Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Saturday 15 May |
Saint of the Day: St. Isidore the Farmer
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Common questions about archangels and the angelic hierarchy

CO TRZEBA WIEDZIEĆ O ARCHANIOŁACH

GFreihalter | CC BY-SA 3.0

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/22/21

What is the difference between an angel and an archangel?

Angels are all around us, though we may never see them with our physical eyes. God created them in the beginning and appointed them to be his messengers to humanity.

The Bible has many stories of these angelic messengers, such as St. Gabriel announcing the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary.

However, archangels and the angelic hierarchy can be a bit confusing to some people.

Here is a brief rundown of the most common questions about archangels and the ranks of angels in the heavenly court.

What is the difference between an angel and an archangel?

First of all, the English word “angel” comes from the Latin angelus, meaning “messenger of God.” The Latin stems from Greek ἄγγελος ángelos, which is a translation of the Hebrew mal’ākh, meaning “messenger,” or “delegate,” or “ambassador.”

When it comes to the term, “archangel,” the word includes the prefix “arch-,” used to denote something as “chief” or “principal.” An “arch-angel” then is a “chief messenger” of God.

These angels are higher in rank than guardian angels, but are still part of the second lowest rank. It is believed that these two lowest ranks of angels are the only ranks who interact with humans.

Archangels are also given the most important messages that must be delivered to humans. Such was the task of St. Gabriel, when he delivered the news to Mary that she was to bear the Messiah.

How many archangels are in the Bible?

The Bible only gives names to three spirits who belong to the “archangel” class of angels. These are Michael (Rev. 12:7), Gabriel (Luke 1:19), and Raphael (Tob. 12:15).

The Bible is our definitive list of archangels. As Catholics we only know for certain three names of God’s angels. Any other name is suspect because it is not part of divine revelation. We do not know if the name Uriel is inspired by God, a human invention, or the name of a malevolent spirit.

The 9 choirs of angels and the roles given them by God

It is believed that each of these choirs was given a specific task by God. Theologian and philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft gives a nice summary of these different choirs and their roles in his book Angels and Demons:

The first three levels see and adore God directly:

The seraphim, the highest choir, comprehend God with maximum clarity, and therefore their love flames the hottest. (“Seraphim” means “the burning ones.”) Lucifer (“Light-bearer”) was once one of them. That’s why he’s still very powerful and dangerous.

The cherubim contemplate God too, but less in himself than in his providence …(“Cherubim” means “fullness of wisdom.”)

The thrones contemplate God’s power and judgments. (Thrones symbolize judicial, juridical power.)

The next three choirs fulfill God’s providential plans for the universe, like middle management personnel:

The dominations or “dominions” (“authority”), command the lesser angels below them.

The virtues receive their orders from the dominations and “run” the universe, so to speak, especially the heavenly bodies. (“Virtue” used to mean power, might, or energy.)

The powers serve the virtues by fighting against evil influences that oppose the virtues’ providential plan.

The last three choirs directly order human affairs:

The principalities care for earthly principalities, that is, cities and nations and kingdoms.

The archangels (such as Gabriel) carry God’s important messages to man.

Ordinary angels are the “guardian angels,” one for each individual.


ANGELS

Read more:
The angelic hierarchy in images

Tags:
AngelsDevotions and Feasts
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
ascension AND ASSUMPTION
Philip Kosloski
Ascension vs. assumption: What is the difference?
2
SAINT MATTHIAS
Philip Kosloski
Why Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle
3
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
4
BENOIT JOSEPH LABRE
Larry Peterson
Benedict XVI called him “one of the most unusual saintsR...
5
Philip Kosloski
What was the message of Our Lady of Fatima?
6
PHILIPPINES CHURCH
J-P Mauro
We need better church music, say Catholics in the Philippines
7
I.Media for Aleteia
These 30 shrines will lead the Rosary Relay for end of the pandem...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.