What are the morphic
likenesses of the Angelic Powers? what the fiery? what the
anthromorphic? what are the eyes? what the nostrils? what the ears? what
the mouths? what the touch? what the eyelids? what the eyebrows? what
the prime? what the teeth? what the shoulders? what the elbows and the
hands? what the heart? what the breasts? what the back? what the feet?
what the wings? what the nakedness? what the robe? what the shining
raiment? what the sacerdotal? what the girdles? what the rods? what the
spears? what the battle-axes? what the measuring lines? what the winds?
what the clouds? what the brass? what the electron? what the choirs?
what the clapping of hands? what the colours of different stones? what
the appearance of the lion? what the appearance of the ox? what the
appearance of the eagle? what the horses? what the varieties of coloured
horses? what the rivers? what the chariots? what the wheels? what the
so-called joy of the Angels?
The Angelic Hierarchy,
Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite.
If you enter the National gallery in
London through the doors to the Sainsbury wing and look up the stairs,
you will see one of the gallery's most breath-taking paintings Ė The
Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini.
Iíve discussed elsewhere the Earthly
scene in the lower half of the painting when considering images of the
Assumption; now letís look up to heaven and study those angels.
As I am going to
discuss below, the hierarchy of angels consisted of nine distinct
orders, with the most senior at the top. Botticini interpolates saints
among the angels. Most theologians went along with this hierarchy,
though predictably there was much else that they disagreed on. The
structure was codified by the splendidly named Pseudo-Dionysus the
Areopagite, and debated by such luminaries as St Gregory, Peter Abelard
and St Anselm of Canterbury. This has continued up to the present day;
The extraordinary book The Physics of Angels by Rupert Sheldrake and
Matthew Fox relates the theology of angels to contemporary discoveries
in quantum mechanics and theories of the conscious universe. They
suggest that the great medieval thinkers such as Anselm and Hildegard of
Bingen had an innate understanding of quantum theory, and the hierarchy
of angels can be related to the various properties of the electromagnetic
Areopagite was a convert to Christianity by St Paul, and is mentioned in
the Acts of the Apostles. Pseudo-Dionysus was a sixth century theologian
who took on the mantle of the earlier figure, possibly because of the
link with St Paul who named a number of the angelic ranks in his
letters. The text on angels, the
Celestial Hierarchy, was little known until translations from the Greek
appeared in the ninth century, although Gregory the Great was familiar
with it. Iíll begin by exploring the earliest Christian images of
angels, perhaps best described as pre-Dionysian.