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The Communion of Saints

This clause was one of the last to find a place within the Apostles' Creed,* first appearing in the Creed of Niceta* about 375. The clause may, however, have originated in the third century. Because in Latin the genitive in the phrase communionem sanctorum may be either masculine or neuter, it has sometimes been thought that the reference is to a communion in holy things, in which case it would be a reference to the sacraments. Despite the fact that this would then provide a parallel with the Nicene Creed-where a reference to the sacraments follows a reference to the church-and despite the fact that in some medieval explanations the reference is taken to be the sacraments, this is unlikely. The clause more probably refers to people: to the fellowship, first, which we enjoy with the saints, saints here being synonymous with Christians. This fellowship was one of the marks of the early church as we see in Acts 2:42f. It would then be an expansion of one aspect of the church of God referred to immediately preceding.

Nor is fellowship to be limited simply to the living. This clause emphasizes we are one with those who have died in Christ. We are in His keeping, and so are they. The clause has sometimes been pressed beyond its proper scriptural meaning by suggesting that we may pray for the dead or even that prayer is warranted to the saints and that the saints in turn remember us. Both the present and future aspects of its true meaning are well summarized in an early English service for the Visitation of the Sick, where the clergyman says to the sick man, “Dearest brother, dost thou believe in . . . the communion of saints, that is that all men who live in charity are partakers of all the gifts of grace which are dispensed in the church and that all who have fellowship with the just here in the life of grace have fellowship with them in glory?”

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