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An angel (from the Greek ἄγγελος ángelos, "messenger") is a supernatural being or spirit, often depicted in humanoid form with feathered wings on their backs and halos around their heads, found in various religions and mythologies.
The theological study of angels is known as "angelology". In Zoroastrianism and Abrahamic religions they are often depicted as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between Heaven and Earth, or as guardian spirits or a guiding influence.
The term "angel" has also been expanded to various notions of spirits found in many other religious traditions. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God's tasks.
The word angel in English is a fusion of the Old English/Germanic word engel (with a hard g) and the Old French angele. Both derive from the Latin angelus which in turn is the romanization of the ancient Greek ἄγγελος (ángelos), "messenger", "envoy", which is related to the Greek verb ἀγγέλλω (angéllō), meaning "bear a message, announce, bring news of" etc. The earliest form of the word is the Mycenaean a-ke-ro attested in Linear B syllabic script.
The ángelos is the default Septuagint’s rendition of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’akh denoting simply “messenger” without specifying its nature. In the Latin Vulgate however the meaning becomes bifurcated: when mal’akh or ángelos is supposed to denote a human messenger, words like nuntius or legatus are applied. If the word refers to some supernatural being – the word angelus appears. Such differentiation has been taken over by later vernacular translations of the Bible, early Christian and Jewish exegetes and eventually modern scholars.
The Bible uses the terms מלאך אלהים (mal'āk̠ 'ĕlōhîm; messenger of God), מלאך יהוה (mal'āk̠ YHWH; messenger of the Lord), בני אלהים (bənē 'ĕlōhîm; sons of God) and הקודשים (haqqôd̠əšîm; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as העליונים (hā'elyônîm; the upper ones).
The term מלאך (mal'āk̠) is also used in the Tanakh; a similar term, ملائكة (malā'ikah), is used in the Qur'an. The Greek and Hebrew words, depending on the context may refer either to a human messenger or a supernatural messenger. The human messenger could possibly be a prophet or priest, such as Malachi, "my messenger", and the Greek superscription that the Book of Malachi was written "by the hand of his messenger" ἀγγέλου angélu. Examples of a supernatural messenger are the "Malak YHWH," who is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos), or God himself as the messenger (the "theophanic angel.")
Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms "come to mean the benevolent semi divine beings familiar from later mythology and art." Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel (God's primary messenger) in Daniel 9:21 and Michael (the holy fighter) in Daniel 10:13. These angels are part of Daniel's apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all apocalyptic literature. Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: "In the postexilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the 'sons of God' who were members of the Divine Council— were in effect demoted to what are now known as 'angels', understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans." This conception of angels is best understood in contrast to demons and is often thought to be "influenced by the ancient Persian religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, which viewed the world as a battleground between forces of good and forces of evil, between light and darkness." One of these is hāšāṭān, a figure depicted in (among other places) the Book of Job.
Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos as far as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different from God Himself, but is conceived as God's instrument.
In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels took on particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Though these archangels were believed to rank among the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe; he is briefly mentioned in the Talmud and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel (Daniel 10:13), is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 8:15–17), the Book of Tobit, and briefly in the Talmud, as well as in many Merkabah mystical texts. There is no evidence in Judaism for the worship of angels, but there is evidence for the invocation and sometimes even conjuration of angels.
"... This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the 'angels which are near to Him', through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move ... thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world."—Guide for the Perplexed II:4, Maimonides
According to Kabalah, 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 with three angels and Lot meets with 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.
|1||Chayot Ha Kodesh||See Ezekiel chs. 1 and 10|
|2||Ophanim||See Ezekiel chs. 1 and 10|
|3||Erelim||See Isaiah 33:7|
|4||Hashmallim||See Ezekiel 1:4|
|5||Seraphim||See Isaiah 6|
|8||Bene Elohim||"Sons of Godly beings"|
|9||Cherubim||See Talmud Hagigah 13b|
|10||Ishim||"manlike beings", see Genesis 18:2, Daniel 10:5|
*These are the only two angels to be mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible; the rest are from extra-biblical tradition.
Later Christians inherited Jewish understandings of angels, which in turn may have been partly inherited from the Egyptians. In the early stage, the Christian concept of an angel characterized the angel as a messenger of God. Later came identification of individual angelic messengers: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Lucifer. Then, in the space of little more than two centuries (from the 3rd to the 5th) the image of angels took on definite characteristics both in theology and in art.
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, however, some disagreement regarding the nature of angels. Some argued that Angels had physical bodies, while some maintained that they were entirely spiritual. Some theologians had 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.
The angels are represented throughout the Christian Bible as spiritual beings intermediate between God and men: "You have made him (man) a little less than the angels ..." (Psalms 8:4-5). The Bible describes the function of angels as "messengers" but does not indicate when the creation of angels occurred. Some Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2-5; Colossians 1:16): "praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts ... for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created ...". The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declared that the angels were created beings. The Council's decree Firmiter credimus (issued against the Albigenses) declared both that angels were created and that men were created after them. The First Vatican Council (1869) repeated this declaration in Dei Filius, the "Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith".
Thomas Aquinas (13th century) relates angels to Aristotle's metaphysics in his Summa contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and in De substantiis separatis, a treatise on angelology. Although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.
|“||Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.—Hebrews 13:2||”|
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. And in Luke 1:26 the archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10.
Angels appear later in the New Testament. According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, "...the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him." In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels. Hebrews 13:2 reminds the reader that they may "entertain angels unaware".
Since the completion of the New Testament, the Christian tradition has continued to include reported interactions with angels. For instance, in 1851 Pope Pius IX approved the Chaplet of Saint Michael based on the 1751 reported private revelation from archangel Michael to the Carmelite nun Antonia d'Astonac. And Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address titled "Angels Participate In History Of Salvation", in which he suggested that modern mentality should come to see the importance of angels.
As recently as the 20th century, visionaries and mystics have reported interactions with angels. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her guardian angel.
Adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) view angels as the messengers of God. They are sent to mankind to deliver messages, minister to humanity, teach doctrines of salvation, call mankind to repentance, give priesthood keys, save individuals in perilous times, and guide humankind.
Latter Day Saints believe that angels either are the spirits of humans who are deceased or who have yet to be born, or are humans who have been resurrected or translated and have physical bodies of flesh and bones, and accordingly Joseph Smith taught that "there are no angels who minister to this earth but those that do belong or have belonged to it." As such, Latter Day Saints also believe that Adam, the first man, was and is now the archangel Michael, and that Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah. Likewise the Angel Moroni first lived in a pre-Columbian American civilization as the 5th-century prophet-warrior named Moroni.
"While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.
He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant ...
Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me."
Most angelic visitations in the early Latter Day Saint movement were witnessed by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, who both claimed (prior to the establishment of the church in 1830) to have been visited by the prophet Moroni, John the Baptist, and the apostles Peter, James, and John. Later, after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Smith and Cowdery claimed to have been visited by Jesus, and subsequently by Moses, Elias, and Elijah.
People who claimed to have received a visit by an angel include the other two of the Three Witnesses: David Whitmer and Martin Harris. Many other Latter Day Saints, both in the early and modern church, have claimed to have seen angels, though Smith posited that, except in extenuating circumstances such as the restoration, mortals teach mortals, spirits teach spirits, and resurrected beings teach other resurrected beings.
Angels (Arabic: ملائكة , Malāʾikah) are mentioned many times in the Qur'an and Hadith. Islam is clear on the nature of angels in that they are messengers of God. They have no free will, and can do only what God orders them to do. An example of a task they carry out is that of testing individuals by granting them abundant wealth and curing their illness. Believing in angels is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam.
Some examples of angels in Islam:
In his Book of Certitude Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith, describes angels as people who "have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations", and have "clothed themselves" with angelic attributes and have become "endowed with the attributes of the spiritual". 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes angels as the "confirmations of God and His celestial powers" and as "blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world" and "been released from the chains of self", and "revealers of God's abounding grace". The Bahá'í writings also refer to the Concourse on High, an angelic host, and the Maid of Heaven of Bahá'u'lláh's vision.
In the commentaries of Proclus (4th century, under Christian rule) on the Timaeus of Plato, Proclus uses the terminology of "angelic" (aggelikos) and "angel" (aggelos) in relation to metaphysical beings. According to Aristotle, just as there is a First Mover, so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers.
In Zoroastrianism there are different angel-like figures. For example, each person has one guardian angel, called Fravashi. They patronize human beings and other creatures, and also manifest God's energy. The Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, although there is no direct reference to them conveying messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda ("Wise Lord", God); they initially appear in an abstract fashion and then later became personalized, associated with diverse aspects of the divine creation.
|This section improperly uses one or more religious texts as primary sources without referring to secondary sources that critically analyze them. (November 2010)|
In the teachings of Theosophy, Devas are regarded as living either in the atmospheres of the planets of the solar system (Planetary Angels) or inside the Sun (Solar Angels) and they help to guide the operation of the processes of nature such as the process of evolution and the growth of plants; their appearance is reputedly like colored flames about the size of a human. It is believed by Theosophists that devas can be observed when the third eye is activated. Some (but not most) devas originally incarnated as human beings.
It is believed by Theosophists that nature spirits, elementals (gnomes, undines, sylphs, and salamanders), and fairies can be also be observed when the third eye is activated. It is maintained by Theosophists that these less evolutionarily developed beings have never been previously incarnated as humans; they are regarded as being on a separate line of spiritual evolution called the "deva evolution"; eventually, as their souls advance as they reincarnate, it is believed they will incarnate as devas.
It is asserted by Theosophists that all of the above mentioned beings possess etheric bodies that are composed of etheric matter, a type of matter finer and more pure that is composed of smaller particles than ordinary physical plane matter.
According to the Kabbalah as described by the Golden Dawn there are ten archangels, each commanding one of the choir of angels and corresponding to one of the Sephirot. It is similar to the Jewish angelic hierarchy.
|Rank||Choir of Angels||Translation||Archangel||Sephirah|
|1||Hayot Ha Kodesh||Holy Living Ones||Metatron||Keter|
|4||Hashmallim||Glowing ones, Amber ones||Tzadkiel||Chesed|
|8||Bene Elohim||Sons of Elohim||Michael||Hod|
|10||Ishim||Men (man-like beings, phonetically similar to "fires")||Sandalphon||Malkuth|
A 2002 study based on interviews with 350 people, mainly in the UK, who said they have had an experience of an angel, describes several types of such experiences: visions, sometimes with multiple witnesses present; auditions, e.g. to convey a warning; a sense of being touched, pushed, or lifted, typically to avert a dangerous situation; and pleasant fragrance, generally in the context of somebody's death. In the visual experiences, the angels described appear in various forms, either the "classical" one (human countenance with wings), in the form of extraordinarily beautiful or radiant human beings, or as beings of light.
In the US, a 2008 survey by Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, published by TIME magazine, which polled 1,700 respondents, found that 55 percent of Americans, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life. An August 2007 Pew poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe that "angels and demons are active in the world", and according to four different polls conducted in 2009, a greater percentage of Americans believe in angels (55%) than those who believe in global warming (36%).
According to the Gallup Youth Survey, in a Teen Belief in the Supernatural poll in 1994, 76% of 508 teenagers (aged 13–17) believe in angels, a greater percentage than those who believe in astrology, ESP, ghosts, witchcraft, clairvoyance, Bigfoot, and vampires. In 1978, 64% of American young people believed in angels; in 1984, 69% of teenagers believed in angels; and by 1994, that number grew to 76%, while belief in other supernatural concepts, such as the Loch Ness monster and ESP, has declined. In 1992, 80% of 502 surveyed teenage girls believe in angels, and 81% of Catholic teens and 82% of regular church attendees harbored beliefs in angels. According to another set of Gallup polls, designated towards all Americans, in 1994, 72% of Americans said they believed in angels, while in 2004, 78% of the surveyed Americans indicated belief in angels, with the percentage of Americans that did not believe in angels dropping from 15% to 10%, and the percentage of Americans that were "not sure" dropping from 13% to 11%.
A 2008 survey of over 1000 Canadians found 67 percent believe in angels.
In an address during a General Audience of August 6, 1986, entitled "Angels participate in the history of salvation", Pope John Paul II explained that "[T]he angels have no "body" (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of people)." Angels are however often depicted in painting and sculpture as male humans. Christian art perhaps reflects the descriptions in Revelation 4:6–8 of the Four Living Creatures (Greek: τὰ τέσσαρα ζῷα) and the descriptions in the Hebrew Bible of cherubim and seraphim (the chayot in Ezekiel's Merkabah vision and the Seraphim of Isaiah). However, while cherubim and seraphim have wings in the Bible, no angel is mentioned as having wings. The earliest known Christian image of an angel—in the Cubicolo dell'Annunziazione in the Catacomb of Priscilla (mid-3rd century)—is without wings. In that same period, representations of angels on sarcophagi, lamps and reliquaries also show them without wings, as for example the angel in the Sacrifice of Isaac scene in the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (although the side view of the Sarcophagus shows winged angelic figures).
The earliest known representation of angels with wings is on the "Prince's Sarcophagus", discovered in the 1930s at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, and attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379–395). From that period on, Christian art has represented angels mostly with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (432–440). Four- and six-winged angels, drawn from the higher grades of angels (especially cherubim and seraphim) and often showing only their faces and wings, are derived from Persian art and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth. They often appear in the pendentives of church domes or semi-domes. Prior to the Judeo-Christian tradition, in the Greek world the goddess Nike and the god Eros were also depicted in human-like form with wings.
Saint John Chrysostom explained the significance of angels' wings:
"They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."
Angels are typically depicted in Mormon art as having no wings based on a quote from Joseph Smith ("An angel of God never has wings").
In terms of their clothing, angels, especially the Archangel Michael, were depicted as military-style agents of God and came to be shown wearing Late Antique military uniform. This uniform could be the normal military dress, with a tunic to about the knees, an armour breastplate and pteruges, but was often the specific dress of the bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperor, with a long tunic and the loros, the long gold and jewelled pallium restricted to the Imperial family and their closest guards. The basic military dress was shown in Western art into the Baroque period and beyond (see Reni picture above), and up to the present day in Eastern Orthodox icons. Other angels came to be conventionally depicted in long robes, and in the later Middle Ages they often wear the vestments of a deacon, a cope over a dalmatic; this costume was used especially for Gabriel in Annunciation scenes—for example the Annunciation in Washington by Jan van Eyck.
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