September 29 traditionally was set aside as Michaelmas, the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel. Then the Church made it the feast day of all the Archangels.
Note: The word “saint” simply means “holy” — as indeed are the Angels who choose to be true to God instead of, like Lucifer and the other fallen angels, pride in themselves.
The word angel, in Greek, is angelos; in Hebrew, malach; in Arabic, mala’ika — which all mean “messenger.”
Angels are incorporeal (without body, material form or substance) spiritual beings who act as messengers and intermediaries between God and humanity. St. Augustine said that although Angels are defined by their function as messengers or message-bearers, their activities are not limited to just this function, messenger being one of their functions, but not their nature. St. Thomas Aquinas maintained that each Angel is unique, a species unto itself — truly a mind-boggling idea.
Major philosophers — such as Thomas Aquinas, René Descartes, John Locke, and most recently, the American philosopher Mortimer Adler — had put forth compelling reasons for the existence of Angels.
Note: For the conversion of Adler, a Jew, to the Catholic faith, see “A philosopher-pagan comes home: The conversion of Mortimer Adler“.
Theologians maintain there is a hierarchy of Angels, their belief stemming from allusions in both the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 3:24; Isaiah 6:1-7; Ezekiel 1, 10; Romans 8:38; Ephesians 1:21, 3:10, 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:10, 2:15) to “seraphim,” “cherubim,” “thrones,” “dominions,” “mights,” “powers” and “principalities” in the “heavenly places”.
Dionysius the Areopagite and St. Thomas Aquinas delineated three hierarchies of Angels, and three orders within each hierarchy, totaling nine orders in all:
- 1st hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones.
- 2nd hierarchy: Dominions, Virtues, Powers.
- 3rd hierarchy: Principalities, Archangels, Angels.
Of the nine angelic orders, five are sent by God for external ministry among bodily creatures, as indicated by their names of Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels—all of which refer to some kind of administrative or executive office. Of these five orders, only the last three minister to human beings:
- Principalities are in charge of the whole of humanity.
- Archangels minister to nations, their leaders, and those persons whom God tasks with special work to do on Earth.
- Angels, the last order, are God’s messengers to and guardians of individual human beings.
That leaves the orders of Virtues and Powers who, by logical inference, minister to other bodily but nonhuman creatures — a category that would include animals, whom St. Bonaventure insightfully called “creatures without sin,” as indeed they are without the concupiscence of Original Sin that stains every human. That our pets and other animals have Angels is a happy thought indeed!
Three Angels are named in the Bible:
- Michael: in Hebrew, the name means “Who is like God?”.
- Gabriel: “God is my might”.
- Raphael: “God has healed”.
Notice that all three names end with “el” — which means God, in Hebrew. Thus, each Archangel’s name ending in “el” means they are “of God.”
St. Gabriel, the Archangel
Gabriel’s name means “God is great.” The angel Gabriel appears to at least three people in the Bible:
- To the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8:16).
- To the priest Zechariah to foretell and announce the miraculous birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19).
- To the Virgin Mary to tell her that she would conceive and bear a son (Luke 1:26–38). As the angel of the Annunciation, Gabriel is the one who revealed that the Savior was to be called “Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
St. Gabriel is recognized as the patron saint of all messengers, including telecommunication and postal workers.
St. Raphael, the Archangel
The angel Raphael‘s name means “God heals.” This identity came about because of the biblical story that Raphael “healed” the earth when it was defiled by the sins of the fallen angels in the apocryphal Book of Enoch.
Raphael appears by name only in the Book of Tobit where, disguised as a human named “Azarias the son of the great Ananias,” he accompanies Tobiah, son of Tobit, in travels. When Raphael returns from his journey with Tobiah, he declares to Tobit that he was sent by the Lord to heal Tobiah’s blindness and deliver Sarah, Tobiah’s future wife, from the demon Asmodeus. It is then that Raphael makes himself known as “the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tobit 12:15).
Although only the archangels Gabriel and Michael are mentioned by name in the New Testament, the Gospel of John 5:1-4 speaks of a healing pool at Bethesda where “An angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under.“ This passage is generally associated with Archangel Raphael.
St. Raphael is the patron saint of travelers, the blind, bodily ills, happy meetings, nurses, physicians and medical workers. He is often pictured holding a staff and either holding or standing on a fish.
St. Michael, the Archangel
The name “Lucifer” means “morning star,” “son of the dawn,” or “light carrier.” For that reason, theologians believe that Lucifer was a high-order Angel, most likely the highest order — a Seraphim. Aquinas thought him to be “probably the highest of all the angels.”
But Lucifer admires and loves himself more than his Creator and thinks himself to be “as God.” And so, swollen with narcissism and grandiosity, Lucifer rebelled, taking a third of the angelic beings with him.
A lower-order angel, full of courage and love of God, rallied together two-thirds of the angelic ranks against Lucifer and the other apostates, in the First War that began the enduring conflict between good and evil. As related in Revelation 12:7-9:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.
That braveheart’s name is Micha-el, which means “Who is like God?” — Michael‘s battle cry.
St. Michael the Archangel is the prince of the heavenly hosts and the most beloved of all the angels. He is mentioned in Daniel 10:13,31; 12:1 (where he is said to be the prince of the people of Israel); Jude 9 (where he disputed with the Devil about the body of Moses); and in Revelation 12:7 (where he led the heavenly armies against those of the “great dragon”).
Described in Revelation 10:1 as a “mighty angel…with a halo around his head; his face was like the sun and his feet were like pillars of fire,” St. Michael is generally portrayed by artists as wearing full armor and carrying a sword or lance, with his foot on the neck of a dragon. (Pictures of the martyred St. George are often similar, but only Michael has wings.)
Michael has four main titles or offices. He is:
- Patron of the Chosen People in the Old Testament.
- Patron saint and defender of the Church.
- The Angel of death, who assists Jesus in the final judgment (thus, Michael is sometimes depicted with a scale).
- Leading the good angels against the fallen angels or demons. For that reason, Christians consider St. Michael the most powerful defender of God’s people against evil. As such, Michael is also the patron saint of soldiers and policemen. (For the Prayer to St. Michael, go here.)
All of which is why St. Michael, the Braveheart of Angels, is my most favorite saint, whom I admire and love with all my heart. He is my commander in chief. As you can see from this blog’s masthead, he is also the patron and protector of Fellowship of the Minds.
Happy Feast Day, St. Michael, St. Raphael, St. Gabriel!
Thank you for inspiring us with your humility, courage, goodness, and love of God. Please help us in our struggles in this present darkness.
Thank you, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for creating the marvelous Angels!
For a fascinating account of a U.S. Marine’s encounter with Archangel Michael in the Korean War, click here.
- Mortimer J. Adler, The Angels and Us (New York: Macmillan, 1982).
- Matthew Bunson, Angels A to Z: A Who’s Who of the Heavenly Host (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1996), pp. 181-184.
- Michael H. Brown, Prayer of the Warrior (Goleta, CA: Queenship Publishing Co., 1993), p. 34.
- René Descartes, Meditations On First Philosophy, trans. by Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1979).
- John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, edited with an introduction by A. D. Woozley (Cleveland & New York: Meridian Books, 1968),
- Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Volume One (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947).