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108. The Hierarchies and Orders of Angels

1. A hierarchy is a sacred principality. And aprincipality means ruler and subjects. If we speak of the hierarchyof God and creatures, there is only one hierarchy. But if weconsider only creatures who are dowered with God's gifts, thereare many hierarchies. There is, for example, a human hierarchy;there is an angelic hierarchy. Indeed, among the angels themselves,there are three hierarchies according to three grades of angelicknowledge. But in God himself, that is, in the Blessed Trinity,there is no hierarchy. For there is no greater or lesser among thethree Persons in God. All three Persons are one and the same God.The trinity is an order of distinct Persons, but it is not ahierarchical order.

2. The nature of a hierarchy requires a classifying oforders within it; these may be loosely described as upper, middle,and lower orders. In human social and political groups we have sucha classification: the nobility or aristocracy; the middle classes;the common people.Among angels there are three orders in eachhierarchy (upper, middle, and lower orders), and, since there arethree angelic hierarchies, there are, in all, nine orders ofangels.

3. As we have noticed, our human knowledge of angels isnot direct and perfect; we cannot know angels as they are inthemselves. In our imperfect way, we assign many angels to eachorder, even while we realize that, since each angel is a completespecies, it has its own specific office, and, to that extent, itsown order. We cannot discern what these specific offices and ordersare. If star differ from star in glory, much more does angel differfrom angel. Our classification of angelic orders is, therefore, akind of general classification.

4. Among human beings, who are all of one species andnature, a hierarchy, in the true sense of sacred principality, is ahierarchy of holiness, that is, of God's grace. But, as we havejust recalled, angels are distinguished from one another, not onlyby the gifts of grace, but by their very nature; for each angel isthe only being of its specific kind. Each angel isessentially different from every other angel, whereas each humanbeing is essentially the same as every other human being. Moreover,the gifts of grace are given to angels to the full of their naturalcapacity to receive them; this is not the case with humanbeings.

5. There are three angelic hierarchies. Each hierarchy hasthree orders. All the heavenly spirits of all hierarchies andorders are called angels. Thus the term angel is common andgeneric. The same name, usually with a capital letter, is theproper and collective name for the lowest order of the lowesthierarchy of heavenly spirits. We must therefore distinguishangel, which means any heavenly spirit from highest tolowest, from Angel which means a member of the lowestorder of all.

6. The following hierarchies and orders exist among theangels: (a) The highest hierarchy includes the orders of (indescending order of rank) Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. (b) Themiddle hierarchy includes (in descending order of rank) the ordersof Dominations, Virtues, Powers. (c) The lowest hierarchy includes(in descending order of rank) Principalities, Archangels, Angels.This classification is commonly, but not unanimously, accepted bylearned doctors.

7. After the end of this bodily world, the angelic orderswill continue to exist, but their offices will not be altogetherthe same as they now are, for they will then no longer need to helphuman beings to save their souls.

8. By the gifts of grace, human beings can merit glory ina degree that makes them equal to the angels in each of the orders.Therefore,human beings who get to heaven are taken into theangelic orders. But these human beings remain human beings; theyare not turned into angels.

"It is not God's will that we should abound in spiritual delights, but that in all things we should submit to his holy will."
Blessed Henry Suso

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"Obedience is the true holocaust which we sacrifice to God on the altar of our hearts."
St Philip Neri

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "
Thomas á Kempis

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