Lately, I have been seeing a lot of posts about “working with angels”—usually with a very limited understanding about what these beings actually are and what their purpose is. I am hoping that this post will adequately cover the basic information about angels—their origin, their nature, their appearance, their heavenly hierarchy, their responsibilities, their powers, and their role as servants of God. 

(Biblical passages are referenced from the NIV Bible)

What are angels?

An angel is a spirit-entity created by God for the purpose of  carrying out His will. The word “angel” comes from the Greek word aggelos, which means “messenger.” The Hebrew equivalent mal’ak has the same meaning. In both languages, the word is used to describe any agent that God sends to do his will and does not always refer to heavenly beings. The Bible sometimes uses the word to describe human beings—ordinary people who carry messages from God (Job 1:14; Luke 7:24; 9:52), prophets (Isaiah 42:19; Malachi 3:1), priests (Malachi 2:7), and church leaders (Rev 1:20). In addition, the Bible sometimes speaks figuratively of things or events as “messengers”; the pillar of cloud (Exodus 14:19) and pestilence or plagues (2 Samuel 24:16-17) being two notable examples.

However, the word “angel” typically refers to the range of spirits whom God has created to serve Him—both those in Heaven and those who have fallen. They are mentioned at least 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament; and therefore, there is ample information available in Scripture to allow us to build a foundation for our knowledge of angelic beings.

The Origin of Angels

The Scripture speaks about the creation of angels, making it clear that they have never existed previous to God or separate from God’s existence (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2,5). Colossians 1:16-17 explains: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

The time of their creation is never definitely specified, but it is most probable that it occurred in connection with the creation of the heavens in Genesis 1:1. It may be that God created the angels immediately after He had created the heavens and before He created the earth—for according to Job 38:4-7, “the sons of God shouted for joy” when He laid the foundations of the earth.

The Number of Angels in Existence

While the Scriptures give no definite figures, we are told that the number of angels is very great (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 26:53; Hebrews 12:22). It appears that all angels were created at one time, with no new angels being added to the number. Angels are not subject to death or any form of extinction; therefore they do not decrease in number. 

The Appearance of Angels

Angels are essentially “ministering spirits,” (Hebrews 1:14) and do not have physical bodies as human do. Jesus declared that “a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:37-39). The Bible does, however, make it clear that angels can only be in one place at a time—they must have some localized presence.

Angels can take on the appearance of human beings when the occasion demands. How else could some “entertain angels unaware” (Hebrews 13:2)? In Genesis 18, Abraham welcomed three angelic guests who appeared at first to be nothing more than a group of travelers. In the following chapter, two angels went to Sodom where they were assumed to be simply a pair of human visitors. 

On the other hand, their appearance is sometimes in the form of dazzling white and blazing glory (Matthew 28:2-4). Other angels—such as the Ophanim and the Cherubim—represent themselves in forms that are both inhuman and highly unusual. Daniel saw an angel with arms and legs resembling polished metal and precious stones, and a face like lightning (Daniel 10:5-6). The angel that rolled back the stone from Christ’s tomb was radiating dazzling light (Matthew 28:3; Luke 24:4). In addition, the book of Revelation describes some strange beings who may be a variety of angel (Revelation 4:6-8). When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe. The arrival of an angel was typically announced with a message to “be not afraid”, due to the brilliant and terrifying appearance of these heavenly beings.  

Since angels are spirits rather than physical beings, they don’t have to be visible at all (Colossians 1:16). Elisha once prayed that his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city, and the young man discovered that he had overlooked a lot of invisible beings (2 Kings 6:17)!

Some Bible passages depict angels with wings (Isaiah 6:2,6). Other verses talk about angels flying, leading to the assumption that wings would be present (Daniel 9:21). Most biblical references, however, say nothing about angels having wings; and in passages such as Genesis 18-19, it is certain that no wings were visible.

Angelic Ranks

Angels have different ranks in dignity and power (Zech. 1:9, 11; Dan. 10:13; 12:1; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 1:9; Eph. 1:21; Col. 1:16). The most influential Christian angelic hierarchy was that put forward by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the 4th or 5th century, in his book De Coelesti Hierarchia (On the Celestial Hierarchy). Many schemes were proposed during the Middle Ages; with some drawing on and expanding on Pseudo-Dionysius, while others suggested completely different classifications. According to medieval Christian theologians, the angels are organized into several orders known as “Angelic Choirs”.

Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) drew on passages from the New Testament—specifically Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16—to develop a schema of three Hierarchies, Spheres, or Triads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three Orders or Choirs. Although both authors drew on the New Testament, the Biblical canon is relatively silent on the subject. Thus these hierarchies are highly speculative.

1. The First Sphere - Serve as heavenly counselors

-Seraphim: Mentioned in Isaiah 6:1-7, these are the highest angelic class and serve as the caretakers of God’s throne—continuously shouting praises ("Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"). These angels are concerned solely with praising God, and never wish to leave His immediate presence. They are the angels in closest spiritual proximity to God, and the least concerned with human interaction. According to Isaiah 6:2, the Seraphim have six wings: “with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew”.

-Cherubim: Cherubim have four faces—one of a man, an ox, a lion, and an eagle. They have four conjoined wings covered with eyes, a lion’s body figure, and the feet of an ox. These angels guard the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24) and the throne of God (Ezekiel 28:14–16).

The cherubim are mentioned in Genesis 3:24, Exodus 25:17–22, 2 Chronicles 3:7–14, Ezekiel 10:12–14 and 28:14–16, 1 Kings 6:23–28, and Revelation 4:6–8. It is important to note that modern English usage has blurred the distinction between the Biblical cherubim and the largely secularized putti. The latter are the winged human baby/toddler-like beings traditionally used in figurative art; which differ significantly from this particular rank of angel. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas imagined Lucifer as a fallen Cherub!

-Thrones or Ophanim: The “Thrones” or Elders, also known as the Erelim or Ophanim, are a class of celestial beings mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in Colossians 1:16 (New Testament). They are living symbols of God’s justice and authority, and are often represented by a physical throne with magnificent wheels.

In regards to appearance, the Ophanim are unusual looking even compared to the other celestial beings. They appear as a beryl-colored “wheel-within-a-wheel”, with their rims covered with hundreds of eyes.

They are closely connected with the Cherubim, and typically appear with them: “When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures [Cherubim] was in the wheels.” Ezekiel 10:17.

2. Second Sphere - Work as heavenly governors.

-Dominions or Lordships: These angels are stated in the De Coelesti Hierarchia as being responsible for regulating the duties of the lower-ranking angels. It is only with extreme rarity that the angelic lords make themselves physically known to humans. The Dominions are believed to present themselves as divinely beautiful humans with a pair of feathered wings, much like the common representation of angels. Furthermore, it is the Dominions who are said to be the angels responsible for presiding over nations.

-Virtues or Strongholds: Their primary duty is to supervise the movements of the heavenly bodies, in order to ensure that the cosmos remains in order. They are the angels most likely to bother themselves with Earthly elements, and are charged with overseeing the balance of nature—both on Earth and among the celestial bodies. 

In addition to helping to maintain Earthly balance, the Virtues are responsible for assisting the Dominions in maintaining order among the lower-ranking forces of Heaven.

-Powers or Authorities: The “Powers”, or “Authorities”, appear to collaborate—in power and authority—with the Principalities. The Powers are the bearers of conscience and the keepers of history. Their duty is to oversee the distribution of power among humankind. They are also the warrior angels created to be completely loyal to God (though still with free will, as all angels have). Some believe that no Power has ever fallen from grace, while another theory states that Lucifer himself was the Chief of the Powers before he Fell (see Ephesians 6:12).

3. Third Sphere - Function as heavenly messengers and soldiers

-Principalities or Rulers: The “Principalities” appear to collaborate—in power and authority—with the Powers (Authorities). They are typically depicted wearing a crown and carrying a scepter, and their duty is to carry out the orders given to them by the Dominions, as well as to bequeath blessings to the material world.

Their primary task is to oversee groups of people. They are the educators and guardians of the realm of Earth. Moreover, they are said to inspire living things in areas such as art or science. 

-Archangels: The word “archangel” comes from the Greek ἀρχάγγελος (archangělǒs), meaning “chief angel”—a translation of the Hebrew רב־מלאך (rav-mal’ákh). It derives from the Greek archō, meaning “to be first in rank or power”; and angělǒs which means “messenger or envoy”.

It is possible to make a distinction between archangel (with a lower-case “a”) and Archangel (with an uppercase “A”). The former can denote the second-lowest choir (arch-angels in the sense of being just above the lowest Choir of angels, which are referred to simply as “angels”), while the latter may denote the highest ranking of all the angels (i.e., Arch-angels in the sense of being above all angels, of any Choir—with Michael being the highest of all). 

The Archangels are specially trusted by God—and thus, are often given the responsibility of delivering important messages or carrying out parts of God’s plan. They have a strong presence in both Heaven and Earth, and it is said that they are especially favored by God in a way that no other angel (since Lucifer, before the Fall) has been. 

-Angels: The “angels” or malakhim (the “plain” angels) are the lowest order of the angels and the most recognized. They are the ones most concerned with the affairs of living things, and the ones most familiar with—and understanding of—human beings and human emotions. They are charged with watching over humanity and the Earthly realm, and are content to love and worship God through the protection of his creation. 

If humans do indeed have guardian angels, they would most likely be those of this Choir. These are the angels most present and accessible in our personal lives. They watch over us and seek to honor their Creator though the adoration and love of that which He has created. It is said that these angels see the image of God reflected in us (as we were “made in His image”), and have a unique love for us due to this—a love that is unmatched by any other rank of angel.

Angels in Comparison to Human Beings

-They are stronger than humans, but not omnipotent (Psalm 103:20; 2 Peter 2:11).

-They are greater than humans in knowledge, but not omniscient (2 Samuel 14:20; Matthew 24:36).

-They are more noble than humans, but not omnipresent (Daniel 9:21-23, 10:10-14).

-Angels can take on the appearance of humans when the occasion demands. Other times, their appearance is dazzling white and blazing glory (Matthew 28:2-4).

-Angels do not marry or reproduce as humans do (Matthew 22:30). The title “Angel” refers to a company or association, rather than a race descended from a common ancestor (Luke 20:34-36). We are called “sons of men,” but angels are never called “sons of angels.”—their creation can come only through God directly. 

-Angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:14); much like the soul of humans, but without a physical body. 

The Morality of Angels

The Bible classifies some angels as “elect” (1 Timothy 5:21) or “holy” (Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38). All angels were originally holy, enjoying the presence of God (Matthew 18:10) and the realm of Heaven (Mark 13:32). Other angels oppose God—or at least His orders to “bow before mankind”—through their free will and under the leadership of Lucifer, and do not dwell in the presence of the God who created them (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Ephesians 6:12). We often refer to these Fallen Angels as “demons.” 

The Job Description of Angels

The angels mentioned in Scripture carry out a variety of tasks—all designed to serve God.

-Worship and praise: This is the main activity portrayed in heaven (Isaiah 6:1-3; Revelation 4-5).

-Messengers: They serve as messengers to communicate God’s will to men. They helped reveal the law to Moses (Acts 7:52-53), and served as the carriers of much of the material in Daniel and Revelation.

-Guiding: Angels gave instructions to Joseph about the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2), to the women at the tomb, to Philip (Acts 8:26), and to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8).

-Providing: God has used angels to provide physical needs such as food for Hagar (Genesis 21:17-20), Elijah (1 Kings 19:6), and Christ after His temptation (Matthew 4:11).

-Protecting: Keeping God’s people out of physical danger, as in the cases of Daniel and the lions, and his three friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3 and 6).

-Delivering: Getting God’s people out of danger once they’re in it. Angels released the apostles from prison in Acts 5, and repeated the process for Peter in Acts 12.

-Strengthening and encouraging: Angels strengthened Jesus after His temptation (Matt 4:11), encouraged the apostles to keep preaching after releasing them from prison (Acts 5:19-20), and told Paul that everyone on his ship would survive the impending shipwreck (Acts 27:23-25).

-Answering prayer:God often uses angels as His means of answering the prayers of His people (Daniel 9:20-24; 10:10-12; Acts 12:1-17).

-Caring for believers at the moment of death: In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we read that angels carried the spirit of Lazarus to “Abraham’s bosom” when he died (Luke 16:22).  

-Executioners: Angels are sometimes used by God to punish sin. An angel of the Lord went forth and smote an Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:20-34)—“behold, they were all dead corpses.” The Assyrian army was annihilated. A destroying angel was sent, but later withheld, to punish David for his vanity in taking a census of the great number of his people. At the time of Moses and the Exodus, the Egyptian firstborn where killed by an angel of death.

Can People “Work With” Angels?

There are no instances in Scripture where humans were able to give angels commands, either in their own name or in the name of Jesus. Additionally, there are no passages where man has control over the work of the angels. We do know that they are beings of higher rank, since Jesus had to make Himself “lower than the angels” in order to be born and suffer as a man (Hebrews 2:7-9; Psalm 8:4-5).

There is various scriptural evidence that makes it apparent that human beings do not have the authority to command or work with the angels. Moses spoke of when the children of Israel “cried out to the LORD, he heard our cry, and sent an angel, and brought us out of Egypt” (Numbers 20:16). The Israelites did not command an angel to come to them. They appealed to God, under whose command the angels function. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Daniel 3:17-18). God then “sent his angel and rescued his servants!” (Daniel 3:28). The three Hebrews did not summon the angel of the Lord; it was God who sent him. God later “sent his angel” to deliver Daniel from the mouths of the lions in their den (Daniel 6:22). The church in Jerusalem prayed for Peter when he was in prison (Acts 12:5). When Peter was delivered, he testified, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating” (Acts 12:11).

Angels are called “God’s holy angels”, and they were created to do His bidding, not ours (Matthew 25:31; Revelation 14:10). The angels of the lowest choir, who have been instructed to watch over humanity, do so out of obedience and love for God. Moreover, Revelation 22:8-9 makes it clear that angels strongly reject our worship, in addition to our commands. 

We have the ability to pray to angels in the same way that we would pray to a saint. They can intercede on our behalf before God Almighty; but unless you want your prayers carried directly before God’s presence, I would advise against praying to a spiritual being whose sole existence is consumed with a fierce love and intense adoration for their Creator. 

In other words: If you are not good with God, why would you want to call out to creatures whose entire existence is concerned with serving God and bringing “the prayers of the faithful” before His throne? And if you do count yourself among those faithful, be careful of the boundary that exists between calling out to the Heavenly Hosts and wrongfully worshiping these beings.

Non-Biblical Sources: [x] [x] [x] [x] [x]

St. John of Avila: The great confidence we should have in the merits of Jesus Christ

Do not forget that Jesus Christ is the mediator between the Eternal Father and ourselves; and that we are beloved by him, and united to him by so strong bonds of love that nothing can break them, so long as a man does not himself dissolve them by some mortal sin. The blood of Jesus cries out, and asks mercy for us; and cries out so loudly that the noise of our sins is not heard. The death of Jesus Christ hath put to death our sins: O Death, I will be thy death!  Those who are lost are not lost for want of means of satisfaction, but because they would not avail themselves of the sacraments as the means of profiting by the satisfaction made by Jesus Christ. […]

Jesus has taken upon himself the affair of remedying our evils, as if it had been personally his own affair. So that he has called our sins his own, although he did not commit them, and has sought pardon for them; and with the most tender love has prayed, as if he were praying for himself, that all who should have recourse to him might become objects of love. And as he sought, so he found, because God has so ordained that Jesus and ourselves should be so united in one, that either he and we should be loved, or he and we hated: and since Jesus is not or cannot be hated, in the same way, if we remain united by love to Jesus, we shall be also loved. By his being loved by God, we are also loved, seeing that Jesus Christ can do more to make us loved than we can do to make ourselves hated; since the Eternal Father loves Jesus Christ far more than he hates sinners. […]

Jesus said to his Father: Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me. Love has conquered hatred; and thus we have been pardoned and loved, and are secure of never being abandoned, so strong is the tie of love that binds us. The Lord said by Isaias: Can a woman forget her infant? And if she should forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven Thee in My hands. He has graven us in his hands with his own blood. Thus we should not trouble ourselves about anything, since everything is ordained by those hands which were nailed to the cross in testimony of the love he bears us.

Nothing can so trouble us on which Jesus Christ cannot reassure us. Let the sins I have committed surround me, let the devils lay snares for me, let fears for the future accuse me, by demanding mercy of the most tender Jesus Christ, who has loved me even until death, I cannot possibly lose confidence; for I see myself so highly valued, that God gave himself for me.

O my Jesus, sure haven for those who seek Thee in time of peril! O most watchful Pastor, he deceives himself who does not trust in Thee, if only he has the will to amend his life! Therefore Thou hast said: I am here, fear not; I am he who afflicts and who consoles. Some from time to time I place in desolations, which seem equal to hell itself; but after a while I bring them out and console them. I am thine advocate, who have made thy cause my own. I am thy surety, who am come to pay thy debts. I am thy Lord, who have redeemed thee with my blood, not in order to abandon thee, but to enrich thee, having bought thee at a great price. How shall I fly from him who seeks me, when I went forth to meet those who sought to outrage me? I did not turn away my face from him who struck me; and shall I from him who would adore me? How can my children doubt that I love them, seeing that out of love to them I placed myself in the hands of my enemies? Whom have I ever despised that loved me? Whom have I ever abandoned that sought my aid? Even I go seeking those that do not seek me.

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?…
Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

PRAYER OF QUIETUDE The Soul Alone with God

My Divine Master, whether I run or rest, I am all to You, and You are all to me. O divine Heart of  Jesus, your memory is my delight; I hunger and thirst for your love.

Oh! how those persons delude themselves, who place virtue in anything else but in loving God! Some put perfection in austerities, others in alms, others in prayer, others in frequenting the holy sacraments.

For my part, I know of no other perfection than that of loving God with our whole heart; because all the other virtues, without love, are but a mere heap of stones. And if we do not perfectly enjoy this holy love, the fault lies with us, because we do not, once for all, come to the conclusion of giving up ourselves wholly to God. 

St. Francis de Sales