Angels have been thought to exist in religion since the Zoroastrian religious philosophy (7th BCE) and have influenced many religions since, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Angels are thought to be celestial beings in the service of God and intermediaries between the Celestial holy world of God and our world the world of Gods creations/children. There are many roles that the angels were said to have played in our world and we are constantly reminded of their significance in scripture, plays, art and poems.
Zoroastrianism was the largest religion and most powerful religious centre of the world before Judeo-Christian beliefs and had a large effect on the later religious powers in respect to divine beings; in this case angels will be the main topic. Zoroastrian angels or creatures worthy of veneration or worship is not as large as the later religions and are more class-like than the individual angels of the ‘One God religions’. The examples are:
figure one : google images
Daeva – disagreeable entity (negative divinity)
Amesha Spenta – the divine (positive and holy in modern context)
Yazata- creatures and people worth veneration (deities)
Angra Manyu- purely destructive (evil)
These are the divines of Zoroastrian belief; already one can see links to the modern religions the idea of evil entities, negative, holy and divine and deities (or saints). This is arguably the basis of the Judeo-Christian beliefs in angels and demons.
figure two : google images
The transcendence from the Zoroastrian belief to the Christian belief of divine and demonic entities starts solely with the war of the angels and the angelic rebels in Christian stories. I say stories as the accepted belief of this raging war in the heavens has no direct canonical scripture that claims as such. There are many theories of why Lucifer, leader of the rebels and, the 1st angel became tainted but the most accepted theory is that Lucifer’s pride is the cause. Lucifer, the most loyal and loving of God’s seraphic children refused to love God’s creations (humans) more than God himself and this went against the direct decree that God gave to all the angels, in which they were to love humans more than all else. There are arguments that Lucifer’s distancing from God and development of his own free will was the cause. The end of this heavenly war resulted in Lucifer and his followers (1/3 of the angels) being cast down by God or in other Christian theology by Michael and the creation of Evil on Earth.
figure three: google images
Medieval society was a very organised system, in which the order of place was divine, there was the King who was absolute, then the Clergy, nobles and lower classes, this was the accepted way of thing and it made sense that heaven be just as precise. Around the first century A.D. an elusive individual known as Dionysius of Areopagite was the first person to give any kind of hierarchical system to the heavenly realm. As for who exactly he was, is speculative at best but the most accepted theory is that he was a convert to Christianity after a sermon given by St Paul. Dionysius claimed to have seen the different orders of Gods court, in which he named the courts of these angels. The system was as such: God, Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and angels. As with the war this theory is not canonical and was, of course argued against particularly by the Catholic Church that believed it was an attempt to undermine the Catholic teachings. This belief was firmly argued against but it had also gained an equal share of followers including prominent people such as St Aquinas, Gregory the Great, Isadore of Seville and Bernard of Clairvaux.
image four : from google images
Each of these courts was divided into three companies under God and each of the company had their role. The Seraphim were those who were only to gaze upon God and bathe in his glorious light and to admire him in his entirety, the Cherubim were the angels that were to defer Gods wisdom to us without being tainted by human thought as they were unable to comprehend the fullness of God and the Thrones were Gods the embodiment of Gods justice and benevolence. The second courts in which Dominations, Virtues and Powers belong are the angels that were to carry out Gods commands. The Dominations were the officers who would pass on Gods command to the Virtues and Powers, The Virtues were those that would execute the commands and The Powers would prevent the evils of the devil and keep them in check. The third and final courts were those that dealt almost exclusively with the human world. The Principalities were in command of the kings and princes and would be those that allow kingdoms to grow or to make them shrink. The Archangels were the ambassadors that would bring important declarations to the world and the lowest; The Angels were those that watch over the word such as guardian angels and such.
Figure five from google images
Through the ‘Middle Ages’ particularly as the scientific discoveries of the world increased and things that were once thought to be ‘divine’ in essence were finally being understood on a comprehensive ‘human’ level the belief in angels declined. There were few cases in which prophets were to have appeared that were given messages by angels but there was little faith in the authenticity of these claims. The decline in angelic belief was long lasted, up until the Renaissance in which angels came back not as a biblical or holy sense but an artistic one. Angels became more human like in appearance a great example is that of cupid (A cherubim) was sculpted to take on a baby like form and used as a symbol of innocence, fertility and love. The arch-angels were given specific roles and each had a staple symbol to show their role. Michael wearing his armour and sword, Gabriel his book and staff and so on, with this these angels had returned as inspiration rather than a divine subject. One could argue that inspiration is a type of divine power but that can be left for a different field to discuss.