General Seminary’s new Professor of Ascetical Theology, Clair McPherson, has been on the road teaching about angels and demons, his current research interest. Most recently, he has presented on the topic at Fordham University and offered a series of lectures entitled Medieval Visions: Angels & Demons in Word, Art & Icon for Gladdening Light, in Winter Park, Florida, an institution exploring the nexus of faith and art. In a forthcoming book, Prof. McPherson will trace the development of the tradition of angels and demons as it developed from scattered sources in diverse places over many centuries. “Most people read the word angel in the Bible and envision a winged, lovely, and sweetly benevolent being. This is always wrong,” notes Prof. McPherson. “No angels in Scripture have wings, and few are lovely when they do appear. Some are benevolent, some aren’t, and not one is sweet.” For example, the cherub in the Old Testament is a fearsome-looking guardian spirit and is never called an angel anywhere in Scripture. That identification did not happen until the second or third century CE, with the Christian apocryphal gospels. Similarly, the powers, thrones and dominions in the letters of Paul are not angels until Origen calls them such. By the sixth century, Pseudo-Dionysius can give the full nine-ranked, organized angelic hierarchy, McPherson adds, a tradition of angels gradually to be weakened and trivialized in the modern era.
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