- Christ in Our Midst: Incarnation, Church and Discipleship in the Theology of Pilgram Marpeck
This fine book is a reworking of the French publication Christologie anabaptiste. Pilgram Marpeck et l’humanité du Christ (Geneva, 1984) of Neal Blough’s dissertation. The author contributes to a “renaissance” of research on the Anabaptist leader Pilgram Marpeck (c. 1495–1556).A layman who trained as an engineer, Marpeck served in civil office and, after his expulsion from the Tirol as an Anabaptist leader, sought employment in public [End Page 616] works projects for much of his adult life. He was, then, an unusual progenitor of the Hutterite and Mennonite traditions that advocated a strict separation from the civil communities around them.
The author examines four themes that demonstrate Marpeck’s creative contributions to his sixteenth-century communities and to theology more generally—authority within the church, the link between internal and external dynamics of faith, the connection between justification and sanctification, and the relationship of church and state. Consistent with other reformers, Marpeck insists on an Christological reading of Scripture; however, his Christology—focused as it was on an increasingly persecuted gathered community of believers—led to a reading more critical of the use and abuse of power by ecclesiastical and civil authorities. Combining what Blough calls a “Lutheran sacramental logic” that emphasized the external, physical media of grace with “an almost Calvinist understanding of the ‘real’ (though) spiritual presence,” Marpeck affirms “the visibility of the church and a communal Spirit-filled presence that reflected the humanity of Christ in the world” (p. 22). By refusing to separate justification from sanctification, Marpeck, according to Blough, was truer to the positions of St. Augustine of Hippo and much of the medieval Church than was Luther. However, his insistence on justification by faith and his belief that “infused grace” comes through the direct gift of the Holy Spirit, rather than the institutional sacraments ex opera operato places him closer to Protestant views in that regard. The inherent link between justification and sanctification led him to criticize the social and political quietism of many under the sway of Luther’s justification by faith alone. According to Blough, Marpeck believed that the “victory of resurrection over the forces of evil and the subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit” brings not only “forgiveness and reconciliation” but also empowers disciples in the present to such things as feeding the hungry and the “confrontation of false theological, political or ethical options” (pp. 220, 226). The gathered community of believers is Christ’s humanity continuing to act in history. Due to his emphasis on the cross of Christ and the noncoercive nature of the Holy Spirit, Marpeck rejected the role of the sword in matters of faith, whether wielded by the Anabaptists at Münster, the princes of the Schmalkaldic League, or Charles V. Believers are empowered to follow Christ and are “transformed collectively in his image,” thereby constituting the “unglorified” body of Christ, which is sent “into the world to take on the same form as Jesus of Nazareth, the form of self-giving and nonviolent love” (p. 220).
Believing “only an internationally embodied Gospel can combat the disparities of wealth and privilege” in the world, Blough calls on Mennonites to engage “other traditions and theologies” in a “catholic” effort to address them (p. 244). His explication of Marpeck’s use of “traditional theological categories of Incarnation and Trinity” (p. 244) offers entry points for dialogue and exchange for Roman Catholic and Protestant scholars from other traditions. With these goals and conversation partners in mind, readers can benefit [End Page 617] greatly from Blough’s careful exposition of this passionate, sixteenth-century advocate of peace and justice.