Angelology

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Angelology is a real word. It means ‘the study of angels’. There are even books on it.

There seems to be two types of angelology: the study of angels as they appear in religious artefacts (books, sculpture etc) and also study of the angels themselves.

How do you study angels? I mean, it’s not like you can set a trap (humane, of course) and bait it with… what? A soul? Or put an ad in the local paper. “Wanted: Angel(s) for interview.” So angelology traditionally means a lot of extrapolation and a lot of speculation.

Angels appear in all the Abrahamic religions (as you’d expect from religions sharing a common origin) as guardians of humanity and messengers of God. The concept of divine messengers also occurs in other religions, although the terminology may not be the same.

But hey, I think I’ll stick to the Abrahamics, if it’s all the same to you. Include Hinduism etc, and we could be here all day.

There are lots of angels, and mostly their names end in ‘-el’, which is a suffix meaning ‘of God’ in Hebrew. Others end in ‘-yah’ which means ‘Lord’, again in Hebrew. An exception is Metatron, who doesn’t seem to have any clear etymology behind him (no, nothing to do with insects – that’s entomology). Maybe at some time in the future I’ll make a list of angels and their duties (for example, Metatron is – some say – the only angel who can look upon the face of God, and hence is known as Prince of the Countenance). But it would be a long list.

Angels allegedly come in different ranks, although there isn’t much agreement on how the ranks are arranged. The different orders of angel are as follows:

Seraphim,
Cherubim,
Thrones (or Ophanim, or Erelim),
Dominions (or Dominations),
Virtues (or Authorities),
Powers (or Potentates),
Principalities (or Rulers),
Archangels,
Angels.

About the only thing angelologists seem to agree on is that Seraphim are at the top of the pile, and Cherubim second. Archangels are second-from-bottom, and ordinary common-or-garden Angels are right at the bottom of the heap. Everything else is negotiable; I’ve used St Thomas Aquinas’ ordering; he groups his in three hierarchies of three orders of angel.

Putti – those little winged babies you get all over baroque art – don’t count. They’re Art, not Theology, and confusing them with Cherubim is likely to get you smacked if a Cherub hears you.

Whatever ranking the different orders of angels have, the further up the ranks you go, the less the angels have to do with humanity, or at least with individual humans – the intermediate grades of angel might be responsible for whole countries. When you get right to the top (Seraphim), their job is apparently to surround the throne of God, constantly shouting praises. (I have to say, my first thought is, Don’t they get laryngitis or something? and my second thought is Isn’t that rather distracting? Does this explain the duck-billed platypus?)

Right at the bottom of the scale, you’ve got ordinary angels, who seem to be the gophers of heaven. (As in go-fer-it, not as in cute rodents that live in large communities.) There’s some debate over whether Gabriel is an angel or an archangel, and whether Michael, who is definitely an archangel, is the kind that’s nearly at the bottom of the heap, or whether he’s an Arch-Angel, as in, top-dog angel in charge of all the rest.

So far, I haven’t found out where angels come from; presumably created by God directly. Unlike demons, for whom the Abrahamic religions have at least two alternative explanations that I know of (I’ll probably talk about demons later). There also doesn’t appear to be much opportunity for promotion; angels don’t seem to die, and nor do they seem to change position in the ranks. Great if you’re Metatron, less good if you’re one of the minions.

I think I’ll stop there; wouldn’t want to bore you.

And here is some angel-related music: Let All the Angels of God Worship Him from Handel’s Messiah.

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