Tuesday, September 29

Getting to Know the Archangels

What is an archangel? Who are the archangels? The word "archangel" comes from two Greek words meaning, "chief angel" or "head angel."[1] Today, September 29, is the Feast of the Archangels, also known as Michaelmas. This Feast is observed in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran and other Christian traditions. It is also observed by the Greek Orthodox on November 8, and the Feast began around the 5th century when a basilica in Rome was dedicated to Michael the archangel.[2] Many also come together on this day for the Blue Mass, a celebration which remembers and honors many men and women in public service - police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, 911 operators, EMT's, and others. This tradition began around 1934, and although the Blue Mass is often held at a Catholic Church you will find that the service tends to be non-denominational in terms of those in attendance - or, the Mass will be very inter-denominational. Often during these services, Psalm 91:11 will be cited, "For He will give His angels charge over you to accompany and defend and preserve you in all your ways." The presiding priest will often make a connection between how police officers, for example, are guardians of God's children, just like angels. This connection is made even more explicit when we recall that St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of police officers. What beautiful a connection between our earthly guardians and our heavenly guardians!

On a theological note, in most Protestant Bibles, the only angels mentioned by name are Michael and Gabriel, although many Christian denominations identify Satan as a former angelic being.[3] The Bibles which include the book of  Tobit also name the angel Raphael as one of the "seven" who stand before the Lord (12:15). In the ancient Christian tradition, there are seven angels who are given the title of "archangel", variously identified as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Jeremiel (Remiel), Raguel, and Saraqael. In Islam, Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and Azrael are the only named angels, and in early Jewish literature, Metatron is mentioned as an archangel, called the "highest of the angels" (1st Enoch). Mormonism only recognizes Michael as an archangel, and identifies Gabriel as having once been Noah, and Raphael not yet identified with any prophet.[4-5] 

Now, where in sacred Scripture as well as pseudipigraphal and apocryphal texts can we trace the development of this angelic classification? We may turn to Tobit1st Enoch 20; 1st Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7; Daniel 8:16, 10:5-11:1, 12:1; Luke 1:11-2:38; 2nd Esdras 4:36; Proto-Gospel of James 12:2 (identifies Gabriel specifically as an archangel), and so forth. The early Christian work, the Epistle of the Apostles 13-14 says, "And passing by the angels and archangels in their form and as one of them, I passed by the orders, dominions, and princes, possessing the measure of the wisdom of the Father who sent me. And the archangels Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel followed me until the fifth firmament of heaven, while I appeared as one of them... Then I made the archangels to become distracted with the voice and go up to the altar of the Father...". The Epistle of the Apostles 14 also mentions the "archangel Gabriel [appearing to] the virgin Mary." We may turn further to the Apocalypse of Peter 4, 6, 12 or the Apocalypse of Paul 14. The Preaching of Peter 2 mentions "angels and archangels" (AD 100-150), and the Gospel of the Ebionties (AD 100-160) mentions "archangels." This indicates that by mentioning archangels in the plural form, there is more than just the archangel Michael. 

The Gospel of the Savior (AD 120-180) also mentions archangels (verse 38). Allegedly, the 5th-6th century Christian mystic Pseudo-Dionysius, known for his foundational work On the Celestial and Ecclesiastical Hierarchies, also lists the archangels as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Zadkiel.[6] It appears consistent throughout early Jewish and Christian literature that there are seven archangels, although this Feast day generally only recognizes Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (and sometimes Uriel).[7] The earliest mention by any papal authority in the Western Church is by Pope Gregory I, who lists the archangels as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Simiel, Oriphiel and Raguel.[8] In the 8th-9th century, a talisman attributed to Auriolus of Spain has a prayer to "all you patriarchs Michael, Gabriel, Cecitiel, Oriel, Raphael, Ananiel, Marmoniel".[9] 

Russian Orthodox icon of Archangels
Their grouping as one of seven who stand before God (also mentioned in Isaiah 11:2 and throughout Revelation as one of the Seven Spirits) adds to their grouping together as archangels. In the Bible, only Michael explicitly named an archangel  - the Gabriel and Raphael are only called angels. However, in Tobit 12:15, Raphael identifies himself as one of the Seven Angels who stand before God, and in Dr. Luke's gospel, Gabriel identifies himself as one who stands in the presence of God. Canonically, then, it is therefore reasonable to conclude that these three are archangels. The apocryphal and pseudipigraphal tradition of early Jewish and later Christian literature also demonstrates an early belief that these beings were each archangels, and that each of them had a role to play. But who are these angels?

Michael, meaning "who is like God?" is seen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam as the great defender and often as the highest archangel. Many prayers center around Michael's aid against the forces of darkness and danger. He is also notable for being the defender of the Jews. In the Scriptures, he argued with Satan over the body of Moses, he defeated the armies of Satan in heaven, and he fights for the Jews during the time of Daniel. This is part of why Michael is seen as the patron saint of police officers, due to his duty as a guardian, and not as a warrior. Police officers are essentially like St. Michael - or if you prefer, keepers of the peace such as the Jedi from Star Wars. The second archangel, 
Gabriel. meaning "man of God" and "God is my strength," is known for announcing and providing revelations to the prophet Daniel, as well as being the one in both Islam and Christianity to announce the birth of Christ to Mary. In Islam, he is also the one who delivers God's revelations to the prophet Muhammad. He is also seen in Judaism as the angel who destroys the temple in the book of Ezekiel.[10] Some traditions also identify Gabriel as the one who will blow the final trumpet at the coming of God. Raphael, meaning "It is God who heals," shows up in disguise in the book of Tobit to help young Tobias meet and marry his Sarah as well as helping to defeat the demon Asmodeus. His role in expelling Asmodeus is similar to the role Raphael plays in 1st Enoch 10, where he binds the demon Azazel. He reveals himself as one of the Seven at the end to Tobit and Tobias, where he proceeds to ascend into heaven. Raphael is the saint of healing and the angel who watches over pilgrims on the road. 

Uriel, meaning "God is my light," is often the fourth angel identified as an archangel. He is the patron of the sacrament of confirmation and of poetry (similar to the Muse in Greco-Roman mythology). In Christian tradition, Uriel is the angel who stood at the gate of Eden with the flaming sword, the angel who saved John the Baptist from the slaughter of the children by King Herod, and in 2nd Esdras is the angel who God sends to instruct Ezra the priest and scribe. Jeremiel means "May God have compassion" or "the mercy of God," and he appears in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah. In it, he comes to the prophet Zephaniah and declares that he is the "great angel" who is "over the abyss and Hades." Raguel, meaning "Friend of God," is seen as the angel of justice, harmony and fairness. Raguel is the one who acts as a heavenly guide to the prophet Enoch in the writings. Lastly, Sariel or Saraqael, meaning "Command of God," in 2nd Enoch is one of the angelic beings who carried Enoch into heaven, and in the Ladder of Jacob (2nd century AD), is sent by God to explain the meaning of the ladder to Jacob. Some traditions see him as the angel of death (as in the plague found in Exodus), while others place him as the angel who watches over those angels who disregard God's love and laws.

Regardless of which of the many various Christian, Jewish or Islamic traditions or texts may say about these angelic beings, perhaps what we may glean from all of this sometimes confusing identifications is that a loving God sends forth his messengers to protect, to guide, to teach, to inspire, to announce, to dictate and to love human beings. 
The Feast of the Archangels is a great day not only to remember those heavenly beings who protect us, but to remember, honor and be grateful to our earthly guardians. These may be our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, our teachers, our co-workers, our spouses, our community, our law enforcement, our firefighters, our city officials, and many others. Take the time to thank those who watch over you and have protected you - those celestial, and those terrestrial. Thanks be to God!

[1] Harper, Douglas. "Archangel." Online Etymology Dictionary. 2015. Web.
[2] "Michael & All Angels." Exciting Holiness. Canterbury Press Norwich, 1997. Web. 
[3] The identification of Satan as an angel lies partly in St. Paul's passage in 1st Corinthians, where Satan is said to disguise himself as an angel of light, but also in various passages such as Job 1-2, where he comes with the other "sons of God" to the courtroom of God, and is seemingly associated with these "sons of God," identified by most as angels. But perhaps the most frequent claim is that the light-bearer (Lucifer) of Isaiah 14 must in fact be Satan (cf. Ezekiel 28), which is seen by some as an incorrect conflation of the two, but not by all. Therefore, some Christians hold that Lucifer is an angel mentioned in Scripture as well.
[4] Skinner, Andrew C. "Noah", Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1016–1017. 1992. Print.
[5] As seen in Doctrines and Covenants 128:21.
[6] Davidson, Gustav. A Dictionary of Angels, Including the Fallen Angels. Free Press Publishing. 1980. Print.
[7] To aid in this historical layout, let us consider that: Tobit was written 190-170 BC (mentions 7 angels of presence); 1st Enoch was written c.100 BC (lists the 7 angels by name and role); 1st Thessalonians was written AD 48-54 (mentions an archangel, name not given); Jude was written AD 62-67 (mentions Michael as archangel); Revelation was written AD 81-96, likely AD 95 (mentions Michael and his angels); Daniel was written 536-200s BC (mentions Michael and Gabriel, called princes, ability to fly is mentioned); The Gospel of Luke was written AD 37-60 (Gabriel appears); 2nd Esdras was written AD 90-96 or AD 218 (mentions Uriel and Jeremiel); Proto-Gospel of James was written AD 140-170 (mentions Gabriel as an archangel); Apocalypse of Peter was written AD 100-150 (mentions Uriel); Apocalypse of Paul was written AD 250-400 (mentions Michael, and "angels and archangels"); Epistle of the Apostles was written AD 140-150 (mentions Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel as "archangels," and says that God appeared to Mary through Gabriel).
[8] Smith, Julia M.H. Europe After Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 77. 2005. Print.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Schechter, Solomon, Ludwig Blau, and Emil G. Hirsch. "Gabriel." Jewish Encyclopedia. The Kopelman Foundation, 1906. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.

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