The God Squad: Who are the other archangels?
Question: There’s a feast day in Catholicism at the end of September (on the 29th) for three saints who are also angels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. I’ve been taught that these are three of the seven archangels. Do you know the names of the other four? I also pray to my personal guardian angel, but I don’t know his name, either. — M., via snail mail from Long Island, N.Y.
Answer: The Big Three archangels are Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and those are the only three venerated by Catholics. Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses venerate Michael as the only named archangel. Muslims believe there are 10 named archangels, including (after Michael and Gabriel): Israfel, Azrael, Ridwan, Maalik, Munkar, Nakir, Kiraman, and Katibin.
Angels have no names in the Hebrew Bible except for passages in the Book of Daniel (chapters 8, 9, and 10), where Gabriel and Michael are mentioned.
The idea that there are seven archangels comes from non-canonical Apocryphal books written after the Hebrew Bible and before the New Testament, such as the Book of Tobit, III and IV Esdras, and Enoch. There, the fourth archangel is Uriel. However, after Uriel the list gets weird, contentious and chaotic.
Other names suggested for archangels are (take a deep breath): Raguel, Sariel, Yerachmiel, Yehudiel, Selaphiel, Barachiel, Chamuel, Jophiel, Zadkiel, Jegudiel, Saraqael, Simiel, Oriphiel, Zachariel, Cecitiel, Marmoniel, Sealtiel, Suriel, Zadakiel, Remiel, Samael, Azriel, and Sarathiel. My own list, of course, includes Clarence from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
The names of the angels and archangels are not as important as their functions, which are:
—Angels transform God’s overwhelming and awesome power so we can contact God without being destroyed. Think of the way a transformer reduces electrical power to a level that can be used in your home without frying your television. God tells Moses that even he cannot look at God directly and live (Exodus 33:18-23). Angels make it possible for God to fit into our lives.
—Angels are bridge from the transcendent to the immanent God. We need a way to stretch our idea of God so that it reaches all the way from the God who made galaxies to the God who cares about our need for healing, forgiveness, salvation, love, hope and virtue. The stretchiness of our faith comes from angels.
As we read in Psalm 91:11: “For He will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” The God of the philosophers (basically the god of Aristotle) is as far from us as the farthermost star, but the God of the Psalmist sends us angels so that God can be as close to us as breathing.
—Angels are messengers of God. God gives us free will to make our choices in life, but also sends us messages, hints and nudges about what we should choose to do next in our lives. These messages are given shape by believing that angels deliver them to us.
In Hebrew, the word for angel (malach) means “a messenger.” I can’t say how this works precisely, but the ancient suspicion is that it happens way below the pay grade of Michael and Gabriel. The message can be delivered by a lower-level angel who disappears once the message is delivered, or by a guardian angel who stays with us until the day we die. In fact, the messenger angel sent to take our life is called the angel of death.
The messages are from God, but they are carried by angels. This is the reason why so many times in the Bible an angel starts out talking to someone and then suddenly, without explanation, it is suddenly God speaking to the person. The angel who spoke to Abraham on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:15) and the angel who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2,4) suddenly and without warning become God speaking to Abraham and Moses. Where did the angels go?
The obvious reason for this ambiguity is that God takes many forms, but all the forms are God (I think this is what Christians really mean by the Trinity). Even Satan, the accusatory, seducing angel of God, is still a form of God because any other interpretation makes Satan the equal to God and this is impossible because it totally undermines biblical monotheism.
The main idea here is that there’s a spiritual component in all our human interactions. Lincoln called it “the better angels of our nature.” Angels carry us to each other and through each other back to God. I love the passage from Hebrews 13:2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Their names are not important; their Creator is.
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