Angels of the Churches

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Term used in the Book of revelation to designate the heavenly counterpart of the seven churches of the Roman province of asia. John sees the glorified Christ holding seven stars, perhaps in the form of a scepter, as He walks among the seven lampstands (Rv 1.20). His presence in the churches on earth is thus indicated. The stars are said to symbolize the "angels" of the churches; this is in keeping with the close relationship between stars and angels in ancient Semitic thought. Each of the seven letters that follow is addressed to its respective angel, who is praised, blamed, or warned, as the situation requires (2.1, 8, 12, 18; 3.1, 7, 14). Many Latin Fathers and modern commentators think that by angel here John means the bishop of the particular church. Nowhere in Revelation, however, or in the rest of the NT does "angel" mean anything but a superterrestrial being. St. Jerome, the Greek Fathers, and many other modern commentators think that the guardian angel of each church is the recipient of the letter. But can one suppose that John would be told to reprimand the guardian angel for disorders in the church? Here, as frequently in Revelation, the author depends upon the Book of daniel, where heavenly beings are called "princes" of the kingdoms of Persia, Greece, and Israel, respectively (Dn 10.13, 20, 21). From the context it is clear that they are not guardian angels, as one would now think of them. That they are called princes rather than angels suggests that they were regarded as a kind of heavenly corporate personality, summing up the characteristics and history of the earthly realm with which they were related. John calls them angels to underline their heavenly character, since the earthly reality was considered less real than its heavenly counterpart (see Heb 9.11, 23; 10.1). Because they are the heavenly reality of the respective church with, certainly, its bishop as the earthly corporate personality, they can be praised or reprimanded, as the case may be, for the merits or failings of their particular church.

Bibliography: j. michl, Die Engelvorstellungen in der Apokalypse des hl. Johannes (Munich 1937). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible 8187.

[e. f. siegman]