Angels on the head of a pin

Posted by ESC on May 09, 2002

(I'm adding a new post for Pamela)

Does anybody know what the expression
'Counting angels dancing on pinheads' means and in what context is it used? It can be said a few different ways, like, Angels on pinheads, angels dancing on the head of a pin etc.

There's an excellent section on angels in "Sacred Origins of Profound Things: the Stories Behind the Rites and Rituals of the World's Religions" by Charles Panati (Penguin Books, New York, 1996). It has information on different types of angels, etc., but nothing (that I could find quickly) on "angels on the head of a pin." "Angels" by Billy Graham, American evangelist, says that, "Speculation about the nature of angels has been around since long before Queen Victoria's time, and it continues down to the present time." In a later chapter he makes reference to "the old debate about how many angels can dance on the head of pin" but doesn't explain its origin.