Angels: The Celestial Heirarchy

In pre-modern times, it was taken for granted that angels existed. People not only believed in angels, they expected to see them, and frequently did. The Old Testament is full of appearances of angels, as is the Nativity.

Also taken for granted was that there is a heirarchy amongst the angels. Whilst many schemes have been proposed, the standard work has always been the 5th Century De Coelesti Hierarchia written by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.

The schema outlined by Pseudo-Dionysius has nine ranks in three groups of three. You can see them depicted on the magnificent medieval rood screen at The Church of St Michael and All Angels in Barton Turf in Norfolk.

  • Seraphim
  • Cherubim
  • Thrones θρόνος (thronos) G2362
  • Dominations κυριότης (kuriotēs) G2963
  • Virtues δύναμις (dunamis) G1410
  • Powers ἐξουσία (exousia) G1849
  • Principalities ἀρχή (arche) G746
  • Archangels αρχάγγελος (archangělǒs) G743
  • Angels άγγελος (angelos) G32

The Cherubim and Serpahim we know from hymns and Christmas Carols, and the terms angels and archangels are familiar, but what about all the ones in the middle? Well, it’s all there in the New Testament – you just have to know how to look. Paul’s letters (especially Ephesians) abound in references to the angels:

…the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion
– Eph 1:19-21 (KJV)

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers
– Col 1:16 (KJV)

Paul is talking about angels here, but even the KJV does not capitalise the words, so you have no way of knowing. In case you are wondering, the archangels are there too (1 Th 4:16).

Paul Hurst took some excellent photographs of the Rood Screens in Norfolk. His photographs of the angels at Barton Turf were exhibited at the RC Cathedral in Norwich as part of the Art Alive in Churches project for 2011. You can see some of them in an article on the BBC News website on an earlier exhibition, Faire is the Heaven, which took place in 2010 at St Peter Hungate on Princes Street (now an exhibition space).

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~ by scalambra on December 9, 2011.

2 Responses to “Angels: The Celestial Heirarchy”

  1. I spent my childhood summers at Barton Turf and rowed around the Broad many times when older, but missed this one. It looks in exactly the same style as the medieval screen at Saint Helen’s Ranworth.

    Browne has his complete works in his Library (S.C. page 1:16) and Julian of Norwich has been identified as being familiar with Dionysus the Areopagite too.

    Some Brunonian fanatic who treats the learned Hermetic philosopher as his guru and guardian angel posted this on Wikipedia years ago; there’s another interesting piece by Browne on Angels in his note-books, but its probably best not to consult the old Norvicensian hermit scholar on that or you will never get away from him ! (See the truly hilarious –

    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/To_an_illustrious_friend_on_his_wearisome_Chatterer

    Therefore for Spirits I am so farre from denying their existence, that I could easily believe, that not only whole Countries, but particular persons have their Tutelary, and Guardian Angels: It is not a new opinion of the Church of Rome, but an old one of Pythagoras and Plato; there is no heresay in it, and if not manifestly defined in Scripiture, yet is it an opinion of a good and wholesome use in the course and actions of a man’s life, and would serve as an Hypothesis to salve many doubts, whereof common philosophy affordeth no solution. Religio Medici Part 1:33

  2. ‘The learned Gaspar Schottus dedicates his Thaumaturgus Mathematicus unto his tutelary of Guardian Angel..now though we must not lose God in good Angels or, because their presence is always supposed about us, hold less memory of the onminprescency of God in our prayers and addresses for his care and protection over us; yet they who do assert such spirits do find something out of Scripture and Antiquity for them. But whether the Angel which wrestled with Jacob were Esaus good angel; whether our Saviour on earth had one deputed unto him, or whether that was his good angel which appeared and strengthened him before his passion; whether Anti-Christ shall have any,whether all men have one, some more; whether these Angels do guard successively and distinctly unto one person after another or whether but once and singly but one person at all; whether we are under the care of our mothers good Angel in the womb or whether that spirit undertakes us when the stars are thought to concern us, that is at our nativities, men have a liberty and latitude to opinion’. -Sir T.B.

    O no, he got here.Is there no stopping his nuisance !

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