Communion of Saints

Communion of Saints

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The communion of saints (in Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, communio sanctorum), when referred to persons, is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

, living and the dead, those on earth, in heaven
Heaven
Heaven, the Heavens or Seven Heavens, is a common religious cosmological or metaphysical term for the physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings originate, are enthroned or inhabit...

, and, for those who believe in purgatory
Purgatory
Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven...

, those also who are in that state of purification.

They are all part of a single "mystical body
Mystici Corporis Christi
Mystici Corporis Christi is a papal encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII during World War II, on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. It is one of the more important encyclicals of Pope Pius XII, because of its topic, the Church, and because its Church concept was fully included in Lumen...

", with Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.

The word "sanctorum" in the phrase "communio sanctorum" can also be understood as referring not to holy persons, but to holy things, namely the blessings that the holy persons share with each other, including their faith, the sacraments and the other spiritual graces and gifts they have as Christians.

Belief in the communion of saints is affirmed in the Apostles' Creed
Apostles' Creed
The Apostles' Creed , sometimes titled Symbol of the Apostles, is an early statement of Christian belief, a creed or "symbol"...

.

History


The earliest known use of this term to refer to the belief in a mystical bond uniting both the living and the dead in a confirmed hope and love is by Saint Nicetas of Remesiana
Nicetas of Remesiana
Saint Nicetas was Bishop of Remesiana, present-day Bela Palanka in the Pirot District of modern Serbia, but which was then in the Roman province of Dacia Mediterranea.-Biography:...

 (ca. 335–414); the term has since then played a central role in formulations of the Christian creed.

The doctrine of the communion
Communion (Christian)
The term communion is derived from Latin communio . The corresponding term in Greek is κοινωνία, which is often translated as "fellowship". In Christianity, the basic meaning of the term communion is an especially close relationship of Christians, as individuals or as a Church, with God and with...

 of saint
Saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

s is based on , where Paul
Paul of Tarsus
Paul the Apostle , also known as Saul of Tarsus, is described in the Christian New Testament as one of the most influential early Christian missionaries, with the writings ascribed to him by the church forming a considerable portion of the New Testament...

 compares Christians to a single body.

The words translated into English as "saints" can refer to Christians, who, whatever their personal sanctity as individuals, are called holy because they are consecrated to God and Christ. This usage of the word "saints" is found some fifty times in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

.

The Heidelberg Catechism
Heidelberg Catechism
The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confessional document taking the form of a series of questions and answers, for use in teaching Reformed Christian doctrine...

 defends this view, citing , and to claim that all members of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 have communion
Communion (Christian)
The term communion is derived from Latin communio . The corresponding term in Greek is κοινωνία, which is often translated as "fellowship". In Christianity, the basic meaning of the term communion is an especially close relationship of Christians, as individuals or as a Church, with God and with...

 with him, and are recipients of all his gifts.

The persons who are linked in this communion include those who have died and whom pictures as a cloud of witnesses encompassing Christians on earth. In the same chapter, says Christians on earth "have come to Mount Zion
Mount Zion
Mount Zion is a place name for a site in Jerusalem, the location of which has shifted several times in history. According to the Hebrew Bible's Book of Samuel, it was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the "stronghold of Zion" that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace in the City...

, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect."

Roman Catholic and Orthodox view


In Catholic terminology, the communion of saints is thus said to comprise the church militant (those alive on earth), the church penitent (those undergoing purification in purgatory
Purgatory
Purgatory is the condition or process of purification or temporary punishment in which, it is believed, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for Heaven...

 in preparation for heaven), and the church triumphant (those already in heaven). The damned are not a part of the communion of saints. The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Church of the East
Church of the East
The Church of the East tāʾ d-Maḏnḥāʾ), also known as the Nestorian Church, is a Christian church, part of the Syriac tradition of Eastern Christianity. Originally the church of the Persian Sassanid Empire, it quickly spread widely through Asia...

 and some elements in the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion is an international association of national and regional Anglican churches in full communion with the Church of England and specifically with its principal primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury...

 point to this doctrine in support of their practice of asking the intercession of saints
Intercession of saints
Intercession of the saints is a Christian doctrine held by Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and some Anglican churches, that deceased saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for believers, and that it is possible to ask deceased saints for their prayers...

 in heaven, whose prayer
Prayer
Prayer is a form of religious practice that seeks to activate a volitional rapport to a deity through deliberate practice. Prayer may be either individual or communal and take place in public or in private. It may involve the use of words or song. When language is used, prayer may take the form of...

s (cf. ) are seen as helping their fellow Christians on earth. These same churches refer to this doctrine in support of the practice of praying for the dead (as seen in ).

Protestant view


Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

, which rejects such doctrines as purgatory and the intercession of saints, necessarily has different definitions of the communion of saints. Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

defined the phrase thus:
"The communion of saints." This is of one piece with the preceding ["the holy catholic church"]. Formerly it was not in the creed. When you hear the word "church," understand that it means group [Haufe], as we say in German, the Wittenberg group or congregation [Gemeine], that is, an holy, Christian group, assembly, or, in German, the holy, common church, and it is a word that should not be called "communion" [Gemeinschaft], but rather "a congregation" [eine Gemeine]]. Someone wanted to explain the first term, "catholic church" [and added the words] communio sanctorum, which in German means a congregation of saints, that is, a congregation made up only of saints. "Christian church" and "congregation of saints" are one and the same thing.


On Protestant views of the communion of saints, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1908 wrote:
Sporadic errors against special points of the communion of saints are pointed out by the Synod of Gangra (Mansi, II, 1103), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (P.G., XXXIII, 1116), St. Epiphanius (ibid., XLII, 504), Asteritis Amasensis (ibid., XL, 332), and St. Jerome (P.L., XXIII, 362). From the forty-second proposition condemned, and the twenty-ninth question asked, by Martin V at Constance (Denzinger, nos. 518 and 573), we also know that Wyclif and Hus had gone far towards denying the dogma itself. But the communion of saints became a direct issue only at the time of the Reformation. The Lutheran churches, although commonly adopting the Apostles' Creed, still in their original confessions, either pass over in silence the communion of saints or explain it as the Church's "union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith" (Luther's Small Catechism), or as "the congregation of saints and true believers" (Augsburg Confession, ibid., III, 12), carefully excluding, if not the memory, at least the invocation of the saints, because Scripture "propoundeth unto us one Christ, the Mediator, Propitiatory, High-Priest, and Intercessor" (ibid., III, 26). The Reformed churches generally maintain the Lutheran identification of the communion of saints with the body of believers but do not limit its meaning to that body. Calvin (Inst. chret., IV, 1, 3) insists that the phrase of the Creed is more than a definition of the Church; it conveys the meaning of such a fellowship that whatever benefits God bestows upon the believers should mutually communicate to one another. That view is followed in the Heidelberg Catechism, emphasized in the Gallican Confession, wherein communion is made to mean the efforts of believers to mutually strengthen themselves in the fear of God. Both the Scotch and Second Helvetic Confessions bring together the Militant and the Triumphant Church, but whereas the former is silent on the signification of the fact, the latter says that they hold communion with each other: "nihilominus habent illae inter sese communionem, vel conjunctionem".

The double and often conflicting influence of Luther and Calvin, with a lingering memory of Catholic orthodoxy, is felt in the Anglican Confessions. On this point the Thirty-nine Articles are decidedly Lutheran, rejecting as they do "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints", because they see in it "a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God". On the other hand, the Westminster Confession, while ignoring the Suffering and the Triumphant Church, goes beyond the Calvinistic view and falls little short of the Catholic doctrine with regard to the faithful on earth, who, it says,, "being united to one another in love, have communion in each other's gifts and graces". In the United States, the Methodist Articles of Religion, 1784, as well as the Reformed Episcopal Articles of Religion, 1875, follow the teachings of the Thirty-nine Articles, whereas the teaching of the Westminster Confession is adopted in the Philadelphia Baptist Confession, 1688, and in the Confession of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1829. Protestant theologians, just as Protestant confessions, waver between the Lutheran and the Calvinistic view.

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