Archangel Michael Weighing Souls

The angel measures people's good and bad deeds on judgment day

Archangel Michael weighing souls on scales Judgment Day
Public Domain

In art, Archangel Michael is often portrayed weighing souls of people on scales. This popular way of depicting heaven’s top angel illustrates Michael’s role helping faithful people on Judgment Day – when the Bible says God will judge every human’s good and bad deeds at the end of the world. Since Michael will play a key role on Judgment Day and is also the angel who supervises human deaths and helps escort souls to heaven, believers say, Michael’s image weighing souls on scales of justice began to show up in early Christian art as artists incorporated Michael into the concept of someone weighing souls, which originated in ancient Egypt.

History of the Image

“Michael is a popular subject in art,” writes Julia Cresswell in her book The Watkins Dictionary of Angels. “… he may be found in his role as the weigher of souls, holding a balance, and weighing a soul against a feather – an image which goes back to ancient Egypt.”

Rosa Giorgi and Stefano Zuffi write in their book Angels and Demons in Art: “The iconography of psychostasis, or 'weighing of souls,' has roots in the ancient Egyptian world, about a thousand years before the birth of Christ. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the deceased was subjected to a judgment that consisted of weighing his heart, with a symbol of the goddess of justice, Maat, used as a counterweight. This funerary art theme was transmitted to the West through Coptic and Cappadocian frescoes, and the function of supervising the weighing, originally a task of Horus and Anubis, passed to the Archangel Michael.”

Biblical Connection

The Bible doesn’t mention Michael weighing souls on scales. However, Proverbs 16:11 poetically describes God himself judging people’s attitudes and actions by using the image of scales of justice: “A just balance and scales are the Lord's; all the weights in the bag are his work.”  

Also, in Matthew 16:27, Jesus Christ says that angels will accompany him on Judgment Day, when all people who have ever lived will receive consequences and rewards according to what they chose to do during their lives: “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”

In his book The Life & Prayers of Saint Michael the Archangel, Wyatt North notes that the Bible never describes Michael using scales to weigh people’s souls, yet it is consistent with Michael’s role helping people who have died. “Scripture does not show us Saint Michael as Weigher of Souls. This image is derived from his heavenly offices of Advocate of the Dying and Consoler of Souls, believed to have begun in Egyptian and Greek art. We know it is Saint Michael who accompanies the faithful in their final hour and to their own day of judgment, interceding on our behalf before Christ. In doing so he balances the good deeds of our lives against the bad, epitomized by the scales. It is in this context that his image can be found on dooms painting (representing the Day of Judgment), on countless church walls, and carved over church doorways.

… On occasion, Saint Michael is presented alongside Gabriel [who also plays an important role on Judgment Day], with both of them wearing purple and white tunics.”

Symbols of Faith

Images of Michael weighing souls contain rich symbolism about the faith of believers who trust Michael to help them choose good over evil with their attitudes and actions in life.

Giorgi and Zuffi write about various faith meanings of the image in Angels and Demons in Art: “The static weighing composition becomes dramatic when the devil appears next to Saint Michael and tries to snatch the soul being weighed. This weighing scene, initially part of Last Judgment cycles, became autonomous and one of the most popular images of Saint Michael. Faith and devotion added variants such as the chalice or the lamb as counterweights on the plate of the scale, both symbols of Christ’s sacrifice for redemption, or a rosary attached to the rod, a symbol of faith in the intercession of the Virgin Mary.”

Praying for Your Soul

When you see artwork that depicts Michael weighing souls, it can inspire you to pray for your own soul, asking for Michael’s help to live every day of your life faithfully. Then, believers say, you’ll be glad you did when Judgment Day comes.

In her book Saint Michael the Archangel: Devotion, Prayers & Living Wisdom, Mirabai Starr includes part of a prayer to Michael about the scales of justice on Judgment Day: “…you will gather the souls of the righteous and the wicked, place us on your great scales and weigh our deeds. .. If you have been loving and kind, you will take the key from around your neck and open the gates of Paradise, inviting us to live there forever. … If we have been selfish and cruel, it is you who will banish us. … May I sit lightly in your measuring cup, my angel.”

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Your Citation
Hopler, Whitney. "Archangel Michael Weighing Souls." ThoughtCo, Jan. 25, 2018, Hopler, Whitney. (2018, January 25). Archangel Michael Weighing Souls. Retrieved from Hopler, Whitney. "Archangel Michael Weighing Souls." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).