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Seraphim

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Seraphim by Jed Sullivan via Flickr

A seraph (pl. seraphs,  seraphim or seraphims) Hebrew: śārāf, plura śərāfîm; Latin: seraphim and seraphin (plural), also seraphus; Greekserapheím) is a type of celestial or heavenly being in Christianity and Judaism

In the Christian tradition they are among the highest of heavenly beings who worship God. In Judaism they are ranked 5th in the angelic hierarchy.

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 Archangel and the Fallen Angels, Vienna, 1666 (Wikipedia)

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

It is interesting that, for Catholics, the archangel is not at the top of the heavenly hierarchy, as some mistakenly believe.

In the Bible‘s Old Testament, the word seraph/seraphim also describes serpents. Many New Age enthusiasts liken the Hindu and Buddhist ideas of naga (powerful, sacred snakes) and kundalini (mystic serpent power) to this Biblical usage.²

For these New Age thinkers, the serpent is a symbol of spiritual power, renewal and a kind of Jungian integration of good and evil. To liken that to the Christian understanding of the seraph seems misguided to some because Christianity – at least, Jesus’ Christianity – is all about ridding oneself of evil. Others, however, would cite the New Testament passage, Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10-6). But this passage simply means know about evil. It doesn’t mean it’s okay to practice evil.

Basil’s Cathedral interior by shakko via Wikipedia

¹ Abridged from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seraph

² “The word seraph/seraphim appears three times in the Torah (Numbers 21:6–8, Deuteronomy 8:15) and four times in the Book of Isaiah (6:2–6, 14:29, 30:6). In Isaiah 6:2-6 the term is used to describe a type of celestial being or angel. The other five uses of the word refer to serpents.” Ibid.

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