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Angels are referred to in connection with their spiritual missions; as for instance, the ,,angel which has redeemed", ,,an interpreter", ,,the angel that destroyed", ,,the messenger of the covenant", ,angel of his presence", and ,,a band of angels of evil".
In fine art, angels are usually depicted as having the shape of human beings of extraordinary beauty; they are often identified using the symbols of bird wings, halos, and light.
The word angel (pronounced /ˈeɪn.dʒəl/) in English is a blend of Old English engel (with a hard g) and Old French angele. Both derive from Late Latin angelus ,,messenger", which in turn was borrowed from Late Greek ἄνγελος ángelos. According to R. S. P. Beekes, ángelos itself may be ,,an Oriental loan, like ἄγγαρος ['Persian mounted courier']." The word's earliest form is Mycenaean a-ke-ro attested in Linear B syllabic script.
The ángelos is the default Septuagint's translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’ākh denoting simply ,,messenger" without specifying its nature. In the Latin Vulgate, however, the meaning becomes bifurcated: when mal’ākh or ángelos is supposed to denote a human messenger, words like nuntius or legatus are applied. If the word refers to some supernatural being, the word angelus appears. Such differentiation has been taken over by later vernacular translations of the Bible, early Christian and Jewish exegetes and eventually modern scholars.
The Torah uses the (Hebrew) terms מלאך אלהים (mal'āk̠ 'ĕlōhîm; messenger of God), מלאך יהוה (mal'āk̠ YHWH; messenger of the Lord), בני אלהים (bənē 'ĕlōhîm; sons of God) and הקודשים (haqqôd̠əšîm; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as העליונים (hā'elyônîm; the upper ones).
The term מלאך (mal'āk̠) is also used in other books of the Tanakh. Depending on the context, the Hebrew word may refer to a human messenger or to a supernatural messenger. A human messenger might be a prophet or priest, such as Malachi, ,,my messenger"; the Greek superscription in the Septuagint translation states the Book of Malachi was written ,,by the hand of his messenger" ἀγγέλου angélu. Examples of a supernatural messenger are the "Malak YHWH," who is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos), or God himself as the messenger (the "theophanic angel.")
Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms ,,come to mean the benevolent semi divine beings familiar from later mythology and art." Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel (God's primary messenger) in Daniel 9:21 and Michael (the holy fighter) in Daniel 10:13. These angels are part of Daniel's apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all apocalyptic literature. Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: "In the postexilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the 'sons of God' who were members of the Divine Council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as 'angels', understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans." This conception of angels is best understood in contrast to demons and is often thought to be "influenced by the ancient Persian religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, which viewed the world as a battleground between forces of good and forces of evil, between light and darkness." One of these is hāšāṭān, a figure depicted in (among other places) the Book of Job.
Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos inasmuch as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different from God himself, but is conceived as God's instrument.
In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels took on particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Although these archangels were believed to rank among the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe; he is briefly mentioned in the Talmud and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel (Daniel 10:13), is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 8:15–17) and briefly in the Talmud, as well as in many Merkabah mystical texts. There is no evidence in Judaism for the worship of angels, but there is evidence for the invocation and sometimes even conjuration of angels.
According to Kabbalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah). Angels exist in the worlds above as a 'task' of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task. This is derived from the book of Genesis when Abraham meets with three angels and Lot meets with two. The task of one of the angels was to inform Abraham of his coming child. The other two were to save Lot and to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the 'angels which are near to Him', through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move ... thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world.
Maimonides had a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of the Bible. Maimonides writes that to the wise man, one sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as ,,angels" are actually allusions to the various laws of nature; they are the principles by which the physical universe operates.
For all forces are angels! How blind, how perniciously blind are the naive?! If you told someone who purports to be a sage of Israel that the Deity sends an angel who enters a woman's womb and there forms an embryo, he would think this a miracle and accept it as a mark of the majesty and power of the Deity, despite the fact that he believes an angel to be a body of fire one third the size of the entire world. All this, he thinks, is possible for God. But if you tell him that God placed in the sperm the power of forming and demarcating these organs, and that this is the angel, or that all forms are produced by the Active Intellect; that here is the angel, the ,,vice-regent of the world" constantly mentioned by the sages, then he will recoil.
Later Christians inherited Jewish understandings of angels, which in turn may have been partly inherited from the Egyptians. In the early stage, the Christian concept of an angel characterized the angel as a messenger of God. Later came identification of individual angelic messengers: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel. Then, in the space of little more than two centuries (from the 3rd to the 5th) the image of angels took on definite characteristics both in theology and in art.
According to St Augustine, ,, 'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel'." Basilian Father Thomas Rosica says, "Angels are very important, because they provide people with an articulation of the conviction that God is intimately involved in human life."
By the late 4th century, the Church Fathers agreed that there were different categories of angels, with appropriate missions and activities assigned to them. There was, however, some disagreement regarding the nature of angels. Some argued that angels had physical bodies, while some maintained that they were entirely spiritual. Some theologians had proposed that angels were not divine but on the level of immaterial beings subordinate to the Trinity. The resolution of this Trinitarian dispute included the development of doctrine about angels.
The angels are represented throughout the Christian Bible as spiritual beings intermediate between God and men: ,,You have made him [man] a little less than the angels ..." (Psalms 8:4-5). The Bible describes the function of angels as "messengers" but does not indicate when the creation of angels occurred. Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2-5; Colossians 1:16): "praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts ... for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created ...". The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declared that the angels were created beings. The Council's decree Firmiter credimus (issued against the Albigenses) declared both that angels were created and that men were created after them. The First Vatican Council (1869) repeated this declaration in Dei Filius, the "Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith".
Thomas Aquinas (13th century) relates angels to Aristotle's metaphysics in his Summa contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and in De substantiis separatis, a treatise on angelology. Although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10.
According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, ,,...the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him." In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels.
In 1851 Pope Pius IX approved the Chaplet of Saint Michael based on the 1751 reported private revelation from archangel Michael to the Carmelite nun Antonia d'Astonac. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her guardian angel.
Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address titled ,,Angels Participate In History Of Salvation", in which he suggested that modern mentality should come to see the importance of angels.
According to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, ,,The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture."
In the New Church, there is extensive information provided concerning angels and the spiritual world in which they dwell from many years of spiritual experiences recounted in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. All angels are in human form with a spiritual body, and are not just minds without form. There are different orders of angels according to the three heavens, and each angel dwells in one of innumerable societies of angels. Such a society of angels can appear as one angel as a whole. All angels originate from the human race, and there is not one angel in heaven who first did not live in a material body. Moreover, all children who die not only enter heaven but eventually become angels. The life of angels is that of usefulness, and their functions are so many that they cannot be enumerated. However each angel will enter a service according to the use that they had performed in their earthly life. Names of angels, such as Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, signify a particular angelic function rather than an individual being. While living in one's body an individual has conjunction with heaven through the angels, and with each person, there are at least two evil spirits and two angels. Temptation or pains of conscience originates from a conflict between evil spirits and angels. Due to man's sinful nature it is dangerous to have open direct communication with angels and can only be seen when one's spiritual sight has been opened. Thus from moment to moment angels attempt to lead each person to what is good tacitly using the person's own thoughts.