Seraph

From Academic Kids

A seraph (Hebrew שרף, SRF; in the plural seraphim, שרפים, SRFYM) is one of a class of celestial beings mentioned once in the Old Testament (Tanakh), in Isaiah. Later Jewish imagery perceived them as having human form, and in that way they passed into the ranks of Christian angels.

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Seraphim in Isaiah

Isaiah (6:1-3) records the prophet's vision of the Seraphim:

"... I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew."

In the vision the seraphim cry continually to each other, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory" (vi.3). The "foundations of the thresholds" of the Temple were moved by the sound of their voices.

This is the sole occurrence of the word "seraphim" in the canonic Hebrew Bible as heavenly beings. Since there is no explication of seraphim, it is clear that listeners recognized the beings that were mentioned. The name is unparalleled, but heavenly beings with multiple wings are often represented in art of Israel's neighboring cultures in the Ancient Near East.

The 2nd-century BCE Book of Enoch also mentions the Seraphim, but the term used is the Greek drakones (δράκονες meaning "serpents"). Enoch was never accepted in the Hebrew canon, but it was widely read and quoted by early Christians. From the usage of the word "saraph" in this late text, exegesis identifies as seraphim the snakes responsible for the deaths of the blaspheming Israelites in Numbers chapter 21:"And the LORD sent fiery serpents (Seraphim, in hebrew. הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים)".

Seraphim in the Book of Revelation

While there is no explicit references to seraphim in the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation (4:8) is a description clearly drawn from Isaiah:

"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to sing 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!".

Like the seraphim of Isaiah, these angels sing the Trisagion and bear six wings. If these are Seraphim, then they are again identified with animals.

Missing image
Seraphim_-_Petites_Heures_de_Jean_de_Berry.jpg
Seraphim surround the divine throne in this illustration from the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a 14th-century illuminated manuscript.

Seraphs in Christian theology

In medieval Christian neo-Platonic theology, the Seraphim belong to the highest order, or angelic choir, of the hierarchy of angels. They are said to be the caretakers of God's throne, continuously singing Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, i. e. "holy, holy, holy" — cf "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His Glory" (Isaiah 6:3). This chanting is referred to as the Trisagion

The early medieval writer called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite included seraphs in his "Celestial Hierarchy" (vii), which helped fix the fiery nature of seraphs in the medieval imagination. It is here that the Seraphim are described as being concerned with keeping Divinity in perfect order, and not limited to chanting the trisagion'. Taking his cue from writings in the Rabbinic tradition who gave an etymology for the Seraphim as "those who kindle or make hot":

"The name Seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all- consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness" (Celestial Hierarchy, vii (http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeII/CelestialHierarchy.html))

Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica offers a description of the nature of the Seraphim:

The name "Seraphim" does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius (Coel. Hier. vii) expounds the name "Seraphim" according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things.
"First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God.
"Secondly, the active force which is "heat," which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat.
"Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."

As they were developed in Christian theology, seraphim are beings of pure light and have direct communication with God. They resonate with the fire symbolically attached to both purification and love. The etymology of "seraphim" itself comes from the word saraph. Saraph in all its forms is used to connote a burning, fiery state. Seraphim, as classically depicted, can be identified by their having six wings radiating from the angel's face at the center.

Members of this Angelic Order

Seraphim in fiction

See also

External links

fr:Sraphin he:שרף (מלאך) pl:Serafy

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