Angels and Their Names
The Common Names
Whether or not every Angel has a proper name whereby he is distinguished from other heavenly spirits of the same Order or Choir we do not know. Each name that Scripture and Tradition have given to individual Angels and Angelic Choirs, reflects some of the particular duties assigned to them, either in the Court of Heaven or on their missions to men here on earth. Such names are indicative of Angelic activity rather than of Angelic nature, but because operation is always in proportion to nature some aspect of the Angelic nature is revealed by such names, in a manner comprehensible to man. If they actually have proper names that fully express their nature, such names must be too wonderful for mortal man to understand. This is probably the reason why the Angel who appeared to Samson's mother, very carefully evaded her curious questioning in this regard. "A man of God came to me, having the countenance of an Angel, very awful. And when I asked him who he was, and whence he came, and by what name he was called, he would not tell me."1 When the same Angel appeared to Samson's father, he too pressed the heavenly spirit for his name: "What is thy name, that; if thy word shall come to pass, we may honor thee. And he answered him: Why askest thou my name which is wonderful?"2
The patriarch Jacob had no more success with the Angel who wrestled with him: "Jacob asked him: Tell me by what name art thou called? He answered: Why dost thou ask my name? And he blessed him in the same place."3 In both these instances the Angel does not deny the fact that he has a name, by which other Angels call him in heaven, but that name is too wonderful for man to hear. The name of a purely spiritual nature must be expressed by such exalted concepts as to be entirely ineffable in human terms. We believe that the danger of idolatry, which was very close in those days, was an added reason for the Angel not to give any name. The Holy Angels were always very careful in preventing man from offering sacrifices and divine worship to them. Manue, Samson's father, was about to make a sort of sacrificial offering to the Angel who had just spoken to him, when the Angel stopped him, saying: "If thou press me, I will not eat of thy bread, but if thou wilt offer a holocaust, offer it to the Lord."4 Saint John the Evangelist was prevented from adoring an Angel: "And I, John, who have heard and seen these things. And, after I had heard and seen, I fell down to adore before the feet of the Angel who showed me these things, and he said to me: See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them that keep the words of the prophecy of this book. Adore God."5 It is a very consoling thought to know that we are fellow servants of the Angels, if we serve God faithfully, like the prophets and the Apostles.
The Name eLOHIM
Because of the superior attributes of splendor, beauty, wisdom, and power manifested by the Angels on their various apparitions to man, it was natural that at the very beginning of revelation, man would regard the Angels as divine beings. As a matter of fact, one of their names, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, is Elohim, the very same name which was given to God, to Godlike beings, and to false gods. This name, in the sense of heavenly spirits, is found in several passages in the book of Psalms: "Let them be all confounded that adore graven things, and that glory in their idols. Adore Him, all you his Angels"6 (elohim-the gods). Again, "I will sing praise to thee in the sight of the Angels"7 (elohim-the gods). In these and similar passages the probable translation is, God, or gods, but from the context it appears that, more probably, Angels are meant here by elohim.8 This is exactly how the Vulgate and other ancient versions, like the Septuagint, understood it. When the Angels are called gods, the word must be taken in a sense similar to that whereby saints and prophets are called gods: "I have said: You are gods, and all of you the sons of the most High."9 Our Divine Savior fully approves this expression, in the sense of a just man and a saint being a partaker of the divine nature, adding that "the scripture cannot be broken."10 The parallelism of the second stich: "and all of you the sons of the most High," clearly explains the meaning of the term "gods," in the first stich, namely, gods as adoptive sons of God; gods not by nature but by grace and adoption.
The Name "Sons of God" (BeNEY eLOHIM)
This name, like the preceding one, is applied to both Angels and just men. We have met this title before, at the very beginning of this book, and we have discussed its meaning with reference to Angels. Because of the sanctifying grace which is in them, they are deified and children of God by adoption. This supernatural, divine element of sanctifying grace joins together Angels and just men into one family, God's family, making them all children of the same Father. The fellowship of grace and glory makes Angels and Saints Sons of God, and, therefore, brethren according to grace, if not according to nature.
The Name "Messenger" (MALeAKH)
This is the most common name given to all the heavenly spirits. The title is obviously taken from the most frequent and best known duty of the Angels, that of acting as God's messengers and legates to men. As explained before, this title is used both as a generic and a specific appelative; first, it refers to all the heavenly spirits of any rank or Choir, secondly, it is the proper name of the spirits of the last Choir in the last Hierarchy.
The Name "Mediators" (MELIS)
This and the following titles, common to all the Angels, are descriptive rather than nominal, and they are found only in the Scripture of the Old Testament. An example of this title is found in the book of Job: "If there shall be an Angel (a mediator) speaking for him, one among thousands, to declare man's uprightness."11 The good Angels, especially our guardian Angels, are our mediators, those who speak for us before the divine throne of God. The Archangel Raphael was such a mediator for old Tobias, as it appears from his own words: "When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, and didst leave thy dinner, and hide the dead by day in thy house, and bury them at night, I offered thy prayer to the Lord."12 This offering of man's prayers and good deeds to the Lord is an act of mediation. Before the Savior's Ascension, before the gates of heaven were opened to redeemed mankind, the Holy Angels were man's only mediators and intercessors in Heaven. Their mediation did not cease after our Redemption by Christ, when the Queen of Heaven and all the Saints became our intercessors in union with Christ our Divine Mediator. On the contrary, the Angelic mediation became more incessant and efficacious because of the example of the Son of God. In the sacred liturgy of the Mass, the Church expresses this idea of Angelic mediation in the following beautiful prayer: "We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, bid these our offerings to be brought by the hands of Thy holy Angel unto Thy altar above, before the face of Thy divine majesty."18 All this is in accordance with Saint John's apocalyptic vision: "Another Angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God. And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the Angel."14 As mediators the Angels prove themselves to be man's most interested and sincere friends.
The Names "Ministers" (MeSARETH), and "Servants" ('EBHEdH)
Doing always the will of God and ministering to Him is the main duty of the Angels, hence one would expect that the Scripture occasionally call them Ministers and Servants of the Lord. This is the case especially in poetic books, as for example:
"Bless the Lord, all ye his hosts: you ministers of his that do his will."15 "Behold in his servants he puts no trust, and in his Angels he finds folly."16 According to the law of poetical parallelism, here the terms hosts and ministers, servants and Angels are synonyms. Under the aspect of ministers and servants the Angels offer a luminous example to man, and particularly to priests as ministers of the Church and dispensers of the mysteries of God. The priest, according to Saint Paul, is "a minister of the holies and of the true tabernade, which the Lord hath pitdhed, and not man."17
The Name "Watcher" ('IR)
It is only in the book of Daniel that we meet this appellative for the Angels. The watcher is always called a holy one in these passages. "I saw in the vision of my head upon my bed: and behold a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven."18 "And whereas the king saw a watcher and a holy one come down from heaven, and say: Cut down the tree and destroy it, but leave the stump of the roots thereof in the earth."19 The name "watcher" is very appropriate, for the heavenly spirits never sleep or rest but are ever vigilant and ready to carry out God's commands while beholding the life- giving splendor of His glory.
The Name "Host" or "Army" (SABHA)
The term Host, as applied to Angels, is usually found in its plural form SeBHA'OTH. and in connection with the word heaven, as in the following passage: "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the army (host) of heaven standing by him on the right hand and on the left."20 A direct parallelism between Angels and Hosts is manifest in the following verse: "Praise ye him, all his Angels: praise ye him, all his hosts."21 In these and similar passages the terms Hosts, Army, do not necessarily give the idea of a warlike preparation for military strife, they rather imply a well-ordered and well-organized multitude of heavenly spirits, most powerful and ever ready to obey God, the King of heaven, the Lord of Hosts.
The Name "Holy" or "Holy Ones" (QADHOS)
The qualification of sanctity expressed by the name Holy is based upon the supernatural and blessed life of the Angels in heaven. Sanctified by the infusion of divine grace from the beginning of their creation, perfected in it by their individual cooperation and their perseverance during the period of their probation, the Holy Angels are now confirmed in grace and they enjoy the never-ending Beatific Vision of God. They are truly saints, sons of God, ministers of the Court of Heaven, members of God's household. They are the assembly of the saints whereof the inspired Psalmist sings: "The heavens shall confess thy wonders, O Lord, and thy truth in the assembly of the saints. . . . God who is glorified in the assembly of the saints, great and terrible above all them that are about him."22 "The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with him."23 The prophet Daniel refers to Angels when in his vision he hears saints talking to one another: "And I heard one of the saints speaking, and one saint said to another, I know not to whom that was speaking."24
The infinite sanctity of God is revealed to His Angels in the glory of heaven; they almost breathe it, and they reflect it in themselves according to their capacity. That sanctity is reflected in all their apparitions to men here on earth.
l Judg. 13:6.
2 Ibid. 17 f.
3 Gen. 32:29.
4 Judg. 13:16.
5 Apoc. 22:8f.
6 Ps. 96:7.
7 Ps. 137:1.
8 W. G. Heidt, Angelology of the Old Testament, p. 2ff.
9 Ps. 81:6.
10 John 10:34 f.
11 Job 33:23.
12 Tob. 12:12.
13 The Roman Missal: Canon: Supplices te rogamas, etc.
14 Apoc. 8:3f.
15 Ps. 102:21.
16 Job 4:18. This version is directly from the Hebrew.
17 Heb. 8:2.
18 Dan. 4:10.
20. 20 Par. 18:18.
21 Ps. 148:2.
22 Ps. 88:6, 8.
23 Zach. 14:5. 24 Dan. 8:13. Another name, common to all the Angels, is the word "spirit" (RUACH), espedally in its plural form (Apoc. 1:4 and 4:5). But because the word applies more commonly to evil and unclean spirits, and to any breath of life and to winds, we do not regard it as clearly and exclusively referring to Angels.
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