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The Communion of Saints

The whole church

The Apostles’ Creed has a phrase not included in the Nicene Creed: “The Communion of Saints”.

Dividing the Apostles Creed into twelve articles, this is Article 9:

[I believe in…] the holy catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.

The Communion of Saints, then, can be seen as expanding/explicating “the holy catholic Church”.

In a church building we see plaques on the walls reminding us of past clergy and significant members. Windows, icons, and statues surround us with images of apostles and angels and saints and martyrs.

I believe in the communion of saints.

At work, in club houses, and marae there are photos of past leaders; we regularly see paintings or photos of people important in our history. We stand on their shoulders.

I believe in the communion of saints.

At your own home you will have photos of great-grandparents, and grandparents, and others who have prepared the way before you, who have made it possible for you to be where you are now.

I believe in the communion of saints.

So, “I believe in the communion of saints” means – all of us – we who are living and those who have died; gone before us; known to us by name and not known to us. All around us – throughout our day and our lives.

It has been well said that the purpose of our lives, the deep-down need each of us has is to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.

We are here because of those who have gone before us. They, the communion of saints, make it possible for us to be here. Do we live our life in gratitude for that?

And are we living in such a way that we in your turn will enable others to look back to us with gratitude. That doesn’t mean that we always have to be serious; we can never have fun – quite the opposite. But it does mean that we realise the value of what we have. That we live in such a way that we express and deepen that realisation. That we help others to realise the preciousness of what we all have – in the communion of saints. Yes, others are surrounding us – but we are also part of those who are surrounding them.

And are we building positively on what you receive from others? We are standing on the broad shoulders of others. Can others stand on our shoulders as well?

To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. When I leave this life – will I have left a positive legacy?

This is the thirtiest post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.
The fourth is I believe in the Father.
The fifth is Handing over the Creed.
The sixth is I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son
The seventh is Don’t use the creed in worship
They eighth is Truly God truly human
The ninth is Conceived by the Holy Spirit
The tenth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 2)
The eleventh is Born of the Virgin Mary
The twelfth is Don’t use the creed in worship (part 3)
The thirteenth is Crucified under Pontius Pilate
The fourteenth is crucified
The fifteenth is Holy Saturday
This sixteenth is He descended to the dead
The seventeenth is on the third day he rose again
The eighteenth is Seated at the right hand of the Father
The nineteenth is Judge the living and the dead
The twentieth is I believe in the Holy Spirit
The twenty-first is But Wait, There’s More!
The twenty-second is And the Son
The twenty-third is Filioque
The twenty-fourth is Two hands of God
The twenty-fifth is Don’t believe in the Church
The twenty-sixth is I believe one Church
The twenty-seventh is I believe in holy church
The twenty-eighth is I believe in catholic church
The twenty-ninth is I believe in apostolic church

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6 Responses to The Communion of Saints

  1. I, too, believe in the communion of saints. I don’t have lots of “mystical” experiences, but the one I do have is recurring, once in a great while taking me by surprise at eucharist. We stand and join the communion procession and I have this deep visceral sense that the procession to the altar is 2,000 years long, and I am in line with all who’ve gone before me, and behind me will line up all who ever will be. The moment passes, with that funny little shiver one gets in a moment of frisson. In that moment I know to whom I belong and my heart delights.

  2. This occasional series is very valuable, Bosco, not least for the way you connect the Creed to our own lived experience of Christian belonging. I expect you’ll get to other aspects of “the Communion of Saints” before we’re done. (For instance, one of the many helpful remarks on the Creed in the then-Prof. Ratzinger’s 1968 “Introduction to Christianity” is that the Creed’s references to the “Communion of Saints” and the “Forgiveness of Sins” probably originally referred to the two dominical sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism, respectively.)

    But I particularly wanted to comment because your doctrinal posts attract far fewer comments than posts on, say, PowerPoint in worship. This fact puts me in mind of a poem by the Rev. S. J. Forrest from his 1955 collection “What’s the Use?” (the title poem of that collection is well known to liturgists):

    BEWARE OF THE DOGMA

    He preached about the Trinity and how the world began;
    Explained the Incarnation and the Destiny of Man.
    He carefully expounded every detail of the Creeds,
    And tried to show their relevance to modern human needs;
    He brilliantly upheld the Christian heritage of Truth,
    And sought to make it lucid and acceptable to youth.
    They listened with correctitude, but everybody said,
    ‘He’s far too theological, and quite above our head.’

    He gave an exposition of the Church’s means of Grace,
    Revealing how the Sacraments revive a fallen race;
    Of self-examination and the ways of Mental Prayer,
    And why we need Communion, and how, and when, and where.
    He spoke of Bible-reading, and to make it all complete,
    Gave practical instruction on the value of Retreat.
    And everyone agreed that it was logical enough,
    But only suitable for those who like that kind of stuff.

    He chose the Ten Commandments as the basis of a Course,
    He amplified their meaning and emphasized their force;
    He took the eight Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount,
    And spoke of Christian stewardship and rendering account.
    He did his best to penetrate beneath their toughened skins
    With pointed expositions of the Seven Deadly Sins.
    They felt a little slighted to be led across this ground,
    For morals in suburbia are basically sound.

    One day, in disillusionment, believing no one cared,
    He flung at them a homily completely unprepared,
    Endeavouring his customary quarter-hour to fill,
    With sentimental platitudes that meant precisely NIL;
    Returning to the vestry in the grip of horrid fears
    That people would consider it insulting to their ears.
    But no, they were enraptured and devoured every word:
    ‘Oh, Vicar, it was lovely! Quite the best we’ve ever heard !’

  3. Why does the Nicene Creed not have the term ‘communion of saints’ that is present in the Apostolic Creed?

    • I’m not sure what underlies your good question, Harry? How do you see those two creeds relating? The “Apostles’ Creed” is a Western creed. The “Nicene Creed” is shared by the whole church. One is not the source of the other. Blessings.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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