In Catholic theology, the cherubim are the second highest rank in the angelic hierarchy, below the Seraphim.
The cherubim are one of the company of angels spoken of in Hebrews 12:22 which have an indefinite number. It is important to know the classification of angels to better understand the organization of God.
Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica (I.108) followed the Hierarchia (6.7) in dividing the angels into three hierarchies each of which contains three orders, based on their proximity to God, corresponding to the nine orders of angels recognized by St. Gregory.
- Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones;
- Dominations, Virtues, and Powers;
- Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
The word cherub (cherubim is the Hebrew masculine plural) is a word borrowed from the Assyrian kirubu, from karâbu, it means “to be near”, like a personal servant or bodyguard. It was commonly used of those heavenly spirits, who closely surrounded the Majesty of God and paid Him intimate service. It came to mean as much as “Angelic Spirit”.
The cherub have an intimate knowledge of God and continually worship and praise Him. They are first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 3:24, “After He drove the man out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Prior to his rebellion, Satan was a cherub (Ezekiel 28:12-15). The tabernacle and temple along with their articles contained many representations of cherubim (Exodus 25:17-22; 26:1, 31; 36:8; 1 Kings 6:23-35; 7:29-36; 8:6-7; 1 Chronicles 28:18;2 Chronicles 3:7-14; 2 Chronicles 3:10-13; 5:7-8; Hebrews 9:5).
We read in chapters 1 and 10 of the book of Ezekiel describe the Cherub (Ezekiel1:5). Each are said to have four faces: that of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Also, that they possess the torso and hands of a man, the feet of a calf and have four wings. Two wings extended upward and meet above the Cherub and in doing so hold up the throne of God. The other two wings are extended down and actually cover the Cherub’s body. Their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, are full of eyes round about. (Ezekiel 10:1-22).
Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory described as the appearance of a sapphire stone and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man high above it. This is the likeness of the glory of the Lord. “The dazzling light of the Lord’s presence rose up from the creatures and moved to the entrance of the Temple.Then the cloud filled the Temple, and the courtyard was blazing with the light. The noise made by the creatues’ wings was heard even in the outer courtyard.
It sounded like the voice of Almighty God”. (Ezekiel 10:1-22).
The cherubim became the power by which the Lord God’s chariots or throne was able to fly. (Ezekiel 1:14-28).
Ezekiel witnessed the departure of the Lord’s glory from the temple. The glory went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the temple. The glory of the Lord departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. The cherubim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in the sight of Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 10:2-19).
Cherubs and Cherubim are most frequently referred to in the Bible to designate sculptured, engraved, and embroidered figures used in the furniture and ornamentation of the Jewish Sanctuary. The imagery of Revelation 4:6-9 also seems to be describing cherubim.
The cherubim serve the purpose of magnifying the holiness and power of God. This is one of their main responsibilities throughout the Bible. In addition to singing God’s praises, they also serve as a visible reminder of the majesty and glory of God and His abiding presence with His people.
In Genesis, two Cherubim were placed by God at the entrance of paradise. Also in 1 Kings 6:23 , and 2 Chronicles 3:11, Solomon placed in the Holy of Holies two huge Cherubim of olive-wood overlaid with gold. “They stood on their feet and their faces were towards the house”, which probably means they faced the Holy Place or the Entrance.
Cherubim were embroidered on the Veil of the Tabernacle, separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. “With blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen” they were made. How many such cherubim were embroidered on the Paroket, or Veil, we do not know. It is often supposed that as this veil screened the Holy Holies, two large-sized figures to represent guardian spirits or keepers were depicted. Exod, xxvi, 31,
We are warned in (Colossians 2:18) not to worship angels. Let no man defraud your reward by delighting in false humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.
In the Book of Revelations and after which John saw and heard all that he was permitted, he fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which had shown him all those things. The angel told him NOT to bow down because he was a fellow servant, and a brother of the prophets, instead he should worship the Lord God. (Revelation 22:8-9).
Words by Noreen Bavister, England