Who are the Archangels?


A friend recently asked:

How many Archangels are there? My patron is St. Michael the Archangel …he is God’s Warrior ..I try to live my life as a Warrior for Our Lord also.

First of all, AMEN, SISTER! We should all have the confidence to call on the warriors of God to fight with us. (Onward, Christian Soldiers!) Thank you for all that you do.

Who are the Archangels?

The word “archangel” simply comes from the Greek word meaning “Chief Angel,” but even that definition is a little bit of a cheat: the Greek word “Angel” (angelos) literally means- messenger. Thus, the archangels are the chief messengers of God to mankind– sometimes quite literally as ones who come bearing a message from God, but other times in a more figurative sense when they act as agents of God’s will on earth.

The Catholic Church recognizes three archangels whose names are given in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In history, this number has varied quite a bit– many Church Fathers (including Pope Saint Gregory the Great) accepted a total of seven archangel names, which were taken from both canonical (accepted) and apocryphal (deemed unauthentic) Biblical sources. Today, many of the Eastern Churches still recognize Uriel as a fourth archangel, because his name appears 2 Esdras (historically referred to as 4 Esdras), a book they accept as part of the canon of scripture but which the Catholic Church does not.

It is important to note that angels can only be referred to by proper names when that name appears in scripture. We cannot make up names for angels and as pious as it may seem, we are not permitted to ‘give’ a name to our guardian angel. This is because we don’t have any sort of dominion over the angels, but also because angelic names must be revealed to us according to their activity given by God, and presumably this contains some aspect of their nature. Thus, the given name of an angel tells you not only what we can call it, but what it does.  Compare this with a human name given by human parents, who have dominion over their children. My name happens to be Christina and by the grace of God I am (or strive to be) what my name says: a follower of Christ. Yet a person can just as easily be named Christina and choose to be an atheist without altering their name. Not so for the angels.

So let’s take a look at the three Archangels and what they do.

Michael- “Who is like God?”

The name of Michael is given in the Old Testament book of the prophet Daniel, where he is named as the chief of Princes and the protector of Israel (10:13 and 10:21). When speaking of the end times, we read:

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. — Daniel, 12:1

It is not until the New Testament that we hear of Michael as an “archangel” (Jude 1:9) and that he is the defeater of Satan (Revelation 12:7-9). Michael’s name not only challenges his adversaries (“Who is like God? Certainly not YOU! Let me show you His might…”) but also shows us that his role is to act as God’s warrior and agent of justice and protection. Michael, who is like God, will defend us against evil. Archangel_MichaelThus he is also the patron saint of those who protect us here on earth: military, police and other public servants. We rightly cry to him for aid and should commend our care to him as we recite the prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII (a great friend of the Dominican Order):

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do  Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

Gabriel- “Strength of God” or “Man of God”

Gabriel is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel as the one who interprets prophetic visions (Daniel 8:15-26, 9:21-27). He appears with the voice and the form of  man, but he certainly presents an imposing figure, for Daniel immediately is terrified by the appearance. As the deliverer of prophetic messages, it is Gabriel who announces the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and John the Baptist to Zacharias (Luke 1:11). Though he is not mentioned by name, there are other angelic appearances in the New Testament traditionally attributed to him, including the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke 2:9) and he is also seen as one of the angelic beings at the empty tomb (Luke 24:4– note that like exactly Daniel, the women are terrified and immediately prostrate themselves). You can see that Luke’s Gospel is especially rich in describing the activity of Gabriel, yet there is another reference more powerful than the rest.

In Luke 22:39-46, we read the most vivid description of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44). In the verse immediately proceeding this one, God the Father sends an agent of His will (an angel) to strengthen Christ. “And to strengthen him and angel of heaven appeared to him.” (Lk 22:43)

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Here we see Gabriel as the one who fortifies even Jesus in his time of need– how much more, then, should we call upon Gabriel to give us the strength of God in our times of struggle? How much did Mary need the Strength of God to carry out her divine mission as the Mother of God? How much did Zacharias need the Strength of God to trust that his barren wife would conceive, and to be patient for the coming of the Messiah? It is not a weakness to admit we need God’s strength– indeed, it is a necessity to admit this if we are to follow Christ, to take up our own cross so that we can one day rejoice in the glory of His resurrection. So if we call on Michael to assist us with divine strength in the sense of “might” or “force,” Gabriel should also be one to assist us in divine strength in the sense of “Fortitude.”

Raphael- “God Heals”

Raphael’s name is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, a book which belongs to the “deuterocanonical” (second canon) texts and is not included in most Protestant Bibles. In this book, we read of the story of Tobit, who is blinded and sends his son Tobiah to retrieve his fortune from Media before he dies. God provides an alternative plan.

Raphael leads Tobiah to the cure

He sends Raphael to accompany the boy to Media in the guise of a fellow (human) traveling companion. During this journey, Raphael not only gives Tobiah a fish-derived cure for Tobit’s blindness, but he plays match-maker and sets Tobiah up with Sarah, a woman whose seven previous husbands had all tragically died on their wedding night. Thus, through Raphael’s care, Tobit receives a medicinal cure and Sarah receives a “cure” for her seven-fold widowhood (which Raphael attributes to the workings of the devil)–  a spouse with whom she can worship the One True God.

Raphael’s accompaniment of Tobiah should be seen as a testament to how God “walks” with us throughout our own lives, seeking to heal our woundedness in all its different forms. As the one who manifests God’s healing power, Raphael is seen as the patron of physicians, pharmacists, those who are ill (especially the blind) and yes… he’s the patron of lovers.

So there you have them: the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! Which is your favorite?

Thanks for the question, friend! Keep up the good fight.



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