Archangels (in the Catholic Tradition)

Guido Reni's archangel Michael (in the Capuchi...
Guido Reni’s archangel Michael (in the Capuchin church of Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome) tramples Satan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Archangel [Greek archos: ruler + angelos: messenger]

The Catholic catechism does not place too much emphasis on angels, but it does describe them as servants of both God and man. Perhaps this lack of hoopla is a definite move away from those New Age (and other) systems that exalt angels or individuals who believe they are angels.

For Catholics, the focus is always on God first. Even with Catholicism’s veneration of saints, it’s always God who is (and who supplies) the power and the glory. Saints merely intercede. This is a commonly misunderstood point among non-Catholics. But in reality, whenever some person (or type of devotion) becomes too eccentric – i.e. away from God, the source – the Vatican usually distances itself from or outright condemns these deviations.

The Catholic tradition outlines three archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.¹ Essentially glorifying God, archangels are said to be spiritual powers whose perfection surpasses human beings.

Historically speaking, In the Celestial Hierarchies Pseudo Dionysus (c. 500 CE) arranged angels into three hierarchies, each consisting of three thrones.

  1. Closest to God are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones.
  2. The next level contains the Dominations, Virtues and Powers.
  3. The third and furthest level from God is filled with Principalities, Archangels and Angels.
Luca Giordano's painting of St. Michael the Ar...
Luca Giordano’s painting of St. Michael the Archangel and the Fallen Angels, Vienna, 1666 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this schema the highest-ranking angels are apparently rapt in God’s glory, continually singing His praises, while the lower two levels interact with mankind. The schema was accepted by the medieval scholastic St. Thomas Aquinas, whose work was largely influential on the formation of Catholic dogma.

It is interesting to note that, for Catholics, the archangel is not at the height of the heavenly hierarchy, as many mistakenly assume.

A Catholic exorcism prayer appeals to St. Michael and other spiritual powers to expel the devil from an afflicted person.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.²

¹ For more about archangels and their (alleged) equivalents in other traditions, see the Wikipedia entry:

² A much longer version can be found here:



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