In the Week 1 Lesson Plan, I introduced the idea of an angel hierarchal order. The popularity of this idea began during the Middle Ages. Pseudo-Dionysius, a 5th century theologian, first proposed the idea of an angelic order in his work, On the Celestial Hierarchy. In his work, he suggested three orders of three choirs of angelic beings. The first order consisted of seraphim, cherubim, and thrones. The second order was composed of dominations, virtues, and powers. The third and final order contained principalities, archangels, and angels. Pseudo-Dionysius and others, like Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, that followed were inspired by several portions of scripture. One of the passages that was used is from Colossians.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. “ Colossians 1:15-17
These verses could refer to either realm. Some scholars state, after observing the context, that Paul was dealing with a false belief system and the worship of angels at Colosse. Others, however, believe these verses only relate to human realms of leadership. Still, other scholars have suggested that the verses point towards positions in the visible and invisible realm.
Theologians also used the following verses in the formation of their angelic ranking lists.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,” Romans 8:38
“That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Ephesians 1:19b-21
Thrones, powers, rulers, authorities: None of these groups are actually ever addressed in scripture nor any specific angel assigned to any of them. Combined with the seraphim, cherubim, archangels, and angels from the rest of scripture, theologians have structured and formed their opinions about the celestial realm. The evangelist Billy Graham, in his book, Angels, proposes this ranking of celestial powers: archangels, angels, seraphim, cherubim, principalities, authorities, powers, thrones, might and dominion. In addition, St. Jerome, priest, theologian, and historian during the Middle Ages, listed the order in this way: seraphim, cherubim, powers, dominations, thrones, archangels, and angels.
Ancient Jewish manuscripts called the books of Enoch include many references to angels but they are regarded as non-canonical by Jews and Christians alike. The only group that includes these works in their canon is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. In these manuscripts, Enoch formulated a hierarchal listing for the creatures in the heavenly realm. He ranked them in this order: cherubim, seraphim, ofanim (wheels), all angels of power, principalities, the Elect One (Messiah), and the powers of earth and water.
These rankings are only a small selection of the ones compiled by scholars over the years. Most, however, follow a very similar ordering.
If you would like to learn more about the seraphim, cherubim, and the archangels, the Week 5 Lesson Plan can be found by clicking here.