The angelic choirs circling the abode of God, from Dante's Paradiso, illustrated by Gustave Doré.
Have you ever wondered how many angels there are? There are probably angels near you now. There are undoubtedly readers of the website that are wrinkling their noses at the prospect of angels, probably thinking something along the lines of, “How many are there? Why that’s a silly question to ask since you haven’t even proven they exist. Why worry about how many there are of something [actually they are someones] if you can’t even prove they exist?”
To that, theology says, “You are right, in part.” We cannot prove the existence of angels with natural reason, as we can prove the existence of God. The proofs of God are logical necessities, i.e. the premises lead to the conclusion that God necessarily exists. No such proofs exist for angels. They are not necessary, but then again, neither is mankind. Like man, God created the angels freely, and since all creation follows a hierarchy (inanimate matter, animate matter and its hierarchy with man at the top who is both material and spiritual), it can be inferred that the purely spiritual beings exist. For the Christian believer, it is a necessary belief. There are references to angels, messengers, throughout Scripture. To deny the existence of angels would be to deny the truth of Scripture.
OK, so how many do we think there are? One? Two? Six billion?
Scripture tells us that we all have guardian angels. Scripture tells us the number of angels is uncountable. Scripture also tells us, and it is a De fide (the highest and most certain) dogma of the Catholic Church, that in the beginning of time God created spiritual essences (angels) out of nothing. That means there is a finite number of them, no more are ever created.
So the simple answer is: We don’t know, but it is very great.
“See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10
“But you have come to mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels…” Hebrews 12:22
“A swift stream of fire issued forth from before him: thousands of thousands ministered to him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before him…” Daniel 7:10
“And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the ancients (and the number of them was thousands of thousands)…” Revelation 5:11
“Do you think that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels?” Matthew 26:53
How cool! There’s a hierarchy.
Scripture also, in various places, indicates a hierarchy among the angels, which would be consistent with the hierarchy in all the rest of creation.
The various biblical names indicate a gradation and order among the angels. In the fourth century Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite wrote in his book De Coelesti Hierarchia (The Celestial Hierarchy) that there are nine choirs of angels divided into three spheres. From Scripture he names:
First Sphere – who contemplate God, His Providence, Power and Judgement
- Seraphim, who comprehend God with maximum clarity
- Cherubim, who contemplate God in His Providence, His plan for creatures
- Thrones, who contemplate God’s power and judgement
”I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. Upon it stood the seraphim…” Isaiah 6:2
“And he cast out Adam: and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims…” Genesis 3:24
“For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by him and in him. And he is before all: and by him all things consist.” Colossians 1:16
Second Sphere - who help fulfill God’s plan for the universe, the higher ones teach the lower one, a cascade of knowledge
“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards us, who believe according to the operation of the might of his power, which he wrought in Christ, raising him up from the dead and setting him on his right hand in the heavenly places. Above all principality and power and virtue and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Ephesians 1:21
Third Sphere – who directly order human affairs, like warriors
“That the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the church…” Ephesians 3:10″For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-38
“When Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he dared not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command you.” Jude 1:9
“For the Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment and with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God: and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16
Not a truth of faith? Wait, what?
No, unlike the teaching based clearly and undeniably on Scripture that God created angels, this teaching of the vertical hierarchy is not a truth of faith, but a free and long held theological opinion.
According to the teaching of St. Thomas, each angel, not each group, but each individual angel forms a separate species, each one his own kind. This implies a far more perfect individuality than that of humans who form one species but are individuals within it. It also implies a higher form of personality than we can know, “every single Angelic creature reveals an entirely new aspect of the eternal beauty and glory of God.” (Parente, p. 23) Other theologians had other opinions.
So, help me with a question?
All of this information came from the sources cited below, none of it is my original thought, save this one question. Has every human person who has ever lived (also a number, coincidentally, that we do not know and never will) had a unique guardian angel? Perhaps a reader can provide an answer or opinion, whether you are Christian or not.
Could sometimes the same angel be appointed to more than one person? I am searching for an enlightened opinion, but I would say that if God willed every human person to have a unique guardian angel, then there are enough of them to do so because God knew from eternity how many human persons would be created and how many angels would be created. And if He willed for two or more people to share an angel through the ages of time, He had a purpose for that too. Might my great, great, great x 10 grandmother’s guardian also be looking after my daughter?
De Coelesti Hierarchia, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, 4th-5th Century.
Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas (citing predecessors), First Part, Question 50, Articles 3 and 4, 13th Century.
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Dr. Ludwig Ott (citing predecessors), Chapter 3 “Revelation Concerning the Angels or Christian Angelology” § 26. Existence, Origin and Number of the Angels, Published in 1957.
The Angels in Catholic Teaching and Tradition, Fr. Pascale Parente (citing predecessors), Chapter 1, Imprimatur in 1957.
Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them?, Dr. Peter Kreeft (citing predecessors), Questions 45 and 57, Published in 1995.
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