Catholicism All-in-One For Dummies
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Contrary to popular belief, angels aren't people who've died and gone to heaven and then earned their wings. Angels are spirits that God created before he made human beings; they were the first creatures ever created and were the most powerful, most intelligent, and most beautiful.

Angels are pure spirits in that they have no bodies — only intellect and will. Men and women — from Adam and Eve to today — are body and soul, both material and spiritual.

People who die and go to heaven don't become angels — they become saints. Angels and saints are two separate beings, separate species. Confusion arises when, on occasion, some angels are given the title saint, which is typically reserved for humans. The overlap is merely a matter of semantics: The Latin word for saint is sancta, which means holy. Once in heaven — saint or angel — one is automatically holy.

It can be confusing, but look at it this way: Angels are spirits in heaven, and saints are human beings in heaven. Angels can be called "saint" (as in the case of St. Michael the Archangel) as a sign of respect and honor. A human being is called "saint" only after death and once in heaven.

Christianity believes that angels and demons (fallen angels) are separated according to their loyalty and obedience to God. The first angels were tested on their loyalty and obedience, and those who failed, like Lucifer, were cast into hell. In hell, the angels became demons with Lucifer (whose name means bearer of light), who later became known as the devil (also called the prince of darkness).

The Bible names only three specific angels — Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Apocryphal books (texts that aren't considered authoritative on Sacred Scripture) mention others, such as Uriel and Ramiel. Because these others aren't named in the canonical books of the Bible, their identities aren't considered reliable or above reproach. The three biblical archangels are treated as true angelic beings.

Scholars have speculated for centuries on the number of angels. St. Thomas Aquinas — often called the angelic doctor — believed that the precise number of angels was beyond human comprehension. Some things, however, are known, such as the fact that angels are separated into nine subdivisions, or choirs.

The nine subdivisions, from greatest to least, are

  • Seraphim

  • Cherubim

  • Thrones

  • Dominions

  • Virtues

  • Powers

  • Principalities

  • Archangels

  • Angels

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