Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Uriel--The Archangel Nobody Knows

Bill, of Greenwich Gossip, suggested that the exorcism in Chapter 16 of my Dickens Challenge novel, Things Done and Left Undone, might have been quick and easy if Father Sam had invoked the name of Uriel, the fourth, and least-known of the four principal archangels. All archangels have names ending in "el," meaning God, or "of God." (It's a variation of the Hebrew Elohim and cousin to the Arabic Allah.) Michael means "Who is Like unto God, Gabriel is translated "Man of God," and Raphael means "God's Healing." Uriel means "Fire of God" or "Light of God."

I used the Litany of Saints from the 1957 edition of St. Augustine's Prayer Book for my exorcism rite, with some additions and a lot of subtractions and glosses. I simply listed St. Michael as the first archangel, and went on to other saints. But when I checked back with the book, I found that the good monks of St. Augustine's listed only Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

Michael is mentioned in the Old Testament Book of Daniel, (10:13, 21, 12:1) and in the New Testament Letter of Jude, verse 9, and in Revelation, 12:7-8. Gabriel also shows up in the both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles: in Daniel 8:15-17, and in Luke 1:5-20 and 1:26-38.

The only Biblical reference to Raphael is in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit--one of the Old Testament books originally written in Greek rather than Hebrew, and accepted by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches as canonical, but not by most Protestants. We Anglicans, known for taking the "middle way," put these books at the back of the Old Testament. The Articles of Religion say this of the deuterocanonical books: "And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine..." (Hierome is better known as St. Jerome.)

So Raphael if fine with us Anglicans--he's not establishing any doctrine. But Uriel is in the Third Book of Esdras, which isn't in the Western canon.. He was struck off the list of archangels by Pope Zachary in the year 745:

"At the Council of Rome of 745, Pope St. Zachary, intending to clarify the Church's teaching on the subject of angels and curb a tendency toward angel worship, condemned obsession with angelic intervention and angelolatry, but reaffirmed the approval of the practice of the reverence of angels. This synod struck many angels' names from the list of those eligible for veneration in the Church of Rome, including Uriel. Only the reverence of the archangels mentioned in the recognized Catholic canon of scriptures, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, remained licit."

-Wikipedia article, Uriel

And the monks of St. Augustine's, being in the high Anglo-Catholic tradition, would certainly follow the dictates of a church council from before the break with Rome.

Maybe Bill is right. But I have some doubts. Here's another Wikipedia quote from the article on archangels: "Uriel means "Fire of God", or "Light of God" (III Esdras 3:1, 5:20). He is depicted holding a sword against the Persians in his right hand, and a fiery flame in his left." In my novel, Helena is half-Scottish-American and half-Parsi. She's descended from the Zoroastrian Persians who fled to India after the Arab conquest of Persia. She treasures her Persian heritage and has been known to offer prayers to Ahura Mazda. (She believes the Judeao-Christian God and Ahura Mazda to be one and the same--why else would the Magi have come to worship Jesus?) So I'm not sure how eager Uriel would be to save this half-Persian woman.

But even if Uriel overlooked Helena's Persian ancestry, I needed the exorcism to take some time. Someone once asked John Ford, director of the film "Stagecoach," why the Indians didn't just shoot the horses of the stagecoach (as they certainly would have done in reality). Ford was indignant. It would have destroyed the whole chase scene. Uriel would have gotten the demon out of Helena before it could reveal some unhappy secrets about the characters. Worse than that, I'd have to redo Chapter 17 completely.


Lisa said...

I'm glad Helena wasn't exorcised by the end of the chapter -- it absolutely ought to take longer. If she was "possessed" for two or even three chapters, I don't think you'd be overdoing it.

I had never heard of Uriel before -- but I didn't have much knowledge about any of the angels, so this is a very helpful post.

Bill Clark said...

Fabulous post! Thanks!

According to the Wikipedia article, Uriel is presider over Tartarus (hell), archangel of salvation, and, in later scriptures, identified with Phanuel "face of God." He is often depicted carrying a book or a papyrus scroll representing wisdom. Uriel is a patron of the Arts.

Hence my suggestion that he could have shortened the struggle over Helena - in his first two capacities - although I tend to agree with you and Ford and Lisa that shooting the horses tends to spoil the chase scene; and I suspect that Uriel in his capacity as patron of the arts would also agree.

Oh, and a fig for Pope Zachary and his attempt via his puppet synod to legislate Uriel out of existence. He must have been pretty surprised when - or rather, if - he got to heaven and found out that the archangel he rejected was in charge of salvation. Bet he did a quick 180! And maybe a few centuries of hard time in purgatory as well....

More than ever, I agree with your friend: Henry VIII was right!

Bill Clark said...

Oops - forgot to mention that there is an Episcopal church named for St. Uriel the Archangel in Sea Girt, New Jersey. Its web site is http://urielsg.org/.

Good thing the Anglican Church persevered despite all those dumb popes' interdictions and the depredations of Bloody Mary, so that it can continue to bear witness to Uriel - the Archangel almost nobody knows, but now thanks to Steve, much better-known than a day or two ago! :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting history. I've always intended to do some reading up on angels but have just not had the time. I was surprised to learn, but fascinated, that they had to have a whole gathering to discuss the problem of angel worship.

steve said...

Lisa--Right now I'm debating how long Chapter 17 should be--right now I think it will be a short chapter, titled, "There's Something Happening Here," from the Stephen Stills/Buffalo Springfield song, "For What It's Worth." (Actually a song about the 1967 Sunset Strip riots, but it fits.) Then on to the barricades (literally) for Chapter 18.

There's a whole field of angelology. Remember the Smurf villain Azrael--he's named for the Angel of Death, who separates the soul from the body.

Bill--Thanks for your comment. Maybe we need Uriel to try to get Christians, Jews, and Muslims to stop fighting each other, as he's honored in all three great Abrahamic faiths.

It is interesting that Anglicans have often held on to saints that the Vatican has dismissed. In Oak Park, IL, there's a St. Christopher's. Thanks for the St. Uriel link.

Charles--I didn't know about this council either. But considering there was a council on icons, and on whether or not it was proper to call Mary "Mother of God" (they held that one in Ephesus, shrine of Artemis, one of two virgin Greek godesses, sot the outcome was pretty much assured), so I wasn't really surprised.

Shauna Roberts said...

Very interesting stuff. I'm always fascinated by the tortuous path Christianity has followed to get where it is today, and this chapter in its history I was unfamiliar with.

steve said...

Shauna--This was new for me, too. Thanks for visiting.

bart said...

hallo steve,

thank you for a very informative post, my knowledge of biblical matters has faded away considerably in recent years but this was a good starter for me again...

keep well...

SzélsőFa said...

I have heard of Uriel when I was part of a local Waldorf community (you know, the Rudolf Steiner-stuff.)

A linguistic remark:
'el' means 'God' in the languages you state, but 'él' means 'alive'/'living' in Hungarian.

é is a vowel close to 'a' in 'say'.

steve said...

Bart--This is kind of obscure Biblical knowledge, unless you're with Bill and see Uriel as the chief archangel. I'm glad it was a starter.

Szelsofa--Very interesting. I think I've heard of Rudolf Steiner, but I had to look him up in Wikipedia. His movement seems to have some connection with Madame Blatavsky and Theosophy, but Steiner's Anthroposophy seems to have more substance to it.

The linguistic remark is interesting, although Hebrew and Arabic are in the Semitic language family, where Hungarian is in the Uralic family. It's either a happy coincidence or perhaps we're looking at a connection from before the language families developed. I could see Jungians arguing that it might be related to the collective unconscious. Is é in SzélsőFa pronounced the same way?

SzélsőFa said...


Antroposophy, as much as I understood it while my son was attenting the local Waldorf school, emphasized the improvement of the conscious, and valued human consciousness, being in search of 'something higher' above all. Being human was of high importance, and non human beings (plants, animals and even minerals) was on lower level of consciuosness, thus, of importance.
This is partly the reason that made me turn away from this otherwise interesting and beautiful idea.

Theosophyon the other hand, sees the simultaneous and similar (same-level) presence of God behind every single being on Earth, from the smallest of beetles to humans.
This idea appeals to me and if I had to choose between theosophy and anthroposophy I would choose the former at any moment.

Re: é in Szélsőfa, yes.
Hungarian vowels stay as what they are, regardless of their companion wovels or consonants in a word.

Re:Hungarian being an Uralic language. It is true, but there are so many other languages Hungarian is related to.

Daniel said...

Sitting on the inside of an anthroposophic community, anthroposophy is about an inner searching and questiong. Its derived from the greek words for human and wisdom... and there lies its true meaning, the search for human wisdom. It relies heavily upon interpretation of the Christian tradition. The celebration of festivals, and their symbolic Christian meaning. In the case of Uriel, the fourth most mysterious of the archangels guides us through the time over mid-summer. He is the wrath of God and as such provides the most difficult mirror for humanity to face. Because with true objective judgement he reflects back. These are images we have had for Uriel. But of course we are constantly searching. And particularly asking ourselves where is Uriel in our daily lives.

Angel said...

Thank you for the information on the angels.

Uriel Wang said...

Interesting post with an intriguing title. I always wonder how do Anglicans preserve the veneration of Uriel despite the council in 745 which held long before the break with Rome. It seems that there’s no information about this history online.

There’s a book in Italian specially dedicated to this angel, Inchiesta su Uriele: l’Arcangelo scomparso (An investigation of Uriel, the Lost Archangel: https://www.romereports.com/en/2011/11/27/the-story-of-uriel-the-039-forgotten-039-archangel/). For what I understand this is a serious documentary book, not that of the New Age type. It’ll be great if such a book available in English.