The order of the nine choirs—and the roles particular to each—are something of a mystery to us as far as details go, but they have a traditional order and descriptions that have been recognized by various saints and Doctors of the Church for centuries.
Here is the most commonly-accepted structure:
1. Seraphim: These angels are the ones closest to God. St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that “God, who is Love, has so drawn and assimilated them to Himself, so filled them with the ardor of affection that burns in Himself” that they seem to be one with Him.
2. Cherubim: The prophet Ezekiel describes them as having four wings and four faces (Ezekiel 1:5-11). Their four-faced representation signifies God’s omniscience. They have profound knowledge of divine secrets.
3. Thrones: They reflect God’s power, stability, and judgment. Being subservient to their Lord, the Thrones display special characteristics of submission and peace, and are involved with His judgments and decrees.
4. Dominations: They govern the cosmos and oversee the angels who are directly responsible for administering creation. They mediate God’s supreme power over the universe, and appoint the things which are to be done according to His ministrations.
5. Virtues: This choir wields “raw power” over the physical elements of our world, creating what we perceive as miracles.
6. Powers: These angels protect God’s creation from hostile forces; that is, they protect the very laws of creation from God’s enemies. They repel hostile powers and constrain evil spirits.
7. Principalities: They guard nations and peoples and are believed to aid the spiritual life and structure of the Church.
8. Archangels: They protect countries, dioceses, religious communities, and persons such as the Holy Father who have monumental responsibilities.
9. Angels: This choir is the one most immediately engaged with the activities of human beings. The name “angel” means “messenger” or “one sent.” Guardian angels come from this choir, though not every spirit in this choir is necessarily a personal guardian.
We all have questions about these incorporeal beings. Can we learn anything definite about them? What are they like? How should we act toward them? Fr. John Horgan compiled all the Church’s teachings about the angels into one easy-to-read, fascinating book: His Angels At Our Side: Understanding Their Power in Our Souls and The World. Drawing on Scripture, Church teaching, and tradition, these fascinating pages will teach you all you want to know about the heavenly hosts. Get your copy today at The Catholic Company!