The word angel means "messenger" and this word expresses the nature of angelic service to the human race. Angels are organized into several orders, or Angelic Choirs. The most influential of these classifications was that put forward by pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (not to be confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, who was baptized by Saint [[Apostle Paul|Paul and lived in the first century, and from whom pseudo-Dionysius took his name) in the fourth or fifth century in his book The Celestial Hierarchy.
In this work, the author drew on passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16, to construct a schema of three Hierarchies, Spheres or Triads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three Orders or Choirs. In descending order of power, these were:
- First Hierarchy:
- Second Hierarchy:
- Third Hierarchy:
Try comparing this model of the Triune God in the Immaterial, Incorporeal and Invisible World with the one existing in our corporeal, material and visible World:
- Breadth or Width
- Height or Depth
However, one should be a bit cautious about taking pseudo-Dionysius' model too concretely, as the gospel truth (to use the expression quite literally). The author himself was a fairly early advocate of apophatic theology, which insists on only describing God in the negative. Still, many have accused the writer of wavering somewhere in between Orthodoxy and Neoplatonism, a pagan Greek philosophical system; such critics say that the three groupings of three in the angelic hierarchy derive from the Neoplatonic tendency to divide beings into triads. Furthermore, the comparison of the celestial with the earthly breaks down if one takes into account modern science, which tells us of a fourth category of matter, plasma, plus the fact that Einstein considered time another, fourth dimension, and modern string theorists (whose scientific validity is still very debatable) propose somewhere between 10 and 26 dimensions in the physical universe. All said and done, this is not to entirely discredit pseudo-Dionysius, who has been much esteemed by numerous Church Fathers and theologians up to the present day.
Orthodox Life, Vol. 27, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1977), pp. 39-47.
|First Hierarchy: Seraphim | Cherubim | Thrones|
|Second Hierarchy: Powers | Dominions | Principalities|
|Third Hierarchy: Virtues | Archangels | Angels|