The name Michael occurs in the Old Testament as a rather common personal male name (Nm 13.13; 1 Chr5.13–14; 6.40; etc.) as well as the name of a certain angel. The name in Hebrew, mîkā’ēl, means "who is like God?"; compare the similarly formed Michea, in Hebrew, mîkāyāh, "who is like Yahweh?"
In the Bible. gabriel, the angel instructor of Daniel, calls Michael "one of the chief princes," "your Prince," and "the great prince, guardian of your people." In Dn 10.13, 21 Michael helps Gabriel in the contest against the tutelary angel of the Persians called "prince of the kingdom of Persia." The background of Daniel's vision is the Seleucid period (312–63 b.c.), and the author has undoubtedly been influenced by the angelology of Zoroastrianism. Michael is presented as the angel protector of Israel and is integral to God's government of history. In Dn 12.1 Michael appears in apocalyptic circumstances as the source of comfort and strength for Israel in extreme distress.
In Jude 9, Michael is called "the archangel," i.e., the chief angel, and is pictured disputing with the devil over the body of moses. The reference is unknown but refers probably to a passage from "The Assumption of Moses" (Pharisaic apocryphon of 1st century a.d.). In Rv 12.7–9, Michael leads the faithful angels to victory over the dragon (Satan) and his angels and casts them out of heaven down to the earth.
In Christian Cult. Early Christian cult was undoubtedly influenced by the prominent place given to Michael in the Hebrew apocrypha (e.g., Book of Enoch; Testament of Abraham). The Shepherd of hermas already mentions "the great and glorious angel Michael who has authority over this people and governs them…." In the East, Michael was venerated as having care of the sick. Churches dedicated to him and the other angels date from as early as the 4th century. In the West, Michael was venerated as the head of the heavenly armies and the patron of soldiers. This veneration may be traced to a popular cult arising from an alleged 5th or 6th–century apparition of Michael during the distress caused by invading Goths (on the coast of southeastern
Italy, Gargano or Monte Sant' Angelo; probable source of Mont-Saint-Michel tradition, Manche, France, 709 a.d.).
Michael was the only individual angel with a liturgical observance prior to the 9th century, and his cult has grown since then: e.g., tutelary angel of the church (the new Israel); patron of mariners, of roentgenologists (1941), and of Italy's public discipline and security (1950). Historically, September 29 was the feast of the Archangel Michael in the Roman Rite. The post–Vatican II reform of the liturgical calendar created combined the Feasts of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael on September 29. In the Eastern Christian tradition, the Feast of the Archangels is celebrated on November 8.
Bibliography: d. keck, Angels and Angelology in the Middle Ages (New York 1998). b. otzen, "Michael and Gabriel," in The Scriptures and the Scrolls, ed. f. garcia martinez, a. hilhorst, and c. j. labuschagne (New York 1992).
[t. l. fallon/eds.]