Reading the Bible, there are numerous references to the existence of angels—but only as pure spirits without shape or gender. As Christian dogma evolved, so did the evolution of angelic beings created by God to worship him. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declared that the angels were created beings and that men were created after them. The word angel derives from the Latin angelus, meaning ‘messenger’, and the Old Testament does not say much else. According to Kabbalah, there are four worlds, and our world is the last world, the world of action (Assiyah). 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 three angels, and Lot meets 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.
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 disagreement regarding the nature of angels. Some argued that angels had physical bodies, while others maintained they were entirely spiritual. Some theologians 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. You may be surprised at how many orders of angels the Christian church invented since the Bible was written!
Seraphim: The highest order of angels, with six wings: two cover their faces, two cover their feet, and two are for flying.
Cherubim: They rank after the seraphim and are the second highest in the nine hierarchies or choirs of angels.
Thrones: They are the Angels of pure Humility, Peace and Submission. They reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape. The lower Choir of Angels need the Thrones to access God.
Dominions: They are Angels of Leadership. They regulate the duties of the angels, making known the commands of God.
Virtues: They are known as the Spirits of Motion and control the elements.
Powers: Powers are Warrior Angels against evil defending the cosmos and humans. They are known as potentates. They fight against evil spirits who attempt to wreak chaos through human beings.
Archangels: They are generally taken to mean ‘chief or leading angel’, and are God’s messenger to the people at critical times in history and salvation.
Principalities: They are metaphysical beings which are quite hostile to God and human beings.
Angels: These are closest to the material world and human begins. They deliver the prayers to God and God’s answers and other messages to humans.
In December 22, 2013, Angelologist Father Renzo Lavator stated that, ‘Angels exist but they don’t have wings. They are more like shards of light’. So, how were these host ranked and why were they invented to begin with? You may very well ask. When did angels acquire wings? The earliest known Christian image of an angel in the Cubicolo dell’Annunziazione in the Catacomb of Priscilla dated to the middle of the third century, is a depiction of the Annunciation in which Gabriel is portrayed without wings. Representations of angels on sarcophagi and on objects such as lamps and reliquaries of that period also show them without wings.
The first representation of angels with wings was found on the Prince’s Sarcophagus, discovered at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, in the 1930s, attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379-395). Flying winged angels, very often in pairs flanking a central figure or subject, are derivations in visual terms from pairs of winged Victories in classical art. From then on Christian art generally represented angels with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (432-440). Multi-winged angels, often with only their face and wings showing, are derived from Persian art and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth.
Although the Church officially denies that angels—if there are such things—have wings, it does nothing to dispel the myth as a mechanism to enhance the faith.
2 comments on “On Angel’s Wings”
Fascinating, Stefan. I had no idea
there were that many “categories” of
angels. Learn something new every
day! Thanks for sharing.
The Christian churches have been busy inventing angels, among other things, expecting the faithful to somehow know theses things automatically. How they came up with this pantheon of angels is anyone’s guess.