The Nine Choir Hierarchy of the Angels in Scripture and Tradition

There has been debate in the comments box on Lucifer vs. Saint Michael over whether there really are nine choirs of angels.

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Here’s the theological evidence to settle the issue that there are nine celestial orders of angels (from lowest to highest):

Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim, Seraphim

In my free book Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages, I explain the cosmic responsibilities of each order.

St. Gregory the Great teaches, based on Saint Paul’s writings, that there are nine orders of angels:

We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tell us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: ‘above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination’; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: ‘whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers’. If we now join these two lists together we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels.” (Hom. 34, In Evang.)

St. Thomas Aquinas teaches the same ninefold pattern at Summa theologica I, q. 108.

St. Paul teaches speaks of angels and archangels and refers to the orders of “principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion” in Ephesians 1:21. He also mentions “thrones, dominations, principalities or powers” at Colossians 1:16.

The term archangel occurs only in St. Jude and 1 Thessalonians 4:15; but St. Paul has furnished us with two other lists of names of the heavenly cohorts. He tells us (Ephesians 1:21) that Christ is raised up “above all principality, and power, and virtue, and dominion”; and, writing to the Colossians (1:16), he says: “In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations, or principalities or powers.”

Paul gives us the middle five orders and we add to it, “angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim” from his writings and the rest of Scripture. So that bring us to nine orders or choirs of angels.

Question: Are you aware of this tradition? Do you think it is controversial? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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  • Todd

    I abide by Sacred Tradition, but I have never been able to understand how we know St. Paul wasn’t saying that Jesus is above every human kingdom. Thrones, dominions, principalities and powers can all refer to human governments. Is there something in the original Greek that makes it more obvious he is referring to spiritual beings? Are there any Jewish traditions that support this interpretation?

    • Good question. From the context in Col 1:16, Paul is arguing that Christ pre-exists and surpasses all creatures which God made. Then he lists these as examples of God’s creatures. So I don’t think “thrones” is referring to God creating political thrones.

      There is a Jewish “merkabah” tradition that predates Christ. It’s a mysticism based on the “throne room” of God. merkabah means “throne.” So I think Paul is teaching within this stream.

      Some have even said that Paul’s Damascus conversion was an example of early Jewish merkabah mysticism. Go figure.

      • Victor

        ((( Some have even said that Paul’s Damascus conversion was an example of early Jewish merkabah mysticism. Go figure. )))

        Doctor Marshall, like many have said, we Catholics are lucky to have you and your intelligent common sense approach to our Religion… I’ll close by saying that I’m sure that you’ll probably agree that for those who have “Faith in GOD” (Good Old Dad) no proof is needed but for those who don’t, no amount of proof will suffice… Right?… lol

        God Bless you and yours

  • TomH

    Hear, hear on the Jewish tradition question. Was St. Paul teaching something novel, or something in Jewish oral tradition?

    • There is a Jewish “merkabah” tradition that predates Christ. It’s a mysticism based on the “throne room” of God. merkabah means “throne.” So I think Paul is teaching within this stream.

      Some have even said that Paul’s Damascus conversion was an example of early Jewish merkabah mysticism. Go figure.

  • Xryztofer

    Some would argue that “thrones, dominations, principalities or powers” is a reference to the archons of Valentinian gnosticism.

    • David Bates

      I was taught the same thing. Not convinced, but taught the same thing.

  • Richard

    Thanks, Dr. Marshall, for your great explanations. I recall the words of Jacques Maritain in his Degrees of Knowledge (I don’t have the original quotation with me) regarding St. Thomas’s treatise on the angels, saying to the effect that any good metaphysician should appreciate, even if he disagrees with it, St. Thomas’s treatise as an exercise in brilliant logic and a profound understanding of the nature of being.

    I would simply draw attention to the fact that St. Thomas even when he cites authority to provide validity to his conclusions has first reached those conclusions through rigorous argumentation, especially when he discusses the nature of God and angels. His conclusions follow from a deep metaphysical analysis of the nature of being, and as anyone who has stepped into Aquinas’s work knows well, to reject or tweak a premise or definition at the beginning, no matter how seemingly benign, will lead to drastic error not very far down the road… I’m not saying that Aquinas’s doctrine on the angels is dogma or should be adhered to as such, but it demands appreciation, is not arbitrary, is not nitpicking, and any rejection of it should not be made nor taken casually because the consequences may actually be quite huge.

    Since I don’t have the time always to study Aquinas deeply, my attitude has been to receive lovingly and humbly the Saint’s doctrine as part of the treasure of Sacred Tradition until I am notified to believe otherwise from the higher-ups (e.g. the Immaculate Conception).

    Besides, I find a deep consolation and joy in knowing that there is a hierarchy of angels each dedicated to the perfection of the universe and the salvation of our souls. The hierarchy adds splendor to the communion of saints.

    • Carol Wrzesinski

      Who am I to argue with St. Thomas Aquinas! (Or St. Augustine for that matter!) Also, we read in scripture where an angel opened the door of St. Peter’s prison, freeing him.

  • JoeAllen

    We humans live in a Physical-Universe and are NOT able to comprehend God who is a SPIRIT. Likewise, we humans are NOT able to comprehend God’s Spirit-Universe and the great variety of Spirit-Creatures that populate the Spirit-Universe.

    God has told us humans that a very powerful and intelligent Spirit-Creature named Satan has an INSANE HATRED for us and is working to exterminate us (Hebrews 2: 14). Satan has already MURDERED St. Augustine and St. Thomas. One of the pivotal events in human history occurred when Satan MURDERED Jesus; this MURDER showed that Satan’s once great LOVE for God, has been completely corrupted by Satan’s INSANE HATRED for humanity.

  • Mary Joan Rourke

    at least some of the seraphim, cherubim and thrones are around the alter at every Mass as well as God.

  • John Wright

    well I suppose there could be untold billions of other types of angels that simply haven’t dropped in on platet earth

  • Lucio46

    Yes there are nine choirs of angels and there is no need to say that Jesus is above them

  • Jim Polsin

    How does the existence of nine categories of levels of angels enhance my ability to live as a Christian? In the words of a mill worker in response to a question by a psychological researcher “How does the question affect my ability to saw wood?”

  • Dena Kelley

    I always thought St. Paul was speaking of things here on earth, not Angels, when he spoke of principalities, thrones, power, virtue, dominion. I will study this further.

  • JCCarbone

    My question is regarding Lucifer.
    1. Since God created, not only Earth but the whole universe, why he banished Lucifer to earth and not to any of the other millions of planets?.
    2. What was the reason for God to banish Lucifer down to Earth and then create men to dwell in the same place as Lucifer? Wouldn’t God be concerned about Lucifer contaminating man with his pride and disobedience…which he has?
    BTW….I’m not questioning God’s Wisdom. those are just some questions I wonder about.