Definitions

seraph

seraph

[ser-uhf]
seraph, plural seraphim, supernatural being. The name seems to derive from the Hebrew word "to burn." According to the Book of Isaiah, seraphim have six wings. Scholars have suggested that seraphim were winged serpents. In Numbers, the word "seraph" denotes a "fiery" (i.e. poisonous) serpent. Like cherubim, seraphim are associated with the glory of God, as in the liturgy. See also cherub.

In Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literature, a celestial being with two or three pairs of wings who guards the throne of God. In Christian angelology, seraphim are the highest-ranking in the hierarchy of angels. In art they are often painted red, symbolizing fire. They appear in the Old Testament in a vision of Isaiah as six-winged creatures praising God. Seealso cherub.

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A seraph (Heb. שׂרף, pl. שׂרפים Seraphim, lat. seraph[us], pl. seraphi[m]) is one of a class of celestial beings mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh or Old Testament), in Isaiah. Later Jewish imagery perceived them as having human form, and in that way they passed into the ranks of Christian angels. In the Christian angelic hierarchy, seraphim represent the highest known rank of angels.

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 Hekhal (sanctuary). 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.

Although this is the sole occurrence of the word "seraphim" in the canonic Hebrew Bible, seraphim appear more than once in the Book of Enoch where they are designated as drakones (δράκονες "serpents"), and are mentioned, in conjunction with the cherubim, as the heavenly creatures standing nearest to the throne of God.

Seraph literally means "burning ones" in the Hebrew (Sarap, 'to burn'). A word of the same spelling is used of snakes (e.g. Isaiah 30v6), misleading some to think them serpent-guardians. The word 'seraphim' Isaiah uses has no definite article; it is a description not a title. Note also how their ministry to Isaiah involves 'burning'.

Seraphim in Judaism

Seraphim are part of the angelarchy of Orthodox Judaism, and Isaiah's vision is repeated several times in daily Jewish services, including at Kedushah prayer added as part of the repetition of the Amidah and in several other prayers as well.

Seraphim occupy the fifth rank of ten ranks of angels in Maimonides' exposition of the Jewish angelic hierarchy.

Conservative Judaism retains the traditional belief in angels, including references in the liturgy, although a literal belief in angels is by no means universal among Conservative Jews.

Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally do not believe in angels, although they may retain references for metaphorical purposes.

Seraphim in Christianity

The Seraphim make their first Christian appearance in the Book of Revelation iv. 6-8, where they are forever in God's presence and praising Him constantly: "Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.'" The Seraphim and the Cherubim are, in Christian theology, two separate types of angels. The descriptions of the Seraphim, Cherubim and Ophanim are often similar, but still distinguishable.

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 Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy (vii), helped fix the fiery nature of seraphim 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, the author 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

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae 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."

With the revival of neo-Platonism in the academy formed around Lorenzo de' Medici, the seraphim took on a mystic role in Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487), the epitome of Renaissance humanism. Pico took the fiery Seraphim—"they burn with the fire of charity"—as the highest models of human aspiration: "impatient of any second place, let us emulate dignity and glory. And, if we will it, we shall be inferior to them in nothing", the young Pico announced, in the first flush of optimistic confidence in the human capacity that is the coinage of the Renaissance. "In the light of intelligence, meditating upon the Creator in His work, and the work in its Creator, we shall be resplendent with the light of the Cherubim. If we burn with love for the Creator only, his consuming fire will quickly transform us into the flaming likeness of the Seraphim."

St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian who was a contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, uses the six wings of the seraph as an important analogical construct in his mystical work The Journey of the Mind to God.

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.

Seraphim in popular culture

  • The lead vocalist of the popular Christian Rock band "Skillet", John Cooper, first sang for a Tennessee alternative rock band called "Seraph".
  • In the videogame "Final Fantasy III" (Final Fantasy VI in Japan), the "Esper" named "Sraphim" is attainable and has the ability to restore life to players.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the main antagonist Sephiroth becomes a six-winged angel after absorbing the Planet's energy; his name and several things relating to him are also references to 'angels' and Christianity.
  • The character Seraph in The Matrix, is named for this class of Angel.
  • In the manga and anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Angels who are the main superhuman antagonists of NERV, are named after the Seraphim. Also, during The End of Evangelion, the Eva's display Seraph wing configuration, the wings being of pure energy. As in mythology, they are golden in colour, and translucent. The furling out of the wings symbolises the beginning of Judgement, the Sacrifice.
  • in the videogame "Demikids", "Seraphim" (sic) is the name of a demon that appears in old tower. It is a large being with two hands, six wings, and a large crystal ball in its chest, and is one of the strongest demons one can find in the game.
  • In the Digimon franchise there is a digimon named Seraphimon.
  • In Series 5 of the X Files, an episode called, "All Souls" featured a Seraph who had returned to earth to reclaim the souls of four young girls, born with deformities. Agent Scully released one girl to the seraph to protect her from a demon.
  • The Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem have a song on their 1997 EP Wolf's Lair Abyss called 'Fall of Seraphs'.
  • In the videogame Tales of Symphonia, there is a group called "The Four Seraphim", who watch over the world, but mainly the chosen, so that they will not stray on the path of regeneration.
  • In the Halo series, there is a class of Covenant space ship called "Seraph".
  • Metatron, a supporting character in the movie "Dogma" is a Seraph.
  • In Edgar Allan Poe poem The Haunted Palace

"In the monarch Thought's dominion- It stood there!- Never seraph a pinion.- Over fabric half so fair!".

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns"

  • In the Japanese manga by Kaori Yuki titled Angel Sanctuary, they are mentioned and some are key characters.
  • The Seraphim are a race in Supreme Commander, connected to the Way
  • The Seraphim are a character race in the 'Sacred' series of computer games, being female "angelic" beings widely regarded as agents of Good.
  • A species of angels used in the book series by Bryana deVries, Mourn.

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