An angel is generally a supernatural being found in various religions and mythologies. Abrahamic religions often depict angels as benevolent celestial beings who act as intermediaries between God (or Heaven) and humanity. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out tasks on behalf of God. Abrahamic religions often organize angels into hierarchies, although such rankings may vary between sects in each religion. Such angels may receive specific names (such as Gabriel or Michael) or titles (such as seraph or archangel). People have also extended the use of the term “angel” to various notions of spirits or figures found in other religious traditions. The theological study of angels is known as “angelology”. Angels expelled from Heaven are referred to as fallen angels as distinct from the heavenly host.
In fine art angels are usually depicted as having the shape of human beings of extraordinary beauty but no gender (until the 19th century at least). They are often identified In Christian artwork with bird wings, halos, and light.
The word angel arrives in modern English from Old English engel (with a hard g) and the Old French angele. Both of these derive from Late Latin angelus (literally “messenger”), which in turn was borrowed from Late Greek. Additionally, per Dutch linguist R. S. P. Beekes, ángelos itself may be “an Oriental loan, like (ángaros, ‘Persian mounted courier’).” Perhaps then, the word’s earliest form is Mycenaean a-ke-ro, attested in Linear B syllabic script.
The rendering of “ángelos” is the Septuagint’s default translation of the Biblical Hebrew term malʼākh, denoting simply “messenger” without connoting its nature. In the associations to follow in the Latin Vulgate, this meaning becomes bifurcated: when malʼākh or ángelos is supposed to denote a human messenger, words like nuntius or legatus are applied. If the word refers to some supernatural being, the word angelus appears. Such differentiation has been taken over by later vernacular translations of the Bible, early Christian and Jewish exegetes and eventually modern scholars.
The Torah uses the (Hebrew) terms (mal’āk̠ ‘ĕlōhîm; messenger of God), (mal’āk̠ YHWH; messenger of the Lord), (bənē ‘ĕlōhîm; sons of God) and (haqqôd̠əšîm; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as (hā’elyônîm; the upper ones).
The term mal’āk̠ is also used in other books of the Tanakh. Depending on the context, the Hebrew word may refer to a human messenger or to a supernatural messenger. A human messenger might be a prophet or priest, such as Malachi, “my messenger”; the Greek superscription in the Septuagint translation states the Book of Malachi was written “by the hand of his messenger” ἀγγέλου angélu. Examples of a supernatural messenger are the “Malak YHWH,” who is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos), or God himself as the messenger (the “theophanic angel.”)
Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms “come to mean the benevolent semi-divine beings familiar from later mythology and art.” Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel (God’s primary messenger) in Daniel 9:21 and Michael (the holy fighter) in Daniel 10:13. These angels are part of Daniel’s apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all apocalyptic literature.
In Daniel 7, Daniel receives a dream-vision from God. As Daniel watches, the Ancient of Days takes his seat on the throne of heaven and sits in judgement in the midst of the heavenly court an angel like a son of man approaches the Ancient One in the clouds of heaven and is given everlasting kingship.
Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: “In the postexilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the ‘sons of God’ who were members of the Divine Council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as ‘angels’, understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans.” This conception of angels is best understood in contrast to demons and is often thought to be “influenced by the ancient Persian religious tradition of Zoroastrianism, which viewed the world as a battleground between forces of good and forces of evil, between light and darkness.” One of these is hāšāṭān, a figure depicted in (among other places) the Book of Job.
Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos inasmuch as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different from God himself, but is conceived as God’s instrument.
Four classes of ministering angels minister and utter praise before the Holy One, blessed be He: the first camp (led by) Michael on His right, the second camp (led by) Gabriel on His left, the third camp (led by) Uriel before Him, and the fourth camp (led by) Raphael behind Him; and the Shekhinah of the Holy One, blessed be He, is in the centre. He is sitting on a throne high and exalted.
In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels took on particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Although these archangels were believed to rank among the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkabah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe; he is briefly mentioned in the Talmud and figures prominently in Merkabah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel (Daniel 10:13), is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 8:15–17) and briefly in the Talmud, as well as in many Merkabah mystical texts. There is no evidence in Judaism for the worship of angels, but there is evidence for the invocation and sometimes even conjuration of angels.
According to Kabbalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah). Angels exist in the worlds above as a ‘task’ of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task. This is derived from the book of Genesis when Abraham meets with three angels and Lot meets with two. The task of one of the angels was to inform Abraham of his coming child. The other two were to save Lot and to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained his view of angels in his Guide for the Perplexed II:4 and II.
This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the ‘angels which are near to Him’, through whose mediation the spheres move thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies here in this world.
— Guide for the Perplexed II:4, Maimonides
Maimonides had a neo-Aristotelian interpretation of the Bible. Maimonides writes that to the wise man, one sees that what the Bible and Talmud refer to as “angels” are actually allusions to the various laws of nature; they are the principles by which the physical universe operates.
For all forces are angels! How blind, how perniciously blind are the naive?! If you told someone who purports to be a sage of Israel that the Deity sends an angel who enters a woman’s womb and there forms an embryo, he would think this a miracle and accept it as a mark of the majesty and power of the Deity, despite the fact that he believes an angel to be a body of fire one third the size of the entire world. All this, he thinks, is possible for God. But if you tell him that God placed in the sperm the power of forming and demarcating these organs, and that this is the angel, or that all forms are produced by the Active Intellect; that here is the angel, the “vice-regent of the world” constantly mentioned by the sages, then he will recoil.– Guide for the Perplexed II:4
Later Christians inherited Jewish understandings of angels, which in turn may have been partly inherited from the Egyptians. In the early stage, the Christian concept of an angel characterized the angel as a messenger of God. Later came identification of individual angelic messengers: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, and Uriel. Then, in the space of little more than two centuries (from the 3rd to the 5th) the image of angels took on definite characteristics both in theology and in art.
According to St. Augustine, “Angel” is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel’.” Basilian Father Thomas Rosica says, “Angels are very important, because they provide people with an articulation of the conviction that God is intimately involved in human life.”
By the late 4th century, the Church Fathers agreed that there were different categories of angels, with appropriate missions and activities assigned to them. There was, however, some disagreement regarding the nature of angels. Some argued that angels had physical bodies, while some maintained that they were entirely spiritual. Some theologians had proposed that angels were not divine but on the level of immaterial beings subordinate to the Trinity. The resolution of this Trinitarian dispute included the development of doctrine about angels.
The angels are represented throughout the Christian Bible as spiritual beings intermediate between God and men: “You have made him [man] a little less than the angels …” (Psalms 8:4–5). Christians believe that angels are created beings, based on (Psalms 148:2–5; Colossians 1:16): “praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts … for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created.” The Forty Gospel Homilies by Pope Gregory I noted angels and archangels. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) declared that the angels were created beings. The Council’s decree Firmiter credimus (issued against the Albigenses) declared both that angels were created and that men were created after them. The First Vatican Council (1869) repeated this declaration in Dei Filius, the “Dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith”.
Thomas Aquinas (13th century) relates angels to Aristotle’s metaphysics in his Summa contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and in De substantiis separatis, a treatise on angelology. Although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.
Interaction with Angels
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10.
According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, “the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels.
In 1851 Pope Pius IX approved the Chaplet of Saint Michael based on the 1751 reported private revelation from archangel Michael to the Carmelite nun Antonia d’Astonac. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her guardian angel.
Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of angels in Catholic teachings in his 1986 address titled “Angels Participate In History Of Salvation”, in which he suggested that modern mentality should come to see the importance of angels.
According to the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.”
Belief in angels is fundamental to Islam. The Quranic word for angel derives either from Malaka, meaning “he controlled”, due to their power to govern different affairs assigned to them, or from the root either from ʼ-l-k, l-ʼ-k or m-l-k with the broad meaning of a “messenger”, just like its counterparts in Hebrew (malʾákh) and Greek (angelos). Unlike their Hebrew counterpart, the term is exclusively used for heavenly spirits of the divine world, but not for human messengers. The Quran refers to both angelic and human messengers as “rasul” instead.
The Quran is the principal source for the Islamic concept of angels. Some of them, such as Gabriel and Michael, are mentioned by name in the Quran, others are only referred to by their function. In hadith literature, angels are often assigned to only one specific phenomena. Angels play a significant role in Mi’raj literature, where Muhammad encounters several angels during his journey through the heavens. Further angels have often been featured in Islamic eschatology, Islamic theology and Islamic philosophy. Duties assigned to angels include, for example, communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person’s actions, and taking a person’s soul at the time of death.
In Islam, just like in Judaism and Christianity, angels are often represented in anthropomorphic forms combined with supernatural images, such as wings, being of great size or wearing heavenly articles. The Quran describes them as “messengers with wings—two, or three, or four (pairs): He [God] adds to Creation as He pleases…” Common characteristics for angels are their missing needs for bodily desires, such as eating and drinking. Their lack of affinity to material desires is also expressed by their creation from light: Angels of mercy are created from nur (cold light) in opposition to the angels of punishment created from nar (hot light). Muslims do not generally share the perceptions of angelic pictorial depictions, such as those found in Western art.
Although believing in angels remain one of Six Articles of Faith in Islam, one cannot find a dogmatic angelology in Islamic tradition. Despite this, scholars had discussed the role of angels from specific canonical events, such as the Mi’raj, and Quranic verses. Even if they are not in focus, they have been featured in folklore, philosophy debates and systematic theology. While in classical Islam, widespread notions were accepted as canonical, there is a tendency in contemporary scholarship to reject much material about angels, like calling the Angel of Death by the name Azra’il.
Ibn Sina, who drew upon the Neo-Platonistic emanation cosmology of Al-Farabi, developed an angelological hierarchy of Intellects, which are created by “the One”. Therefore, the first creation by God was the supreme archangel followed by other archangels, who are identified with lower Intellects. From these Intellects again, emanated lower angels or “moving spheres”, from which in turn, emanated other Intellects until it reaches the Intellect, which reigns over the souls. The tenth Intellect is responsible for bringing material forms into being and illuminating the minds.
In Folk Islam, individual angels may be evoked in exorcism rites, whose names are engraved in talismans or amulets.
Some modern scholars have emphasized a metaphorical reinterpretation of the concept of angels.
An archangel is an angel of high rank. The word “archangel” itself is usually associated with the Abrahamic religions, but beings that are very similar to archangels are found in a number of religious traditions.
The English word archangel is derived from the Greek ἀρχάγγελος (arch- + angel, literally “chief angel” or “angel of origin”). It appears only twice in the New Testament in the phrase “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and in relation to “the archangel Michael” (Jude 9). The corresponding but different Hebrew word in the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) is found in two places as in “Michael, one of the chief princes” (Dan 10:13) and in “Michael, the great prince” (Dan 12:1).
Michael and Gabriel are recognized as archangels in Judaism, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, and by most Christians. Some Protestants consider Michael to be the only archangel. Raphael—mentioned in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit—is also recognized as an archangel in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are venerated in the Roman Catholic Church with a feast on September 29 (between 1921 and 1969, March 24 for Gabriel and October 24 for Raphael), and in the Eastern Orthodox Church on November 8 (if the Julian calendar is used, this corresponds to November 21 in the Gregorian). The named archangels in Islam are Jibrael, Mikael, Israfil, and Azrael. Jewish literature, such as the Book of Enoch, also mentions Metatron as an archangel, called the “highest of the angels”, though the acceptance of this angel is not canonical in all branches of the faith.
Some branches of the faiths mentioned have identified a group of seven Archangels, but the named angels vary, depending on the source. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael are always mentioned; the other archangels vary, but most commonly include Uriel, who is mentioned in 2 Esdras.
In Zoroastrianism, sacred texts allude to the six great Amesha Spenta (literally “Bounteous/Holy Immortals”) of Ahura Mazda.
The Hebrew Bible uses the term (malakhi Elohim; Angels of God), The Hebrew word for angel is “malach,” which means messenger, for the angels (malakhi Adonai; Angels of the Lord) are God’s messengers to perform various missions – e.g. ‘angel of death’; (b’nei elohim; sons of God) and (ha-q’doshim; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angelic messengers. Other terms are used in later texts, such as (ha-elyonim, the upper ones, or the supreme ones). References to angels are uncommon in Jewish literature except in later works such as the Book of Daniel, though they are mentioned briefly in the stories of Jacob (who according to one interpretation wrestled with an angel) and Lot (who was warned by angels of the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name. It is therefore widely speculated that Jewish interest in angels developed during the Babylonian captivity. According to Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish of Tiberias (230–270 CE), specific names for the angels were brought back by the Jews from Babylon.
There are no explicit references to archangels in the canonical texts of the Hebrew Bible. In post-Biblical Judaism, certain angels came to take on a particular significance and developed unique personalities and roles. Though these archangels were believed to have ranked amongst the heavenly host, no systematic hierarchy ever developed. Metatron is considered one of the highest of the angels in Merkavah and Kabbalist mysticism and often serves as a scribe. He is briefly mentioned in the Talmud, and figures prominently in Merkavah mystical texts. Michael, who serves as a warrior and advocate for Israel, is looked upon particularly fondly. Gabriel is mentioned in the Book of Daniel and briefly in the Talmud, as well as many Merkavah mystical texts. The earliest references to archangels are in the literature of the intertestamental periods (e.g., 4 Esdras 4:36).
In the Kabbalah there are ten archangels, each assigned to one sephira: Metatron, Raziel (other times Jophiel), Tzaphkiel, Tzadkiel, Khamael, Raphael, Haniel, Michael, Gabriel, and Sandalphon. Chapter 20 of the Book of Enoch mentions seven holy angels who watch, that often are considered the seven archangels: Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel. The Life of Adam and Eve lists the archangels as well: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Joel. Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides made a Jewish angelic hierarchy.
The New Testament makes over a hundred references to angels, but uses the word “archangel” only twice, at Thessalonians 4:16 (“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first”, KJV) and Jude 1:9 (“Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee”, KJV).
In Roman Catholicism, three are honored by name:
Gabriel (“God is my strength”)
Michael (“Who is like God?”)
Raphael (“It is God who heals”)
These three are commemorated together liturgically on Sept. 29. Formerly each had his own feast (see individual articles).
The latter of these identifies himself in Tobit 12:15(NAB) thus: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”
The Fourth Book of Esdras, which mentions the angel Uriel (and also the “archangel” Jeremiel), was popular in the West and was frequently quoted by Church Fathers, especially Ambrose, but was never considered part of the Catholic biblical canon.
The Catholic Church gives no official recognition to the names given in some apocryphal sources, such as Raguel, Saraqael and Remiel (in the Book of Enoch) or Izidkiel, Hanael, and Kepharel (in other such sources).
Eastern Orthodox Tradition mentions “thousands of archangels”; however, only seven archangels are venerated by name. Uriel is included, and the other three are most often named Selaphiel, Jegudiel, and Barachiel (an eighth, Jeremiel, is sometimes included as archangel). The Orthodox Church celebrates the Synaxis of the Archangel Michael and the Other Bodiless Powers on November 8 of the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar (for those churches which follow the Julian Calendar, November 8 falls on November 21 of the modern Gregorian Calendar). Other feast days of the Archangels include the Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel on March 26 (April 8), and the Miracle of the Archangel Michael at Colossae on September 6 (September 19). In addition, every Monday throughout the year is dedicated to the Angels, with special mention being made in the church hymns of Michael and Gabriel. In Orthodox iconography, each angel has a symbolic representation:
Michael in the Hebrew language means “Who is like God?” or “Who is equal to God?” Michael has been depicted from earliest Christian times as a commander, who holds in his right hand a spear with which he attacks Lucifer/Satan, and in his left hand a green palm branch. At the top of the spear, there is a linen ribbon with a red cross. The Archangel Michael is especially considered to be the Guardian of the Orthodox Faith and a fighter against heresies.
Gabriel means “God is my strength” or “Might of God”. He is the herald of the mysteries of God, especially the Incarnation of God and all other mysteries related to it. He is depicted as follows: In his right hand, he holds a lantern with a lighted taper inside, and in his left hand, a mirror of green jasper. The mirror signifies the wisdom of God as a hidden mystery.
Raphael means “It is God who heals” or “God Heals”. Raphael is depicted leading Tobit (who is carrying a fish caught in the Tigris) with his right hand and holding a physician’s alabaster jar in his left hand.
Uriel means “God is my light”, or “Light of God” (II Esdras 4:1, 5:20). He is depicted holding a sword in his right hand, and a flame in his left.
Sealtiel means “Intercessor of God”. He is depicted with his face and eyes lowered, holding his hands on his bosom in prayer.
Jegudiel means “Glorifier of God”. He is depicted bearing a golden wreath in his right hand and a triple-thronged whip in his left hand.
Barachiel means “Blessed by God”. He is depicted holding a white rose in his hand against his breast.
Jerahmeel means “God’s exaltation”. He is venerated as an inspirer and awakener of exalted thoughts that raise a person toward God (II Esdras 4:36). As an eighth, he is sometimes included as an archangel.
In the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, 1 Enoch describes Saraqael as one of the angels who watch over “the spirits that sin in the spirit” (Enoch 20:7–8).
In Islam, the mentioned archangels in the Quran and Sunnah include:
Gabriel (Jibrail or Jibril in Arabic). Gabriel is said to be the archangel responsible for transmitting God’s revelations to all prophets, including revealing the Quran to Muhammad and inducing him to recite it. Various hadiths (traditions) mention his role in delivering messages from “God the Almighty” to the prophets.
Michael (Mikail in Arabic). Michael is often depicted as the archangel of mercy who is responsible for bringing rain and thunder to Earth.
Raphael (Israfil in Arabic). Mentioned in the Quran as the angel of the trumpet responsible for signaling the coming of Judgment Day.
Azrael (Azra’il in Arabic, also called Malak al-Maut, literally “angel of death”). Azrael is a name some Muslims use in reference to the angel of death, but within the Quran and Sunnah he is only mentioned as the angel of death “Malak al-Maut”. Therefore, his actually name cannot be accurately ascertained.
Maalik (literally: owner). Mentioned in the Quran as the angel of Fire/Hell.
Riḍwan Mentioned in the Sunnah as the angel of paradise/heaven.
Iblis (also known as Azazil/Azazel, Lucifer, Al-Harith) mentioned in the tafsir as the former angel of paradise.
Raphael is an archangel responsible for healing in the traditions of most Abrahamic religions. Not all branches of these religions consider the identification of Raphael to be canonical.
In Christianity, Raphael is generally associated with an unnamed angel mentioned in the Gospel of John, who stirs the water at the healing pool of Bethesda. Raphael is recognized as an angel in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as he is briefly mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. Raphael is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, which is accepted as canonical by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and some Anglicans.
In Islam, Raphael is the fourth major angel; and in the Muslim tradition, he is known as Isrāfīl. Though unnamed in the Quran, hadith identifies Israfil with the angel of Quran 6:73. Within Islamic eschatology, Israfil is traditionally attributed to a trumpet, which is poised at his lips, and when God so commands he shall be ready to announce the Day of Resurrection.
The angels mentioned in the Torah, the older books of the Hebrew Bible, are without names. Shimon ben Lakish of Tiberias (AD 230–270), asserted that all the specific names for the angels were brought back by the Jews from Babylon, and modern commentators would tend to agree.
According to the Babylonian Talmud, Raphael is identified as one of the three angels that appeared to Abraham in the oak grove of Mamre, in the region of Hebron. (Gen. Xviii; Bava Metzia 86b). Michael, as the greatest, walked in the middle, with Gabriel to his right and Raphael to his left (Yoma 37a).
All three angels were commanded to carry out a specific mission. Gabriel’s mission was to destroy Sodom; Michael’s mission was to inform Sarah that she would give birth to Isaac in a year’s time; Raphael’s mission was to heal Abraham (from his recent circumcision) and save Lot. Rashi writes, “Although Raphael’s mission included two tasks, they were considered a single mission since they were both acts that saved people.”
Raphael is named in several Jewish apocryphal books. The Life of Adam and Eve lists the archangels as well: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael and Joel. Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides made a Jewish angelic hierarchy, which includes the archangel Raphael.
Medieval French rabbi, author and Hebrew Bible commentator Rashi views Raphael as being one of the three angels that appeared to Abraham in the oak grove of Mamre in the Book of Genesis. Raphael is also mentioned in the Book of Enoch alongside archangels Michael, Gabriel and Uriel.
In the Book of Enoch
Raphael bound Azazel under a desert called Dudael according to Enoch 10:4–6:
And again the Lord said to Raphael: “Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there forever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.”
“Raphael, one of the holy angels, who is over the spirits of men.” (1 Enoch 20:7)
When Enoch asked who the four figures were that he had seen: “And he said to me: ‘This first is Michael, the merciful and long-suffering: and the second, who is set over all the diseases and all the wounds of the children of men, is Raphael: and the third, who is set over all the powers, is Gabriel: and the fourth, who is set over the repentance unto hope of those who inherit eternal life, is named Phanuel.’ And these are the four angels of the Lord of Spirits and the four voices I heard in those days.” (Enoch 40:9)
Of archangels in the angelology of post-Exilic Judaism, only Michael, mentioned as archangel (Daniel 12:1), and Gabriel are mentioned by name in canonical books.
The identification of Raphael is not accepted as canonical by most denominations of Protestantism, as the name only appears in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit. Nevertheless, the name “Raphael” is widely recognized in church tradition as a result of Protestantism’s origins in Catholic Christianity. Raphael (and other traditional angels) are not venerated in Protestantism.
In Catholicism and the Orthodox Church
The Book of Tobit is considered deuterocanonical by Catholics, Orthodox, and some Anglicans. In it, Raphael first appears disguised as the human travelling companion of Tobit’s son, Tobiah calling himself “Azarias the son of the great Ananias”. During the course of the journey, the archangel’s protective influence is shown in many ways including the binding of a demon in the desert of Upper Egypt. After returning and healing the blind Tobit, Azarias makes himself known as “the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” Tobit 12:15. He is venerated as Saint Raphael the Archangel.
Regarding the healing powers attributed to Raphael, there is his declaration to Tobit (Tobit, 12) that he was sent by the Lord to heal him of his blindness and to deliver Sarah, his future daughter-in-law, from the demon Asmodeus, who kills every man she marries on their wedding night before the marriage can be consummated.
In the New Testament, only the archangels Gabriel and Michael are mentioned by name (Luke 1:9–26; Jude 1:9). Later manuscripts of John 5:1–4 refer to the pool of Bethesda, where the multitude of the infirm lay awaiting the moving of the water, for “an angel of the Lord descended at certain times into the pond; and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pond after the motion of the water was made whole of whatsoever infirmity he lay under”. Because of the healing role assigned to Raphael, this particular angel is generally associated with the archangel.
Due to his actions in the Book of Tobit and the Gospel of John, Saint Raphael is accounted patron of travelers, the blind, happy meetings, nurses, physicians, medical workers, matchmakers, Christian marriage, and Catholic studies. As a particular enemy of the devil, he was revered in Catholic Europe as a special protector of sailors: on a corner of Venice’s famous Doge’s Palace, there is a relief depicting Raphael holding a scroll on which is written: “Efficia fretum quietum” (Keep the Gulf quiet). On July 8, 1497, when Vasco Da Gama set forth from Lisbon with his four ship fleet to sail to India, the flagship was named—at the King of Portugal’s insistence—the St. Raphael. When the flotilla reached the Cape of Good Hope on October 22, the sailors disembarked and erected a column in the archangel’s honor. The little statue of St. Raphael that accompanied Da Gama on the voyage is now in the Naval Museum in Lisbon.
Raphael is said to guard pilgrims on their journeys, and is often depicted holding a staff. He is also often depicted holding or standing on a fish, which alludes to his healing of Tobit with the fish’s gall. Early mosaics often show him and the other archangels in the clothing of a Byzantine courtier.
The feast day of Raphael was included for the first time in the General Roman Calendar in 1921, for celebration on October 24. With the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar, the feast was transferred to September 29 for celebration together with archangels Saints Michael and Gabriel. Due to Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, the Catholic Church permits, within certain limits for public use, the General Roman Calendar of 1960, which has October 24 as Raphael’s feast day.
The Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on Kouji Nabot 3 and Koiak 13.
The Archangel Raphael is said to have appeared in Cordova, Spain, during the 16th century; in response to the city’s appeal, Pope Innocent X allowed the local celebration of a feast in the Archangel’s honor on May 7, the date of the principal apparition. Saint John of God, founder of the Hospital order that bears his name, is also said to have received visitations from Saint Raphael, who encouraged and instructed him. In tribute to this, many of the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God’s facilities are called “Raphael Centers” to this day. The 18th century Neapolitan nun, Saint Maria Francesca of the Five Wounds is also said to have seen apparitions of Raphael.
Raphael is a venerated archangel according to Islamic tradition. In Islamic eschatology, Israfil will blow the trumpet from a holy rock in Jerusalem to announce the Day of Resurrection (Yawm al-Qiyāmah). The trumpet is constantly poised at his lips, ready to be blown when God so orders.
In religious tradition
The name “Israfil” (or “Israfel”, “Esrafil”) is not specifically written in the Quran, although there is mention of an unnamed trumpet-angel assumed to identify this figure:
“And the trumpet shall be blown, so all those that are in the heavens and all those that are in the earth shall swoon, except him whom Allah will; then it shall be blown again, then they shall stand up awaiting.” — Qur’an (39.68).
Certain Islamic sources indicate that, created at the beginning of time, Israfil possesses four wings, and is so tall as to be able to reach from the earth to the pillars of heaven. A beautiful angel who is a master of music, Israfil sings praises to God in a thousand different languages, the breath of which is used to inject life into hosts of angels who add to the songs themselves. Further he is probably the highest angel, since he also mediates between God and the other archangels, reading on the Preserved Tablet (al-lawh al-mahfooz) to transmit the commands of God. Although disputed, some reports assert, he visited Muhammad prior to the archangel Gabriel.
According to Sufi traditions reported by Imam al-Suyuti, the Ghawth or Qutb (‘perfect human being’), is someone who has a heart that resembles that of the archangel Israfil, signifying the loftiness of this angel. The next in rank are the saints who are known as the Umdah or Awtad, amongst whom the highest ones have their hearts resembling that of archangel Mikhail (archangel Michael), and the rest of the lower ranking saints having the heart of Jibrail (archangel Gabriel), and that of the previous prophets before the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The earth is believed to always have one of the Qutb.
The following places have been named in honor of Raphael:
Saint Raphaël, France; Saint Raphaël, Quebec, Canada; and San Rafaels in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, and the Philippines; also San Rafael de El Moján and San Rafael de Orituco in Venezuela.
In the United States, San Rafaels inherited from Spain survive in California (where besides the city there are the San Rafael Mountains).
New Mexico, and Utah, where the San Rafael River flows seasonally in the San Rafael Desert.
St. Raphael’s Cathedral, the seat of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.
St. Raphael’s Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Mission San Rafael Arcángel in San Rafael, California.
St. Raphael’s Church, Huccaby, Hexworthy, Dartmoor National Park, Devon, England.
San Rafael, Vecindario, Santa Lucia de Tirajana Gran Canaria.
The Arcangelo Raffaello youth confraternity functioned in Florence, Italy from its founding in 1411 to its suppression in 1785.
St. John of God Catholic Church in Chicago, IL, was disassembled, moved and reassembled as St. Raphael the Archangel Church in Mill Creek, IL.