An archangel. The Hebrew word repha’el can mean “God has healed.” Latin authors such as Gregory the Great (Evangelia Homiliarum 34.9) interpreted the name as “medicine of God.” In a Coptic text (Kropp, 1930, Vol. 2, p. 165) it has the meaning of “cure.”
The archangel Raphael appears for the first time in Tobit (3rd century B.C.), written by a Jew of the Diaspora, probably in Egypt. Here Raphael introduces himself as one of the seven angels who present the prayers of the just to God and who stand in the presence of God (Tb. 12:15). Hence the many guises under which he helps men. Under the symbolic name of Azarias (“the Lord helps”), he accompanies the young Tobias, son of Tobit, on his journey to Raguel of Medes in Ecbatana, where Tobias meets Sarah (Tb. 5:13;7:7). On the way to Raguel, Raphael frees Tobias from a monstrous fish that attacks him as he is bathing in the river Tigris (6:1-3); he later saves Sarah and Tobias from the snares of the devil Asmodeus, who has killed Sarah’s previous seven husbands (6:14;8:3). Finally, as the etymology of his name indicates, he cures the blindness of Tobit, the father of Tobias (11:7-14).
In 1 Enoch, Raphael is one of the four archangels, together with MICHAEL, Suriel (or Uriel), and GABRIEL (1 En. 9.1; 10.4-8), or as one of the seven (1 En. 20.3). Since Raphael is the angel of men’s souls, he accompanies Enoch on his heavenly journey and explains the distribution of souls in the various sections of sheol after death (1 En. 22.3-6). He also appears with Enoch in the paradise of righteousness and tells him of the tree of wisdom (1 En. 32.6). In Enoch’s vision, the archangel Raphael is charged by God to bind Asael hand and foot and to heal earth, which the angels have corrupted (1 En. 10.4-8; 54.6). This charge appropriately reflects the double meaning of the root rapha, “to tie” and “to heal.” Raphael is also said to have power over illness and wounds (1 En. 40.9).
In the Apocalypse of Ezra, after Michael the archangel has departed, Raphael ministers to Ezra under the title of commander-in-chief of the angels (Apoc. Esd. 1.4). He is also said to be present at the end of men’s lives (Apoc. Esd. 6.1f.). In the Apocalypse of Moses, with other angels he takes part in the burial of Abel next to Adam (Apoc. Mos. 40). In postbiblical Jewish literature further details are added, such as Raphael’s visit to Abraham (Gn. 18; bT Joma 37a), his curing of pious men, and his overpowering of savage beasts. He is also said to preside over one of the four cohorts of angels surrounding the throne of God.
In Christian literature he appears as one of the four, or seven, archangels created first of all by God (Evangelium Bartholomaei 4.29), and, in accordance with the etymology of his name, he is held to be the angel of healing, patron of medicine (Origen Homilies on Numbers 14.2; De principiis 1.8.1), and heavenly doctor. This is why some, according to ORIGEN, represent him as a serpent (Contra Celsum 6.30). As with Tobias, Raphael guides men on their journeys and for their sake overpowers the demon Asmodeus. He helps them to earn their living and is present at the hour of death. With Michael, Gabriel, and other angels, he has the power to punish Satan (Ev. Barthol. 4.29).
In Coptic literature we know of only two encomia, undoubtedly pseudepigraphic, dedicated to the archangel Raphael. One is attributed to Saint JOHN CHRYSOSTOM and is conserved in the British Museum, ed. Budge, 1915, pp. 526-33, 1189-91 [texts]; 1034ff., 1199 [trans.]. Here, as in Tobit, Raphael binds the wicked demon Asmodeus with fetters, and his name is given the meaning of “God who guideth men.” The episodes of Tobit are recalled, along with the fact that Raphael filled the poor man’s house with joy and the rich man’s with health (fol. 3b).
Besides taking the prayer of Sarah to the seventh heaven, he is a faithful servant who accepts no payment; he is obedient to God and to the man for whom he prepares meals as a chief cook (fols. 4a-b). He is also the patron of the wedding. The appearance of Raphael to Saint JOHN CHRYSOSTOM while he was celebrating mass is narrated in this encomium (fol. 6a). Raphael is shown as the guardian angel of Chrysostom, whom he has not abandoned “for a single hour, half an hour, or the blink of an eye” (fol. 6b). Raphael sends Chrysostom to the emperor Arcadius, who builds a shrine in his honor.
The other encomium, in Sahidic, In Raphaelem archangelis, is attributed to the patriarch THEOPHILUS OF ALEXANDRIA; fragments are conserved in the libraries of Paris, Naples, and Vienna [identified and edited with a Latin translation by Orlandi, (1972)]. The fragments belong to two codices from the White Monastery (DAYR ANBA SHINUDAH). The encomium is a homily given in the presence of Theodosius II and contains a conversation of Theophilus with the Emperor Theodosius I concerning the building of a shrine in honor of the archangel Raphael in Alexandria, and also the initiation of his cult in the city by a Roman widow called Dronice.
Later the narrative tells of the building of the shrine on the island of Patres and of two miracles: the rescue of some people who were shipwrecked and the recovery of a ship, and the liberation from barbarians who wished to sack the island. The data that the homily gives concerning the construction of the shrine agree with those found in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS OF ALEXANDRIA (in Arabic, PO 1, pp. 426-30).
Five homilies in honor of Saint Raphael have been preserved in Arabic, one of which is attributed to CYRIL I of Alexandria on the feast of the consecration of the church built by Theophilus (3 Nasi/26 August) (On these homilies, see Muller, 1959, n. 131.)
Other writings in Coptic tell us that Raphael was the fourth angel to be created, after Saklitaboth, Michael, and Gabriel (Installatio Michaelis, ed. Müller, 1962, n. 3), and that his installation took place after that of Michael and Gabriel (Muller, 1962, n. 9); no date to commemorate this is given, however, suggesting that there was no feast to celebrate his installation. Raphael has an important role in exorcism texts (Stegemann, 1934, pp. 69-70; Kropp, 1930-1931, pp. 3 and 82).
He dispenses the holy oil for healing (Coptic Evangelium Bartholomaei 85f., ed. Kropp, 1930-1931, vol. 1, p. 80, and vol. 2, p. 250) and he is the protector against fever and the angel of strength and good health (Kropp, 1930-1931, Vol. 1, p. 20, and Vol. 2, p. 203). He is also invoked in a blessing for success in fishing (Kropp, 1930-1931, Vol. 1, p. 33, and Vol. 2, p. 99). All the traits attributed to Raphael in these texts are derived from his activities as narrated in Tobit.
When he is mentioned with other arcangels, he comes after Michael and Gabriel. In the Coptic liturgy Raphael is the third archangel. His feast is celebrated on 3 Nasi, although in the encomium attributed to Chrysostom, it was the fourth of the epagomenic (intercalary) days (4 Nasi). Sixteen doxologies or hymns in his honor are known (Müller, 1959, pp. 48-53); these emphasize that he is a servant and instrument of God. He does nothing on his own account—it is God who acts through his intercession.
The chief characteristic of Raphael is joy, since he brought joy to the ancient parents of Tobias. On occasions he appears closely united to John the Baptist and the Emperor Theodosius. His cult does not appear to have been particularly widespread, since only one church is mentioned as being dedicated to him. As with other angels, the Coptic tradition relates appearances of Raphael to several saints, such as the martyrs Philotheus and Paese. He is also credited with having miraculously freed the Emperor Theodosius from being swallowed by a shark.
- Budge, E. A. T. W. Miscellaneous Coptic Texts, pp. 526-33, 1189-91. London, 1915.
- Kropp, A. Ausgewählte koptische Zaubertexte, preface by Jean Capart, foreword by W. E. Crum. Brussels, 1930-1931.
- Mara, M. G. “Raffaele arcangelo,” In Bibliotheca Sanctorum, Vol. 10, pp. 1357-68. Istituto Giovanni XXIII della Pontificia Università Lateranese, Città Nouva Editrice. Rome, 1968. Michl, J. “Engel VIII (Raphael).” Reallexion für Antike und Christentum, Vol. 5, pp. 252-54. Stuttgart, 1962.
- Müller, C. D. G. Die Engellehre der koptischen Kirche, pp. 48-53; 239-43. Wiesbaden, 1959.
- . Die Bücher der Einsetzung der Erzengel Michael und Gabriel. CSCO 225-26, Scriptores Coptici, Vols. 31-32. Louvain, 1962.
- Orlandi, T. “Un encomio copto di Raffaele Arcangelo.” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 47 (1972):211-33.
- Stegemann, V. Die koptischen Zaubertexte der Sammlung Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer. Heidelberg, 1934.
GONZALO ARANDA PÉREZ