Angelology is a theological doctrine pertaining to angels and can be found in different religions depicted in different ways. The hierarchy of angels basically refers to the belief that angels have different rankings or levels in a religion. The angels at a higher ranking are usually assumed to have a greater amount of authority or power over those with lower rankings. It is also perceived that angels of different rankings differ in their appearances, for example, having a difference in the number of faces or wings. Let’s explore the hierarchy of angels as depicted in different religions.
The most widely believed hierarchy of angels for Christians was actually influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s 5th-century manuscript, ‘De Coelesti Hierarchia,’ which translates to ‘On the Celestial Hierarchy.’ Pseudo-Dionysius made three orders in which he grouped the 9 levels of angels or spiritual beings. The lowest order consists of archangels, angels and principalities. The middle order consists of virtue, powers and dominions. The highest order consists of Cherubim, Thrones and Seraphim.
During the Middle Ages, a variety of schemes were introduced. Some expanded and drew on the hierarchal standard that Dionysius proposed, whereas others classified angels completely differently.
Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae) and Pseudo-Dionysius (On the Celestial Hierarchy) drew their conclusions after going through the New Testament, in particular two passages from it (Ephesians 1:21 and Colossians 1:16). They developed a diagram consisting of three triads, spheres or hierarchies of angels. Each hierarchy contained three choirs or orders.
In Judaism, the angelic hierarchy has been established in the Talmud, Hebrew Bible, Jewish liturgy and Rabbinic literature. The categorization of the hierarchies has also been proposed by different theologians as well. In the Yad ha-Chazakah: Yesodei ha-Torah or Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, ten rankings of angels have been specified.
The angelic hierarchy in Zoroastrianism is not formally specified. Their angel beings, that are called yazatas, are believed to have important positions. In the Zoroastrian calendar, some of the days are named after the yazatas in their honour.
Islam does not categorize angels into a different hierarchy as there is in Christianity and their separation of angels into different spheres or choirs. The topic of a hierarchy of angels is not addressed directly in the Holy Quran. It is still, however, clear in Islam that a hierarchy or an order does exist pertaining to angels. Their differentiation is through the different tasks that they are said to be given by God. A few scholars of Islam propose that the angels in Islam could be grouped into 14 categories.
Some games, particularly role-playing games also have adopted the idea of using angels as characters that can be summoned by different players. Shin Megami Tensei and Dungeons & Dragons are examples of such RPG games who have adopted this hierarchal structure. In Shin Megami Tensei, the angels can belong to two different categories, Heralds or Divine. In Dungeons and Dragons, there are three classifications of angels – Solar, astral Deva and Planetar.
Thus, different religions classify angels under different ranks and hierarchies depending on either their physical attributes, the jobs they do or their personality traits.