THE CHURCH AS THE
COMMUNITY OF SAINTS
“THE COMMUNITY OF SAINTS”
WE HAVE seen that Luther interprets comunio sanctorum, commonly translated “the communion of saints,” in the Apostles' Creed in apposition to “the holy Christian church,”1 that is, it explains what the church is.2 This is decisive for Luther's understanding of this doctrine.
The main question in interpreting this doctrine is whether the word communio, commonly translated into English as “communion,” means a congregation, group, community, gathering, and assembly, [congregatio, Haufe, Gemeinde, Sammlung, Versammlung] or refers to “participation” [Gemeinscbaft] in the ordinary sixteenth century use of the term,3 that is, to being bound together with, participating with someone, an act of common participation, and having a common right to something. In the first case, “saints” (sanctorum) is a subjective genitive; in the latter case, it is an objective genitive and may be interpreted either in a personal sense so that communio means participating together with someone, or, in an impersonal sense, participation in a material object. If it is a subjective genitive, sanctorum would be masculine; and if it is an objective genitive, it could be either masculine referring to saints, that is, holy people, or neuter, meaning “holy things.” Thus there are three possibilities. Within this framework, we could distinguish two interpretations in Luther.
Luther's understanding of communio sanctorum as being in apposition to the statement about the church is closest to an un-
1WA 2, 190, 415. WA 6, 606. WA 11, 53. WA 30I, 92; LW 51, 166.
WA 30I, 189; BC, 416 f. WA 50, 624.
2 Luther explains that this article was originally probably a gloss which did
not actually belong to the text of the creed. Luther refers to Rutin's explana-
tion of the creed. In the course of time, it then became part of the text. WA
2, 190. WA 30I, 189; BC, 416, 47.
3Cf. WA 30I, 189, n. 3 and Grimm's Deutsches Wörterbucb 41, 3266.