Light, white robes, goldy locks, and halos. That is how they are envisaged in the collective imaginary, like a young man who come down from the clouds, a messenger of God, an Angel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers the question “Who are Angels?” as follows: “They are purely spiritual, incorporeal, invisible, and immortal creatures who are endowed with intelligence and will.” Silent servants of the Trinity, they accompany the journey of every single individual. They have been announcing salvation ever since the Creation, bringing God’s salvific message to men.
Between them stands the figure of St. Michael. Its name comes from the expression “Mi-ka-El”, which means “Who is like God?” And since no one is like the Almighty, Archangel fights all those that rise with pride to defy the Most High. In Sacred Scripture it is mentioned five times: in the Book of Daniel and Jude, Revelation and all biblical passages is considered “heavenly supreme leader”, ie, the angels in the war against evil. It is the antithesis of Lucifer, chief of the angels who decided to do without God and therefore fell into the Underworld. He is the one who defends the Faith, the Truth and the Church. Dante, with eminent wisdom, shows the beauty and power of this creature and its diligence in protecting mankind from Satan’s snares (XIII Purgatory, 51).
The figure of St. Michael stands out among them. His name comes from the expression “Mi-ka-El“, which means “Who is like God?” And since no one is like the Almighty, the Archangel fights all those who rise with pride to defy the Lord. He is mentioned five times in the Sacred Scripture: in the Book of Daniel and Jude, in the book of Revelation, and in all those biblical passages he is considered the “supreme leader of the heavenly army”, i.e., of the angels at war with evil. He is the antithesis of Lucifer, chief of the angels who decided to do without God and fell into the Underworld. He is the one who defends Faith, the Truth, and the Church. Dante shows the beauty and power of this creature and his commitment to protecting mankind from Satan’s snares with eminent wisdom (XIII Purgatory, 51).
In Europe, during the Middle Ages, people built three devotional pearls of history, architecture, and art to honor him: the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey in Normandy, The Sacra di San Michele on Mount Pirchiriano in Piedmont,and the sanctuary of Mount Gargano in Puglia. Being the defender of the Church, his image appears on the top of Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome. He is also the protector of the Christian people, like he used to be the protector of medieval pilgrims against the pitfalls they encountered along the way.
Yet, we remember especially Gabriel whose name, from Hebrew, means “The Strength of God,” or “God is strong.” He is the first one to appear in the Bible, and the Angel of the Annunciation. He predicted the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus to Christians, whereas in Muslim religion he is the means through which God revealed the Koran to Muhammad. According to some people, he is also the unidentified angel who blows the horn to announce the Day of Judgment in the Book of Revelation.
We have to point out that their knowledge is limited because they are created beings. That is to say, they do not know everything, like God (cfr. Matthew 24:36). However, their intellect seems to be higher than that of men. Ratzinger, in an interview for the Bavarian radio which dates back to times when he was still Cardinal, having recalled that on October 2 the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, said that the idea of Guardian Angels has become alien to Christians today like no other idea. “The Old Testament tells the people of Israel with regard to angels: ‘Pay attention and listen to his voice’, that is: I shall be aware and sensitive to the idea this divine idea which embraces and guides me, and I shall not stubbornly oppose him with my desires and changing mood.”
The Archangel Uriel is less known and his name means “Light of God.” Out of the seven archangels of Judaism, only three (Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael) are mentioned in the Scriptures. He is often identified as the Angel who “is guarding the gates of Eden with a flaming sword.” In other apocryphal books he appears as the Angel of Repentance, and is also commonly identified as one of the angels who helped bury Adam and Abel in Paradise. He struggled with Jacob at Peniel, and is described as the divine messenger who decimated the army of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. In the book of Enoch, he was the one who told Noah about the advent of the Flood.
In a modern key, which is only marginally Christian, Uriel is identified as the regent of the Sun, the Flame of God, the Angel of Divine Presence, the one who presides and watches over hell. He is often represented with a book or a roll of papyrus. Patron of the Arts, Milton described him as “the sharpest sighted Spirit of all in Heaven.”
Everything we know about these messengers comes from the Bible and from some apocryphal texts. And exactly in the Scripture we learn that there are different “types” of Angels, divided into a heavenly hierarchy with precise names. For the Fathers of the Church, who had the onerous task of protecting the doctrine from heresies, questions arose about the reason for such distinctions and denominations. They’ve remained divided and uncertain for a long time; people did not know precisely in what this diversity of nature consisted, how many types there were, nor what their different functions.
If the names of the individual choirs come from the biblical tradition, the hierarchical organization is the result of Dionysius the Areopagite’s reflections. From his book De Caelesti Hyerarchia we learn that the differences between the winged creatures are based on the different places they occupy on the basis of the functions they are entrusted with, as well as on the knowledge they possess and on their actions”. In descending order angels are divided into: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues and Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. This theory, which is connected to the neo-Platonic one, was brought into the West by St. Gregory the Great. Yet, this idea was scholarly accepted and entered the common language of the Church only after Areopagite’s works had been translated into Latin at the hand of Scotus Erigena.
There are as many names as their offices. Thus, Seraphims are considered to be full ardent charity; Cherubims – the light of intelligence, and Thrones – the host of the Almighty; Dominations – zealous for God’s glory; Virtues are considered to be granted divine force for the good of the world; armed Powers against hell and against the forces of darkness; Principalities are responsible for the protections of the great religious and civil society; Archangels are the patrons of the nations, Dioceses, and religious communities; and Angels have mankind in their custody.
St. Thomas also says that not only Christians have these angels, but also the infidels. These spirits have five ministries: to raise an eternal song to the Lord, offer the prayers of mortals to God, bring divine messages, protect men (individually and collectively), and act as warriors and judges of heavenly will.