Churches Militant, Penitent, and Triumphant

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The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, fresco by Andrea da Firenze in Santa Maria Novella, c. 1365 Way-of-salvation-church-militant-triumphant-andrea-di-bonaiuto-1365.jpg
The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, fresco by Andrea da Firenze in Santa Maria Novella, c. 1365

In Christian theology, the Christian Church is traditionally divided into:

Christian theology is the theology of Christian belief and practice. Such study concentrates primarily upon the texts of the Old Testament and of the New Testament, as well as on Christian tradition. Christian theologians use biblical exegesis, rational analysis and argument. Theologians may undertake the study of Christian theology for a variety of reasons, such as in order to:

Christian Church Term used to refer to the whole group of people belonging to the Christian religious tradition

Christian Church is a Protestant ecclesiological term referring to the church invisible and/or all Christians throughout the history of Christianity, used since the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. In this understanding, "Christian Church" does not refer to a particular Christian denomination but to the "body" of all "believers", both defined in various ways. Other Christian traditions believe that the term "Christian Church" or "Church" applies only to a specific concrete Christian institution, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, or the Assyrian Church of the East; or to a group of institutions, as in the branch theory taught by some Anglicans.


Christians people who adhere to Christianity

Christians are people who follow or adhere to Christianity, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The words Christ and Christian derive from the Koine Greek title Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ).

<i>Miles Christianus</i>

The miles Christianus or "milites Christi" is a Christian allegory based on New Testament military metaphors, especially the Armor of God metaphor of military equipment standing for Christian virtues and on certain passages of the Old Testament from the Latin Vulgate.

Christian views on sin

The doctrine of sin is central to Christianity, since its basic message is about redemption in Christ. Christian hamartiology describes sin as an act of offence against God by despising His persons and Christian biblical law, and by injuring others. In Christian views it is an evil human act, which violates the rational nature of man as well as God's nature and His eternal law. According to the classical definition of St. Augustine of Hippo sin is "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God."

These divisions are known as the three states of the Church, especially within Catholic ecclesiology. [2] In systems of theology which reject the doctrine of Purgatory, such as Lutheranism, [3] the Churches Militant and Triumphant are together known as the two states of the Church. These divisions are often discussed in the context of the doctrine of the communion of saints; although Christians may be physically separated from each other by the barrier of death, they nonetheless remain united to each other in one Church, and support each other in prayer.

Catholic ecclesiology

Catholic ecclesiology is the theological study of the Catholic Church, its nature and organization, as described in revelation or in philosophy. Such study shows a progressive development over time. Here the focus is on the time leading into and since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Lutheranism form of Protestantism commonly associated with the teachings of Martin Luther

Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the teaching of Martin Luther, a 16th-century German reformer. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the church launched the Protestant Reformation. The reaction of the government and church authorities to the international spread of his writings, beginning with the 95 Theses, divided Western Christianity.

Communion of saints

The communion of saints, when referred to persons, is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, living and the dead, excluding therefore the damned. They are all part of a single "mystical body", with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.



The term militant (Latin : militans) has a primary meaning of "being a soldier, performing military service", [4] but it acquired a secondary meaning of "serving, performing service, laboring", [5] with its root milito coming to mean "soldier of Christ or God" in Medieval Latin usage. [6] The members of the Church Militant, i.e. those Christians on earth, are engaged in spiritual warfare against sin in order that, when they die, they might enter heaven and join the Church Triumphant. Failing that directly, those who believe in the existence of Purgatory hope to die in a state of grace and join the Church Penitent, to purify themselves of their imperfections and, ultimately, join the Church Triumphant.

Soldier one who serves as part of an organized armed force

A soldier is one who fights as part of an army. A soldier can be a conscripted or volunteer enlisted person, a non-commissioned officer, or an officer.

Military service Performing the service in the armed forces of a state

Military service is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job (volunteer) or as a result of an involuntary draft (conscription).

Medieval Latin Form of Latin used in the Middle Ages

Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in Roman Catholic Western Europe during the Middle Ages. In this region it served as the primary written language, though local languages were also written to varying degrees. Latin functioned as the main medium of scholarly exchange, as the liturgical language of the Church, and as the working language of science, literature, law, and administration.


The term penitent (Latin: poenitens or paenitens means "repenting, being sorry". [7] Those who constitute the Church Penitent are in Purgatory to satisfy whatever portion of the temporal punishment due for their sins was not satisfied before death. They are in a process of purging their imperfections before entering heaven. It is held that all members of the Church Penitent will eventually join the Church Triumphant.

The alternate term suffering (Latin: dolens, lit. 'grieving') [8] emphasizes the nature of souls' experience in Purgatory; they are suffering the temporal consequences of their sins to redemptive effect. The other alternative, expectant (Latin : expectans or exspectans), emphasizes that the souls of Purgatory are awaiting expectantly the beatific vision of heaven.

Redemptive suffering is the Christian belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one's sins or for the sins of another, or for the other physical or spiritual needs of oneself or another. Like an indulgence, redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, which cannot be earned. After one's sins are forgiven, the individual's suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.

In Christian theology, the beatific vision is the ultimate direct self-communication of God to the individual person. A person possessing the beatific vision reaches, as a member of redeemed humanity in the communion of saints, perfect salvation in its entirety, i.e. heaven. The notion of vision stresses the intellectual component of salvation, though it encompasses the whole of human experience of joy, happiness coming from seeing God finally face to face and not imperfectly through faith..


The term triumphant (Latin: triumphans), means "exulting, rejoicing exceedingly", taken from a figurative usage of triumphus, originally designating the Roman triumph. [9] Those who constitute the Church Triumphant rejoice eternally in the glory of God, to whom they are united in the beatific vision.

Usage in different Christian Churches

Anglican Communion

Anglicans believe that "...the Church on earth is united with the Church in heaven, ('sanctorum communio'). They speak of the 'Church Militant here on earth' and the Church triumphant in heaven. They worship God together with 'angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.'" [10]

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church commemorates the Church Triumphant and the Church Penitent in its liturgy on two consecutive days: All Saints' Day on November 1 (the Church Triumphant) and All Souls' Day on November 2 (the Church Penitent).

These terms are not used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church , an authoritative summary of the teaching of the Catholic Church published in 1994. However, the teaching these terms represent is precisely restated, quoting Lumen gentium :

The three states of the Church. "When the Lord comes in glory, and all his angels with him, death will be no more and all things will be subject to him. But at the present time some of his disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating 'in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is'." [2]

Ecclesia militans, one of the largest icons in existence Blessed Be the Host of the King of Heaven... - Google Art Project.jpg
Ecclesia militans , one of the largest icons in existence

Lutheran Church

Eric Lund, a Lutheran professor, described an analogy relating the Old Testament to the New Testament: "God ordered two altars to be placed in the tabernacle. Fire was transferred from the outer one to the inner one. God also assembled a twofold church: the church militant and the church triumphant. The fire of love will someday be transferred from the church militant to the church triumphant." [11] As such, within Lutheranism, "That is called the Church militant, which in this life is still fighting, under the banner of Christ, against Satan, the world, and the flesh." [12] Likewise, "That is called the Church triumphant, which, being transferred to heavenly rest, and relieved from the labor of fighting, and the danger of being overcome in heaven against all contending powers." [12] Heinrich Schmid, a Lutheran theologian explains that the Church Militant derives her name from spiritual warfare, citing Ephesians 6:10, 1 Peter 5:8–9, 1 John 5:4, Romans 7:14, and Galatians 5:17; he further states that the Church Triumphant derives her name from spiritual victory, citing Revelation 2:10, Revelation 4:4, and Revelation 7:9. [12]

Methodist Churches

The African Methodist Episcopal Church, a part of the World Methodist Council, defines the Church Militant as "engaged in constant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil, and in that respect is distinguished from the Church Triumphant." [13] It defines the Church Militant as inclusive of all Christian denominations, among them Methodism, Presbyterianism, Baptist churches, Congregational churches, Anglicanism, among many others. [13] In the same fashion, it defines the Church Triumphant as existing "in heaven, and consist[ing] of those who have washed their robes and made them immaculate and pure in the blood of the Lamb." [13]

In Methodist theology, "the communion expressed at the Eucharist is not only within the Church Militant, but is between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant." [14]

Seventh-day Adventist Church

The Seventh-day Adventist Church defines the terms in the following ways, "While in this world the church is a militant church, daily engaged in the battles of its Lord, and in warfare against satanic agencies. Its members are in constant conflict with the world, the flesh, and the powers of evil (Rom. 7:15–23; Gal. 5:17; 1 Peter 5:8, 9; 1 John 5:4; cf. 1 John 4:4). If this side of the Lord's return the church is the militant church, the church of the New Jerusalem is the triumphant church. It is made up of faithful disciples and conquerors in this worldly battle. They have exchanged the sword for a palm of victory (Rev 7:9) and the cross for a crown (2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4). The battle is over, the mission accomplished (Matt. 25:21, 23) and the redeemed, invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), eat and drink at Christ's table in His kingdom (Luke 22:28–30) and reign with Him for ever and ever (Rev 22:5)." [15] Thus, the Seventh-day Adventist view is that the church is the Church Militant until the general resurrection at the end of the present age. The church becomes the Church Triumphant only after the second coming of Christ.

Secular uses

The two states account of the church was adapted by Anatoly Lunacharsky to distinguish between a socialistic culture of the future (Ecclesia triumphans) and proletarian culture of the proletariat struggling in the present against capitalism (Ecclesia militans). This theoretical approach was used in the development of Proletkult. [16]

See also

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  1. Ephesians 6:12
  2. 1 2 "CCC, 954".
  3. Hendrix, Scott H. (1974). Ecclesia in Via. Brill Archive. p. 225. ISBN   9789004038653. Since the link between the two states of the church is not sometehing inherent or interior in the faithful themselves, but comes to them from outside and beyond them, Luther describes the militant church as a testimonium, and not as an image, of the triumphant church. This description of the relationship between the two churches does justice both to the discontinuity between life in fide et spe and life in re and to the function of the eternal res (and to the Word of Christ) as the "external" link between the two states of the church.
  4. Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles, eds. (1879). "mīlĭto". A Latin Dictionary . Oxford: Clarendon Press . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  5. Lewis, Charlton T., ed. (1890). "mīlitō". An Elementary Latin Dictionary. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: American Book Company . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  6. Latham, R. E.; Howlett, D. R.; Ashdowne, R. K., eds. (1975–2013). "ilito". The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources . London: British Academy . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  7. Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles, eds. (1879). "paenĭtĕo". A Latin Dictionary . Oxford: Clarendon Press . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  8. Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles, eds. (1879). "dŏlĕo". A Latin Dictionary . Oxford: Clarendon Press . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  9. Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles, eds. (1879). "trĭumpho". A Latin Dictionary . Oxford: Clarendon Press . Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  10. Alvis, Gary (2000). The Anglican Understanding of the Church: An Introduction (Kindle ed.). London: SPCK Publishing. p. Chapter 7. ISBN   978-0-281-06815-9.
  11. Lund, Eric (2011). Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns. Paulist Press. p. 137. ISBN   9780809147298.
  12. 1 2 3 Schmid, Heinrich (1876). The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Lutheran Publication Society. p. 603.
  13. 1 2 3 Bishop H.M. Turner, D.D., LL.D. (1885). The Genius and Theory of Methodist Polity, or the Machinery of Methodism. African Methodist Episcopal Church . Retrieved 7 July 2011. 13 Q. What do the visible and invisible church constitute? A. The church militant, or military church, which is engaged in 'onstant warfare against the world, the flesh and the devil, and in that respect is distinguished from the 'church triumphant.' 14 Q. What do you mean by 'Church Triumphant?" A. The church triumphant is in heaven, and consists of those who have washed their robes and made them immaculate and pure 'in the blood of the Lamb.' 15 Q. The church militant then is upon earth? A. Yes; and comprehends all Christian denominations; viz., Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians and many others. 16 Q. Do you mean to say that it takes all the church denominations of the world to constitute the 'church militant?' A. I do. For all these so-called churches are only so many religious societies forming the 'Church militant,' which are recognized by Christ in the aggregate.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. Billington, Raymond (23 September 2014). The Liturgical Movement and Methodism. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 74. ISBN   9781498205016.
  15. Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), pp. 565–566.
  16. Pasvolsky, Leo (1921). "Proletkult:Its Prentions and Fallacies". North American Review. CCXIII (April 1921): 539–550. Retrieved 9 April 2017.[ permanent dead link ]