The word “angel” comes from the Greek word meaning “messenger.” According to St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, the myriads of angelic beings are said to be organized into nine choirs of angels, three hierarchies of three choirs each. The most generally accepted model is (from highest to lowest): seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels. I imagine that there are infinite sorts of angels just as there are myriad human personalities. In my experience, each Holy Angel is its own being with its own personality, and its individual, reflected Light from the Divine is recognizable and unique.
In a way, the Holy Angels are Divine Fragments. If we took a Beautiful Glass Vase of many colours and then broke it into fragments – those Divine Fragments would all be different, reflect the Light in a different manner because of the Shapes of the Fragments and the Colours of the Fragments – and these would be the Holy Angels. The Holy Angels are somewhat like Fragments of the Divine Essence and Consciousness. And unlike human beings, the Holy Angels never forget where their power comes from, that it comes from God.
Each angel has its own specific duties and abilities.
We are all given one guardian angel, although often people are assigned extra angels if they have a special mission or need. To my knowledge every angel has a name, even the fallen angels, and this strengthens my belief that angels have separate and individual identities and personalities.
Many saints and philosophers believe that the angelic realms were created before all the manifested universes. Others say that the angels were created together with the material universe. In spite of these theological differences, most religions and philosophies agree that angels are pure spirit, without physical bodies, and that they never incarnated and never will. However, in the New Testament it is said that angels can temporarily take on human form. (Heb. 13:2 : “And hospitality do not forget; some have entertained angels unawares.”)
Some theologians say that angels are higher spiritually than humans, although many others state that humans are higher than angels. However, the theologians all seem to agree that there are hierarchies in the angelic realms. From all accounts, within their hierarchies angels take directives from whoever is above them, and they must obey.
Angels, as well as humans, were given free will, and not all angels follow God. However, the purpose of this article is not to dwell on the fallen angels, but rather to speak of the Holy Angels.
The Holy Angels
Throughout history, numerous Prophets and saints have been aware of the Holy Angels. Padre Pio both saw and spoke with his guardian angel, as did other Catholic saints. Accounts of the appearance of angels and their role in regard to humanity, both personal and impersonal, run through the Old and New Testaments. In the Revelations of Saint John, we are told that the Holy angels will be with humanity, working on earth and also from Heaven, even until the end of the earth.
While the four archangels, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, are best known to us humans – it is generally agreed that there are seven archangels who preside over the ninth and lowest choir of angels. According to St. Thomas Aquinas and other scholars, the seraphim are the Highest angels, and they perpetually contemplate God in heaven. The angels that we humans generally interact with are in the last and lowest hierarchy, the Principalities. The two choirs of angels closest to us, the Archangels and angels, we humans can call on any time: for protection, aid, healing, spiritual guidance and help. In my understanding – and I am not a theologian – when we call on angels for external protection or aid, we are interacting with the five lowest choirs of angels, i.e. those closest to manifestation. These angelic beings can act as messengers and Divine agents, bringing messages from God to earth, and from earth back to God. They are given the power to guide, teach, protect and heal us. They can also intercede with God for us, as do the saints and Our Lady. As human beings, we can call on angels to help others as well, and for a myriad of reasons and intentions. In my experience, their response to our prayers is immediate, swift beyond our comprehension, because they are not limited by our time and space framework – and I have never known an angel to refuse to help someone in need. There are many stories of angels sent by God that have prevented accidents, in some cases pushing people out of harm’s way, or even carrying people to safety. In most cases, we are not even aware of their presence or the protection and guidance they give us. This protection can be physical or emotional – or spiritual. St. Gregory writes that nothing in the visible world occurs without the agency of invisible beings.
Unlike humans and other earthly creatures, angels are not limited by time or space. Also, unlike humans and other earthly creatures, the angels are not capable of the infinite shades and sides of feelings and thoughts. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any human to be all good or all evil – whereas, in angels, this polarity is a basic definition of the angelic beings. Perhaps angels are simpler in this way because they are the first reflection of God in form. When I say form, I do not mean a physical form, for angels are pure spirit. I mean that they are the first created beings, even though still prior to our manifested universe.
It also seems to me that the holy angels are a more pure and direct reflection of the Light of the Trinity than humans. When I say “reflection”, I mean in the sense that the angelic beings seem to more purely reflect the eternal Glory and Beauty of God. It is almost as if the Divine Light pours through the holy angels and radiates from them, as though through a sheet of clear glass. We humans are also a reflection of God, but we are not pure spirit. We have a physical body that can obscure the Divine Light of the Soul. However, humans were created in the image of God, and have the Trinity within them, embedded in the soul. And, while on earth, by the practice and development of the virtues and through grace and deep prayer, human beings can be brought to mystical union with God. Since all that is created by God is of the same Source and Essence, I do not see it as a question of “higher than” or “lower than”, as do the theologians. Angels and humans are two species of created creatures with free will, each with their own unique and given connection to the Divine. And each creature of each species must choose whether to turn towards or away from God.
The Holy Angels are never tempted or confused by our human, conventional reality – they never forget God and a truer Reality. Nor do they ever forget where their power comes from, that it comes from God. Nonetheless, they perceive both their realm and ours, and they recognize and know us and each other. The Holy Angels I have consciously met have a Sweetness and a Beauty, a Radiance and a Power that humans do not possess. Even though they have Divine Intelligence, they often say little or nothing. Their words are simple, direct and clear. They bring information and often ask a question – or both. In these “conversations” they have brought me advice, guidance, clarification, as well as information and directives from God. In this sense they are literally messengers from God, and act as envoys between realms.