The “Seven” Thrones

Multiplex est Deus noster (Our God is Manifold).

Mark this Mystery

Seven Comprehenedth the Secrets
of Heaven and earth:

Seven knitteth mans soul and body

(3, in soul, and 4 in body)

In 7, thou shalt find the Unity

In 7, thou shalt find the Trinity

In 7, thou shalt find the Son, and the proportion of
the Holy Ghost.

O God, O God, O God,

Thy Name (O God,) be praised ever,

from thy 7 Thrones
from thy 7 Trumpets
and thy 7 Angels
in 7, God wrought all things

Michael, Liber Mysteriorum Secundus 21 March 15821

Although there are a number of hierarchies of spiritual beings in the Sigillum, there are only three sets of letters from which these names are drawn and from these three sets, three principle groups of angelic names, one for each set. The three sets of letters are those of the Circumference, the Septagon or Holy Sevenfold Table and the Isosceles triangles within the Septagon or Mysterious Sevenfold Table.2 If these three sets of letters are correlated inward to the three angelic hierarchies given in Liber Secundus3 then the correspondence would be Thrones to the Circumference, Thrones to the Septagon, and Holy Sevenfold Table and Angels to the Isosceles Triangles and Mysterious Sevenfold Table.

Further, this correspondence would identify the Thrones with the names drawn from the Circumference and the seven Seals, the Archangels drawn from the Septagon would be the Trumpets and the planetary Angels about the pentagram would be the Angels. Compare Part I4 of this series where these divisions are laid out in detail. We add the following as a demonstration of the consistency of this division in regard to the Thrones.

Mi: Of those seven Seals and the seven semicircles than contain them “the 7 angles next unto the uppermost Circumference”

Ur: “Those 7 letters, are the 7 Seats of the One everlasting GOD. His 7 secret Angels proceeding from every letter and Cross so formed.”

Michael & Uriel, Liber Mysteriorum Secundus 20 March 15821

Note that these associations follow both the traditional roles5 and associations for the latter two groups and the description of the Seven letters as “seats.”6 But, as anyone who has studied the vagaries of Angelic hierarchies knows, consistency is problematic. We can however make some assumptions about how these relationships were probably viewed by Dee.

It is important to understand that there was, for Dee and Kelly, a standard Renaissance view of the divine order and the place of the various echelons of angels within that hierarchy. This view was defined primarily from scripture, but drew the precise form that it did from the Celestial Hierarchy of St. Denis, the Aereopagite, so-called.7 In order to see why Dee and Kelly would have recognized a term like “Throne” to be a definition of one of the Orders found in the Sigillum, it is important to understand how the concept evolved theologically. To that end, we here present a brief historical summary of the use of the nomenclature Thrones in the context of angelic hierarchies.

The earliest known reference to Thrones as an angelic order is found in the text of The Testament of Levi8, in the pseudopigraphic collection referred to as The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.

And in the highest of all dwelleth the Great Glory, far above all holiness. In the heaven next to it are the archangels, who minister and make propitiation to the Lord for all the sins of ignorance of the righteous; Offering to the Lord a sweet smelling savor, a reasonable and a bloodless offering. And in the heaven below this are the angels who bear answers to the angels of the presence of the Lord. And in the heaven next to this are thrones and dominions, in which always they offer praise to God. When, therefore, the Lord looketh upon us, all of us are shaken; yea, the heavens and the earth, and the abysses are shaken at the presence of His majesty. But the sons of men, having no perception of these things, sin and provoke the Most High.

Testament of Levi I: 21–27 (trans. R.H. Charles)

Although scholarly opinion differs as to its date of composition and origin, the earliest form of this text can be traced to what is now referred to as that Aramaic Levi Document.9 And though the text of The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is clearly a compilation by an early Christian author10 (circa 2C C.E.), it is now known with certainty to have been derived from pre-Christian, and probably sectarian Jewish sources.

It is not our intention to go into all of the complexities related to this document, its history and evolution, but fragments of the text are found both in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in Karaite texts found in the Cairo Geniza.11 It has been known for some time that a relationship exists, at least textually and theologically, between the sectarians, and exegesis. The Qumran community, from which the Dead Sea Scrolls emanated and who are often identified with the Essenes, had a complex angelology influenced in no small part by Enochic and other apocalyptic literature. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs betray certain clearly Qumranic predilections.12 The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs would have been known to Dee through the famous Latin edition (circa 1230) of the English scholastic philosopher and Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste.13

St. Paul preaching on the Areopagus

It seems probable that this earlier genre of angelical classification is the source of Paul’s reference in Colossians.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Colossians 1:16 (KJV)

It is from this reference by St. Paul that all subsequent Christian theological discussions on the subject base their authority.

St Paul’s usage of the term Thrones in this context indicates that it must have had meaning within then-current metaphysics. Though it is possible that the context of Colossians is an entirely mundane and political one, thones, and even dominions, principalities, and so on have been interpreted by subsequent Christian theologians in an almost entirely metaphysical way. As we have noted, these terms came with a metaphysical connotation from a prior sectarian Hebrew apocalyptic context. It is also possible that these terms had similar meaning in the context of the Middle Platonic cosmology and theurgy that was familiar to Paul’s Hellenistic audience, and about the development of which we unfortunately know little, but which was to come to fruition in the Chaldean Oracles and the works of Iamblichus and Proclus.14

St. Denis

In any case, this passage of Paul’s is the principle reason for the elaborate development attributed to St. Denis or Pseudo-Dionysus, in his Celestial Hierarchy and in passing as a matter of introduction in his Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.15 Conversely, the work of Pseudo-Dionysus is concerned with putting Judeo-Christian angelology in the context of Platonic metaphysics and cosmology. Again, it is not our purpose to elaborate the somewhat complicated history and understanding of these texts and their authorship, but it should be understood that until the 16th C. these texts were attributed to Dionysus the Areopagite (Acts 17), otherwise known as St. Denys, though scholarship has determined definitively that they are the work of a 4-5th C. Neoplatonic follower of Proclus. It is in the Celestial Hierarchy that the Thrones become situated and defined with the structure of subsequent Christian metaphysics, and from this context that essentially all further elaborations are derived.

The Thrones and their celestial functions are given in chapters II, V–VII, and XI of the Celestial Hierarchy, wherein they are described as being symbolically represented by “some kind of fiery wheels above the heavens, or material thrones upon which the Supreme Deity may recline,”16 and further as great wheels, covered with numerous eyes, marking the end of the uppermost choir or hierarchy of angels where the emanations from God begin to take on material form.

It is also clear from these references that the description and function assigned to the Thrones became a means of accounting for the symbols and metaphysics of the visions of Ezekiel and probably to a lesser degree similar visions of Daniel.17 In this way, Thrones became described as various types of fiery wheels in relation to their function in the chariot of God, as in Ezekiel 1: 15–20:

Now as I beheld the living creates, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Withersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

This description is particularly appropriate to their placement on and derivation from the Circumference of the Sigillum, in that the Circumference itself is one great wheel and the names as drawn therefrom form both wheels about and within this larger wheel,18 as well as figures like unto lighting bolts.19

Pseudo-Dionysus ranks the Thrones amongst the highest third of his nine (three by three ranking) orders of Celestial Beings and gives to them the function of showing forth the Divine Radiance.

“The name of the most glorious and exalted Thrones denotes that which is exempt from and unattained by any base and earthly thing, and the super mundane ascent up the steep. For these have no part in that which is lowest, but dwell in fullest power, immovably and perfectly established in the Most High, and receive the Divine Immanence above all passion and matter, and manifest God, being attentively open to divine participations.”

Chapter VII: Of the Seraphim, Cherubim & Thrones & their first Hierarchy

A similar, though less elaborate nine-fold celestial hierarchy was proposed by Pope Gregory I in his Gospel Homilies and in his Moralia on Job by collecting the Old Testament and Pauline references to angelic orders and arranging them by logical inference.

We speak of nine orders of Angels, because we know, by the testimony of Holy Scripture, that there are the following: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Thrones, Cherumbim and Seraphim. Nearly every page of Scripture is witness to the fact that there are Angels and Archangels. The prophetic books, as has been noted often, speak of Cherubim and Seraphim. Four more orders are enumerated by Paul the Apostle, writing to the Ephesians, when he says, “Above every Principality and Power and Virtue and Domination.” And again writing to the Colossians, he says, “Whether Thrones, or Powers, or Principalities, or Dominations.” When, then, we add the Thrones to those he mentions to the Ephesians, there are five orders, to which are to be added Angels, Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, certainly making nine orders of Angels in all.

Homily XXIV – Pope St. Gregory I20

These days, which abide in the interior light, may be taken for the angelic spirits, and the months, for their orders and dignities. For every single spirit, in that he shines, is a “day,” but as they are distinguished by certain set dignities, so that there are some that are Thrones, some Dominions, some Principalities, and some Powers, according to this distribution of ranks, they are entitled ‘months.’

Moralia I:I:iv – Pope St. Gregory I21

Gregory differs slightly from the Dionysian order which, because St. Denis was believed to have priority, caused late medieval theologians some distress and confusion. In fact both hypotheses are roughly contemporary,22 demonstrating a more general theological interest in the subject in the middle and later half of the 6th C. C.E.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) made the authoritative resolution of this dilemma and subsequently established standard Christian dogma in the first part of his Summa Theologica.23 He refers to the Thrones 15 times in question CVIII: “The angelic degrees of hierarchies and orders.”

Here is a brief extract that bears on their situation and gives a fourfold analysis. As in all things, St. Thomas is lucid and rigorous.

The order of the “Thrones” excels the inferior orders as having an immediate knowledge of the types of the Divine works; whereas the “Cherubim” have the excellence of ardor. And although these two excellent attributes include the third, yet the gift belonging to the “Thrones” does not include the other two; and so the order of the “Thrones” is distinguished from the orders of the “Cherubim” and the “Seraphim.” For it is a common rule in all things that the excellence of the inferior is contained in the superior, but not conversely. But Dionysus (Coel. Hier. vii) explains the name “Thrones” by its relation to material seats, in which we may consider four things.

I. First, the site; because the seats are raised above the earth, and to the angels who are called “Thrones” are raised up to the immediate knowledge of the types of things in God. II. Secondly, because in material seats is displayed strength, forasmuch as a person sits firmly on them. But here the reverse is the case; for the angels themselves are made firm by God. III. Thirdly, because the seat receives him who sits thereon, and he can be carried thereupon; and so the angels receive God in themselves, and in a retain way bear Him to the inferior creatures. IV. Fourthly, because in its shape, a seat is open on one side to receive the sitter; and thus are the angels promptly open to receive God and to serve Him.

Johannes Scotus Eriugena

Before considering the Scholastic and Humanist sources that Dee did or may have known, let us take a brief aside as to which Latin editions Dee would have been familiar with.

Dee would certainly have known of the famous first translation into Latin by the Neoplatonist and suspected heretic, Johannes Scotus Erigena/Eriugena, (c. 815–877), but it seems unlikely that he was aware of Eriugena’s rather controversial commentaries. These commentaries were not rediscovered until 1681 along with the condemned De division nature.

It does seem that Eriugena contributed to the conflation of St. Denis the first bishop of Paris with St. Denis the Areopagite and supposed author of the Celestial Hierarchies, etc. Erigena was at the time working in Paris at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald.

It is curious that Dee, in his Mystical Heptarchy, makes a note of a Scotus, whether Erigena or Duns we do not seem to be certain. Erigena was a Neoplatonist before his time, so to speak. And it was probably well known that he held controversial positions regarding theology and philosophy. There is, unfortunately, no complete translation of his work into English. He was called twice to Rome to answer for his suspected heresies, but avoided the summons because of the protection of a patron, the Holy Roman Emperor. After the death of this patron he was said to have traveled to England, but that the monks who were his students ultimately stabbed him to death with their pens in a fit of apoplexy over his sophistry.

The other likely Latin candidates are the 12th C. Johannes Saracenus and the 1562 Morel.

The last important source for understanding the Thrones and the Dionysian hierarchies before the discovery of the Hermetica is Dante (c. 1265–1321). The Dionysian order is central to the structure of the Paradiso of Dante’s Divine Commedy and therefore the Thrones must be encountered on the celestial ascent.

Above are mirrors, Thrones you call them,

from which shines to us God the adjudicator

thus we ensure that it is right to say all these things

Here she was silent, and she appeared

to turn toward other things, reentering, onto the wheel

and again into the dance.

Dante, Paradiso Canto 924

Canto 9 – Botticelli

Thus rapidly they follow their own bonds,

To be as like the point as most they can,

And can as far as they are high in vision.

Those other Loves, that round about them go,

Thrones of the countenance divine are called,

Because they terminate the primal Triad.

And thou shouldst know that they all have delight

As much as their own vision penetrates

The Truth, in which all intellect finds rest.

Dante, Paradiso Canto 2825

Dante Alighieri

Thrones and the divine order appear again in Dante’s unfinished Convivio or Banquet, a work reflecting his interest in ancient philosophy and modeled on the symposia of the ancient Greeks. Here we find a particular reflection of what we find in Dee and in the Spirit Actions of Liber Secundus. In the first section below and the text following it, not given but to which the careful reader is referred, the hierarchy is fairly strictly that of Saint Gregory and Denis. In the second section here we have a threefold division according to the lower planetary spheres, exactly along the lines given in the passage describing the principle hierarchies of the Sigillum, that is Thrones, Archangels (or as demonstrated above Trumpets) and Angels. And in the final section we see that Thrones are assigned to the motions of the heavenly spheres. This is the function they seem to have in the overall structure of the Sigillum and which clearly relates to the magical theories of Dee’s own Propeadeumata Aphoristica.

The first is that of the Angels, the second of the Archangels, the third of the Thrones; and these three orders make up the first hierarchy: not first in order of nobility, nor of creation (for the others are nobler and all were created at one time), but first in the order of our ascent to their degree of elevation.

Consequently it is reasonable to believe that the movers of the heaven of the Moon belong to the order of Angels, and those of Mercury to that of the Archangels, and those of Venus to that of the Thrones; all of whom, receiving their nature from the love of the Holy Spirit, perform their operation, which is innate in them, namely, the movement of that heaven, filled with love, from which the form of the said heaven derives a potent ardor by which the souls here below are kindled to love, according to their disposition.

These Thrones, who are assigned to govern this heaven, are not great in number, though the philosophers and the astrologers have estimated it diversely according to how diversely they have estimated its rotations, although all are agreed on this point: that there are as many of them as there are movements made by the heaven. According to the best demonstration of the astrologers as we find it summarized in the book of the Constellations of the Stars, these movements are three: one according to which the star moves along its epicycle; a second according to which the epicycle moves together with the whole heaven in concert with that of the Sun; a third according to which that whole heaven moves, following the movement of the starry sphere, from west to east, one degree every one hundred years. Thus for these three movements there are three movers. Moreover, the whole of this heaven moves and revolves with the epicycle from east to west once every day. Whether this movement derives from some intellect or from the pull of the Primum Mobile, only God knows, for it seems to me presumptuous to reach a conclusion on this point.

Dante, Convivio II:5

St. Denis would still have been standard Thomist theology for Dante and therefore the a priori schema of divine order. Dante’s understanding also indicates the brightest literary fluorescence of the Italian Renaissance and the growing influence of the rediscovery of the Greek philosophers, setting the stage for the radical influence that the discovery of the Corpus Hermetica would exert.

In both St. Denis and in the Hermetica the philosophers and theologians of the Renaissance would find seemingly ancient authority for the correlation of their Neoplatonic speculations to Judeo-Christian angelology and metaphysics, speculations that would lead directly to the magical revival of the late Renaissance and the works of Ficino, Della Mirandola, Reuchlin, Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno and of course the angel magick of John Dee.

Previous | Top | Index