Sacred Texts  Christianity  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite, tr. by John Parker, [1897], at


Concerning the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, and concerning their last Hierarchy.

Section I.

There remains for our reverent contemplation a Division which completes the Angelic Hierarchies, p. 36 that divided into the Godlike Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. And I think it necessary, to declare first the meaning of their sacred appellations to the best of my ability. For that of the Heavenly Principalities manifests their princely and leading function, after the Divine example, with order religious and most befitting the Princely, and their being wholly turned to the super-princely Prince, and leading others in princely fashion, and being moulded, as far as possible, to that prince-making Princedom Itself, and to manifest its superessential princely order, by the regularity of the princely powers.

Section II.

The (Order) of the Holy Archangels is of the same rank with the heavenly Principalities. For there is one Hierarchy and Division, as I said, of them and the Angels. But since there is not a Hierarchy which does not possess first and middle and last powers, the holy order of Archangels occupies the middle position in the Hierarchy between the extremes, for it belongs alike to the most holy Principalities and to the holy Angels; to the Principalities because it is turned in a princely fashion to the superessential Princedom, and is moulded to It as far as attainable, and unites the Angels after the fashion of its own well-regulated and marshalled and invisible leadings; and it belongs to the Angels, because it is of the messenger Order, receiving hierarchically the Divine illuminations from p. 37 the first powers, and announcing the same to the Angels in a godly manner, and, through Angels, manifesting to us, in proportion to the religious aptitude of each of the godly persons illuminated. For the Angels, as we have already said, complete the whole series of Heavenly Minds, as being the last Order of the Heavenly Beings who possess the Angelic characteristic; yea, rather, they are more properly named Angels by us than those of higher degree, because their Hierarchy is occupied with the more manifest, and is more particularly concerned with the things of the world. For the very highest Order, as being placed in the first rank near the Hidden One, we must consider as directing in spiritual things the second, hiddenly; and that the second, which is composed of the holy Lordships and Powers and Authorities, leads the Hierarchy of the Principalities and Archangels and Angels, more clearly indeed than the first Hierarchy, but more hiddenly than the Order after it, and the revealing order of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, presides, through each other, over the Hierarchies amongst men, in order that the elevation, and conversion, and communion, and union with God may be in due order; and, further, also that the procession from God vouchsafed benignly to all the Hierarchies, and passing to all in common, may be also with most sacred regularity. Hence, the Word of God has assigned our Hierarchy to Angels, by naming Michael as Ruler of the Jewish people, and others over other nations. For the p. 38 Most High established borders of nations according to number of Angels of God.

Section III.

But if any one should say, "How then were the people of the Hebrews alone conducted to the supremely Divine illuminations?" we must answer, that we ought not to throw the blame of the other nations wandering after those which are no gods upon the direct guidance of the Angels, but that they themselves, by their own declension, fell away from the direct leading towards the Divine Being, through self-conceit and self-will, and through their irrational veneration for things which appeared to them worthy of God. Even the Hebrew people are said to have suffered the same thing; for He says, "Thou I hast cast away knowledge of God, and hast gone after thine own heart." For neither have we a life governed by necessity, nor on account of the free will of those who are objects of providential care, are the Divine rays of the providential illumination blunted; but the inaptitude of the mental visions makes the overflowing light-gift of the paternal goodness, either altogether unparticipated or inpenetrable to their resistance, or makes the participations of the one fontal ray, diverse, small, or great, obscure, or brilliant, although that ray is one and simple, and always the same and ever overflowing; for even if, over the other nations (from p. 39 whom we also have emerged to that boundless and bounteous sea of Divine Light, which is readily-expanded for the ready reception of all), certain not alien gods were wont to preside; yet there is one Head of all, and to this, the Angels, who religiously direct each nation, conduct those who follow them. Let us consider Melchizedek as being a Hierarch, most dear to God; (not of gods which are not, but of the truly most high God); for the godly-wise did not call Melchizedek simply dear to God, but also Priest, in order that they may clearly shew to the wise, that not only was he himself turned to the true God, but further that he was guide to others, as Hierarch of the elevation to the true and only Godhead.

Section IV.

Let me also recall this to your Hierarchical judgment--that both to Pharaoh, from the Angel who presided over the Egyptians, and to the Babylonian Prince, from his own Angel, the watchful and ruling care of the Providence and Lordship over all, was interpreted in visions; and for those nations, the worshippers of the true God were appointed leaders, for the interpretation of things shaped by Angelic visions revealed from God through Angels to holy men akin to the Angels, Daniel and Joseph. For there is one Prince and Providence over all. And never must we think that the Godhead is leader of Jews by lot, and that Angels, p. 40 independently, or as of equal rank, or in opposition, or that certain other gods, preside over the other nations. But that particular phrase of the Divine Word must be accepted according to the following sacred intention; not as though God had divided government amongst men, with other gods, or Angels, and had been elected by lot to the government and leadership of Israel, but in this sense--whilst the one Providence of Highest over all, assigned all mankind, savingly, to the directing conduct of their own Angels, yet Israel, almost alone in comparison with all, turned himself to the Light-gift, and recognition of the true Lord-Hence the Word of God, as shewing that Israel elected himself for the worship of the true God, says this, "He became Lord’s portion;" and as indicating that he was assigned equally with the other nations, to one of the holy Angels, for the recognition, through him, of the Head of all, said "That Michael became leader of the (Jewish) people," demonstrating distinctly that there is one Providence of the whole, superessentially established above all the powers, unseen and seen, and that all the Angels who preside over each nation, elevate, as far as possible, those who follow them with a willing mind, to It as their proper Head. p. 41

Next: Caput X.