Angels: the History of an Idea

S.G.F. Brandon explains how the images of angelic ministrants that play so large a part in Christian symbolism were derived by European painters and sculptors from the religious conceptions of the ancient Near East.

Each day, throughout the world, wherever the Christian liturgy is performed, the celebrant addresses God in words long hallowed by centuries of use: “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name...”1 These solemn words recall the tremendous imagery of the Revelation of John, which was in turn inspired by Isaiah’s vision of the seraphim (Isaiah vi. 1-3).

Thus, daily, Christians invoke imagery already ancient when the prophet John wrote towards the end of the first century A.D.—imagery that was in fact current in Israel as far back as the eighth century B.C. This imagery has, moreover, been conceived in a very realistic manner, as the long tradition of Christian art vividly attests.

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