Spheres of AngelsImage result for angel hierarchy chart

In ancient Greek, ‘sphere’ simply meant ‘ball. A sphere (from Greek σφαῖρα — sphaira, “globe, ball”) is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space that is the surface of a completely round ball, (viz., analogous to a circular object in two dimensions). To understand about the celestial hierarchy it is important to know exactly what an angel is.  Briefly it can be described as: a spiritual being that is believed to be much more powerful than a human.  In Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other theologies an angel can be one who acts as a messenger, attendant or agent of God.
Regarding the celestial hierarchy, the majority of scholars believe that angels are divided into clearly defined ranks.  Depending on the rank of the angel it will have separate honors and duties.

According to medieval Christian theologians, the Angels are organized into several orders, or Angelic Choirs.
Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica) drew on passages from the New Testament, specifically Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16, to develop a schema of three Hierarchies, Spheres or Triads of angels, with each Hierarchy containing three Orders or Choirs.
The most influential of these classifications was that put forward by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the 4th or 5th century, in his book “The Celestial hierarchy”. Pseudo-Dionysius, a Christian philosopher of the late fifth century CE, drew on passages from the New Testament, as well as other possible sources of supernatural knowledge, to put forth an angelic hierarchy in his book, “De Coelesti Hierarchia”. Organizing this hierarchy into three main Spheres, with each Sphere containing three “Choirs,” Pseudo-Dionysius created a heavenly hierarchy that is still studied and cited to this day. In short, the first Sphere of angels commune directly with God, seeing and adoring Him directly, and communicating His will to those angels closer to man’s affairs. The second Sphere of angels manages the affairs of the lower angels, and the third Sphere directly interacts with man and the material universe.
However, during the Middle Ages, many schemes were proposed, some drawing on and expanding on Pseudo-Dionysius, others suggesting completely different classifications (some authors limited the number of Choirs to seven). Several other hierarchies were proposed, some in nearly inverted order. Scholars of the Middle Ages believed that angels and archangels were lowest in the order because they were the most involved in the world of men and thus more susceptible to sin.

The nine choirs of angels also are categorized into three groups: The first three choirs see and adore God directly. As mentioned in the citation from Isaiah, the seraphim, meaning “the burning or fiery ones,” have the most intense “flaming” love for God and comprehend Him with the greatest clarity. In Isaiah 6:6, a seraphim took a burning ember from the altar and touched the lips of Isaiah, purging him of sin so he could prophesy in the name of the Lord. (Interestingly, Lucifer, which means “light bearer,” was one of the seraphim whose beautiful light was changed into darkness because of his sinfulness.)

The second choir is the cherubim, which means “fullness of wisdom.” They contemplate God’s divine providence and plan for His creatures. The prophet Ezekiel described them as follows: “Their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. … Each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle. Their faces and their wings looked out on all their four sides; they did not turn when they moved, but each went straight forward. … Human hands were under their wings, and the wings of one touched those of another. Each had two wings spread out above so the they touched one another’s, while the other two wings of each covered his body. … They seemed like torches, moving to and fro. … The fire gleamed, and from it came forth flashes of lightning” . Remember that when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He “stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life” . To signify the presence of God in the holy of hollies of the temple (or earlier, the tent dwelling), the veil covering the entrance was woven of blue, purple and scarlet yarns embroidered with cherubim, and atop the Ark of the Covenant was the propitiatory (the mercy seat, or throne of God) that had two gold cherubim at each end with their wings extended over it.

Lastly, the thrones, symbolizing divine justice and judicial power, contemplate God’s power and justice. Reference to “thrones” is found in Colossians 1:16, and in Jewish apocryphal literature, the Book of Enoch and the Testament of Levi.

The next three choirs fulfill God’s providential plan for the universe: The dominations or dominions, whose name evokes authority, govern the lesser choirs of angels. The virtues, whose name originally suggested power or strength, implement the orders from the dominations and govern the heavenly bodies. Lastly, the powers confront and fight against any evil forces opposed to God’s providential plan. 

The last three choirs are involved directly in human affairs: The principalities care for earthly principalities, such as nations or cities. The archangels deliver God’s most important messages to mankind, and Scripture identifies three by name —  Michael, Raphael and Gabriel.  Michael, whose name means, “one who is like God,” led the army of angels who cast Satan and the rebellious angels into hell; at the end of time, he will wield the sword of justice to separate the righteous from the evil  Gabriel, whose name means “strength of God,” announced to Mary that she had been chosen as the mother of the Savior (cf. Lk 1:26-38). Finally,  Raphael, whose name means “remedy of God,” cured the blind man Tobit.

Finally, we have the angels, who appear throughout the Old and the New Testament, leading and guarding the people, like during the Exodus or freeing St. Peter from prison. Here we must remember our guardian angels. Jesus said, “See that you never despise one of these little ones. I assure you, their angels in heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father’s face”, indicating that each of us has a guardian angel.

The catechism states, “From infancy to death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” . Most of us at an early age learned the little prayer to our guardian angel: “Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and to guide.”

The angels of the first sphere could be likened to the executive management of a corporation—they are responsible for directly interpreting the will of the CEO—God—and implementing it on the grandest scale. The first three choirs see and adore God directly. As mentioned in the citation from Isaiah, the seraphim, meaning “the burning or fiery ones,” have the most intense “flaming” love for God and comprehend Him with the greatest clarity. In Isaiah 6:6, a seraphim took a burning ember from the altar and touched the lips of Isaiah, purging him of sin so he could prophesy in the name of the Lord. (Interestingly, Lucifer, which means “light bearer,” was one of the seraphim whose beautiful light was changed into darkness because of his sinfulness.)

These first-Sphere angels are the direct servants of God in heaven. The greatest of these are the Seraphim, which literally translated, means “burning ones”. These angels “burn” with the most intense love for God out of all the angelic beings, and are the closest to the throne of God, continuously shouting praises to the Lord and calling attention to His majesty and glory, ever-communicating this glory down through the ranks of the lower angels.

These angels are described in Isaiah 6:1-8 as having six-wings, with two covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two being used to fly. They are fiery in appearance, and the voice of even a single Seraph can shake the foundations of a building and fill it with smoke. It was a Seraph which touched a burning coal to the lips of Isaiah, purifying him in order that he might be able to prophesy.

If the Choirs of angels are thought of a gradient of holiness from most holy and just beneath God, to less holy, the Seraphim are nearer to God than any created being in the universe.

The next Spheres are those angels who deal more closely with man, and the material realm.Image result for angel hierarchy

The second choir is the cherubim, which means “fullness of wisdom.” They contemplate God’s divine providence and plan for His creatures. The prophet Ezekiel described them as follows: “Their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. … Each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle. Their faces and their wings looked out on all their four sides; they did not turn when they moved, but each went straight forward. … Human hands were under their wings, and the wings of one touched those of another. Each had two wings spread out above so the they touched one another’s, while the other two wings of each covered his body. … They seemed like torches, moving to and fro. … The fire gleamed, and from it came forth flashes of lightning”. Remember that when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He “stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life”. To signify the presence of God in the holy of hollies of the temple (or earlier, the tent dwelling), the veil covering the entrance was woven of blue, purple and scarlet yarns embroidered with cherubim, and atop the Ark of the Covenant was the propitiatory (the mercy seat, or throne of God) that had two gold cherubim at each end with their wings extended over it.

Lastly, the thrones, symbolizing divine justice and judicial power, contemplate God’s power and justice.i.

The next three choirs fulfill God’s providential plan for the universe: The dominations or dominions, whose name evokes authority, govern the lesser choirs of angels. The virtues, whose name originally suggested power or strength, implement the orders from the dominations and govern the heavenly bodies. Lastly, the powers confront and fight against any evil forces opposed to God’s providential plan.

The last three choirs are involved directly in human affairs: The principalities care for earthly principalities, such as nations or cities. The archangels deliver God’s most important messages to mankind, and Scripture identifies three by name — Michael, Raphael and Gabriel.  Michael, whose name means, “one who is like God,” led the army of angels who cast Satan and the rebellious angels into hell; at the end of time, he will wield the sword of justice to separate the righteous from the evil  Gabriel, whose name means “strength of God,” announced to Mary that she had been chosen as the mother of the Savior . Finally,  Raphael, whose name means “remedy of God,” cured the blind man Tobit

Finally, we have the angels, who appear throughout the Old and the New Testament, leading and guarding the people, like during the Exodus or freeing St. Peter from prison. Here we must remember our guardian angels. Jesus said, “See that you never despise one of these little ones. I assure you, their angels in heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father’s face” (Mt 18:10), indicating that each of us has a guardian angel.

Therefore, may we always be mindful of these heavenly protectors. Let us pray as at the Mass in their honor: “O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company.