Author and poet

Celestial hierarchies


The most famous system of celestial hierarchies is found in Christian teachings and includes angels found in Jewish texts. The most influential Christian angelic hierarchy was that put forward by Pesudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite in the 4th or 5th century in his book, De Coelesti Hierarchia. The prefix hier means ‘sacred’, rather than ‘higher’, although this system does describe hierarchies in the usual sense, i.e. that some angels are closer to God than others and therefore may be understood to have ‘higher’ status.

Pseudo-Dionysius and Thomas Aquinas (in his Summa Theologica) developed a schema of three Hierarchies, Spheres, or Triads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three ‘Orders’ or ‘Choirs’:

  • First Sphere: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
  • Second Sphere: Dominions, Virtues, Powers
  • Third Sphere: Principalities, Archangels, Angels (including guardian angels)

Aquinas drew on New Testament sources to substantiate this schema – Ephesians 1:21–22 and Colossians 1:16, for instance.

The Assumption of the Virgin, Francesco Botticini

This scheme of layered celestial characters has been highly influential in the Christian church. It was popular and accepted as theological fact during the life of the 11th-century German Abbess Hildegarde of Bingen, who painted visions of the hierarchies and composed music according to aural inspiration.

I recommend The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet by Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox if you are interested in how angels might be quarks. Rupert also has Youtube content on the topic of angels.

A Jewish perspective, offered by the mediaeval philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138–1204), includes ten levels of celestial beings – the Tree of Life has ten sefirot. You can see how high the erelim, the hosts of Raziel, are on this list. The Angel of Secrets is based on Jewish mysticism, so this is the celestial map I am using. Maimonides makes reference to prophetic visions to support his scheme:

Celestial Hierarchies