The clause in the Apostles, Creed,
I believe in the Communion of Saints,
is only found in Latin creeds, and its meaning is uncertain.
It may mean, "the partaking of holy persons" (subjective genitive),
or "the partaking of holy things" (objective genitive).
One medieval primer makes it refer to the Holy Communion or "housel".
But it is usually understood in the first sense.
COMMUNION is a sharing in love and prayer
and is a necessary result of the spiritual unity of the Church.
The family of which our Lord is the Head includes all baptized Christians,
both living and departed.
It is He that binds together the living and the dead.
The point at which we meet is the altar where we join
with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven
in the worship of God.
If the dead are conscious, as seems to be implied by Matt.22.32,
we must believe that they pray for us (Rev.6.9-11);
and as we have seen,
it has always been the practice of the Church to pray for them,
as it was the practice of the Jews in our Lord's time.
Our fellowship is based on mutual love and prayer.
We are compassed about continually by a great cloud of those who have borne witness to the faith (Heb.12.1) and who form with us
"the general assembly and the church of the first born" (Heb.12.23).
Even the Puritan Richard Baxter could write:
In the communion of saints
Is wisdom, safety, and delight,
And when my heart declines and faints,
It's raised by their heat and light.
Still we are centred all in Thee,
Members, though distant, of one Head;
In the same family we be,
By the same faith and spirit led.
Before Thy throne we daily meet
As joint petitioners to Thee;
In spirit we each other greet,
And shall again each other see.
English Hymnal, 401.
Whether we may go further than this and address the blessed dead directly
is a disputed point.
The Roman Communion, as we have seen,
distinguishes sharply between the saints in Heaven
commemorated on ALL SAINTS DAY,
and the souls in Purgatory, commemorated on ALL SOULS DAY;
and teaches its members to pray to the former who no longer need prayers,
but for the latter who cannot pray for themselves.
The Eastern churches make no such distinction,
but pray both to and for all the blessed dead alike.
The Anglican Communion has always recognized, though very cautiously, prayer for the dead, but has never since the Reformation given any kind of recognition to prayer to the dead, or Invocation of Saints.
Till recently it was almost impossible to find any single Anglican writer in favour of it.
All Saints Day has always kept its place in our calendar.
All Souls Day was informally recognized in the seventeenth century in the Oxford calendar printed with the Archbishop of Canterbury's licence, [Probably because it was the "feast of title" of All Souls, College.] and it was replaced in the English calendar at the revision of 1928.
But the Anglican Communion does not sanction belief in Purgatory,
and we cannot draw a sharp distinction between the saints in Heaven
and the souls in Purgatory.
We think that all alike are in Paradise,
and that all alike both pray for us and are benefited by our prayers.
There are three forms of Invocation of Saints:
COMPRECATION or Indirect Invocation;
and INVOCATION FOR BENEFITS.
COMPRECATION is prayer to God
that we may have our share in the intercessions of the blessed dead.
It is common in the ancient liturgies,
and there can be no possible theological objection to it.
But some people think it not direct enough for them.
DIRECT INVOCATION is a request to the saints to
pray for us.
The best-known example is the sentence added in the sixteenth century to the devotion known as the ANGELUS (which had till then been entirely in the words of Scripture):
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of our death.
Such invocation is not properly speaking a prayer.
It is not a request, which could be addressed to God,
but a request, which from its very nature, can only be addressed to a fellow creature.
There is, however, nothing even approaching Scriptural authority for it;
so that though the Council of Trent made it a dogma,
Apart from popular inscriptions found in the catacombs, there seems to be no evidence for it earlier than the fourth century.
Then it spread very rapidly just at the time when great numbers of pagans were coming into the Church, and both religious and moral standards were being lowered by pagan influence.
It is only too certain that multitudes regarded the saints as Christian substitutes for the gods, and that in more than one country the old popular paganism continues even till today under a Christian facade.
Clearly it is better to pray to the Blessed Virgin than to Isis, and to St. George rather than to Perseus, but it is not surprising that all kinds of pagan superstitions became mixed with the Christian faith.
In particular the alleged appearance of saints to particular persons and the establishment of pilgrimages to the place where the saint appeared (Walsingham is a medieval instance, and Lourdes a modern one) are a survival of Mediterranean paganism.
[The story of the appearance of Castor and Pollux at the Battle of Lake Regillus has many Christian parallels even in modern times.]
Some of the arguments put forward in defence of invocation of saints only increase the objections to it.
Thus it is said that in order to approach a King, one asks for the favour of one of his courtiers;
to which we can only reply that God is not that kind of King, and that He is nearer and more accessible to us than any saint can be.
Another argument is that as we ask our friends here to pray for us, we may ask our friends who are dead to pray for us.
But we do not ask our friends here several times a day to pray for us, and we do not ask people to pray for us unless we are sure they can hear our request.
On the other hand, the direct invocation of saints has greatly strengthened
in those who use it the belief in the communion of saints and of the unseen
Many of them tell us that by asking the saints to pray for them they come to know them as friends.
We cannot be sure that this is only fancy.
It may be as real as any other religious experience.
Direct invocation of saints has been practiced by most of Christendom for sixteen centuries.
It is not one of the Romanist additions to the faith,
for it is older than any of them.
We must not reject it because it is liable to abuse,
for every devotional practice is liable to abuse.
[The common argument that invocation of saints is contrary
to the belief that Christ is our only Mediator appears to be due to a misunderstanding.
To ask the departed to pray for us is no more a denial that our Lord is our only Mediator than to ask our friends in this world to pray for us.
But the argument may be fairly used against such extravagant beliefs as that the Blessed Virgin is the Neck of the Church (sanctioned by more than one Pope; see p. 77).]
Invocation of saints is the greatest practical difference between the Anglican
and the Orthodox Communions.
Orthodox worship is full of it.
Anglican worship has been carefully stripped of every trace of it.
[The address to Ananias, Azarias and Misael in the Benedicite is not invocation but poetical apostrophe.
A similar address is paid to "all beasts and cattle"!]
If the Anglican churches were to restore the invocation of saints,
it would certainly do as much as anything to bring about intercommunion.
The chief objection to the invocation of saints is that we do not know whether the saints can hear us.
I have often discussed this with Orthodox friends and have never been given any satisfactory answer, neither does Darwell Stone, nor any other Anglican defender of the practice give any satisfactory answer either.
Scripture tells us nothing.
The Fathers knew no more than we do.
The religious experience of individuals cannot be tested and does not convince those who have not shared it.
Most members of the Anglican Communion are not willing to address the saints directly on the ground that they prefer to devote the little time and power that they have to speaking to God who certainly does hear us, rather than to the saints for whose power to hear us we have no evidence.
They do not condemn those who wish to invoke the saints or assert positively
that the saints do not hear us, but they cannot be sure that they do.
They claim freedom to regard the question as open, and they think that the Anglican churches are right to exclude direct invocation of saints from the public services so that no one is compelled to practice it.
Even for the sake of union with the Eastern churches the Anglican Communion cannot surrender this freedom or assert anything to be true for the truth of which there is no convincing evidence.
This position is precisely that of George Herbert (1593-1633) in his poem, "To all Angels and Saints":
O glorious spirits, who after all your bands,
See the smooth face of God, without a frown
Or strict commands;
Where everyone is king, and hath his crown,
If not upon his head, yet in his hands;
Not out of envy of maliciousness
Do I forbear to crave your special aid:
I would address
My vows to thee most gladly, blessed Maid,
And Mother of my God, in my distress.
Thou are the holy mine whence came the gold,
The great restorative for all decay
In young and old;
Thou are the cabinet where the jewel lay:
Chiefly to thee would I my soul unfold.
But now, alas! I dare not; for our King
Whom we do all jointly adore and praise,
Bids no such thing;
And where His pleasure no injunction lays"
Tis your own case - ye never move a wing.
Although then others court you, if ye know
What's done on Earth, we shall not fare the worse,
Who do not so;
Since we are ever ready to disburse
If anyone our Master's hand can show.
The third degree of invocation of saints is the request not merely for prayers
but for particular benefits.
Romanist theologians teach that the saints can only help us by praying for us,
and that every direct request is assumed to be a request for prayer.
But a very little acquaintance with popular Romanist devotions shows that this assumption cannot be seriously maintained.
Those who pray to the saints expect much more than their prayers.
For instance, those who ask St. Antony of Padua to find what they have lost
do not expect St. Antony merely to pray that it may be found.
Why should not any other saint do that?
The whole system of applying to particular saints with particular requests is really a survival of polytheism from which in its lower forms it cannot be distinguished, and all that the theologians say cannot alter what the people do.
This kind of invocation of saints is certainly forbidden by the English
It is disputed whether the
Romish doctrine concerning invocation of saints,
forbidden in Article 22,
means the medieval abuses (Newman in Tract 90; Darwell Stone, Invocation of Saints) or the dogma of Trent (John Wordsworth, Invocation of Saints and the 22nd Article; E. J. Bicknell, Thirty-Nine Articles).
In either case it is certain that the English Church forbids all invocation which goes beyond the simple "Pray for us";
that it does not encourage even "Pray for us";
and that those who practice direct invocation of saints practice it on their own responsibility and have no right to force it on their fellow Churchmen or to teach it as more than, at most, a private opinion which a member of the Church is free to accept or reject.
Though the Blessed Virgin is undoubtedly the first of saints and occupies
a unique position as God-bearer (Theoticos), we cannot draw the distinction
between her and the other saints so sharply as to forbid invocation of other
saints but allow it when addressed to her.
Invocation of saints,
whether of the Blessed Virgin or any other,
is a matter of private opinion and ought to remain so.
No one ought to be either compelled or forbidden to practice it,
and for this reason it has no place in Anglican liturgical worship.
Approach to the spirits of the dead by other means is prohibited absolutely
both by Scripture and by every part of the Church in every age.
Necromancy, the attempt to communicate with the dead by physical means,
has been practiced ever since the dawn of history,
but is forbidden both in the Old and the New Testaments
(Deut.18.10-11; Acts 19.19; Gal.1.8-9, 5.20; I Tim.4.1; Rev.21.8; etc.)
One reason for this is that there is no means of being sure that the messages which are supposed to come from the dead really do come from them, while there is good reason to believe that these messages, if they come from outside this world (which is doubtful), come from devils who use them to deceive mankind.
This opinion is supported by the disastrous results to faith, morals, and intellect which only too often follow attempts to communicate with the dead, and by the fact that no message of spiritual or moral value has ever been received by such means.
Modern necromancy, or "spiritualism", with its apparatus of mediums, "controls", table turning, ouija boards, seances, etc., however tempting it may be to the bereaved, is a dangerous error, which no Christian should approach even in jest.
Our fellowship with the departed is spiritual, not psychic.
Our point of contact with them is not in the seance room but at the altar.