Mazda, the supreme Universal God of mankind.[7]Angels, some also believe, may have first been depicted as God's helpers in Zoroastrianism, and their hierarchy is comparable to modern Angelology's hierarchy[8].

This view is questioned though by those who point out that the Torah, the Book of Job, and other Jewish books depicting angels as messengers of God predate the time of Persian influence.

In contrast to the first view, some critics believe that it was Judaism and Christianity that had an influence on Zoroastrianism. They purport that similarities, such as those between Zoroaster and Jesus, and the incorporation of other motifs, were created by priests in an attempt to exalt Zoroaster, and deter those of Zoroastrian faith from converting to other faiths[9].

Matt McDonald

Anonymous Apologist for Zaroastrianism,

This is a Christian place, we believe in the inspired guidance of the Holy Spirit in the authorship of the Old Testament, and New Testament. Secular (read atheist) scholars do not hold sway. They generally approach the historicity of Christianity/Judaism with an intent to discredit. They have failed to be successful in any significant way.

It seems logical and reasonable that things which are revealed in the Christian/Judaic scriptures should be found in other faith traditions. God embedded certain concepts in our nature, and so it makes sense that certain common themes occur in various religions.

If you want to better understand the Christian faith, perhaps you should start from the beginning, angelology is probably not a good starting point.


Cool discussion. Some thoughts:

(1) The traditional choirs of angels are a functional classification -- that is, they are usually argued for (by Aquinas, for instance) by dividing up the different types of tasks we know that angels must be able to do. Thus they need not be considered exclusive -- every angel in every choir of angels is legitimately called an angel, every angel in a choir higher than mere angel can be called an archangel, etc. (Thus, there needn't be any problem with Michael being called an archangel.) They also need not be considered any more than functional (although traditionally they were) -- i.e., they may be no more an identification of species than 'streetsweeper' and 'president' indicate different species.

(2) On Lucifer being called a cherub, Aquinas insists that Lucifer was the highest of the angels, which means that, on Aquinas's view, Lucifer was a seraph when he served God. But to be a seraph means to be wholly devoted to the love of God; so to call Lucifer, as an angel who sinned, a seraph would be misleading. To be a cherub is to be devoted to knowledge of God, which is (technically) consistent with sin, so Aquinas argues Lucifer has to be called a cherub.

(3) But, of course, there's nothing that rides on one's view (or lack of view) about the angelic hierarchy as such; and focusing too much on it can even be dangerous. The one thing that makes it important is that angelology is the theology of providence written in a different key, much like Mariology is Christology written in a different key. That is, even if you consider the choirs of angels and all that to be more a mythological or poetic description, it's important in that it's really an indirect discussion of providence, and all the functions attributed to the angels shed light on different aspects of God's care for the world. Love (seraphim), knowledge (cherubim), and justice (thrones) at the top organize all the other things God does either directly or indirectly, from making the universe work (virtues) to caring for nations (principalities) to caring for individual creatures (angels). (This, I think, is one of the reasons why the traditional classification of choirs of angels strikes most people as very plausible. Even if angels aren't literally organized like this, it would make a lot of sense for them to be so, at least in some way.) So to that extent, even if it's not a natural language for us to speak, it's worth paying attention to it.

J.R. Stoodley

There is apparently a Zoroastrian demon in the book of Tobit. This helps confirm to me that there is in fact a Zoroastrian connection. Also the fact that the Magi were likely Zoroastrians helps establish for me that Zoroastrianism, despite its unfortunate errors and superstitians, has a positive place in God's plan. Because of this I don't have a problem with the idea that Zoroastrians had more knowledge about demons and perhaps the good angels (mixed with error of course) than was revealed to the early Israelites, and that during the Babylonian exile some of this knowledge was passed on to the Jews. Perhaps the initial passing on was guided by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps it was only in later Jewish angelology and demonology and in the latter Jewish scriptures that the Holy Spirit guided the beliefs. Certainly all Spripture and Tradition is from God and so what we know about angels and demons from that is true.

Still, we don't know much. This thread has proven that even amoung those inclined to believe myths about angels and demons, there is disagreement arising from the different myths or theories floating around.

I do accept that some angels are greater than others, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael being examples of greater ones, each person has a personal guardian angel, and from Fatima and suggestions in the Psalms that each nation has a guardian angel. I have also heard (I don't know if it is just mythology too but it sounds good to me) that the various forces of nature and species have guirdian or guiding angels. I just don't accept that this specific ridged heirarchy is anything but late Roman pseudo-mystical imaginings, though Brandon's explanation of it, which I wonder if it comes from a much later date, makes some sense.

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