Church militant and church triumphant

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The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, fresco by Andrea da Firenze in Santa Maria Novella, c. 1365

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

  • the Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans), comprising Christians on earth who are living; who struggle against sin, the devil and "..the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12);
  • the Church Triumphant (Ecclesia Triumphans), comprising those who are in Heaven; and
  • the Church Penitent (Ecclesia Penitens), a.k.a. Church Suffering or Church Padecent or Church Expectant (Ecclesia Expectans), which in Catholic theology comprises those Christians presently in Purgatory.

These terms are often used 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.

Origin of the term[edit]

The Latin word militans has a primary meaning of "serving as a soldier, military", but it acquired a secondary meaning of "to struggle, to make an effort", which is the intended sense here. Christians on earth (the Church Militant) are still struggling against sin in order that, when they die, they might go to heaven and be members of the Church Triumphant, those who have triumphed over sin.

Usage in different Christian Churches[edit]


The Catholic Church commemorates the Church Triumphant and the Church Penitent on two consecutive days: All Saints Day on November 1 (the Church Triumphant), and All Souls Day on November 2 (the Church Suffering).

These terms are not used in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church, the authoritative collection of the teaching of Catholicism, first published in 1994. However, the teaching these terms represent is precisely restated in paragraph 954 of the Catechism, which quote Lumen gentium, the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council:

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"' (CCC 954)

Ecclesia militans, one of the largest icons in existence


The concept of the church militant is also used in Anglicanism. One of the better known references is in the opening words of the Intercession in the Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer, which begins, "Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here in earth."[1]


The African Methodist Episcopal Church 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."[2] The Church Militant includes all Christian denominations, such as Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, among many others.[2] In the same fashion, it defines the Church Triumphant as "in heaven, and consists of those who have washed their robes and made them immaculate and pure in the blood of the Lamb."[2]

Seventh-day Adventist[edit]

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)."[3] Thus, the Seventh-day Adventist view is unique in 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Lord's Supper or Holy Communion". Book of Common Prayer. Church of England. Retrieved 26 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c 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 constant 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. 
  3. ^ Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), pp. 565-566.

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