THIS is the Church of the saints, the new creation of God, our brethren and our friends, in whom we see naught but blessing, naught but consolation; not, indeed, always with the eyes of the flesh (to which they would appear to belong rather under the corresponding image of evils but with the eyes of the spirit. Nevertheless, we must not disregard even those blessings of theirs which may be seen, but rather learn from them how God would comfort us. For even the Psalmist did not venture, in Psalm 73:15, to condemn all those who amass riches in this world, but said, “If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children.”
This is the communion of saints, in which we glory. And whose heart will not be lifted up, even in the midst of great evils, when he believes that which is indeed the very truth; namely, that the blessings of all the saints are his blessings, and that his evil is also theirs! For this is the sweet and pleasant picture which the ApostlePaul depicts, in Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Is it not a blessing to be in such a company in which, “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it”? ( 1 Corinthians 12:26) as it is said in 1 Corinthians Therefore, when I suffer, I suffer not alone, but Christ and all Christianssuffer with me; as He saith, “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of My eye.” ( Zechariah 2:8) Even so others bear my burden, and their strength becomes my own. The Church’s faith supports my fearfulness, the chastity of others bears the temptations of my flesh, the fastings of others, are my gain, the prayer of another pleads for me. In short, such care have the members one for another, that the comely parts cover, serve, and honor the uncomely; as it is beautifully set forth in 1 Corinthians 6 ( Corinthians 12:22 ff.) And so I can truly glory in the blessings of others as though they were my own; and they are truly my own when I find joy and pleasure therein. Let me, then, be base and vile; yet they whom I love and admire are fair and beautiful. And by my love I make not only their blessings, but their very selves my own; so that by their honor my shame is made honorable, by their abundance my poverty is filled, by their merits my sins are healed. Who, then, could despair in his sins? Who would not rejoice in his pains? For it is not he that bears his sins and pains; or if he does bear them, he bears them not alone, but is assisted by so many holy sons of God, yea, even by Christ Himself. So great a thing is the communion of saints, and the Church of Christ. f255 If any one does not believe this, he is an infidel, and has denied Christ and the Church. For even if it should not be perceived yet it is true; but who could fail to perceive it? For why is it that you do not sink in despair, or grow impatient? Is it your strength? Nay: it is the communion of saints.
Otherwise you could not bear even a venial sin, nor endure a word of man against you. So close to you are Christ and the Church. It is this that we confess in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic f257 Church.” What is it to believe in the holy Church but to believe in the communion of saints. But what things have the saints in common?
Blessings, forsooth, and evils; all things belong to all; as the Sacrament of the Altar signifies, in the bread and wine, where we are all said by the Apostle to be one body, one bread, one cup. ( 1 Corinthians 10:17) For who can hurt any part of the body without hurting the whole body?
What pain can we feel in the tip of the toe that is not felt in the whole body? Or what honor can be shown to the feet in which the whole body will not rejoice? But we are one body. Whatever another suffers, that I suffer and bear; whatever good befalls him, befalls me. So Christ says that whatsoever is done unto one of the least of His brethren, is done unto Him. ( Matthew 25:40) If a man partake of the smallest fragment of the bread of the altar, is he not said to have partaken of the bread? If he despise one crumb of it, is he not said to have despised the bread?
When we, therefore, feel pain, when we suffer, when we die, let us turn hither our eyes, and firmly believe and be sure that it is not we, or we alone, but that Christ and the Church are in pain, are suffering, are dying with us. For Christ would not have us go alone into the valley of death, from which all men shrink in fear; but we set out upon the way of pain and death attended by the whole Church, and the Church bears the brunt of it all. Therefore, we can with truth apply to ourselves the words of Elisha, which he spake to his timid servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elishaprayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” ( 2 Kings 6:16 f.) This one thing remains for us also; namely, to pray that our eyes may be opened (I mean the eyes of our faith), that we may see the Church round about us.
Then there will be nothing for us to fear; as it is said also in <19C502> Psalm 125:2, “Mountains are round about it: so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth now and forever.” f260