Hierarchy of angels

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The Nine Choirs of Angels, Byzantine dome mosaic in the Baptistery of the Basilica di San Marco (Venice).

Hierarchy (Greekἱεραρχία hierarchia, from ἱερός, hieros, "holy" and ἀρχή, archē, "leadership, rule", from the 17th century onwards the Latin: hierarchia, "order of consecration") generally refers to a system of elements or beings that are superior or subordinate to one another according to a certain hierarchy.

Spiritual hierarchies

According to the Christian view, Nine Choirs of Angels, arranged in three hierarchies, form the community of cosmic intelligences. The Kabbalists also refer to them as separate intellects (Hebrewשכלים נפרדים Sechalim nifradim), since they keep themselves completely separate from matter. In anthroposophy, the hierarchies refer to the spiritual beings involved in the development of the world, arranged according to their degree of development. Above them stands the Trinity as the highest source of divine creative power. The hierarchies have advanced in their spiritual development to the human being and have an essential share in his development as well as in the evolution of the Earth. According to their degree of spiritual maturity they can be classified into different groups. In anthroposophical language, the hierarchies are often referred to collectively when the spiritual beings mentioned are meant as a whole.


The Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini (1475-76) at the National Gallery London, shows three hierarchies and nine orders of angels, each with different characteristics.

Angelology (from Greekἄγγελος angelos "messenger" and λόγος logos "word, teaching"), the doctrine of the angelic hierarchies ("angels" here as a generic term for spiritual beings, not in the narrower sense for the Angeloi), goes back in Christianity to the writing on the "Heavenly Hierarchies"[4] by Dionysius Areopagita. Dionysius is mentioned in the New Testament as the first bishop of Athens (Acts of Luke Acts 17:34 LUT). However, since the teachings bearing his name were not written down until the early 6th century, conventional research assumes that an unknown author of that time was the originator. This author used the name of Dionysius Areopagita merely as a pseudonym (hence also called "Pseudo-Dionysius").

According to Rudolf Steiner, the transmitted contents actually goes back to the Dionysius Areopagita mentioned in the Bible:

„The doctrine of the gods was first brought into a system by the disciple of the Apostle Paul, Dionysius the Areopagite. But it was not written down until the 6th century. Scholars therefore deny the existence of Dionysius Areopagita and speak of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, as if ancient traditions had only been compiled in the 6th century. The true facts can only be ascertained by reading the Akashic Chronicle. The Akashic Chronicle, however, teaches that Dionysius really lived in Athens, that he was initiated by Paul and received from him the commission to establish the doctrine of the higher spiritual beings and to give it to special initiates. Certain high teachings were never written down at that time, but only propagated through oral tradition. The doctrine of the gods was also given in this way by Dionysius to his disciples and passed on by them in turn. The direct disciple was then deliberately called Dionysius again, so that the last to write down the doctrine of the gods was one in this series, all of whom were called Dionysius.

This doctrine of the gods, as given by Dionysius, comprises three times three members of the divine beings. The highest three are:

Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones

The next level comprises the:

Dominations, Virtues, Powers

The third level comprises the:

Primordial Forces or Beginnings, Archangels and Angels

As often as the Bible says "in the beginning", it refers to the Primordial Forces or Beginnings. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth", that means: The God of the beginning, who is on this level, created the heavens and the earth. - It was one of the primal powers of the third division of the hierarchies.

Above the Seraphim then stand divine beings of such sublimity that human comprehension is insufficient to comprehend them. After the third level comes the fourth hierarchy: Man, as the tenth in the whole series.

The names of the Hierarchies are not proper names, but names for certain levels of consciousness of the great Universe, and the beings advance from one level to another. Eliphas Levi saw this clearly and emphasised that with these names we are dealing with ranks, with hierarchies.

The principle of church organisation also goes back to the same Dionysius who compiled the doctrine of the gods. The ecclesiastical hierarchy should only be an outer image for the inner hierarchy of the world. This grandiose thought could only have been carried out if the time had been ripe for understanding all this in its proper form. Dionysius had left his disciples such a teaching on the church that, if it could have been published, it would have constituted a vast, magnificent organisation. At that time, attempts were made to propagate the teachings in such a way that the thread never broke from one teacher to another, who then also carried on the name. That is why it is not so wonderful that even in the 6th century a Dionysius wrote down the teachings. However, these teachings could not find a general understanding because humanity was not yet ready for them. So they are like a kind of testament.

Above the Seraphim then stand divine beings of such sublimity that human comprehension is insufficient to comprehend them. After the third stage comes the fourth hierarchy: man, as the tenth in the whole series.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 97f)

Gregory the Great (c. 540 - 604) adopted the doctrine of angels for the Church.[1] From the 7th century onwards, the doctrine spread, above all through Isidore of Seville, who devotes an entire chapter to angels in his Etymologiae.[2] In the 9th century, at the court of Charles the Bald, Johannes Scotus Eriugena translated the Greek writings of Dionysius into Latin[3], as a result of which they subsequently became more and more widespread. In Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy", Beatrice explains the nine choirs of angels in detail in Canto XXVIII of the Paradiso.

Classification of the Hierarchies

Rudolf Steiner gives - in addition to those used by Dionysius Areopagita - further names for the hierarchies from other occult traditions, which are added in brackets below. Regarding the names, he notes:

„The names of the Hierarchies are not proper names, but names for certain stages of consciousness of the great Universe, and the beings advance from one stage to another. Eliphas Levi saw this clearly and emphasised that with these names one is dealing with ranks, with hierarchies.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 98)

If one follows the Christian terminology given by Dionysius Areopagita, the following classification of hierarchies results:


First hierarchy

The first hierarchy comprises exalted spiritual beings who have the "immediate sight of the Godhead". They do not act out of themselves, but are the executors of the divine will. Everything that can be developed within a planetary system, they had already developed before our planetary system existed. They were thereby enabled to work down from the zodiacal region to begin the evolution of our planetary system and to guide it through its seven stages of world evolution. They reveal themselves outwardly in the creation of the world. What the beings of the first hierarchy bring forth remains in the world as something created, self-active, objective, even if they no longer connect with it in their actions; this is not the case with the beings of subordinate hierarchies. The inner experience of the entities of the first hierarchy consists in creating other beings and living in other beings.

The Spirits of Rotation of Time are descendants of the first Hierarchy.

  • Seraphim (Latin seraphim, Hebrew seraphim, spirits of all-love)
  • Cherubim (lat. cherubim, Hebr. cherubim, spirits of the harmonies)
  • Thrones (gr. thronoi, lat. throni, Hebr. aralim, spirits of the will)

Second hierarchy

The second hierarchy includes the following spiritual beings:

Third hierarchy

The conditions of consciousness of the spiritual beings of the third hierarchy are different from those of the human being. On the one hand, man can devote himself to the perception of the sensual outer world and, on the other hand, he can immerse himself in his own inner life. This is not the case with the beings of the third hierarchy. They do not perceive an outer world as man does, but their perception is at the same time a self-revealing. They reveal their own being, and what they thus reveal of themselves forms at the same time the content of their perception. It is comparatively as when man reveals his being through words, gestures and facial expressions and directs his consciousness to what is thus produced in order to perceive himself. Lying is impossible for the beings of the third hierarchy; they must reveal their true nature and have their waking self-awareness in retrospect of this revelation. Any lie, any deception in self-revelation would extinguish their consciousness.

The beings of the third hierarchy, however, also have no independent inner life like man. If they willingly turn their gaze away from self-revelation, their consciousness is filled with the contents of the higher spiritual worlds through their unconditional surrender to the higher hierarchies. Spirit-filling is their inner life.

Third Hierarchy: Revelation, Spirit-Filling
Human being: Perception, inner life

To the third hierarchy belong the following three orders of angelic beings in the narrower sense:

  • Archai (lat. principates, principalities, primal angels, primal powers, spirits of personality)
  • Archangeloi (lat. archangeli, archangels, sons of fire, spirits of fire, arch messengers)
  • Angeloi (lat. angeli, angels, sons of twilight, spirits of twilight, sons of life, messengers)

These nine choirs of angels will be joined by man as the tenth hierarchy - ultimately in three gradations of the human, corresponding to the three future planetary stages of evolution of our Earth, on which man will gradually form his spiritual members to the full: on the New Jupiter, the spirit self; on the New Venus, the life spirit; and on the Vulcan, the spirit man. These three groups of the human will then together form the fourth hierarchy:

Fourth Hierarchy

At the end of our sevenfold planetary chain of evolution there will therefore be 12 ranks of spiritual beings.

The Revelation of the Hierarchies in Nature

„Now he who has become aware, through visionary research, that within our earth there is in the earthy element the essence of the Thrones or Spirits of Will, in the watery the essence of the Spirits of Wisdom, in the airy that of the Spirits of Motion, in the warmth of the Elohim, he gradually rises to the realisation that in the agglomeration of the clouds, in that peculiar watering of the gaseous-watery which takes place in our earthly circle, those entities are at work which belong to the hierarchy of the cherubim. Thus we look at our solid, at what we call elementary earthly existence, and see in it a confusion of the Elohim with the Thrones. We look upwards and see how in the air, in which the spirits of movement are at work, the cherubim are at work, so that the water, which rises from the realm of the spirits of wisdom, can form clouds. The cherubim rule in the circle of our earth, just as the thrones, the spirits of wisdom and the spirits of movement rule within the elemental existence of our earth. - And when we now see the weaving and essence of these cloud formations themselves, when we see that which is, as it were, hidden as their deeper nature, which only makes itself known from time to time, it is the lightning and thunder that penetrates out of the cloud. This is also not something that comes out of nothing. For the seer, this activity is based on the weaving and being of those spirits of the Hierarchies whom we call the Seraphim. And thus, if we remain in our earthly sphere, if we go to the next circumference, we have found all the individual stages of the Hierarchies.“ (Lit.:GA 122, p. 120f)

„Not true, the exusiai, the spirits of form, are directly sensually perceptible in the planets; that is simply their side which they turn towards us. The spirits of motion are directly perceptible in the fixed stars; that is the side they turn to us. But the cherubim and seraphim are so imperceptible that they turn their other side towards us. But they are so strongly imperceptible - I would ask you to accept this and think about it a little - that the imperceptibility in turn becomes perceptible. So that which lives in the world through cherubim and seraphim is imperceptible to such a high degree that the imperceptibility is already perceived in turn. It eludes human consciousness to such an extent that the human being notices this eluding of consciousness.

Thus one can say: The cherubim already appear again, even if this is documented in such a way that they are so deeply hidden that one notices their hiddenness. The cherubim appear not only symbolically, but quite objectively in what happens in the thundercloud, in what happens when a planet is dominated by volcanic forces. And the seraphim really appear in what flashes out of the cloud as lightning, or in what comes to light as fire in the volcanic effects, in such a way that their imperceptibility becomes perceptible in these gigantic effects of nature.

Therefore, in ancient times, when such things were seen through, men looked on the one hand to the starry heavens, which revealed to them the most varied things: the secrets of the Exusiai, the secrets of the Dynamis. Then they tried to reveal the higher secrets in what man today makes fun of: from the inside of the human bodies - as one trivially says -, from the entrails. But then they were aware that the greatest effects, which are really common to the solar system, announce themselves from a quite opposite side in the effects of fire and thunderstorms, in the earthquakes and volcanic effects. The most creative aspect of the seraphim and cherubim announces itself through its most destructive side, curiously enough. It is precisely the reverse side, it is the absolutely negative, but the spiritual is so spiritually strong that even its imperceptibility, its non-existence, is perceived by the senses.“ (Lit.:GA 180, p. 103f)



  1. Gregory the Great: Hom. XXXIV in Luc. 7 (= Migne, PL 76, 1246–1259, online); Moralia in Iob XXXII, xxiii ([1])
  2. Isidore of Seville: Etymologiae VII, 5 ([2])
  3. Libri Sancti Dionysii Areopagitae, quos Ioannes Eriugena transtulit de Graeco in Latinum, iubente ac postulante rege Carolo Ludovici imperatoris filio ([3])