March 6, 2021
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Regarding the celestial hierarchy, the majority of scholars believe that angels are divided into clearly defined ranks. Depending on the rank of the angel it will have separate honors and duties.

One of the most well known listings of the celestial hierarchy, or ranking of angels, is the one produced by the scholar Dionysius the Areopagite. This listing has a total of nine distinct orders of angels which in turn fall under three major headings known as choirs. Although it is common to find variations within all aspects of angology most listings contain the same ranks and the only difference is in the order that they are presented.

First Choir Second Choir Third Choir
1). Seraphim 4). Dominations 7). Principalities
2). Cherubim 5). Virtues 8). Archangels
3). Thrones 6). Powers 9). Angels
The Assumption of the Virgin

The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini (1446–1497) at the National Gallery London, shows three hierarchies and nine orders of angels, each with different characteristics

The First Sphere (Part #1) : The Seraphim

SeraphimfA seraph (pl. seraphim; Hebrew: שְׂרָפִים śərāfîm, singular שָׂרָף śārāf; Latin: seraphi[m], singular seraph[us]; Greek: σεραφείμ) is a type of celestial being in Judaism and Christianity. Literally “burning ones”, the word is normally a synonym for serpents when used in the Hebrew Bible, but they are mentioned in the Book of Isaiah as fiery six-winged beings attending on God. They appear again as celestial beings in an influential Hellenistic work, the Book of Enoch, and a little later in the Book of Revelation. A seraph (pl. seraphim; Hebrew: שְׂרָפִים śərāfîm, singular שָׂרָף śārāf; Latin: seraphi[m], singular seraph[us]; Greek: σεραφείμ) is a type of celestial being in Judaism and Christianity. Literally “burning ones”, the word is normally a synonym for serpents when used in the Hebrew Bible, but they are mentioned in the Book of Isaiah as fiery six-winged beings attending on God. They appear again as celestial beings in an influential Hellenistic work, the Book of Enoch, and a little later in the Book of Revelation. They occupy the fifth of ten ranks of the hierarchy of angels in medieval and modern Judaism, and the highest rank in the Christian angelic hierarchy. The word sarap/seraphim appear three times in the Torah[1] and four times in the Book of Isaiah.[2] In Numbers and Deuteronomy the “seraphim” are serpents – the association of serpents as “burning ones” is possibly due to the burning sensation of the poison. Isaiah also uses the word in close association with words to describes snakes.[3] In the Illustration from the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a 14th-century we can see Seraphim surrounding the divine throne.

Seraphim-2The Seraphim have six wings; two covering their faces, two covering their genitals (“feet”), and two with which they fly. Two of the Seraphim are named Seraphiel and Metatron, according to some books. Seraphiel is said to have the head of an eagle. It is said that such a bright light emanates from them that nothing, not even other angelic beings, can look upon them. It is also said that there are four of them surrounding God’s throne, where they burn eternally from love and zeal for God.

Isaiah’s vision of seraphim in the First Temple in Jerusalem is the sole instance in the Hebrew Bible of the word being used to describe celestial beings: there the winged “seraphim” attend God and have human attributes: “… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the Hekhal (sanctuary). Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”[4] In Isaiah’s vision the seraphim cry continually to each other, “Holy, holy, holy, is YHWH of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory” (verses 2-3) before carrying out an act of purification for the prophet (verses 6-7). It is possible that these are winged snake-beings, but given that the word “seraphim” is not attached as an adjective or modifier to other snake-words (“nahash,” etc.), as is the case in every other occurrence of the word, it is more probable that they are variants of the “fiery” lesser deities making up God’s divine court.

The Seraphim appear in the 2nd century B.C. Book of Enoch [5] where they are designated as drakones (δράκονες “serpents”), and are mentioned, in conjunction with the cherubim as the heavenly creatures standing nearest to the throne of God. In the late 1st century A.D. Book of Revelation they are described as being forever in God’s presence and praising Him constantly: “Day and night with out ceasing they sing: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.'”[6] They appear also in the Christian Gnostic text On the Origin of the World, described as “dragon-shaped angels”.[7]


Seraphim – Petites Heures de Jean de Berry

In medieval Christian theology, the Seraphim belong to the highest choir of the Christian angelic hierarchy. They are the caretakers of God’s throne, continuously singing “holy, holy, holy”. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy, helped fix the fiery nature of seraphim in the medieval imagination.[8] It is here that the Seraphim are described as being concerned with keeping Divinity in perfect order, and not limited to chanting the trisagion. Taking his cue from writings in the Rabbinic tradition, the author gave an etymology for the Seraphim as “those who kindle or make hot”: “The name seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all-consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness”[9]

Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae offers a description of the nature of the Seraphim: “The name ‘Seraphim’ does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius expounds the name ‘Seraphim’ according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. [10]Now in fire we may consider three things. “First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God. Secondly, the active force which is ‘heat,’ which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat. Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others.”[11]

seraphimeAccording to Dionysus Aeropagite: “The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all- consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness.”

The seraphim took on a mystic role in Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487), the epitome of Renaissance humanism. Pico took the fiery Seraphim—”they burn with the fire of charity”—as the highest models of human aspiration: “impatient of any second place, let us emulate dignity and glory. And, if we will it, we shall be inferior to them in nothing”, the young Pico announced, in the first flush of optimistic confidence in the human capacity that is the coinage of the Renaissance. “In the light of intelligence, meditating upon the Creator in His work, and the work in its Creator, we shall be resplendent with the light of the Cherubim. If we burn with love for the Creator only, his consuming fire will quickly transform us into the flaming likeness of the Seraphim.”

St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian who was a contemporary of Aquinas, uses the six wings of the seraph as an important analogical construct in his mystical work The Journey of the Mind to God.

As they were developed in Christian theology, seraphim are beings of pure light and have direct communication with God.

When human beings fail to survive, their personal or group guardians may repeatedly serve in similar capacities on the same planet. The seraphim develop a sentimental regard for individual worlds and entertain a special affection for certain races and types of mortal creatures with whom they have been so closely and intimately associated.

The angels develop an abiding affection for their human associates; and you would, if you could only visualize the seraphim, develop a warm affection for them.
Divested of material bodies, given spirit forms, you would be very near the angels in many attributes of personality. They share most of your emotions and experience some additional ones. The only emotion actuating you which is somewhat difficult for them to comprehend is the legacy of animal fear that bulks so large in the mental life of the average inhabitant of Urantia. The angels really find it hard to understand why you will so persistently allow your higher intellectual powers, even your religious faith, to be so dominated by fear, so thoroughly demoralized by the thoughtless panic of dread and anxiety. (From THE URANTIA BOOK
Part III, 113, 2)


[1] Numbers 21:6-8, Deuteronomy 8:15.
[2] Book of Isaiah 6:2-6, 14:29, 30:6.
[3] nahash, the generic word for snakes, in 14:29, and efeh, viper, in 30:6.
[4] Isaiah 6:1–3.
[5] Enoch, xx. 7, lxi. 10, lxxi. 7.
[6] The Bible, Revelation (iv. 4-8)
[7] The Nag Hammadi Library in English“, p.166, Harper & Row, 1977.
[8] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, (vii)
[9] ????
[10] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p? (Coel. Hier. vii)
[11] ????????????

The First Sphere (Part #2) :The Cherubim

A cherub (Heb. כְּרוּב, pl. כְּרוּבִים, eng. trans kərūv, pl. kərūvîm, dual kərūvāyim lat. cherub[us], pl cherubi[m], Assyrian ܟܪܘܒܐ) is a type of divine being mentioned in the Bible, usually understood as a high-ranking angel. The plural can be written as cherubim or cherubs. In modern English the word is usually used for what are strictly putti, baby or toddler angels in art. This article is concerned with the original sense of the word. Cherubs are mentioned in the Torah (five books of Moses), the Book of Ezekiel, and the Book of Isaiah. They are also mentioned in the books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles mainly in the construction of the House of God.

A cherub, as described by Ezekiel and according to traditional Christian iconography. Cherub Cherubim have four faces: one of each a man, an ox, a lion, and a griffon vulture. They have four conjoined wings covered with eyes, and they have ox’s feet. Cherubim guard the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden[12] and the throne of God.[13] The cherubim are mentioned in Genesis 3:24;[14] Exodus 25:17-22; 2 Chronicles 3:7-14; Ezekiel 10:12–14, 28:14-16; 1 Kings 6:23–28; and Revelation 4:6-8. Modern English usage has blurred the distinction between cherubim and putti. Putti are the winged human baby/toddler-like beings traditionally used in figurative art. St. Thomas Aquinas theorized that Satan is a fallen Cherub. In the Christian New Testament Cherubs are mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

The Cherubs are second to only the seraphim and their name signifies “fullness of knowledge”. Characterised by a deep insight into God’s secrets, the cherubim hold the knowledge of God and they truly possess the fullness of the divine science of heaven. “It is also they who are often sent to earth with the greatest of tasks; the expulsion of Man from the Garden of Eden and the Annunciation of Christ were both performed by cherubim”. They enlighten the lesser choirs of angels and are to them the Voice of Divine Wisdom. “They are described as the charioteers of God, steering the Ophanim. Contrary to paintings on greeting cards and new age book covers, the cherubim are not depicted as fat, winged babies. Instead they are described as sphinx like creatures in Assyrian lore, or the angels gracing the Ark of the Covenant and Solomon’s temple in biblical terms.”[15]

The term “cherubim” is cognate with the Assyrian term karabu, Akkadian term kuribu, and Babylonian term karabu; the Assyrian term means ‘great, mighty’, but the Akkadian and Babylonian cognates mean ‘propitious, blessed’. In some regions the Assyro-Babylonian term came to refer in particular to spirits which served the gods, in particular to the shedu (human-headed winged bulls);[16] the Assyrians sometimes referred to these as kirubu, a term grammatically related to karabu. They were originally a version of the shedu, protective deities sometimes found as pairs of colossal statues either side of objects to be protected, such as doorways.[17]

However, although the shedu were popular in Mesopotamia, archaeological remains from the Levant suggest that they were quite rare in the immediate vicinity of the Israelites. The related Lammasu (human-headed winged lions — to which the sphinx is similar in appearance), on the other hand, were the most popular winged-creature in Phoenician art, and so most scholars suspect that Cherubim were originally a form of Lammasu. In particular, in a scene reminiscent of Ezekiel’s dream, the Megiddo Ivories — ivory carvings found at Megiddo (which became a major Israelite city) — depict an unknown king being carried on his throne by hybrid winged-creatures.[18]

The Lammasu was originally depicted as having a king’s head, a lion’s body, and an eagle’s wings, but due to the artistic beauty of the wings, these rapidly became the most prominent part in imagery; wings later came to be bestowed on men, thus forming the stereotypical image of an angel. The griffin — a similar creature but with an eagle’s head rather than that of a king — has also been proposed as an origin, arising in Israelite culture as a result of Hittite usage of griffins (rather than being depicted as aggressive beasts, Hittite depictions show them seated calmly, as if guarding) [19] and some have proposed that griffin may be cognate to cherubim, but Lammasu were significantly more important in Levantine culture, and thus more likely to be the origin.

Early Semitic tradition conceived the cherubim as guardians, being devoid of human feelings, and holding a duty both to represent the gods and to guard sanctuaries from intruders, in a comparable way to an account found on Tablet 9 of the inscriptions found at Nimrud. In this view, cherubim, like the shedu, were probably originally depictions of storm deities, especially the storm winds. This view is offered as a hypothesis to explain the reason for cherubim being described as acting as the chariot of Yahweh in Ezekiel’s dream, the Books of Samuel,[20] the parallel passages in the later Book of Chronicles,[21] and passages in the early Psalms: “and he rode upon a cherub and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.”[22]

Judaism includes belief in the existence of angels, including Cherubim within the Jewish angelic hierarchy. The existences of angels is generally not contested within rabbinic Judaism; there is, however, a wide range of views on what angels actually are, and how literally one should interpret biblical passages associated with them.

In Kabbalah there has long been a strong belief in Cherubim, with the Cherubim, and other angels, regarded as having mystical roles. The Zohar, a highly significant collection of books in Jewish mysticism, states that the Cherubim were led by one of their number, named Kerubiel.

On the other end of the philosophical spectrum is the view of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides. He had a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of the Bible. Maimonides writes that to the wise man, one sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as “angels” are actually allusions for the various laws of nature; they are the principles by which the physical universe operates. “[23]

For all forces are angels! How blind, how perniciously blind are the naive?! If you told someone who purports to be a sage of Israel that the Deity sends an angel who enters a woman’s womb and there forms an embryo, he would think this a miracle and accept it as a mark of the majesty and power of the Deity – despite the fact that he believes an angel to be a body of fire one third the size of the entire world. All this, he thinks, is possible for God. But if you tell him that God placed in the sperm the power of forming and demarcating these organs, and that this is the angel, or that all forms are produced by the Active Intellect – that here is the angel, the “vice-regent of the world” constantly mentioned by the sages – then he will recoil.

For he {the naive person} does not understand that the true majesty and power are in the bringing into being of forces which are active in a thing although they cannot be perceived by the senses….Thus the Sages reveal to the aware that the imaginative faculty is also called an angel; and the mind is called a cherub. How beautiful this will appear to the sophisticated mind – and how disturbing to the primitive.”

Maimonides says that the figures of the cherubayim were placed in the sanctuary only to preserve among the people the belief in angels, there being two in order that the people might not be led to believe that they were the image of God.[24]

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally either drop references to angels or interpret them metaphorically.

Cherubs are also discussed within the midrash literature. The two cherubayim placed by God at the entrance of paradise [25]were angels created on the third day, and therefore they had no definite shape; appearing either as men or women, or as spirits or angelic beings.[26] The cherubim were the first objects created in the universe.[27] The following sentence of the Midrash is characteristic: “When a man sleeps, the body tells to the neshamah (soul) what it has done during the day; the neshamah then reports it to the nefesh (spirit), the nefesh to the angel, the angel to the cherub, and the cherub to the seraph, who then brings it before God.[28]

A midrash states that when Pharaoh pursued Israel at the Red Sea, God took a cherub from the wheels of His throne and flew to the spot, for God inspects the heavenly worlds while sitting on a cherub. The cherub, however, is “something not material”, and is carried by God, not vice versa.[29]

In the passages of the Talmud that describe the heavens and their inhabitants, the seraphim, ofannim, and ḥayyot are mentioned, but not the cherubim;[30] and the ancient liturgy also mentions only these three classes.

In the Talmud, Yose ha-Gelili holds,[19] when the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is recited by at least ten thousand seated at one meal, a special blessing – “Blessed is Ha-Shem our God, the God of Israel, who dwells between the Cherubim” – is added to the regular liturgy. In Catholic theology, following the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, the cherubim are the second highest rank in the angelic hierarchy, following the Seraphim.[31] In western art, Putti are sometimes mistaken for Cherubim, although they look nothing alike.


[12] Genesis 3:24.
[13] Ezekiel 28:14-16.
[14] De Vaux, Roland, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1961).
[15] Dionysus Aeropagite, ????????
[16] De Vaux, Roland, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1961).
[17] De Vaux, Roland, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions (NY, McGraw-Hill, 1961).
[18] Wright, G. Ernest, Biblical Archaeology (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1957.
[19] Wright, G. Ernest, Biblical Archaeology (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1957)
[20] 1 Samuel 4:4, 2 Samuel 6:2, 2 Samuel 22:11
[21] 1 Chronicles 13:6.
[22] 2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10.
[23] Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed II:4 and II:6.
[24] Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed III:45.
[25] Gen. iii. 24.
[26] Genesis Rabbah xxi., end.
[27] Tanna debe Eliyahu R., i. beginning.
[28] Leviticus Rabbah xxii.; Eccl. Rabbah x. 20.
[29] Midr. Teh. xviii. 15; Canticles Rabbah i. 9.
[30] Ḥag. 12b.
[31] Dionysius the Areopagite’s Celestial Hierarchy – See Chapter VII.

The First Sphere (Part #3) : The Thrones (or Ophanim)

From the last choir of the first hierarchy, the “Thrones” (Gr. thronos) or Ophanim (Lat. ophan[us], pl. ophani[m] from Hebrew אְוּפַּניםor Elders, also known as the Erelim, are a class of celestial beings mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in Colossians[32] and described in the Book of Enoch[33] with the Cherubim and Seraphim as never sleeping, but watching (or guarding) the throne of God. They are living symbols of God’s justice and authority, and have as one of their symbols the throne. These high celestial beings appear to be mentioned again in the book of Revelation.[34] Their main characteristics are submission and peace, however they act with impartialness and humility to bring about the desires of the Lord. God’s spirit is conveyed in a certain manner to these angels, who in turn pass on the message to men and the inferior angels. According to Dionysius the Areopagite:”The name Cherubim denotes their power of knowing and beholding God, their receptivity to the highest Gift of Light, their contemplation of the Beauty of the Godhead in Its First Manifestation, and that they are filled by participation in Divine Wisdom, and bounteously outpour to those below them from their own fount of wisdom.”[35]

The Thrones are also referred to as the “many-eyed ones” in the Second Book of Enoch.[36] They are the carriers of the throne of God, hence the name. However, some sources says that they may or may not be the same Thrones (Gr. thronos) mentioned by Paul of Tarsus in Colossians 1:16 (New Testament). These Angelic Princes are often also called “Ofanim, Wheels or Galgallin.” The word ophan itself means “wheel” in Hebrew so the Ophanim have been associated with the description in Ezekiel 1:15-21 and possibly again in the Daniel 7:9 (mentioned as gagal, traditionally “the wheels of gagallin”, in “fiery flame” and “burning fire”) of the four, eye-covered wheels (each composed of two nested wheels), that move next to the winged Cherubim, beneath the throne of God. It is said that they were the actual wheels of the Lord’s Heavenly Chariot (Merkabah). Gulley states that: The ‘thrones’; also known as ‘ophanim’ (offanim) and ‘galgallin’, are creatures that function as the actual chariots of God driven by the cherubs. The primary function of these angles is to be God’s chariot but they are also noted as meeting out God’s judgement. The thrones or Ophanims are unusual looking even compared to the other celestial beings. Thrones are depicted as great wheels containing many eyes, and reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape. They chant glorias to God and remain forever in his presence. They carry out divine justice and maintain the cosmic harmony of all universal laws.[37] They appear as a beryl-coloured wheel-within-a-wheel, their rims covered with hundreds of eyes.[38] Dionysus Areopagus described them like this: “Having the most bizarre physical appearance of the celestial host, they are described a great wheel, covered with a great many eyes and glowing with light. One explanation given for this (besides them acting as God’s chariot), is that they mark the end of the first Choir, where the emanations of God begin to take on more material forms and as such exist in a state of transition.”[39] Because of their participation in the movement of the thrones of God, the ophanims/thrones are closely connected with the Cherubim: “When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures [Cherubim] was in the wheels.”[40]

Maimonides lists Ophanim as occupying the second of ten ranks of angels in his exposition of the Jewish angelic hierarchy. Ophanim are mentioned in the kel adon prayer, often sung by the congregation, as part of the traditional Shabbat morning service. In the Jewish angelic hierarchy thrones and wheels are different. This is also true in the Kabbalistic angelic hierarchy.

De Coelesti Hierarchia refers to the Thrones (from the Old Testament description) as the third Order of the first sphere, the other two superior orders being the Cherubim and Seraphim. It is mentioned that “The name of the most glorious and exalted Thrones denotes that which is exempt from and untainted by any base and earthly thing, and the super mundane ascent up the steep. For these have no part in that which is lowest, but dwell in fullest power, immovably and perfectly established in the Most High, and receive the Divine Immanence above all passion and matter, and manifest God, being attentively open to divine participations.”


[32] Colossians, 1:16 New Testament.
[33] Enoch 61:10, 71:7.
[34] Revelation 11:16.
[35] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[36] Second Book of Enoch 20:1, 21:1.
[37] Gulley, Rosemary Ellen (1996). Encyclopedia of Angels, p.37.
[38] According to Aeropagite:”The four wheels had rims and they had spokes, and their rims were full of eyes round about” (???).
[39] Lost trace of this sucker ??????
[40] Ezekiel 10:17.

The Second Sphere (Part #1) The Dominions

The “Dominions” (lat. dominatio, plural dominationes, also translated from the Greek term kyriotites as “Lordships”) are presented as the hierarchy of celestial beings “Lordships” in Aeropagite’s De Coelesti Hierarchia.[41] The Dominions, also known as the Hashmallim and are so called because they regulate the duties of lower angels and preside over nations. They act as a form of middle management between the upper choir and the lower. Receiving their orders from the seraphim and cherubim these bright spirits make known to us the commands of God and ensure the cosmos remains in order.[42] Their main virtue is zeal for the maintenance of the King’s authority. It is only with extreme rarity that the angelic lords make themselves physically known to humans; instead they quietly concern themselves with the details of existence. Dionisius Aeropagite described them like this: “The name given to the holy Dominions signifies, I think, a certain unbounded elevation to that which is above, freedom from all that is of the earth, and from all inward inclination to the bondage of discord, a liberal superiority to harsh tyranny, an exemptness from degrading servility and from all that is low: for they are untouched by any inconsistency. They are true Lords, perpetually aspiring to true lordship, and to the Source of lordship, and they providentially fashion themselves and those below them, as far as possible, into the likeness of true lordship. They do not turn towards vain shadows, but wholly give themselves to that true Authority, forever one with the Godlike Source of lordship.”[43] The Dominions are believed to look like divinely beautiful humans with a pair of feathered wings, much like the common representation of angels, but they may be distinguished from other groups by wielding orbs of light fastened to the heads of their scepters or on the pommel of their swords.


[41] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[42] “They rule over all the angelic orders charged with the execution of the commands of the Great Monarch.” (Dionysos Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p??).
[43] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?

The Second Sphere (Part #2) The Virtues

The “Virtues” or “Strongholds” also known as the Malakim and the Tarshishim, carry out the orders issued by the Dominations lie beyond the ophanim (Thrones/Wheels). The term appears to be linked to the attribute “might”, from the Greek root “δύναμις” in Ephesians 1:21, which is also translated as “Virtue”. They are presented as the celestial Choir “Virtues”, in the Summa Theologica. Traditional theological conceptions of the Virtues might appear to describe the same Order called the Thrones (Gr. thronos), (in which case the Ophanim may not be the same thing as “Thrones”).

They are attributed with having strength and their assistance should be sought to combat the enemies of salvation. Their primary duty is to: “preside over the movements of the celestial bodies as well as events of weather including rain, snow, wind and the like”.[44] Their secondary duty is to: “take the orders given to them and in turn convert them into miracles for God’s favored.”[45] Bouden states that: “It is through them also that God governs the seasons, the visible heavens and the elements in general, although angels of the lower hierarchy have charge of them.”[46]

From Dionysius the Areopagite:”The name of the holy Virtues signifies a certain powerful and unshakable virility welling forth into all their Godlike energies; not being weak and feeble for any reception of the divine Illuminations granted to it; mounting upwards in fullness of power to an assimilation with God; never falling away from the Divine Life through its own weakness, but ascending unwaveringly to the superessential Virtue which is the Source of virtue: fashioning itself, as far as it may, in virtue; perfectly turned towards the Source of virtue, and flowing forth providentially to those below it, abundantly filling them with virtue.”


[44] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[45] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[46] Bouden, p. ?

The Second Sphere (Part #3) The Powers or Authorities

The “Powers” (lat. potestas (f), pl. potestates), or “Authorities”, from the Greek exousies[47], appear to collaborate, in power and authority, with the Principalities (Rulers). The Powers are the bearers of conscience and the keepers of history. They are also the warrior angels created to be completely loyal to God. Some believe that no Power has ever fallen from grace, but another theory states that Satan was the Chief of the Powers before he fell.[48] Their duty is to oversee the distribution of power among humankind, hence their name. Paul used the term rule and authority in Ephesians 1:21, and rulers and authorities in Ephesians 3:10. He may have been referring to the rulers and authorities of humanity, instead of referring to angels. The Powers are believed to be “the favorites among mortals.”[49] They hold one of the most dangerous tasks, maintaining the border between Heaven and Earth. Constantly on guard for demonic attacks, the powers act like an elite guard. They are appointed in a special way to fight against the evil spirits and to defeat any wicked plans. That’s exactly what Boudon have noted: “When we see storms gathering either in the Church or in the State, machinations to resist those who are working for the glory of God, extraordinary conspiracies to defeat some great good which is being planned for some diocese, city or country, then it is that we ought to perform frequent devotions in honor of these Powers of heaven, that they may overturn and destroy all the might and miserable plotting of hell.”[50] During heavenly warfare they are a major line of defense. “They are also tasked with guarding the celestial byways between the two realms and ensuring that souls which leave the mortal world reach heaven safely. Perhaps not surpassingly, given their proximity to the nether regions, there are more angels from the ranks of the powers listed as fallen than from any other member of the hierarchy.”[51]

Quote from Dionysius the Areopagite text: “The name of the holy Powers, co-equal with the Divine Dominions and Virtues, signifies an orderly and unconfined order in the divine receptions, and the regulation of intellectual and supermundane power which never debases its authority by tyrannical force, but is irresistibly urged onward in due order to the Divine. It beneficently leads those below it, as far as possible, to the Supreme Power which is the Source of Power, which it manifests after the manner of Angels in the wellordered ranks of its own authoritative power.”[52]


[47]See Greek root in Eph 3:10.

[48]See also New Testament, Ephesians 6:12.
[50]Boudon, p???
[52]Dionysos Aeropagite, p.?

The Third Sphere (Part #1) : The Principalities or Rulers

The “Principalities” (lat. principatus, pl. principatūs) also translated as “Princedoms” and “Rulers”, from the Greek arche (see Greek root in Eph 3:10), appear to collaborate, in power and authority with the Powers (Authorities). The Principalities are shown wearing a crown and carrying a sceptre. They are the head of the final choir and preside over the third hierarchy. Their duty also is said to be to carry out the orders given to them by the Dominions and bequeath blessings to the material world. They guide and protect the world’s nations, towns and cities, directly watch over the mortal world and are executive in regard to the visible world of men. Their task is to oversee groups of people. They are the educators and guardians of the realm of earth. Like beings related to the world of the germinal ideas, they are said to inspire living things to many things such as art or science. Religion and of politics are also guarded by them and, “as such, they are assumed to be given more freedom to act than the lesser angels below them and are responsible for carrying out divine acts concerning their area of jurisdiction. Finally, they are given to the task of managing the duties of the angels.”[53] Paul used the term rule and authority in Ephesians 1:21, and rulers and authorities in Ephesians 3:10. He may have been referring to the rulers and authorities of men or societies, instead of referring to angels. St. Thomas says of them: “The execution of the angelic ministrations consists in announcing divine things. Now, in the execution of any action there are beginners and leaders; this-the leadership-belongs to the Principalities.”[54]

Quote from Dionysius the Areopagite text: “The name of the Celestial Principalities signifies their Godlike princeliness and authoritativeness in an Order which is holy and most fitting to the princely Powers, and that they are wholly turned towards the Prince of Princes, and lead others in princely fashion, and that they are formed, as far as possible, in the likeness of the Source of Principality, and reveals its superessential order by the good Order of the princely Powers.”[55]


[53] Aeropagite?

[54] St Thomas Aquinus, P?
[55] Dionysos Aeropagite, p?

The Third Sphere (Part #2) : The Archangels

The word “archangel” comes from the Greek αρχάγγελος (archangělǒs), meaning chief angel, a translation of the Hebrew רב־מלאך (rav-mal’ákh).[56] It derives from the Greek archō, meaning to be first in rank or power; and aggělǒs which means messenger. The archangels are normally described as important or special angels. However, here the term is used as the second to last rank in the celestial hierarchy. Archangels are entrusted with the more important missions to men. They act as the leaders in the divine army during battle and protect the Church under the leadership of St. Michael. They serve as guardians of guardians of great personages, such as the Holy Father, Cardinals, Bishops, Rulers of States, this includes others with special work to do for the glory of God upon earth. Finally they are charged with overseeing the duties of the angels. The confusion about the collective celestial rank of archangels and archangels arises from “the ancient Hebraic way of defining angels which was simple angel and archangel. It was not until later that the hierarchy was defined, and many of the angels previous named as simply archangels were given new posts.”[57]

Quote from Dionysius the Areopagite text: “The choir of the holy Archangels is placed in the same threefold Order as the Celestial Principalities; for, as has been said, there is one Hierarchy and Order which includes these and the Angels. But since each Hierarchy has first, middle and last ranks, the holy Order of Archangels, through its middle position, participates in the two extremes, being joined with the most .holy Principalities and with the holy Angels.”[58]

There are no explicit references to archangels in the canonical texts of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels came to take on a particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Though these archangels were believed to have rank amongst the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkavah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe. He is briefly mentioned in the Talmud,[59] and figures prominently in Merkavah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel[60] is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel[61] and briefly in the Talmud,[62] as well as many Merkavah mystical texts. The earliest references to archangels are in the literature of the intertestamental periods (e.g., 4 Esdras 4:36).

Even thought they are not mentioned in the Old Testament, Archangels are found in a number of religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Michael and Gabriel are recognized as archangels by Judaism and by most Christians. The named archangels in Islam are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael and Azrael. Other traditions have identified a group of seven Archangels, the names of which vary, depending on the source. The New Testament speaks frequently of angels (for example, angels giving messages to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; angels ministering to Christ after his temptation in the wilderness, an angel visiting Christ in his agony, angels at the tomb of the risen Christ, the angels who liberate the Apostles Peter and Paul from prison); however, it makes only two references to “archangels.” They are: Michael in the Book of Jude[63] and in Thessalonians, where the “voice of an archangel”[64] will be heard at the return of Christ. Michael is the only angel the Bible named expressly as “the” archangel. In the Book of Daniel he is referred to as “one of the chief princes”. The word “prince” here is the ancient Hebrew word sar, which means: “a head person (of any rank or class), a chief, a general etc.”[65] In most Christian traditions Gabriel is also considered an archangel, but there is no direct literal support for this assumption. Only the archangels Michael and Gabriel are mentioned by name in the New Testament, they are still venerated in the Roman Catholic Church with a feast on September 29 (formerly March 24 for Gabriel and 24 October for Raphael). The name of the archangel Raphael appears only in the Book of Tobit (Tobias). Tobit is considered Deuterocanonical by Roman Catholics (both Eastern and Western Rites) and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Book of Tobit is also read by Anglicans and Lutherans, but not by Reformed Christians or Baptists. Raphael said to Tobias that he was “one of the seven who stand before the Lord”,[66] and it is generally believed that Michael and Gabriel are two of the other six. A fourth Archangel is Uriel whose name literally means “Fire of God” or “Light of God.” Uriel’s name is the only one not mentioned in the Lutheran Bible, but plays, however, a prominent role in an apocryphon read by Anglican and Russian Orthodox Christians: The second Book of Esdras (fourth Books of Esdras in the Latin Vulgate). In the book he unveils seven prophecies to the prophet Ezra, after whom the book is named. He also plays a role in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, which is considered canonical only by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Another possible interpretation of the so called “seven archangels” is that they are in fact the seven spirits of God that stand before the throne described in the Book of Enoch, and in the Book of Revelation. The Seven Archangels are said to be the guardian angels of nations and countries, and are concerned with the issues and events surrounding these, including politics, military matters, commerce and trade: e.g. Archangel Michael is traditionally seen as the protector of Israel and of the ecclesia (Gr. root ekklesia from the New Testament passages), theologically equated as the Church, the forerunner of the spiritual New Israel.

Angelic Council (АнгелскйСобор). Orthodox icon of the seven archangels. From left to right: Jegudiel, Gabriel, Selaphiel, Michael, Uriel, Raphael, Barachiel. Beneath the mandorla of Christ-Emmanuel are representations of Cherubim (blue) and Seraphim (red).

In Roman Catholicism, only three archangels three are honoured by name: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael (Tobit 3:17, 12:15) Pope St. Gregory the Great in a sermon[10] gave the names of the other four: Uriel (who is named in 2 Esdras), Phanuel, (Orfiel, Ophaniel), Zarachiel (Saraqael) who were both named in the Book of Enoch, and Simiel (Proclaimer of God). This was contested by Pope St. Zachary.[11] The 8th Century Frenchman Adalbert was said to have used the Kabbalah to pray to Uriel for his own purposes: in his trial it was said that the “Uriel” he was praying to was a demon (Accursed Uriel) and not “Blessed Uriel”.[12]

Another Catholic variation lists them corresponding to the days of the week as: St Michael (Sunday), St Gabriel (Monday), St Raphael (Tuesday), St Uriel (Wednesday), St Sealtiel/Selaphiel (Thursday), St Jehudiel/Jhudiel (Friday), and St Barachiel (Saturday). In art, archangels are sometimes depicted with larger wings and many eyes. Some of the more commonly represented archangels are Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Satanel. These angels are listed as “cardinal” since they are used to rule over a cardinal point (see Uriel), such as north, south, east, or west. As such, these are the four greatest named archangels. In general, Michael is considered the greatest, and typically takes the first position, while Uriel is typically the fourth of the four cardinal points.

Within the rabbinic tradition, the Kabbalah, and the Book of Enoch chapter 20, and the Life of Adam and Eve, the usual number of archangels given is at least seven, who are the focal angels. Three higher archangels are also commonly referenced: Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. There is confusion about one of the following eight names, concerning which one listed is not truly an archangel. They are: Uriel, Sariel, Raguel, and Remiel (possibly the Ramiel of the Apocalypse of Baruch, said to preside over true visions), Zadkiel, Jophiel, Haniel and Chamuel.[67] Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides made a Jewish angelic hierarchy.

Occultists sometimes associate archangels in Kabbalistic fashion with various seasons or elements, or even colors. In some Kabbalah-based systems of ceremonial magic, all four of the main archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel) are invoked as guarding the four quarters, or directions, and their corresponding colors are associated with magical properties


[56] Strong, J, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Riverside Books and Bible House, Iowa Falls (Iowa).
[57] ???
[58] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[59] Sanhedrin 38b and Avodah Zarah 3b
[60] Daniel 10:13.
[61] Daniel 8:15-17.
[62] Sanhedrin 95b.
[63] Jude 1:9.
[64] I Thessalonians 4:16.
[65] Strong, J, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Riverside Books and Bible House, Iowa Falls (Iowa).
[66] Tobias, ??????
[67] Metzger & Coogan (1993) Oxford Companion to the Bible, p54.

The Archangels in Anthroposophy

angelichierachyIn anthroposophy, based on teachings by Rudolf Steiner, there are many spirits belonging to the hierarchical level of archangel. In general, their task is to inspire and guard large groups of human beings, such as whole nations, peoples or ethnic groups. This reflects their rank above the angels who deal with individuals (the guardian angel) or smaller groups. The main seven archangels with the names given by Pope Saint Gregory I are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel (or Anael), Camael, Oriphiel and Zachariel have a special assignment to act as a global Zeitgeist (“time spirit” or, “spirit of the times/age”), each for periods of about 380 years. According to this system, since 1879, Michael is the leading time spirit. Four important archangels also display periodic spiritual activity over the seasons: Spring is Raphael, Summer (Uriel), Autumn (Michael) and Winter is Gabriel. In anthroposophy, archangels may be good or evil; in particular, some of their ranks are collaborators of Ahriman, whose purpose is to alienate humanity from the spiritual world and promote materialism and heartless technical control. In The Golden Dawn, more precisely in the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram, the invocation includes the words “Before me Raphael; Behind me Gabriel; On my right hand Michael; On my left hand Auriel [Uriel]…”[68]



The Third Sphere (Part #3): The Angels

Angels are messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. The Hebrew Bible uses the terms מלאכיאלוהים (malakhi Elohim; Angels of God), “The Hebrew word for angel is “malach,” which means messenger, for the angels are God’s messengers to perform various missions.” מלאכיי (malakhi Adonai; Angels of the Lord), בניאלוהים (b’nai elohim; sons of God) and הקדושים (ha-qodeshim; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angelic messengers. Other terms are used in later texts, such as העליונים (ha-elyonim, the upper ones, or the Ultimate ones). The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος (angělǒs), a translation of מלאך (mal’akh) in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh); a similar term, ملائكة (Malāīkah), is used in the Qur’an. The Hebrew and Greek words originally mean messenger, and depending on the context may refer either to a human messenger[69] or to a supernatural messenger (“‏מַלְאָךְ,”)[70] such as the “Mal’akh YHWH,” who (depending on interpretation) is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos).[71] The messengers are the lowest order of the angels, and by far the most recognized.

They bring to a close the last choir in the hierarchy and they are ever ready to go wherever the will of God sends them. The angels are the ones most concerned with the affairs of living things. They have two major tasks: Firstly they are the ordinary messengers sent to men to watch over mortals in a more direct manner than the principalities. They tend to mirror the goodness of God and direct it toward mortals. They help to protect and keep safe from demonic attack; households and individual souls, instead of entire nations. Secondly they carry God’s word to mankind and act as messengers and couriers to both God and the upper ranks of angelkind. With a true sense of values, they minister to all, this range from sinners to the good and just. “In Hebrew, they are called mal’akh, meaning “messenger”, in Persian the word is angaros or “courier”.”[72] Above all they realise that serving God in any capacity is a very great honour.

Quote from Dionysius the Areopagite text: “For the Angels, as we have said, fill up and complete the lowest choir of all the Hierarchies of the Celestial Intelligences since they are the last of the Celestial Beings possessing the angelic nature. And they, indeed, are more properly named Angels by us than are those of a higher rank because their choir is more directly in contact With manifested and mundane things. The highest Order, as we have said, being in the foremost place near the Hidden One, must be regarded as hierarchically ordering in a bidden manner the second Order; and the second Order of Dominions, Virtues and Powers, leads the Principalities, Archangels and Angels more manifestly, indeed, than the first Hierarchy, but in a more hidden manner than the Order below it; and the revealing Order of the Principalities, Archangels and Angels presides one through the other over the human hierarchies so that their elevation and turning to God and their communion and union with Him may be in order; and moreover, that the procession from God, beneficently granted to all the Hierarchies, and visiting them all in common, may be with the most holy order. Accordingly the Word of God has given our hierarchy into the care of Angels, for Michael is called Lord of the people of Judah, and other Angels are assigned to other peoples. For the Most High established the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the Angels of God.”[73]

The term “angel” has also been expanded to various notions of spiritual beings found in many other religious traditions. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God’s tasks. The word angel in English is a fusion of the Old English word engel (with a hard g) and the Old French angele. Both derive from the Latin angelus which in turn is the romanization of the ancient Greek ἄγγελος (angelos), “messenger”, which is related to the Greek verb ἀγγέλλω (angellō), meaning “bear a message, announce, bring news of” etc.[74] The earliest form of the word is the Mycenaean a-ke-ro attested in Linear B syllabic script.

Indeed, angels are uncommon except in later works like Daniel, though they are mentioned briefly in the stories of Jacob (who, according to several interpretations, wrestled with an angel) and Lot (who was warned by angels of the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name. It is therefore widely speculated that Jewish interest in angels developed during the Babylonian captivity. According to Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish of Tiberias (230–270 AD), all the specific names for the angels were brought back by the Jews from Babylon.

The theological study of angels is generally known as angelology. In art, angels are often depicted with wings, perhaps reflecting the descriptions in Revelation 4 of the Four Living Creatures (τὰτέσσαραζῷα) and the descriptions in the Hebrew Bible of cherubim and seraphim (the chayot in Ezekiel’s Merkabah vision and the Seraphim of Isaiah). However, while cherubim and seraphim have wings in the Bible, no angel is mentioned as having wings.[75]

Philosophically, angels are “pure contingent spirits.”[76] According to Aristotle, just as there is a First Mover[77] so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers[78] Thomas Aquinas (13th century) expands upon this in his Summa contra Gentiles[79] and Summa Theologica.[80]

The well known biblical scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms “come to mean the benevolent semidivine beings familiar from later mythology and art.”[81] Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel[82] (God’s primary messenger) and Michael[83] (the holy fighter) in the Book of Daniel. These angels are part of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all apocalyptic literature[84] Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: “In the postexilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the ‘sons of God’ who were members of the divine council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as ‘angels,’ understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans.”[85] This conception of angels is best understood in contrast to demons and is often thought to be “influenced by the ancient Persian religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, which viewed the world as a battleground between forces of good and forces of evil, between light and darkness.”[86] One of these “sons of God” is “the satan”, a figure depicted in, among other places, the Book of Job.

In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels took on particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Though these archangels were believed to rank among the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe; he is briefly mentioned in the Talmud[87] and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel[88] is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel,[89] the Book of Tobit, and briefly in the Talmud,[90] as well as in many Merkabah mystical texts. There is no evidence in Judaism for the worship of angels, but there is evidence for the invocation and sometimes even conjuration of angels.

Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained his view of angels in his Guide for the Perplexed: “…this leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the ‘angels which are near to Him’, through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move… thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world.”[91]

According to Kabalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah). Angels exist in the worlds above as a ‘task’ of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task. This is derived from the book of Genesis when Abraham meets with three angels and Lot meets with two. The task of one of the angels was to inform Abraham of his coming child. The other two were to save Lot and to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.


[69] Possibly a prophet or priest, such as Malachi, “my messenger”, but also for more mundane characters, as in the Greek superscription that the Book of Malachi was written “by the hand of his messenger” (ἀγγήλου)
[70] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds.: A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 521.
[71] Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume 1, Continuum, 2003, p. 460.), or God Himself as the messenger (the “theophanic angel”) “‏מַלְאָךְ,” (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds.: A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, p. 521.; Louis Goldberg Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Angel of the Lord “The functions of the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament prefigure the reconciling ministry of Jesus. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the angel of the Lord; the Messiah himself is this person.”)
[73] Dionisius Aeropagite, De Coelesti Hierarchia, p?
[74] Henry George Liddell; Robert Scott [1940], A Greek-English Lexicon; Machine readable text (Trustees of Tufts University, Oxford)] online, retrieved 12 February 2011.
[75] Angel,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia James Orr, editor, 1915 edition.
[76] Benedict Ashley. The Way toward Wisdom, p. 114.
[77] Aristotle. Metaphysics. 1072a ff..
[78] Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Metaphysics. 12. Lecture 9, Aristotle. Metaphysics. 1073a13 ff.
[79] Thomas Aquinas. “46”. Summa contra Gentiles. 2.
[80] Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, Treatise on Angels.
[81] Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 2009).
[82] New Testament, Book of Daniel 9:21.
[83] New Testament, Book of Daniel 10:13

[84]Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[85]Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[86]Coogan, Michael D. A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[87]Sanhedrin 38b and Avodah Zerah 3b.

[88]Daniel 10:13.

[89]Daniel 8:15–17.

[90]Sanhedrin 95b.

[91]Maimonides. Guide for the Perplexed II:4 and II:6

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