Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.
Angels of the Indians, Persians, etc.

The author of the article “Angel” in the Encyclopædia says that all religions have admitted the existence of angels, although it is not demonstrated by natural reason.

We understand by this word, ministers of God, supernatural is beyond reason. If I mistake not it should have been several religions (and not all) have acknowledged the existence of angels. That of Numa, that of Sabaism, that of the Druids, that of the Scythians, and that of the Phœnicians and ancient Egyptians did not admit their existence.

We understand by this word, ministers of God, deputies, beings of a middle order between God and man, sent to make known to us His orders.

At the present time — in 1772 — the Brahmins boast of having possessed in writing, for just four thousand eight hundred and seventy-eight years, their first sacred law, entitled the Shastah, fifteen hundred years before their second law, called Veidam, signifying the word of God. The Shastah contains five chapters; the first, of God and His attributes; the second, of the creation of the angels; the third, of the fall of the angels; the fourth, of their punishment; the fifth, of their pardon, and the creation of man.

It is good, in the first place, to observe the manner in which this book speaks of God.

First Chapter of the Shastah.

God is one; He has created all; it is a perfect sphere, without beginning or end. God conducts the whole creation by a general providence, resulting from a determined principle. Thou shalt not seek to discover the nature and essence of the Eternal, nor by what laws He governs; such an undertaking would be vain and criminal. It is enough for thee to contemplate day and night in His works, His wisdom, His power, and His goodness.

After paying to this opening of the Shastah the tribute of admiration which is due to it, let us pass to the creation of the angels.

Second Chapter of the Shastah.

The Eternal, absorbed in the contemplation of His own existence, resolved, in the fulness of time, to communicate His glory and His essence to beings capable of feeling and partaking His beatitude as well as of contributing to His glory. The Eternal willed it, and they were. He formed them partly of His own essence, capable of perfection or imperfection, according to their will.

The Eternal first created Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, then Mozazor, and all the multitude of the angels. The Eternal gave the pre-eminence to Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Brahma was the prince of the angelic army; Vishnu and Siva were His coadjutors. The Eternal divided the angelic army into several bands, and gave to each a chief. They adored the Eternal, ranged around His throne, each in the degree assigned him. There was harmony in heaven. Mozazor, chief of the first band, led the canticle of praise and adoration to the Creator, and the song of obedience to Brahma, his first creature; and the Eternal rejoiced in His new creation.

Chapter 29

From the creation of the celestial army, joy and harmony surrounded the throne of the Eternal for a thousand years multiplied by a thousand, and would have lasted until the end of time had not envy seized Mozazor and other princes of the angelic bands, among whom was Raabon, the next in dignity to Mozazor. Forgetful of the blessing of their creation, and of their duty, they rejected the power of perfection, and exercised the power of imperfection. They did evil in the sight of the Eternal; they disobeyed Him; they refused to submit to God’s lieutenant and his coadjutors Vishnu and Siva, saying: “We will govern,” and, without fearing the power and the anger of their Creator, disseminated their seditious principles in the celestial army. They seduced the angels, and persuaded a great multitude of them to rebel; and they forsook the throne of the Eternal; and sorrow came upon the faithful angelic spirits; and for the first time grief was known in heaven.

Chapter 29

The Eternal, whose omniscience, prescience, and influence extend over all things except the action of the beings whom He has created free, beheld with grief and anger the defection of Mozazor, Raabon, and the other chiefs of the angels.

Merciful in his wrath, he sent Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva to reproach them with their crime, and bring them back to their duty; but, confirmed in their spirit of independence, they persisted in their revolt. The Eternal then commanded Siva to march against them, armed with almighty power, and hurl them down from the high place to the place of darkness, into the Ondera, there to be punished for a thousand years multiplied by a thousand.

Abstract of the Fifth Chapter.

At the end of a thousand years Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva implored the clemency of the Eternal in favor of the delinquents. The Eternal vouchsafed to deliver them from the prison of the Ondera, and place them in a state of probation during a great number of solar revolutions. There were other rebellions against God during this time of penitence.

It was at one of these periods that God created the earth, where the penitent angels underwent several metempsychoses, one of the last of which was their transformation into cows. Hence it was that cows became sacred in India. Lastly, they were metamorphosed into men.

So that the Indian system of angels is precisely that of the Jesuit Bougeant, who asserts that the bodies of beasts are inhabited by sinful angels. What the Brahmins had invented seriously, Bougeant, more than four thousand years after, imagined in jest — if, indeed, this pleasantry of his was not a remnant of superstition, combined with the spirit of system-making, as is often the case.

Such is the history of the angels among the ancient Brahmins, which, after the lapse of about fifty centuries, they still continue to teach. Neither our merchants who have traded in India, nor our missionaries, have ever been informed of it; for the Brahmins, having never been edified by their science or their manners, have not communicated to them their secrets. It was left for an Englishman, named Holwell, to reside for thirty years at Benares, on the Ganges, an ancient school of the Brahmins, to learn the ancient Sanscrit tongue, in order at length to enrich our Europe with this singular knowledge; just as Mr. Sale lived a long time in Arabia to give us a faithful translation of the Koran and information relative to ancient Sabaism, which has been succeeded by the Mussulman religion; and as Dr. Hyde continued for twenty years his researches into everything concerning the religion of the Magi.

Angels of the Persians.

The Persians had thirty-one angels. The first of all, who is served by four other angels, is named Bahaman. He has the inspection of all animals except man, over whom God has reserved to himself an immediate jurisdiction.

God presides over the day on which the sun enters the Ram, and this day is a Sabbath, which proves that the feast of the Sabbath was observed among the Persians in the ancient times. The second angel presides over the seventh day, and is called Debadur. The third is Kur, which probably was afterwards converted into Cyrus. He is the angel of the sun. The fourth is called Mah, and presides over the moon. Thus each angel has his province. It was among the Persians that the doctrine of the guardian angel and the evil angel was first adopted. It is believed that Raphael was the guardian angel of the Persian Empire.

Angels of the Hebrews.

The Hebrews knew nothing of the fall of the angels until the commencement of the Christian era. This secret doctrine of the ancient Brahmins must have reached them at that time, for it was then that the book attributed to Enoch, relative to the sinful angels driven from heaven, was fabricated.

Enoch must have been a very ancient writer, since, according to the Jews, he lived in the seventh generation before the deluge. But as Seth, still more ancient than he, had left books to the Hebrews, they might boast of having some from Enoch also. According to them Enoch wrote as follows:

“It happened, after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful. And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them they became enamored of them, saying to each other: ‘Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.’ Then their leader, Samyaza, said to them: ‘I fear that you may perhaps be indisposed to the performance of this enterprise, and that I alone shall suffer for so grievous a crime.’ But they answered him and said: ‘We all swear, and bind ourselves by mutual execrations, that we will not change our intention, but execute our projected undertaking.’

“Then they swore all together, and all bound themselves by mutual execrations. Their whole number was two hundred, who descended upon Ardis, which is the top of Mount Armon. That mountain, therefore, was called Armon, because they had sworn upon it, and bound themselves by mutual execrations. These are the names of their chiefs: Samyaza, who was their leader; Urakabarameel, Akabeel, Tamiel, Ramuel, Danel, Azkeel, Sarakuyal, Asael, Armers, Batraal, Anane, Zavebe, Samsaveel, Ertael, Turel, Yomyael, Arazyal. These were the prefects of the two hundred angels, and the remainder were all with them.

“Then they took wives, each choosing for himself, whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited, teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees. And the women, conceiving, brought forth giants, whose stature was each three hundred cubits,” etc.

The author of this fragment writes in the style which seems to belong to the primitive ages. He has the same simplicity. He does not fail to name the persons, nor does he forget the dates; here are no reflections, no maxims. It is the ancient Oriental manner.

It is evident that this story is founded on the sixth chapter of Genesis: “There were giants in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis and the Book of Enoch perfectly agree respecting the coupling of the angels with the daughters of men, and the race of giants which sprung from this union; but neither this Enoch, nor any book of the Old Testament, speaks of the war of the angels against God, or of their defeat, or of their fall into hell, or of their hatred to mankind.

Nearly all the commentators on the Old Testament unanimously say that before the Babylonian captivity, the Jews knew not the name of any angel. The one that appeared to Manoah, father of Samson, would not tell his name.

When the three angels appeared to Abraham, and he had a whole calf dressed to regale them, they did not tell him their names. One of them said: “I will come to see thee next year, if God grant me life; and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.”

Calmet discovers a great affinity between this story and the fable which Ovid relates in his “Fasti,” of Jupiter, Neptune, and Mercury, who, having supped with old Hyreus, and finding that he was afflicted with impotence, urinated upon the skin of a calf which he had served up to them, and ordered him to bury this hide watered with celestial urine in the ground, and leave it there for nine months. At the end of the nine months, Hyreus uncovered his hide, and found in it a child, which was named Orion, and is now in the heavens. Calmet moreover says that the words which the angels used to Abraham may be rendered thus: A child shall be born of your calf.

Be this as it may, the angels did not tell Abraham their names; they did not even tell them to Moses; and we find the name of Raphael only in Tobit, at the time of the captivity. The other names of angels are evidently taken from the Chaldæans and the Persians. Raphael, Gabriel, and Uriel, are Persian or Babylonian. The name of Israel itself is Chaldæan, as the learned Jew Philo expressly says, in the account of his deputation to Caligula.

We shall not here repeat what has been elsewhere said of angels.

Whether the Greeks and the Romans admitted the Existence of Angels.

They had gods and demi-gods enough to dispense with all other subaltern beings. Mercury executed the commissions of Jupiter, and Iris those of Juno; nevertheless, they admitted genii and demons. The doctrine of guardian angels was versified by Hesiod, who was contemporary with Homer. In his poem of “The Works and Days” he thus explains it:

When gods alike and mortals rose to birth,

A golden race the immortals formed on earth

Of many-languaged men; they lived of old,

When Saturn reigned in heaven — an age of gold.

Like gods they lived, with calm, untroubled mind,

Free from the toil and anguish of our kind.

Nor sad, decrepit age approaching nigh,

Their limbs misshaped with swoln deformity.

Strangers to ill, they Nature’s banquet proved,

Rich in earth’s fruits, and of the blest beloved:

They sank to death, as opiate slumber stole

Soft o’er the sense, and whelmed the willing soul.

Theirs was each good: the grain-exuberant soil

Poured the full harvest, uncompelled by toil:

The virtuous many dwelt in common, blest,

And all unenvying shared what all in peace possessed.

When on this race the verdant earth had lain,

By Jove’s high will they rose a Genii train:

Earth-wandering dæmons, they their charge began,

The ministers of good and guards of man:

Veiled with a mantle of aerial night,

O’er earth’s wide space they wing their hovering flight;

Dispense the fertile treasures of the ground,

And bend their all-observant glance around;

To mark the deed unjust, the just approve,

Their kingly office, delegate from Jove.

Elton’s Translation.

The farther we search into antiquity, the more we see how modern nations have by turns explored these now almost abandoned mines. The Greeks, who so long passed for inventors, imitated Egypt, which had copied from the Chaldæans, who owed almost everything to the Indians. The doctrine of the guardian angels, so well sung by Hesiod, was afterwards sophisticated in the schools: it was all that they were capable of doing. Every man had his good and his evil genius, as each one had his particular star —

Est genius natale comes qui temperat astrum.

Socrates, we know, had his good angel; but his bad angel must have governed him. No angel but an evil one could prompt a philosopher to run from house to house, to tell people, by question and answer, that father and mother, preceptor and pupil, were all ignorant and imbecile. A guardian angel in that event will find it very difficult to save his protégé from the hemlock.

We are acquainted only with the evil angel of Marcus Brutus, which appeared to him before the battle of Philippi.

§ II.

The doctrine of angels is one of the oldest in the world. It preceded that of the immortality of the soul. This is not surprising; philosophy is necessary to the belief that the soul of mortal man is immortal; but imagination and weakness are sufficient for the invention of beings superior to ourselves, protecting or persecuting us. Yet it does not appear that the ancient Egyptians had any notion of these celestial beings, clothed with an ethereal body and administering to the orders of a God. The ancient Babylonians were the first who admitted this theology. The Hebrew books employ the angels from the first book of Genesis downwards: but the Book of Genesis was not written before the Chaldæans had become a powerful nation: nor was it until the captivity of Babylon that the Jews learned the names of Gabriel, Raphael, Michael, Uriel, etc., which were given to the angels. The Jewish and Christian religions being founded on the fall of Adam, and this fall being founded on the temptation by the evil angel, the devil, it is very singular that not a word is said in the Pentateuch of the existence of the bad angels, still less of their punishment and abode in hell.

The reason of this omission is evident: the evil angels were unknown to the Jews until the Babylonian captivity; then it is that Asmodeus begins to be talked of, whom Raphael went to bind in Upper Egypt; there it is that the Jews first hear of Satan. This word Satan was Chaldæan; and the Book of Job, an inhabitant of Chaldæa, is the first that makes mention of him.

The ancient Persians said Satan was an angel or genius who had made war upon the Dives and the Peris, that is, the fairest of the East.

Thus, according to the ordinary rules of probability, those who are guided by reason alone might be permitted to think that, from this theology, the Jews and Christians at length took the idea that the evil angels had been driven out of heaven, and that their prince had tempted Eve, in the form of a serpent.

It has been pretended that Isaiah, in his fourteenth chapter, had this allegory in view when he said: “Quomodo occidisti de cœlo, Lucifer, qui mane oriebaris?” “How hast thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?”

It was this same Latin verse, translated from Isaiah, which procured for the devil the name of Lucifer. It was forgotten that Lucifer signifies “that which sheds light.” The words of Isaiah, too, have received a little attention; he is speaking of the dethroned king of Babylon; and by a common figure of speech, he says to him: “How hast thou fallen from heaven, thou brilliant star?”

It does not at all appear that Isaiah sought, by this stroke of rhetoric, to establish the doctrine of the angels precipitated into hell. It was scarcely before the time of the primitive Christian church that the fathers and the rabbis exerted themselves to encourage this doctrine, in order to save the incredibility of the story of a serpent which seduced the mother of men, and which, condemned for this bad action to crawl on its belly, has ever since been an enemy to man, who is always striving to crush it, while it is always endeavoring to bite him. There seemed to be somewhat more of sublimity in celestial substances precipitated into the abyss, and issuing from it to persecute mankind.

It cannot be proved by any reasoning that these celestial and infernal powers exist; neither can it be proved that they do not exist. There is certainly no contradiction in acknowledging the existence of beneficent and malignant substances which are neither of the nature of God nor of the nature of man: but a thing, to be believed, must be more than possible.

The angels who, according to the Babylonians and the Jews, presided over nations, were precisely what the gods of Homer were — celestial beings, subordinate to a supreme being. The imagination which produced the one probably produced the other. The number of the inferior gods increased with the religion of Homer. Among the Christians, the number of the angels was augmented in the course of time.

The writers known by the names of Dionysius the Areopagite and Gregory I. fixed the number of angels in nine choirs, forming three hierarchies; the first consisting of the seraphim, cherubim, and thrones; the second of the dominations, virtues and powers; and the third of the principalities, archangels, and, lastly, the angels, who give their domination to all the rest. It is hardly permissible for any one but a pope thus to settle the different ranks in heaven.

§ III.

Angel, in Greek, is envoy. The reader will hardly be the wiser for being told that the Persians had their peris, the Hebrews their malakim, and the Greeks their demonoi.

But it is perhaps better worth knowing that one of the first of man’s ideas has always been to place intermediate beings between the Divinity and himself; such were those demons, those genii, invented in the ages of antiquity. Man always made the gods after his own image; princes were seen to communicate their orders by messengers; therefore, the Divinity had also his couriers. Mercury, Iris, were couriers or messengers.

The Jews, the only people under the conduct of the Divinity Himself, did not at first give names to the angels whom God vouchsafed to send them; they borrowed the names given them by the Chaldæans when the Jewish nation was captive in Babylon; Michael and Gabriel are named for the first time by Daniel, a slave among those people. The Jew Tobit, who lived at Ninevah, knew the angel Raphael, who travelled with his son to assist him in recovering the money due to him from the Jew Gabaël.

In the laws of the Jews, that is, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, not the least mention is made of the existence of the angels — much less of the worship of them. Neither did the Sadducees believe in the angels.

But in the histories of the Jews, they are much spoken of. The angels were corporeal; they had wings at their backs, as the Gentiles feigned that Mercury had at his heels; sometimes they concealed their wings under their clothing. How could they be without bodies, since they all ate and drank, and the inhabitants of Sodom wanted to commit the sin of pederasty with the angels who went to Lot’s house?

The ancient Jewish tradition, according to Ben Maimon, admits ten degrees, ten orders of angels:

1. The chaios ecodesh, pure, holy. 2. The ofamin, swift. 3. The oralim, strong. 4. The chasmalim, flames. 5. The seraphim, sparks. 6. The malakim, angels, messengers, deputies. 7. The elohim, gods or judges. 8. The ben elohim, sons of the gods. 9. The cherubim, images. 10. The ychim, animated.

The story of the fall of the angels is not to be found in the books of Moses. The first testimony respecting it is that of Isaiah, who, apostrophizing the king of Babylon, exclaims, “Where is now the exacter of tributes? The pines and the cedars rejoice in his fall. How hast thou fallen from heaven, O Hellel, star of the morning?” It has been already observed that the word Hellel has been rendered by the Latin word Lucifer; that afterwards, in an allegorical sense, the name of Lucifer was given to the prince of the angels, who made war in heaven; and that, at last, this word, signifying Phosphorus and Aurora, has become the name of the devil.

The Christian religion is founded on the fall of the angels. Those who revolted were precipitated from the spheres which they inhabited into hell, in the centre of the earth, and became devils. A devil, in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve, and damned mankind. Jesus came to redeem mankind, and to triumph over the devil, who tempts us still. Yet this fundamental tradition is to be found nowhere but in the apocryphal book of Enoch; and there it is in a form quite different from that of the received tradition.

St. Augustine, in his 109th letter, does not hesitate to give slender and agile bodies to the good and bad angels. Pope Gregory I. has reduced to nine choirs — to nine hierarchies or orders — the ten choirs of angels acknowledged by the Jews.

The Jews had in their temple two cherubs, each with two heads — the one that of an ox, the other that of an eagle, with six wings. We paint them now in the form of a flying head, with two small wings below the ears. We paint the angels and archangels in the form of young men, with two wings at the back. As for the thrones and dominations, no one has yet thought of painting them.

St. Thomas, at question cviii. article 2, says that the thrones are as near to God as the cherubim and the seraphim, because it is upon them that God sits. Scot has counted a thousand million of angels. The ancient mythology of the good and bad genii, having passed from the East to Greece and Rome, we consecrated this opinion, for admitting for each individual a good and an evil angel, of whom one assists him and the other torments him, from his birth to his death; but it is not yet known whether these good and bad angels are continually passing from one to another, or are relieved by others. On this point, consult “St. Thomas’s Dream.”

It is not known precisely where the angels dwell — whether in the air, in the void, or in the planets. It has not been God’s pleasure that we should be informed of their abode.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01