St. Michael and All Angels

September 29th is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels in the western church. Originally, Gabriel and the others had their own feast days, as did Michael, but with changes in the Western Church, the feasts were consolidated. Michael is the only angel with the title of saint, and vice versa. Why is interesting, and has more to do with popular understanding than pure scripture. And then there’s the Hunters’ understanding.

Luci Giordano “St. Michael Archangel”

Michael is one of three (or two) angels named in the Bible. His name means “Who is like unto G-d?” [Correct answer: no one.] He appears in Danial, Jude, and Revelation, and his appearance in Revelation 12:7-9 is probably what inspires most art. Technically, he’s not a saint like Francis or Thomas Moore or Florian, but that doesn’t stop him from being called “saint.” His duties are to fight against the forces of evil, to escort the recent dead to heaven (if the deceased were good), and defend all Christians. Thus the phrase from the invocation, “Defend us in battle against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.” In Medieval art, he is sometimes shown holding scales, weighing the souls of the dead on judgement day. I’ve heard that the guilty soul sinks, and also that the guilty soul rises. I suspect the artists were not entirely certain, either.

Hans Memling “The Last Judgement” 1467-1471. National Museum, Gdansk. Stolen by a pirate, donated to a church. St. Michael has the scales in his left hand.

One interesting thing in all depictions of St. Michael is that he is always calm and tranquil, never losing his cool, always somewhat detached from the conflict raging around him. Orthodox, Catholic, medieval or modern, always quiet and meditative.

Most Baroque art, which is what we tend to think of, shows Michael beating up on devils or Satan himself.

The High Altar of the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. The church is in the wall of the Hofburg, on top of Roman and probably even older ruins. Photo by Edgar Hohl, December 18, 2008. Creative Commons Fair Use:
A closer view. Creative Commons Fair Use:

In western Europe, especially France, you find St. Michael chapels and churches on high places, like, oh, Mont St. Michel. In eastern Europe, they are associated with former pagan sites, as in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna, elsewhere in Austria, and Poland, and Hungary, and Croatia, and . . .

Guido Reni “The Archangel Michael Defeating Satan” 1631

I’ve been fond of St. Michael since my adopted grandfather (a paratrooper and devout Southern Baptist) gave me a St. Michael medallion. Tracking him all over Central Europe has also been fascinating, and Christmas Eve mass at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna was the highlight of that particular trip.

Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, the three Biblical archangels.

10 thoughts on “St. Michael and All Angels

  1. In one “real world fantasy”, Michael (called the Captain) sometimes shows up to handle the Bad Guys that the human heroes wouldn’t be able to handle.

    The Captain doesn’t use a sword or spear, he uses a very big gun (that never needs reloading). [Very Big Grin]

  2. Interpretations are everything. And I’ve noted that St. Michael is ALWAYS portrayed as calm, which is interesting.

  3. Religion has inspired some magnificent works of art.
    (I am partial to Gothic cathedrals, but the Baroque period left us with some transcendent art.)

  4. 1. Gabriel and Raphael also have the title of saint, and technically any holy angel is a “saint angel.” The East acknowledges four more named angels in their calendars and doctrine, but the West is shyer about putting traditional names on the calendar. (The three archangels are in the books of Daniel (Michael and Gabriel), Judith (Raphael), Luke (Gabriel), Jude (Michael), and Revelation (Michael). So there you go. Uriel and Salathiel are in 2 Esdras, which isn’t in the Western canon per se. Jegudiel and Barachiel are Eastern tradition.)

    2. A “holy one” is the same as a “saint,” which everyone knows; but we’re used to using the word saint for a different lexical catalog in English.

    Any rational being who isn’t God, but who serves God in Heaven eternally, is a “holy one.”

    Those human beings who have been made parts of the Body of Christ are also “holy ones,” because they have His holiness and have been dedicated to His service. Now, since they are temporal beings, they can be judged and condemned for their temporal actions by Jesus, either after death or at the Last Judgment, whichever comes first. At that point, they are no longer “holy ones” and are kicked out of the Communion of Saints. But while living, even evil Christians are technically “saints.”

    3. Angel worship and angel occultism is something that really does still happen, and that’s why all churches with liturgical acknowledgement of angels also have rules about how they are acknowledged. There’s also a certain feeling in the Church that it’s presumptuous to officially give names to angels that haven’t told you their names, so there’s a fair amount of use of identifiers instead of names.

    • Thank you for the additional info! I’m not surprised that angel worship is still a temptation for some. (Not counting the New-Age-ish “Angels are just spirits and you don’t have to be Jewish/Christian/Muslim to venerate them/get help from them!” woo. Which never ends well.)

  5. Jegudiel and Barachiel are mentioned in the non-canonical 3rd Book of Enoch, but they have a respectable history in both East and West. There’s also an “eighth archangel,” Jeremiel, who is mentioned in 2 Esdras and (under a slightly different name) 3rd Enoch.

    It’s fairly common in older Catholic churches that are Hispanic or German to see sets of seven archangel pictures relating to the Seven Sacraments, but with the four “extra” archangels being given the iconic attributes of Uriel, Salathiel, Jegudiel, and Barachiel.

  6. The Synaxis of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and All the Heavenly Powers is actually November 8, for those on the Eastern calendar. So you can celebrate a Michaelmas again!

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