The Difference Between an Angel & Archangel

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Angels, the divine messengers of God, have appeared in some rendition or another in many religious traditions across cultures. When referring to the spiritual beings of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, the image of a robed, pristine figure with snow-white wings often comes to mind. Although there are multiple interpretations over exactly what angels are, they are ultimately recognized as supernatural messengers that also work to protect humans and carry out the will of God. Archangels, while angels still themselves, represent a higher rank in the hierarchy of these spiritual beings.

1 An Angelic Hierarchy

The Christian angelic hierarchy is perhaps the most commonly known today. It consists of three heavenly spheres of choirs.

The three Abrahamic religions don’t share a standard for angelic hierarchy. Christian theologians from the early medieval ages set out to form an orderly ranking system of these heavenly beings, while Jewish scholars did much the same. Islam, containing no hierarchy expressed for angels, still holds distinction between the purposes and power of some celestial beings. Nevertheless, these religions unify in the distinction between common angels, and the more distinguishable, and perhaps more important, archangel.

2 Appearances and Power

Archangels and angels are commonly portrayed with physically similar features. Imposing yet gentle beings, angels are often told to appear as radiant humans. Although wings are almost always attributed to angels in most representations, Biblical scriptures do not support this image. While angels may not have wings, the seraphim and cherubs located higher up in the Jewish and Christian hierarchies do. Archangels differ in their appearance from typical angels slightly, however, commonly portrayed with armor and enforcing rule over other angels. While common angels tend to the aid of everyday humans, archangels use their power to lead divine battles and accomplish important tasks from God.

3 Who The Archangels Are

Somewhat of a dichotomy exists between theologians on what exactly makes an archangel. While some contend that archangels are merely elevated angels entrusted with higher powers and tasks, others contend that archangels are a separate and higher-ranking spiritual being altogether. While there are seven supposed archangels, different religious traditions recognize some of these archangels while rejecting the others. Michael, Raphael, Remiell, Uriel, Gabriel, Raguel and Sariel are said to be these seven archangels. Judaism and Protestant Christianity generally agree that Michael and Gabriel are central archangels, while Islam and Catholicism agree on the existence of the archangel Raphael.

4 The Messengers

The common angels, acting as messengers of the Lord, are countless in number and infinitely divine. Although the lowest rank in the Christian angelic hierarchy is composed of these messengers, they are responsible for more contact with mankind than any other. These angels are not tasked with the mission to protect all of mankind, but are instead said to be among the average man and woman, offering protection and guidance.

Based in Gainesville, Florida, Johanna T. Baker is a professional writer whose articles have been published in "Dimensions," a local literary magazine in the Tampa Bay area.