Overview of the spiritual hierarchies

From Anthroposophy


  • macro-cosmological perspective
  • micro-cosmological perspective - the human being
  • the evolutionary process of the hierarchies as mapped to planetary stages of evolution (rolling off and 'passing the baton')
  • representation of the hierarchies in art
  • offsprings of the hierarchies


Schema FMC00.273 provides an overview of terminology used in various teachings for the spiritiual hierarchies.


Schema FMC00.274 sketches a functional view on how we can imagine the work of the first and second spiritual hierarchy in hat we call the cosmos or the world of the stars and planetary systems.


Lecture coverage and references

Coverage in Rudolf Steiner's GA

Rudolf Steiner goes furthers than all the above, and then ever before in the open teachings on spiritual science. He explicitlys cover the spiritual hierarchies in depth, one could say in two main sections.

  • First the period 1908-1912, with four main cycles (42 lectures) (and a few flanker cycles), see below:
    • 1908-GA102 - The Influence of Spiritual Beings on Man
    • 1909-GA110 - The Spiritual Hierarchies - Their Reflection in the Physical World
    • 1910-06-GA121 - The Mission of Folk-Souls
    • 1912-04-GA136 - The Spiritual Beings in the Heavenly Bodies and in the Kingdoms of Nature

as well as 1908-08-GA105 - Universe, Earth and Man.

  • Secondly the period 1921-24, and especially the years 1922-23, where Rudolf Steiner integrates the hierarchies into the extensive coverage of the threefold being and the processing of karma. This time the coverage of the hierarchies are more woven into lecture cycles, and with individual lectures; rather than through specific 'named cycles' to cover the hierarchies (as in the period 1908-12). This second section of lectures is complemenytary and no less rich in depth and breath of contents.
    • Examples are
      • 1921-GA207 and GA208 - Cosmosophy Vol 1 and 2
      • 1923-11-GA231 - Supersensible Man

Building on the 1908 and 1909 cycles, especially the 1912 lecture course stands out as not just unique but also bewildering in terms of insights and images sketched for contemplation and imagination.

Historical coverage - various sources

Pseudo Dionysius the Areopagite (ca 5th century) is the first main written source of teachings with 'De Coelesti Hierarchia' or 'The Celestial Hierarchy'   

  • First sphere: 1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Thrones;
  • Second sphere: 4. Authorities, 5. Lordships, 6. Powers;
  • Third sphere: 7. Principalities, 8. Archangels, 9. Angels.

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) writes in 'Summa Theologica':

5. There are three angelic hierarchies. Each hierarchy hasthree orders. All the heavenly spirits of all hierarchies andorders are called angels. Thus the term angel is common and generic. The same name, usually with a capital letter, is the proper and collective name for the lowest order of the lowest hierarchy of heavenly spirits. We must therefore distinguish angel, which means any heavenly spirit from highest tolowest, from Angel which means a member of the lowest order of all.

6. The following hierarchies and orders exist among the angels:

(a) The highest hierarchy includes the orders of (indescending order of rank) Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones.

(b) The middle hierarchy includes (in descending order of rank) the ordersof Dominations, Virtues, Powers.

(c) The lowest hierarchy includes (in descending order of rank) Principalities, Archangels, Angels.

This classification is commonly, but not unanimously, accepted by learned doctors.

7. After the end of this bodily world, the angelic orderswill continue to exist, but their offices will not be altogether the same as they now are, for they will then no longer need to help human beings to save their souls.

8. By the gifts of grace, human beings can merit glory in a degree that makes them equal to the angels in each of the orders. Therefore, human beings who get to heaven are taken into the angelic orders. But these human beings remain human beings; they are not turned into angels.

Other sources and their terminology

The various sources illustrate the different terminology used, see also Schema FMC00.273 above for a condensed version

Clement of Rome in 'Apostolic Constitutions' (1st century):

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Aeons, 4. Hosts, 5. Powers, 6. Authorities, 7. Principalities, 8. Thrones, 9. Archangels, 10. Angels, 11. Dominions.

St. Ambrose in 'Apologia Prophet David' (4th century):

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Dominations, 4. Thrones, 5. Principalities, 6. Potentates (or Powers), 7. Virtues, 8. Angels, 9. Archangels.

St. Jerome (4th century):

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Powers, 4. Dominions (Dominations), 5. Thrones, 6. Archangels, 7. Angels.

St. Gregory the Great in 'Homilia' (6th century)

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Thrones, 4. Dominations, 5. Principalities, 6. Powers, 7. Virtues, 8. Archangels, 9. Angels.

St. Isidore of Seville in 'Etymologiae' (7th century):

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Powers, 4. Principalities, 5. Virtues, 6. Dominations, 7. Thrones, 8. Archangels, 9. Angels.

John of Damascus in 'De Fide Orthodoxa' (8th century):

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Thrones, 4. Dominions, 5. Powers, 6. Authorities (Virtues), 7. Rulers (Principalities), 8. Archangels, 9. Angels

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) in 'Scivias':

1. Seraphim, Cherubim;

2. Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers and Virtues;

3. Archangels and Angels.

Dante Alighieri (1308–1321) in 'The Divine Comedy'

1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Thrones, 4. Dominations, 5. Virtues, 6. Powers, 7. Principalities, 8. Archangels, 9. Angels.


Related pages

References and further reading

  • Ewald Grether: 'Geistige Hierarchien' - Der Mensch und die übersinnliche Welt in der Darstellung grosser Seher des Abendlandes. Dionysius Areopagita, Dante Alighieri, Rudolf Steiner (1962)