The most influential Christian angelic hierarchy was that put forward by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the 5th or 6th century in his book De Coelesti Hierarchia (On the Celestial Hierarchy), completed by Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae). Angels are divided into three types and nine orders.
Highest orders Seraphim Cherubim Thrones Middle orders Dominions Virtues Powers Lowest orders Principalities Archangels Angels
The Seraphs are generally accepted to be the highest order of God’s Angelic Servants. They stand by God’s throne chanting “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” – “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) They are beings of pure light and thought and have direct communication with God. They resonate with the Fire of Love. They appear with six wings and four heads.
According to Enoch, there were only 4 Seraphim, which corresponded to the four winds or directions. Later commentators interpreted this as there were 4 major princes who ruled over the Seraphim. They include either Metatron or Satan, Kemuel, Nathanael, and Gabriel.
Certain passages also refer to a saraph or Seraphim as “fiery serpents” (saraph means fiery) – see Numbers 21:6 and 21:8, Deuteronomy 8:15, and several passages in Isaiah. Isaiah 30:6 talkes of a “fiery flying serpent” which lives in the southern desert between Palestine and Egypt. Isaiah 6 is the only reference in the Bible to the Seraphim which does not identify them as serpents. Here they are described as standing “in attendance on Him. Each of them had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his legs, and with two he would fly.” (Isaiah 6:2)
It is possible that the earlier passages refer to a class of demons. Another interpretation is that the word comes from rapha meaning healer and ser meaning higher being.
There is much confusion in the ranks of angels. Some of the Seraphim are considered Archangels, even though the Archangels are ranked six orders below that of the Seraphim.
Metatron is sometimes identified as Satan, Prince of Darkness, or “old dragon.” He is said to possess 36 wings and countless eyes.
Genesis 3:24 says of that God placed “on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”
The Hebrew word Kerub is translated by some scholars as “one who intercedes” and by others as “knowledge.” The original Karibu were the terrible and monstrous guardians of the temples and palaces in Sumer and Babylon. There were also similar guardians in the Near East, and there were winged, eagle-headed deities that guarded an Assyrian Tree of Everlasting Life.
They are said to have 4 wings and 4 faces. Exodus 25 talks of how the Ark was to be decorated with Cherubim, while 1 Samuel 4:4 says that the Lord is “enthroned between the cherubim” on the Ark. Psalms 18:10 speaks of the Lord, who “mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.”
Ezekiel describes them as such:
“They had the figures of human beings. However, each had four faces, and each of them had four wings; the legs of each were [fused into] a single rigid leg, and the feet of each were like a single calf’s hoof; and their sparkle was like the luster of burnished bronze. They had human hands below their wings. The four of them had their faces and their wings on their four sides. Each one’s wings touched those of the other. They did not turn when they moved; each could only move in the direction of any of its faces. Each of them had a human face [at the front]; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right; each of the four had the face of an ox on the left; and each of the four had the face of an eagle [at the back]. Such were their faces. As for their wings, they were separated: above, each had two touching those of the others, while the other two covered its body.” – Ezekiel 1:5-11
Thrones (Ophanim or Galgallin)
The Ophanim seem to be God’s actual chariots. The Hebrew Galgal has the double meaning of wheels and of “pupil of the eye.”
“with them was something that looked like burning coals of fire. This fire, suggestive of torches, kept moving about among the creatures; the fire had a radiance, and lightning issued from the fire. Dashing to and fro [among] the creatures was something that looked like flares. As I gazed on the creatures, I saw one wheel on the ground next to each of the four-faced creatures. As for the appearance and structure of the wheels, they gleamed like beryl. All four had the same form; the appearance and structure of each was as of two wheels cutting through each other. And when they moved, each could move in the direction of any of its four quarters; they did not veer when they moved. Their rims were tall and frightening, for the rims of all four were covered all over with eyes. And when the creatures moved forward, the wheels moved at their sides’ and when the creatures were borne above the earth, the wheels were borne too.” Ezekiel 1:13-19
The thrones are said to reside either in the third or the fourth heaven. They are said to inhabit a region in which Heaven meets Earth. Raphael is thought to be the ruling Prince.
These angels are said to “regulate angels’ duties” according to Dionysius. They are described as Dominions, Lords, Kuriotetes, or Hashmallim.
They have been said to reside in the second heaven, where the celestial letters of the Holy Name reside. It is only with extreme rarity that the angelic lords make themselves physically known to humans.
The ruling Princes are said to be Zadkiel, Hashmal (aka Chasmal or the “fire speaking angel”), Yahriel, and Muriel.
Virtues are known for their control of the elements. These angels bestow blessings, usually in the form of miracles. They are also known as Malakim, Dunamis, and Tarshishim. They are associated with heroes and instill courage, and are known as “The Brilliant or Shining Ones.”
The Virtues escorted Christ to Heaven during the Ascension and according to the Book of Adam and Eve, were present at the birth of Cain.
The leaders are said to be Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Bariel, Tarshish, and Satanel (before his fall).
The Powers are also known as the Dynamis, the Potentiates, and the Authorities. They are said to be the first angels created by God, and are said to reside along the border between the first and second heavens. Their job is to guard against demons.
Camael is the leader of the order. His name means “he who sees God” and the Magus suggests that he is one of the seven angels who stands in the Presence of God. Camael is also identified as a Duke of Hell. He is said to have the body of a leopard.
Others believe him to be associated with Mars, the god of war. He also is commander of Destruction, Punishment, Vengeance, and Death. As Kemuel, he acts as a mediator between Israel and the Hierarchs of the seventh heaven.
Legends surrounding Camael claim it was he who wrestled with Jacob, he appeared to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even that he tried to prevent Moses from receiving the Torah from God.
The Powers are said to be the angels who guide the soul. They try to balance the good with the bad in hopes that the bad will not overpower the good, and hence, the individual will fall to the darker side. It is also said that they guide souls that have left the body and have lost their way.
The Principalities are those angels who are in charge of nations and great cities on Earth. Later they became the protectors of religion. The Principalities are shown wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. Their duty also is said to be to carry out the orders given to them by the upper sphere angels and bequeath blessings to the material world.
Their task is to oversee groups of people. They are the educators and guardians of the realm of earth. Like beings related to the world of the germinal ideas, they are said to inspire living things to many things such as art or science.
Several possible leaders are Nisrock, who is originally an Assyrian deity who sometimes is considered the chief chef to the Demon Princes of Hell.
Another possible chief is Anael, who is one of the seven angels of creation. He is associated with human sexuality, and is also governor of the second heaven. Other Principalities include Hamiel, who transported Enoch to Heaven (although he is also known as the Chaldean deity Ishtar) and Cervill, the Prince of Strength, who is said to have aided David when he slew Goliath.
These are the most frequently referenced class of angels in the bible. They are responsible for acting as God’s messenger in the critical times. They are considered to be the heralds of good news, and reveal the knowledge, God’s will and prophecies to the humans.
In Jewish and Christian sources, there are seven Archangels while in the Koran, there are said to be only four – only two are named: Jibril (Gabriel) and Michael. The Jewish and Christian sources differ in who they name as their seven. All agree on Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.
Archangels are called the great heralds of the Good News because they are sent by God to deliver important messages to mankind. They are the ones that communicate and interact with us. Michael is believed to be the angel who delivered God’s divine inspiration to John in the Book of Revelation and is known as the protector of the Church, guarding her from evil. Michael is most widely known for his role in expelling Lucifer from heaven.
Gabriel is first mentioned in the Book of Daniel and helps Daniel in his mission on earth. Later on, Gabriel appears to Zachariah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, delivering the greatest message ever that God meant to Incarnate and set his tent with us. Raphael is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, to heal Tobit and deliver Sarah from a demon. Raphael accomplished both acts, disguised as a human, guiding Tobias along the way and instructing him on what to do.
An additional angel, Metatron, which entered the Christian tradition via Christian Kabbalah, is described in the Babylonian Talmud as a heavenly scribe and in the Zohar as the king of the angels. The apocryphal Books of Enoch (especially 3 Enoch) tell that Metatron was previously the biblical Enoch, who, upon his ascension to Heaven, was transformed into an archangel and given the name Metatron. He was then bestowed the positions of chief of the archangels, and told the secrets of creation.