The origin and development of the doctrine of the communion of saints


Nathan, Nithyananda Augustus. (2010). The origin and development of the doctrine of the communion of saints [Thesis].
AuthorsNathan, Nithyananda Augustus
Qualification nameMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)

The priority of this study is to unearth the true meaning and goal of communion of saints. It is the last addition to the Apostles' Creed at the close of the eighth century as an extension to the Creed's Article (IX): the holy Catholic Church. But as regulae fidei the doctrine of communion of saints continues to be ambivalent for many believers. It would seem paradoxical for a Church which gathers its community in saintly communion but without a clear position on how to explain the relevance or efficacy of this article of faith in relation to a one's spirituality or salvation. This thesis therefore endeavours to remove any ambiguity by restoring its authentic meaning and scope. In spite of its late arrival, this study will affirm that the doctrine expresses a truth comparable to other articles of the Apostles' Creed and that it has existed from the beginning of Christianity. It is, however, not a precise doctrine and this study will establish that it is a conceptualisation of certain attributes of early Christianity. It is a complex reconstruction of a set of beliefs. This thesis identifies no less than four distinct yet closely linked elements that constitute its formulation. As such, how the doctrine contributes to anyone's spirituality is dependent on the level of significance a worshipper attaches to each of these in isolation or as a conglomeration of a set of beliefs at a given time and place. Communion of saints has therefore fluctuated in meaning and significance since it first surfaced as an expression of faith in Latin Christianity before the close of the fourth century. This investigation intends to show that communion of saints is more than a symbol, mark or just another descriptor of the Church itself. Neither is it a mere reflection of the essence of a universal Church nor should it be perceived, as is commonly understood, as a communion with the departed Saints in heaven.;This study will articulate that it is a sublime crystallisation of the theology of the Church as a chosen People of God wherein God reveals himself of his love as the body of Christ. It is a commitment of the Church to communicate to the world at large as a model of divine love. This study attempts to recapture the message inherent in the communion of saints as a biphasic doctrine with vertical and horizontal dimensions. It is a missionary undertaking that actuates simultaneously these two arms of Christianity that are fundamentally Trinitarian. This understanding has serious implications for the contemporary Church in how it expresses God's self-revelation and self-communication to the world at large. This study researches into the historical, literary and theological developments of the doctrine in order to uncover its authentic intent and scope. It purports to show that when properly understood, it is in the communion of saints that one identifies the Church's being and its modus operandi at which the departed Saints of the Church have been the experts. They have been prudent in the service of the truth and are exemplary as models to imitate the love of God in the Trinity. It intends to show that as the People of God it is what Thomas Aquinas (1225-74), using Aristotle's reflections on humanity, states the aim of Christianity which is to serve ""the common good of all on earth and a common life in God for all eternity"". This study believes this as the ultimate goal of the doctrine. It recognises that in a rapidly growing secular and changing world the real essence of the doctrine needs to be captured and restated in order to shape the consciousness of worshippers. In so doing the thesis responds to the specific question: how relevant is the communion of saints to the contemporary Church?

KeywordsCommunion of saints; Church history; early Church
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Final version
Publication dates02 Oct 2010
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