Dionysian Hierarchy of Angels
One of the earliest schemas depicting the hierarchy of angels was referred to as the Celestial hierarchy. This hierarchy is derived from sixth-century theologian Dionysius the Areopagite. His Celestial hierarchy was the most influential treatise in Christian angelology and received added authority when adopted many centuries later by Thomas Aquinas.
What is the Dionysian Hierarchy of Angels?
Later referred to also as the Dionysius scheme, this hierarchy describes nine choirs of angels, grouped into three hierarchies. In descending order, these Angelic hierarchies are as follows: seraphim, cherubim, thrones; dominions, virtues, powers; principalities, archangels, and angels. It is said that only the last two choirs have contact with human beings.
Dionysian Hierarchy of Angels
First Order of Angels: This order of Angels is said to be closest to God
Seraphim – The Seraphim are referred to as “the fiery spirits” usually pictured with six wings and flames. They constantly sing God’s praise and regulate heaven. They are led by Uriel.
Cherubim – The Cherubim are depicted with multi-eyed peacock’s feathers to symbolize their all-knowing character. They are led by Jophiel.
Thrones – Referred to as the “the many eyed ones” the Thrones are represented as wheels of fire to symbolize divine majesty. They are led by Japhkiel.
Second Order of Angels: This order of Angels is composed of the priest-princes of the court of heaven
Dominions – The Dominions carry scepter and sword to symbolize the divine power over all of creation. They are led by Zadkiel.
Virtues – Referred to as the “brilliant” or “shining ones,” the Virtues are associated with acts of heroism. They are led by Haniel.
Powers – The Powers prevent the fallen angels from taking over the world and keep the universe in balance. They are led by Raphael.
Third Order of Angels: This order of Angels is Constituted by the ministering angels
Principalities – The Principalities represent the protectors of princes. They serve as Guardian Angels of cities, nations, and rulers. They are led by Camael.
Archangels – The Archangels carry God’s messages to humans and command God’s armies of angels in the constant battle with the “Sons of Darkness.” They are led by Michael.
Angels – The angels are celestial beings closest to humans. They are the intermediaries between God and mortals.
Variations to the Dionysian Hierarchy
Despite the Dionysian Hierarchy’s wide use among contemporary authors, there are some minor variations that exist among other works. An example of this would be the work of Dante, who exchanges places filled by the archangels and principalities in the Celestial Hierarchy. Other schemata are completely different with regards to Hierarchy names. For example, in Zohar, we find the following hierarchy, in descending order:
9. Bene Elohim
Despite these minor and major variations, almost all contemporary authors writing about angels refer exclusively to the Dionysian hierarchy. Even unorthodox authors such as Rudolf Steiner derive his schematic structure more or less directly from the Dionysian Hierarchy.