angel

angel (ānˈjəl) [key], [Gr., = messenger], bodiless, immortal spirit, limited in knowledge and power, accepted in the traditional belief of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and other religions. Angels appear frequently in the Bible, often in critical roles, e.g., visiting Abraham and Lot (Gen. 18; 19), wrestling with Jacob (Gen. 32.24–32), and guiding Tobit (Tobit 5). The Bible also speaks of guardian angels, protecting individuals or nations (Dan. 10.10–21; Mat. 18.10). In the Gospels an angel announced the Incarnation to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1), and an angel at the empty tomb revealed the Resurrection (Mat. 28.1–7). While Judaism has no fixed ordering of classes of angels, Christianity has a specific hierarchy. Codified in its classic form in the 5th cent by St. Dionysius the Areopagite, in The Celestial Hierarchy. In descending order the ranks of angels are seraphim, cherubim, thrones; dominations, virtues, powers; principalities, arch-angels, and angels. Roman Catholics and the Orthodox venerate angels, and the cult of guardian angels is especially extensive in the West (feast of Guardian Angels: Oct. 2). Protestants have generally abandoned the cult of angels. In Christianity, the angels of Hell, or dark angels, or devils, are the evil counterpart of the heavenly host; the chief of them, Satan (or Lucifer), was cast out of heaven for leading a revolt. They are often viewed as the initiators of evil temptations. Famous literary treatments of angels are those of John Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Divine Comedy. Angels play an important role in many other religions. Later Zoroastrian theology has numerous classes of yazatas "worshipful beings." Zoroastrian notions of angels influenced the intricate theories of heavenly beings of Gnostic systems and Manichaeism. In Islam the four archangels Jibrail, Mikail, Israfil, and Izrail (the Angel of Death) often act in place of Allah. The Kiram al-Katibin are the recording angels. According to a popular tradition, each person has two scribe angels, the one on the right side recording good deeds, the one on the left taking note of transgressions. A lower order of angels is the jinn.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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