The Church as Sign or Sacrament: Trinitarian Ecclesiology, Pilgram Marpeck, Vatican II and John Milbank


     Abstract: This essay compares Marpeck's incarnational and trinitarian Christology with developments in Catholic sacramental theology related to Vatican II, arguing that notions such as the "humanity of Christ" or the "unglorified body of Christ" found throughout Marpeck's writings have striking parallels to recent Catholic descriptions of the church as "sign" or "sacrament." The second half of the essay demonstrates that the comparison is of more than historical interest by engaging the thought of the contemporary theologian John Milbank. Milbank, like Marpeck and the theologians of Vatican II, ties the visible presence of the church in the world both to a trinitarian theology and to a more narrative understanding of nonviolent discipleship. In so doing, Milbank demonstrates that Marpeck's Anabaptist theology, cast in incarnational, trinitarian and sacramental language, could be quite useful for Mennonites as they think about how they might participate in wider conversations with other Christian traditions and develop an ecclesiology that is more consciously catholic and missional, while at the same time maintaining-and perhaps even strengthening-the fundamental convictions of their own tradition.


     One of the main ecclesiological contributions of the Vatican II Council (1962-1965) was its emphasis on the church as a "sacrament or sign of salvation"[1]  and its readiness to define the church primarily as the "people of God" rather than in more traditional hierarchical terms. References to the church as a sacrament obviously have deep roots in the history of Catholic theology.[2]  Vatican II documents cite references to the patristic period and note that an important development took place in the thirteenth century, when scholastic theology systematized reflection on the sacraments and conceived of the union between Christ and the church as the principal sacrament, and therefore as foundational for all particular sacraments. Although medieval sacramental theology, according to the Dominican scholar Yves Congar, was often disassociated from its ecclesiological foundations, Thomas Aquinas-and specifically his notion of the "humanity of Christ"-kept alive the possibility of a sacramental understanding of the church.[3] 

     Neo-scholastic Catholic theology of the mid-nineteenth century revived this theme in its conception of the church as the "prolongation of the glorified Christ on earth." In keeping with Aquinas, for whom the seven sacraments had their origin in the one true and unique sacrament, more recent Catholic theologians articulated the idea that Christ, through the church, is at work in its members "as through diverse instruments."[4] 

     In 1937, Yves Congar began to formulate his ecclesiology in sacramental terms. Around the same time, the Belgian theologian Emile Mersch wrote of the church as prolonging the humanity of Christ, and therefore as the sacrament par excellence.[5]  Twenty-five years later Henri de Lubac insisted on the necessary distinction between Christ and the church, but claimed nevertheless that the church perpetuated the work of the Son of God on earth.[6]  This neo-Thomist approach did not always make a clear conceptual distinction between Christ and the church. As the "prolongation of the humanity of Christ" the church was understood to participate in and contribute to the accomplishment of salvation. The church thus became the fundamental sacrament; as the prolongation of the Incarnation it was not always distinguished from Christ.[7] 

     The German Jesuit Otto Semmelroth brought this concept of the church to its pre-conciliar fruition in the 1950s.[8]  Citing Pius XII's 1943 encyclical Mystici corporis, which described Christ as the instrument of God still at work in the life of the church (the incarnati verbi instrumentum), Semmelroth described the saving action of God as located in the present in the life of the church, which possesses the divine reality in a way so real and so objective that whoever is in contact with it comes into contact with the divine reality.[9]  This, of course, is an instrumental (ex opere operato) understanding of the church as sacrament in which the church, as a causal instrument, mediates God's salvation to the world. [10] 

     Alongside this conception appeared another approach that described the church as "sign" rather than a cause or instrument of salvation. Karl Rahner, a Jesuit, perhaps best represents this other tendency. For Rahner, ecclesiology is secondary, deduced from the more fundamental sacramental structure of the Incarnation. Thus the body of Christ is a prolongation of the mystery of Christ, a sign of the presence of divine grace that was definitively given in Christ. The church, however, is a sign of grace, not grace in and of itself. In other words, Rahner maintained that the difference between "sign" and "that which is signified" needs to be maintained, even if they are ultimately inseparable.[11] 

     The documents of Vatican II incorporated both of these two tendencies, speaking of the church both as efficacious sacrament and as sign. Their main intention was not to define the church in and of itself, but to speak of its presence and mission in and for the world.[12]  Within the conciliar documents, this expression is first evident in the "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy":

     [Christ] achieved his task principally by the Paschal Mystery of his blessed passion, resurrection from the dead and the glorious ascension, whereby "dying, he destroyed our death, and rising he restored our life." For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth "the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church."[13] 

     Thereafter, the term sacrament became a key concept to describe the church. "The Church is in Christ like a sacrament," the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy continued, ". . . a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race."[14] 

"The Constitution of the Church" (Lumen Gentium) described the sacramental qualities of the church in similar language:

     God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity.[15] 

     Christ, having been lifted up from the earth, has drawn all to himself (cf Jn. 12:32). Rising from the dead (cf. Rom. 6:9), he sent his lifegiving Spirit upon his disciples and through him has established his body, which is the Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation.[16] 

     This sacramental understanding of the church refers less frequently to rites than it does to the church as a "presence" in the world. Moreover, the church as sacrament has clear missiological implications. The Vatican II "Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church" (Ad Gentes), describes the church as "divinely sent to the nations of the world to be unto them 'a universal sacrament of salvation.'" Being "driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her Founder (cf. Mk. 16:16)," the church "strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all. . . ."[17]  At the same time, the very unity and reconciliation of humankind is at stake: "The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church, for she is, thanks to her relationship with Christ, a sacramental sign and an instrument of intimate union with God, and of the unity of the whole human race."[18] 


     Anyone familiar with the theology of Pilgram Marpeck will recognize a striking similarity between his notion of the "humanity of Christ" and the church as sign or sacrament in the Vatican II documents.[19]  This similarity is not because Pilgram Marpeck had any influence on twentieth-century Catholic thinking; rather, Marpeck's thinking has its roots in medieval theology.

The Humanity of Christ

     Marpeck initially elaborated his concept of the "humanity of Christ" (die menschheit Christi) during his years in Strasbourg. Among the various theological debates in which Marpeck participated in the early 1530s was his encounter with a Spiritualist rejection of outer ceremonies. Marpeck's response to this challenge can be found in his two booklets of 1531, the Klarer Unterricht[20]  and the Clare Verantwortung.[21] 

     The main point of these debates pertained to the usefulness and necessity of "outward means" (eusserliche mittel), designated by the technical term "ceremonies."[22]  For Spiritualists such as Caspar Schwenckfeld, Christian Entfelder and Hans Bnderlin, the essence of Christian life was seen as primarily inner, spiritual and invisible. Indeed, Schwenckfeld proposed a truce (Stillstand) in the usage of outer ceremonies such as baptism, Lord's Supper and ordination that became a definitive understanding of the sacraments. Marpeck's response in the Klarer Unterricht-which was probably based on his reading of Martin Luther's writings against Karlstadt, Mntzer and Zwingli-used the incarnation of Christ as the key reason for the necessity of outward and material manifestations of the church's common life.

     Marpeck's reasoning was simple and clear: in the incarnation, spiritual or inner reality is closely tied to material or outer reality. "The secrets of God lie hidden," he wrote, "under the outward speech, words, deeds and ceremonies of the humanity of Christ."[23]  In order to attain inner or spiritual knowledge, an outward key is necessary. "Therefore," Marpeck wrote:

     whoever presumes to discover the secrets of God, or presumes to be taught by God, without the outward, that is, the exterior or visible, casts away . . . the very means by which he could be taught, could learn, or discover the divine secrets, for it is precisely the humanity of Christ which is our mediator before the Godhead (I Tim. 2:5), and not the Godhead before the humanity.[24] 

     Marpeck constantly linked the "ceremonies" to Christ's humanity. For Marpeck, a ceremony extends beyond the two sacraments of baptism and eucharist to include anything that Christ or the apostles commanded. This has interesting ethical implications, because all of discipleship-i.e., following Christ in love of neighbor and of enemy, the practices of forgiveness and admonition-is incorporated into the "humanity of Christ."

     Marpeck apparently had a very realistic or "material" understanding of this process, for he spoke of the "physical voice of Christ, channeled even today through "people and Scriptures."[25]  In other words, the ceremonies and the entire "outer life" of the church are a prolongation of the humanity of Christ-not just baptism and the eucharist, but everything that the Christian community accomplished in a public and physical way.

     It is interesting to see a similar mode of reasoning in twentieth-century Catholic theology. For Yves Congar, calling the church a sacrament means that her entire life becomes sacramental.[26]  Such a perspective was incorporated into the theology of Vatican II:

     For this reason, it [the church] is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to him serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, in the building up of the body (cf. Eph. 4:16).[27] 

The Trinitarian Notion of "Wesen" or "Reality"

     The first manifestations of Marpeck's sacramental theology thus date from the early 1530s and could be described as christological and incarnational in origin. The next major step in the development of his thinking in this regard was more explicitly trinitarian and emerged in the 1540s, particularly in Marpeck's personal editing of the translation of Bernhard Rothmann's Bekentnisse van beyden Sacramenten.[28] 

     In a discussion on the relationship of "inward" (spiritual) and "outward" (material), Marpeck refused to consider baptism as a mere sign, claiming that the ceremony participates in divine reality (Wesen).[29]  "If one desires to receive the external sign correctly," he wrote, "he must certainly bring with him the inner and the outer essence [reality] together, wherever and whatever happens, then the signs are no longer signs, but are one essence [reality] in Christ, according to the inner and outer being.[30] 

     This correspondence between inner and outer reality, claimed Marpeck, is grounded in the very life of the Trinity-in the relationship between Father and Son, realized on earth through the work of the Spirit.[31]  This inner/outer reality is thus part of the sacramental extension of Christ's humanity through the life of the church. [32] 

     This trinitarian development of Marpeck's theology is important, for there can be no christological foundation for the ceremonies without this larger theological underpinning. The trinitarian perspective also corresponds with Marpeck's historical understanding of the humanity of Christ. It was fundamental to Marpeck's thinking that the Incarnation made a real difference in history-that it happened at a particular point of time, followed by the sending of the Spirit, who then established the church. Without the sending of the Spirit and its presence in the life of the Church, there can be no sacramental extension of the Incarnation. It is through the work of the Holy Spirit that material and outward reality participates in God's action in the world. It thus becomes clear that Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit play an important role in the construction of Marpeck's sacramental, and now explicitly trinitarian and historical, framework. [33] 

     In a parallel manner Yves Congar criticized earlier Catholic understandings of the church as sacrament for their lack of an explicitly trinitarian foundation. In a more theologically sophisticated fashion, his perspective is close to what we see in Marpeck. According to Congar, the church came into existence only at Pentecost, and it is the Spirit that breathes life into it, allowing the church to become a sacrament of salvation. The church is the body and bride of Christ, but her sacramentality depends on Pentecost. This sacramentality is the fruit of the process of salvation resulting from the cross and resurrection of Jesus, but whose continuation depends on the work of the Spirit in the life of the church. [34] 

The "Unglorified Body of Christ" on Earth

     During the 1540s, further dialogue and conflict with Caspar Schwenckfeld, who had reacted vigorously to the Vermahnung, incited Marpeck to clarify further his sacramental ecclesiology by introducing the notion of the church as the "unglorified body of Christ."[35] 

     According to Schwenckfeld, Christ's flesh had a heavenly origin, and salvation was understood to be a progressive spiritualization and divinization of human flesh. In other words, material reality is destined to one day disappear. To the contrary, for Marpeck, the Incarnation signified that material reality is to be transformed, not to disappear. The debate had clear ethical implications. In Marpeck's eyes, Schwenckfeld taught only the interior, magnificent and glorified Christ who no longer suffered while seated in heaven. He spoke only of Christ's glory and majesty and not of the cross and tribulation that he bore before his ascension and glorification.[36]  Instead, insisted Marpeck, Christ brought about salvation in his body, within history, through humiliation and the cross. The church is called to follow the same path.[37] 

     To counter such a totally invisible and glorious Christ, Marpeck began to speak of the "unglorified" Christ. This unglorified Christ is then associated with the "humanity of Christ" of which Marpeck wrote in his Strasbourg years. Christ, who is now glorified, continues to act upon earth by the means of his unglorified body, namely the church.[38]  Christ's "untransfigured body [the church]," wrote Marpeck:

     is his outward work: teaching, baptism, Lord's Supper, admonition, ban, discipline, evidence of love and service for the common good, a handclasp, improving and retaining Christ's commands and teachings. . . . This outward work is brought about in and through the church by the reigning, glorified Christ with his and the Father's Holy Spirit.[39] 

     In this perspective, the common life of the faithful is the most sacramental reality of all. It is here that the "humanity of Christ" and the "unglorified body of Christ" reach their trinitarian summit in Marpeck's writing:

     Without the artistry and teaching of the Holy Spirit, who pours out the love, which is God, into the hearts of all the faithful, and which surpasses all reason and understanding, everything is in vain. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son, and He witnesses to the Father and Son in the hearts of all the faithful; He copies and repeats the perfect law of the liberty of Christ. The faithful look into this law of liberty in order that they may fervently do what Christ spoke and commanded.[40] 

     Discipleship thus becomes participation in the very life of the Trinity and the visible manifestation of God's love for the world. Once again, the parallel with Vatican II is striking. "What does the most to reveal God's presence," argues Lumen Gentium, is the "charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel . . . and who prove themselves a sign of unity. "[41] 

Similarities and Differences between Marpeck and Vatican II

     What happened within Catholicism that allowed such striking parallels? One way to explain differences between Vatican II and previous Catholic ecclesiology has to do with a change in social location. According to Congar, sacramental theology began to sacralise the church over the Word already in the second century.[42]  Augustinian influence promoted a growing emphasis on individual rites, and the Constantinian arrangement, which abolished any real distinction between church and world, further encouraged this growing emphasis on sacraments as rituals in and of themselves.[43]  As the Middle Ages progressed, the sacraments increasingly became "things," administered by a priest to an individual, separated from ecclesiology.[44]  Within this historical trajectory, there was no "world" in which the church was to be present. Since the French Revolution, however, the Catholic church has found itself less and less in a dominant or establishment position. After fighting against this shift for much of the nineteenth and part of the twentieth centuries, the church formally renounced claims to being a "state" or "official" church in Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty. For the first time in many centuries, Catholic theologians described the church more in terms of its relationship to the world than as an entity unto itself.[45] 

     The Anabaptist distinction between church and world allowed Marpeck to "anticipate" elements of Catholic theology that could only appear after its "disestablishment." By retaining a fundamental role for a sacramental presence of the church in the world, Marpeck's ecclesiology is, in this regard, more Lutheran than Zwinglian. On the other hand, Marpeck was totally uncomfortable with any suggestion of ex opere operato. His thinking, like that of many contemporary Lutheran theologians, described the church more as a "sign" than as a "sacrament."[46]  It is also clear that the church to which Marpeck referred was not episcopal and in many senses was still "protestant." John Rempel best summarizes Marpeck's thought in this regard:

     The mediating position precariously established by Marpeck's sacramental realism can be seen in its broader significance if it is cast into another set of categories. Marpeck's position was an attempt to join together Protestant principle and Catholic substance. The Catholic substance was the teaching of the incarnation as the rock from which all sacramental reality had to be hewn. The Protestant principle, especially in its radicalized form in Anabaptism, was the claim that faith was the sine qua non of the church and of each Christian's life.[47] 



     What is the significance of this comparison between Marpeck's theology and recent Catholic understandings of the church as sign or sacrament for our own contemporary theological enterprise? In what sense is an incarnational and trinitarian ecclesiology relevant for our understanding of the theological task in relation to the church's presence in the world? Can these traditional categories allow us to theologize in a larger ecumenical context while at the same time maintain the specific concerns of our own heritage?

Trinitarian Christology Over Against an Ontology of Violence

     The theological heirs of Pilgram Marpeck and sixteenth-century Anabaptism have not been particularly renowned for their carefully refined theological discourse. Instead, theirs is a tradition of discipleship and ethics. Presence and action in the world have been more important than abstract understandings of ontology or formulations of Christian discourse in relation to other worldviews. For many reasons, both good and bad, Mennonites have traditionally been suspicious of systematic theology and the speculative task of the human mind.

     Thus, it is not surprising that Pilgram Marpeck was not a trained theologian; nor did he function in a university setting. Indeed, his concerns were practical and ethical, related to very concrete situations of church life in very complex and difficult situations. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to use and integrate-albeit sometimes clumsily-traditional theological categories in his practice of theology.[48]  His perception of the church and of Christian life was not Constantinian, but neither did he assume that all uses of traditional christological and trinitarian categories were necessarily bound to a Constantinian worldview. In fact, he used precisely these categories to critique the Constantinian practices of the medieval church.[49]  Is such a use of these categories still useful or possible today?

     Mennonites have traditionally maintained a theology of two kingdoms, separating "church" and "world" in a sometimes radical dualism. This has usually been an inherited way of functioning in a minority identity and context. It has only been in the twentieth century that have they begun to seriously engage the world, both in their action and rhetoric. But even as Mennonites enter consciously into a more reflective and analytic mode of being, it is quite possible that they are uncritically acquiescing to contemporary social theories of the secular world, adopting the manner in which that world describes and understands itself, even as they maintain their particular identity over against "Constantinian theologies."[50]  One consequence is the emergence of a secularized version of traditional two-kingdom theology that inclines Mennonites to accept an "autonomous" secular realm that by definition is free of any theological interference or justification.

     In Theology and Social Theory, the theologian John Milbank provides a profound analysis of the process in the Western world by which secular space was created to free the political, social, economic and intellectual spheres from the domination of a Constantinian church.[51]  Secular space was meant to be neutral and pluralist, that place where free and autonomous individuals shared a common life that allowed all to pursue the path they freely chose.[52]  Religion, on the other hand, was redefined as a private affair, something that can help those who so desire to make individual decisions and to give meaning to those choices. Such choices and meanings, however, are to be kept out of the public sphere, where human reason and the autonomous realms of society, politics and economics have their own rationally discernable means of functioning.

     Milbank urges us to look carefully at the underlying assumptions of modern and postmodern secularity. He warns that just as were pre-modern understandings of the political realm, so modern and postmodern understandings of the secular are founded upon an "ontology of violence." According to Milbank, only a solidly grounded trinitarian Christology is capable of critiquing the foundational role of violence in contemporary social sciences and political theory.

     The development of the social sciences is closely related to the history of the church and Christian theology. In many ways, the Western "invention of the secular" is an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation. According to Milbank, contemporary social sciences and theories are

     doomed to repeat the self-understanding of Christianity arrived at in late-medieval nominalism, the protestant reformation and seventeenth century Augustinianism, which completely privatized, spiritualized and transcendentalized the sacred, and concurrently reimagined nature, human action and society as a sphere of autonomous, sheer formal power.[53] 

     This means simply that, contrary to appearances, the "secular" is not neutral. Postmodern suspicion has uncovered the presuppositions, the implicit metanarrative, of the liberal modern project. In the words of Milbank, secularism's alleged universality and rational veneer

     both enshrines and conceals a particular history, namely the emergence of protestantism, liberal protestantism, and the Enlightenment, and together with these the rise of the bureaucratic state and capitalist economics. Thus the retracing of this history acquires the status of a metanarrative. . . .[54] 

     But the postmodern critique does not necessarily lead to post-modernism. Milbank refuses the nihilistic conclusions of postmodernism and claims that they themselves are a "mythos" that have the same status as any theological claim: "post-Nietzchean social theory suggests the practical inescapability of worship."[55]  Moreover, he is skeptical of any theological method that ties itself too closely to such decontructionist assumptions. Postmodernism is nothing but the latest manifestation of an ever present political ideology that presupposes the necessity of violence.[56] 

     Since contemporary theology must take on the claims of both modern secularism and postmodern nihilism, today's context is quite different from the one in which Pilgram Marpeck was writing. But Milbank's proposed theological response goes back to the categories so essential to Marpeck. Only the Christian narrative, Milbank argues, underpinned by an incarnational and trinitarian theology, and lived out in history by the church, can resist the acids of modern secularism and postmodern suspicion. Why is this the case? Because such a theology refuses to posit the ontological priority of violence.[57] 

     But how can this be the case with notions so seemingly abstract and irrelevant as the Incarnation and the Trinity? Those who are tempted to see such categories as merely a justification of the "Constantinian shift" sometimes have trouble recognizing how the christological reflections of the first several centuries represented a fundamental shift in how history and reality are to be conceived. It was the Catholic theologian Bernard Sesbo‚,[58]  and more recently Milbank, who first helped me to understand this. Milbank observed:

     Disconcerting as it may appear, one has to recognize in the doctrinal affirmation of the incarnation a radically inventive moment, which asserts the "finality" of God's appearance in a life involving suffering and violent death, and claims also that in a certain sense God "has to" be like this, and has not just "incidentally" chosen this path.[59] 

     As Mennonites like to remind theologians of other persuasions, Christology originated in the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth, interpreted in the tradition of the history of Israel. Christians regarded the stories about Christ as the final standard by which they were to understand and judge their lives. But the narrative moves to a more theoretical formulation. The doctrine of the Incarnation treats

     Christ as "measuring" all reality, in the same way that God's generated wisdom, his word, is taken to do. The doctrine of the incarnation therefore asserts that an identification of Jesus with the logos is implicit in Christian practice, and the doctrine itself helps to secure and promote an already existing Christocentrism.[60] 

     The doctrine of the Incarnation-Jesus' relationship to the logos-is a claim about how the world is and is to be. Jesus' self-giving death (the atonement) therefore becomes a constitutive aspect of the incarnational claim. In this respect, incarnational Christology has to do with the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection and how it is worked out practically in human history in the life of the Christian community.[61]  This is, of course, exactly how the notion functioned in the theology of Pilgram Marpeck, for whom the Incarnation was a fundamental "ontological" claim.

     Milbank makes a similar turn in arguing for the theological importance of the Trinity. In our contemporary secular context, the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary to work against the compartmentalization and the privatization of the religious as a realm separate from the secular or the empirical. If the secular realm is autonomous, then there is no real "space" for God and it makes little sense to speak of God as being present or active within the realm of human history. A trinitarian understanding of the Incarnation, by contrast, posits a relationship between divine reality and what is going on in our daily lives or, as Marpeck claimed, between the inner and the outer, the spiritual and the material. Because of the Incarnation, redemption and the sending of the Spirit, which together constitute the essence of trinitarian thought, Christian life becomes a participation in divine life. That being the case, "who God is" and "what God is about" have to do with the concrete realities of the political, social, economic and intellectual spheres of our existence. There is no such thing as "autonomous" or secular sphere of existence which by definition excludes the presence of God.

In other words, an overly transcendent or overly historicized God (two ever present temptations in contemporary theology), accompanied by a privatized conception of religion, only reinforces the possibility of an autonomous secular claim.

     God as Trinity-i.e., God as revealed concretely and historically through the Incarnation and present as Spirit-means that "transcendence" has a continuous entry point into human experience. The Trinity is therefore not a purely speculative claim. Divine differentiation is a source of harmonious relationships and not of conflict or violence. A concrete embodiment of that faith assumption implies a communal and harmonious way of living in the midst of history. It is a claim that transcendence and meaning can be found and verified only in the outplaying of human interaction in the course of history.[62]  Trinity means that the story of Jesus keeps on going. In Milbank's language:

     We interpret this narrative in a response which inserts us in a narrative relation to the "original" story. First and foremost, the Church stands in a narrative relationship to Jesus and the gospels, within a story that subsumes both. This must be the case, because no historical story is ever "over and done with."[63] 

     Such a perspective steers us away from an artificial opposition between "ontology" and "narrative."[64]  Ontology and narrative are mutually reinforcing and not mutually exclusive;[65]  both are necessary for any adequate conceptualization of human existence. There is a constant coming and going from concrete historical experience and narrative to the ontological. All ways of living, all forms of praxis, are born of experience and are thus "narrative," but they also lead to a conception of "how the world is," which in turn justifies continuing praxis.[66] 

     Since according to Milbank, all ontology is related to social theory, Christian theology is also Christian sociology.[67]  It would thus be a mistake to claim that a narrative Christology is superior to an ontological Christology. Choosing one over the other can and has been done, but if Milbank is correct, such a choice results in "bad" practice and can lead the church back to an "ontology of violence." An exclusively narrative Christology runs the risk of a positing a totally historicized God incapable of intervening in history, while ontological Christologies have all too often been used to underwrite the political status quo.

     Social sciences and theology function in similar ways. In other words, there is no such thing as a "pure" idea that has no reference to practical experience or that does not presuppose a faith claim about "how the world is." Convictions are justified, argued about and lived within the arena of human life. Worldviews that presuppose the priority of violence and the necessity of conflict have never hesitated to impose themselves. The praxis flows from the ontological assumptions. To the contrary, an ontology of peace cannot impose itself, but can only be based on a praxis of persuasion and rhetoric (i.e., witness):

     Christianity does not claim that the Good and the True are self-evident to objective reason, or dialectical argument. On the contrary, it from the first took the side of rhetoric against philosophy and contended that the Good and the True are those thinkings of which we "have a persuasion" . . . or "faith." We need the stories of Jesus for salvation, rather than just a speculative notion of the good, because only the attraction exercised by a particular set of words and images causes us to acknowledge the good and to have an idea of the ultimate telos.[68] 

This rhetorical basis, this explicit claim to faith, unmasks the faith claims of modern social sciences that are either implicit or pretend to be self-evident and universal.

     Christian faith, therefore, has a narrative basis, while at the same time formulating an ontology of peace that can only be based on rhetoric and persuasion-i.e., a refusal of violence. These ontological convictions, then, perform a regulative function in the ongoing narrative and praxis of the Christian community.[69]  Theology becomes the necessary grid through which we read the world. [70]  We are making claims as to how the world "is" and therefore as to how the world "is to be."

     This is why ecclesial reality is so important for Milbank. Such ontological or theological claims can be made only in the ongoing life of a community where they can be critiqued and tested against other claims. "There can only be a distinguishable Christian social theory because there is also a distinguishable Christian mode of action, a definite practice."[71] 

     The doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity thus provide the Christian narrative with the adequate theological (ontological) foundation from which the narrative can continue to be lived out in the midst of human history and other worldviews. There is no private or secular space from which God's presence can be excluded by definition.

     For Milbank-as for Pilgram Marpeck and Vatican II-this socio-political living out of the narrative in the midst of history is seen as an extension of the reality of the Trinity.[72]  The faith claim of the church is that Jesus' story is God's story, and that through the life of the church, the same story goes on.[73] 

     For Mennonite readers, Milbank's critique of violence takes us into strange territory since it is strongly rooted in the theology of Augustine, especially in his great work, The City of God. While later medieval readings of Augustine frequently confused the City of God with Western Christendom, Milbank claims that Augustine formulated an "ontology of peace" (lived out in the church) over against the "ontology of violence" inherent to the Roman Empire.

     Thus Augustine's contrast between ontological antagonism and ontological peace is grounded in the contrasting historical narratives of the two cities. . . . To show that pagan political communities were fundamentally sinful Augustine consequently had to argue that their structures of dominium-of self-command, economic property ownership, and political rule-were not truly subordinated to the ends of justice and virtue, but rather pursued dominium as an end in itself.[74] 

     The lengthy and complex argumentation of Milbank's book attempts to demonstrate that modern social theory of the secular has not moved beyond the pursuit of dominium and that the church's main task is to formulate a "praxis of non-violence."[75] 

The Church as Sign and Missiology

     Many Anabaptists-especially those in the Swiss-South German tradition of Schleitheim-conceived of the church as separate from the world, a dualism (Absonderung) that has also found a home within modern secularism. By contrast, Marpeck's sacramental view of the church, like that of Vatican II and Milbank, sends the church back "into the world."

     But Mennonites are not always sure how to go back into the world. In the light of contemporary violence, religious pluralism and secular postmodernism, theological or missionary claims for going into the world often seem to be relics of a colonialist, Constantinian and, thus, deplorable past. Some are perhaps more comfortable committing themselves to nonviolence, peace and justice and leaving mission to the evangelicals.

     Nonviolence, peace and justice, however, are not universal concepts standing free from the need of theoretical justification. And if, as Milbank claims, the secular and postmodern world presupposes the ontological priority of violence, Christians need a "counter-ontology." Grounding peace and reconciliation in the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth makes an explicit claim as to the nature of God and the world. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit mean that we are involved in a divine project of reconciliation that is "with the grain of the universe."[76]  And to engage in such a project, Christians must have the courage to claim the "truth" of that project.

     To be sure, postmodern deconstruction has us suspicious of truth claims. Are they not merely a sophisticated way of saying that we are right and that everyone should think and act as we do? How can we say to a Muslim or an atheist that our theology, our tradition, is "truer" than theirs? Truth claims are what people constantly fight over, so we hesitate to talk about truth.[77] 

     As it turns out, however, this is not a credible critique. By making truth claims, Christians are not doing something unique since, in fact, all attempts to describe the world imply "worship" of some kind. Indeed, even the claim that "all truth is relative" asserts that the world corresponds to this particular way of understanding reality. As a presupposition, the claim cannot be contradicted and is thus nonnegotiable. In any case, if all truth is relative or only a power grab in disguise, then conflict and violence do end up having ontological priority.

     Grounding our theological claims in the Incarnation and Trinity means that we will interpret other scientific or religious claims regarding the nature of the world through the lens of our prior ontology of peace. To give that up is to give up everything.[78]  This is not merely an "intellectual" claim. It is one that engages our very lives. "The metanarrative ceases . . . to be only a privileged set of events," writes Milbank, "but rather becomes the whole story of human history which is still being enacted and interpreted in the light of those events." [79] 

     In such a perspective, theology becomes missiology.[80]  Christology, ecclesiology, witness and social ethics blend together into a common goal. The church is in the world for a reason: it is "sent" into the world in the same way that the Messiah was sent into the world. Understanding the church as sign or sacrament means that all of Christian life is to be a reflection of God's project for the world. Convictions need to be embodied, personally, communally, institutionally and across generations. God's presence is a sacramental, mediated presence. The eternal, just and reconciling God is made known only through tangible and historical means. As Milbank claims, "without mutual forgiveness and social peace . . . no one will be able to see God."[81] 

     To say that any one human group is the bearer of divine truth is potentially a very pretentious claim. Anchored in a Constantinian framework where the church forgets her "ontology of peace," it can and has done much damage.[82]  But that is why the anchor is so important. Fundamental to the church's presence in the world is a praxis that mirrors the nonviolent and reconciling ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. This conviction can only be communicated by persuasion and example, which is to say, by witness. Any attempt to impose it is a contradiction and betrayal of the very message it seeks to proclaim. Again, Milbank is clear:

     Testimony is here offered to the Good, in a witnessing that also participates in it. This commitment to a rhetorical, and not dialectical path to the Good opens out the following implication: only persuasion of the truth can be non-violent, but truth is only available through persuasion. Therefore truth, and non-violence have to be recognized simultaneously in that by which we are persuaded. Without attachment to a particular persuasion-which we can never prove to be either true, or non-violent-we would have no real means to discriminate peace and truth from their opposites.[83] 

     The Gospel encourages us to be self-critical and to admit that we can and do fail. Both message and praxis constantly remind us of our own weaknesses: repentance and forgiveness are ever-present realities. Communally embodied repentance and forgiveness thus become an important part of the sacramental and missiological presence of the church.[84] 


     Pilgram Marpeck wrote in the context of the Reformation, an extremely violent disruption of Western Christendom. His reflections on Christ's humanity, just as the visible body of Christ was tearing itself apart, was a biting critique of the violence of sixteenth-century religious wars.[85] 

     That disruption has decisively shaped the course of Christianity ever since. The body of Christ continues to be broken, a fact that many theologies take for granted, without seeing it as a fundamental problem for the church's very existence.

     Mennonites like to think that their critique of medieval Constantinianism points to one of the major failures of the church. I share that conviction and argue for it when engaging in ecumenical dialogue.[86]  Nevertheless, Mennonite theology is only a partial theology, and this partiality reflects the brokenness of Christ's body. As Mennonites move into the world, seeking to be part of a broader reconciling community working for peace and justice, they can no longer do theology as if other Christians do not exist, as if its own tradition has nothing to learn from the theology and experience of other members of Christ's body, and as if Christians do not live in a world that offers many alternative readings of history and of reality. Mennonites doing theology must face all of the difficult questions that other traditions have often answered differently than we. They are not separated from the history of other Christians and the rest of the world. The history of the medieval church is also our history. Mennonites share in the church's failure to live and communicate the Gospel. They are also very much a part of North American history and benefit from the privileges of American and European political and economic power.

     Part of our theological and ecclesial task is to constantly reformulate and live the Gospel in ever-changing contexts. If the church is a sign, we must remember that signs can lie.[87]  An important part of being a sign is also to articulate the church's failures and to place ourselves within that same history. Our own failure to understand and live the Gospel have brought judgment upon the church. "Insofar as the Church has failed, and has even become a hellish anti-Church," writes Milbank, "it has confined Christianity, like everything else, within the cycle of the ceaseless exhaustion and return of violence."[88] 

     Those words do not come from a Mennonite. They indicate however, along with the documents of Vatican II and the fact that the World Council of Churches has asked for dialogue with the Historic Peace Churches, that the Constantinian churches are in the process of a major theological reevaluation about their role in the world. That being the case, and given our own increasing involvement in the "world," the moment appears ripe for Mennonites to consciously do their theology within the larger context of the broken body of Christ.

     A reconsideration of the notion of catholicity could be of great help in this regard.[89]  Only a catholicity that takes seriously each local context but is at the same time international, intercultural and transhistorical can save the church from nationalist blindness and the tendency to identify its own goals with the particular and arbitrary goals of the nations in which we find ourselves. Only an internationally embodied Gospel can work against the disparities of wealth and privilege. Only a catholic church can embody the fullness of our historical, cultural and theological differences in the context of a larger unity.

     But that means that Mennonites will need to more consciously position themselves in relation to other traditions and theologies. It is in this respect that Marpeck's use of traditional theological categories of Incarnation and Trinity helps point the way forward to claiming both the specific treasures of our own tradition and the common language of the larger body of which we are a part.[90] 

     The Vatican II documents place the church in the service of the world, and not of her own institutional well-being. The notion of catholicity also implies that the church exists for the world and that our ultimate interest is God's universal project of reconciliation (Col. 2:19-20). In Catholic thought, the church as sacrament is ultimately a sign of the unity and reconciliation of the entire human community.[91]  All that happens in this world is of concern to us. "The joys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."[92] 

[*] Neal Blough is Director of the Paris Mennonite Centre and Professor of Church History at the Facult‚ de Th‚olgie Evang‚lique, Vaux sur Seine, France. 1. Yves Congar, Un peuple messianique: l'Eglise, sacrement du salut. Salut et liberation (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1975), 13. Readers will notice that I have relied heavily on French sources to describe Catholic theology. Return to Text

[2] . Histoire des Dogmes, eds. Bernard Sesbo‚ and Paul Tihon, Vol. 3: Les signes du salut (Paris: Descl‚e, 1995), 524. Return to Text

[3] . Congar, Un peuple messianique, 57-58. Return to Text

[4] . "quasi per divers instrumenta," cf. Andr‚ Birmel‚, Le Salut en J‚sus Christ dans les dialogues oecum‚niques (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1986), 212. Return to Text

[5] . Ibid., 214. Return to Text

[6] . Ibid., 215. Return to Text

[7] . Ibid., 213-214. Return to Text

[8] . Ibid., 216; Congar, Un peuple messianique, 62. Congar cites the following article of Semmelroth, "Die Kirche als 'sichtbare Gestalt der unsichtbaren Gnade,'" Scholastik 18 (1953), 23-29. Return to Text

[9] . Quoted by Birmel‚, Le Salut en J‚sus Christ, 216. Return to Text

[10] . Congar, Un peuple messianique, 27. Return to Text

[11] . Birmel‚, Le Salut en J‚sus Christ, 217. Return to Text

[12] . Congar, Un peuple messianique, 20. Return to Text

[13] . "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" (Sacrosanctum Concilium), in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, eds. Douglas G. Bushman and Marianne Lorraine Trouv‚ (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1999), 49. Return to Text

[14] . "Constitution on the Church" (Lumen Gentium), in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, 123. [All Vatican II documents cited hereafter are found in this work]. Return to Text

[15] . "Constitution on the Church," in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, 133. Return to Text

[16] . Ibid., 180. Return to Text

[17] . "Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church" (Ad Gentes), in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, 517. The following quote is also important: "Then, we he had by his death and his resurrection completed once for all in himself the mysteries of our salvation and the renewal of all things, the Lord, having now received all power in heaven and on earth (cf. Mt. 28:28), he was taken up into heaven (cf. Acts 1:11), founded his Church as the sacrament of salvation and sent his apostles into all the world just as he himself had been sent by his Father (cf. Jn. 20:21). . . ."- Ad Gentes, The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, 522. Return to Text

[18] . "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium and Spes), in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, 663. Return to Text

[19] . Cf. John Rempel's characterization of Marpeck's thought: "The church is the primal sacrament. It is the paradigm for all other embodients of the gospel."-John Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism: A Study in the Christology of Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgram Marpeck and Dirk Philips (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1993), 148. Return to Text

[20] . "A Clear Refutation," The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, eds. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1978), 43-68. Return to Text

[21] . "A Clear and Useful Instruction," Klassen and Klaassen, The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, eds. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1978), 69-106. Return to Text

[22] . "The term ceremonies is used by Marpeck to refer to the rites of the Church . . . (an) organic concept derived directly from the menschheit Christi. . . ."-Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 119. Return to Text

[23] . "A Clear and Useful Instruction," 81-82. Return to Text

[24] . Ibid., 82. Return to Text

[25] . Ibid., 76-77. Return to Text

[26] . Cf. Congar, Un peuple messianique, 80, and Birmel‚, Le Salut en J‚sus Christ, 209. Return to Text

[27] . Lumen Gentium, in The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II , 130. Return to Text

[28] . F. J. Wray, "The Vermanung of 1542 and Rothman's Bekentnisse," Archiv fr Reformationsgeschichte 47 (1956), 243-251. Cf. John Rempel's careful analysis of Marpeck's thought in this regard.-Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 106ff. Return to Text

[29] . "Whoever has the truth in the heart, the truth which is pointed to and signified by the external sign, for him it is no sign at all, but rather one essential union with the inner."-"Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, "The Admonition of 1542" 194. I have argued elsewhere that Wesen is best translated as "reality" and not as "essence."-Neal Blough, "Le Christ glorifi‚ et le Christ humili‚: Le d‚bat christologique entre Pilgram Marpeck et Caspar Schwenckfeld," J‚sus-Christ aux marges de la R‚forme, ed. Neal Blough (Paris: Descl‚e, 1992), 151-152. Return to Text

[30] . "The Admonition of 1542," Writings, 195. Return to Text

[31] . "For that which the Father does, the Son of man does simultaneously; the Father, as Spirit, internally; the Son as man, externally. Therefore, the external baptism and the Lord's Supper in Christ are not signs; rather, they are the external work and essence of the Son. For whatever the Son sees the Father doing, the Son also does immediately."-Ibid. Return to Text

[32] . "Thus, the children born of the Spirit and nature of Christ also do that which the Father, through the Spirit, performs in the inner man; they also perform externally as members of the body of Christ in baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Father loves the Son, and has committed all things into His hands; as the Father works as Spirit inwardly, the Son of Man works externally. Thus in Christ, no longer does any sign exist, only essence, one baptism, one faith, one God, one Father of us all."-Ibid. Return to Text

[33] . "On this testimony of Peter the new church of Christ was built, but it was built only afterward, through the Holy Spirit, which was prophesied ahead of time and which Christ, the Man, achieved through his death."- "The Admonition of 1542," Writings, 230. Return to Text

[34] . Congar, Un peuple messianique, 42. Return to Text

[35] . For the debate between Schwenckfeld and Marpeck, see George Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3rd ed. (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992), 681-722; N. Blough, Christologie anabaptist (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1984), 145-201; Blough, " Le Christ glorifi‚ et le Christ humili‚: Le d‚bat christologique entre Pilgram Marpeck et Caspar Schwenckfeld"; John Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 106-142. Return to Text

[36] . "Because Schwenckfeld's eye is always on the degree of transfiguration . . . he doesn't take seriously what the unglorified face of Christ did on earth, together with the internal working of the Father and the simultaneous co-operation of the invisible Word. Even today he works through his unglorified body (which is the church). It is the very temple of God-at work outwardly because God is at work in it inwardly."-"Pilgram Marpeck's Response to Caspar Schwenckfeld," Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and his Circle, eds. and trans. W. Klaassen, Werner Packull and John Rempel (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 1999), 84. Return to Text

[37] . Compare this with Vatican II: "Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route that it might communicate the fruits of salvation to men. . . . Thus the Church . . . is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice."-Lumen Gentium, 131. Return to Text

[38] . Cf. Yves Congar: "Depuis sa gloire, le Christ opera . . . Absent corporellement de ce monde, il s'y est suscit‚ un corps, le corps ‚tant, en perspective biblique, ce par quoi une personne se rend pr‚sente et active."-Congar, Un peuple messianique, 37. Return to Text

[39] . "Pilgram Marpeck's Response," Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck, 85. Return to Text

[40] . "Concerning the Lowliness of Christ," Writings, 458. Return to Text

[41] . Lumen Gentium, 643. As Yves Congar recognized, if the entire life of the church is sacramental, the question of how many sacraments there are becomes secondary: "Ce n'est pas le chiffre sept comme tel qui est important. Il est clair que cette question perd aussi de l'urgence et mˆme qu'elle se pose autrement si l'on met les sacrements particulier en rapport avec le sacrement global de l'Eglise. . . ."-Congar, Un peuple messianique, 55. This is strangely similar to Marpeck's habit of listing various ceremonies as part of the humanity of Christ, without arguing about how many sacraments there are. Return to Text

[42] . Ibid., 48. Return to Text

[43] . Ibid., 58. Return to Text

[44] . Ibid. Return to Text

[45] . Congar, Un peuple messianique, 20. Return to Text

[46] . Birmel‚, Le Salut en J‚sus Christ, 242. Return to Text

[47] . Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 146. Return to Text

[48] . The eclectic and polemical nature of Marpeck's work did not always favor conceptual clarity. "His trinitarian scheme, for example, does not follow the laws of inherited theological convention, but fills in gaps resulting from his attempt to explain God's activity in the sacraments. This and other of Marpeck's thought structures cannot be explained exhaustively because they are not deduced from a formal and coherent system."-Ibid., 94. Return to Text

[49] . "We note the originality of Marpeck's grasp of trinitarian belief as well as its indispensability for Marpeck's theology of sacraments."-Ibid., 106. Return to Text

[50] . ". . . 'scientific' social theories are themselves theologies or anti-theologies in disguise. Contemporary theologies which forge alliances with such theories are often unwittingly rediscovering concealed affinities between positions that partake of the same historical origins."-John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), 3. Return to Text

[51] . Ibid. Return to Text

[52] . "Liberal discourse presupposed only the isolated, self-conserving individual. From the relationships of such individuals, the political and the economic had to be deduced as an artificial construct, or else as the 'cunning' operation of providence."-Ibid., 51. Return to Text

[53] . Ibid., 9. Return to Text

[54] . Ibid., 76. Return to Text

[55] . Ibid., 3. Return to Text

[56] . ". . . The secular is complicit with an 'ontology of violence,' a reading of the world which assumes the priority of force and tells how this force is best managed and confined by counter-force."-Ibid., 4. Return to Text

[57] . "Christianity, however, recognizes no original violence. It construes the infinite not as chaos, but as a harmonic peace which is yet beyond the circumscribing power of any totalizing reason. Peace no longer depends upon the reduction to the self-identical, but is the sociality of harmonious difference. Violence, by contrast, is always a secondary willed intrusion upon this possible infinite order (which is actual for God). Such a Christian logic is not deconstructible by modern secular reason; rather it is Christianity which exposes the non-necessity of supposing, like the Nietzscheans, that difference, non-totalization and indeterminancy of meaning necessarily imply arbitrariness and violence."-Ibid., 5. Return to Text

[58] . Cf. J‚sus-Christ dans la tradition de l'Eglise, (Paris: Descl‚e, 1982), 100, 102. Return to Text

[59] . Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 384. Return to Text

[60] . Ibid., 383. Return to Text

[61] . "After Jesus's death our redemption becomes possible, for two reasons. First, we speculatively grasp that sin is negation, arbitrary violence, the refusal of pure love itself, and this speculation is an indispensable and yet independent moment of faith. But secondly, the speculation is only occasioned by the horrifying and sublime compulsion of Jesus's death, whose concrete circumstance makes us feel that here we really 'see' sin, and at the same time the essence of human goodness. Knowing the shape of sin, and the shape of its refusal, we can at last be radically changed. However, the Anselmian speculation, that only God incarnate could define and so endure sin, precisely ensures that we can be drawn back to the cross as the very consummation of the preaching of the kingdom. Finally the kingdom means (speculatively), and illustrates (practically) bearing the burdens of others, even of our accusers. Mutual forgiveness and the bearing of each other's burdens becomes the modus vivendi of the Church, an 'atoning' way of life."-Ibid., 397. Return to Text

[62] . "It is this lived narrative which itself both projects and 'represents' the triune God, who is transcendental peace through differential relation. And the same narrative is also a continuous reading and positioning of other social realities. If truth is social, it can only be through a claim to offer the ultimate 'social science' that theology can establish itself and give any content to the notion of 'God'. And in practice, providing such a content means making a historical difference in the world."-Ibid., 6. Return to Text

[63] . Ibid., 387. Return to Text

[64] . "The structural complexity of narrative . . . always in a fashion anticipates the speculative task of ontology and theology."-Ibid., 385. Return to Text

[65]  "Only in the modern context does narrative become pure historicism-that is, freed from cosmic and ontological moorings."-A. James Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Waterloo, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2001), 263. Return to Text

[66] . "Properly understood, the speculative idea . . . of its own nature demands a return to the concrete, narrative level: if Jesus really is the word of God, then it is not the mere 'extrinsic' knowledge of this which will save us, but rather a precise attention to his many words and deeds and all their historical results. The idea helps to confirm that God is love, the narrative alone instructs about what love is."- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 385. Return to Text

[67] . Ibid., 388. Return to Text

[68] . Ibid., 398. Return to Text

[69] . "But once one has said this, one then has to face up to the real implication of a narrative that is at one and the same time a recounting of 'real history', and yet has also an interpretative, regulative function with respect to all other history."-Ibid., 387. Return to Text

[70] . "For the Christological-ecclesial narrative arises, in the first place, not simply as an 'identification' of the divine, but also as a 'reading' and a critique-through-practice of all historical human community up to that point. . . . This account of history and critique of human society is in no sense an appendage to Christianity-on the contrary, it belongs to its very 'essence'." "In this fashion a gigantic claim to be able to read, criticize, say what is going on in other human societies, is absolutely integral to the Christian Church, which itself claims to exhibit the exemplary form of human community."-Ibid., 387-388. Return to Text

[71] . Ibid., 380. Return to Text

[72] . "Salvation is available to us after Christ, because we can be incorporated into the community that he founded, and the response of this community to Christ is made possible by the response of the divine Sprit to the divine Son, from whom it receives the love that flows between Son and Father."-Ibid., 387. Return to Text

[73] . "The association of the Church with the response of the Spirit which arises 'after' the Son, and yet is fully divine, shows that the new community belongs from the beginning within the new narrative manifestation of God. Hence the metanarrative is not just the story of Jesus; it is the continuing story of the Church, already realized in a finally exemplary way by Christ, yet still to be realized universally, in harmony with Christ, and yet differently, by all generations of Christians."-Ibid. Return to Text

[74] . Ibid., 390. Return to Text

[75] . "An abstract attachment to non-violence is therefore not enough-we need to practice this as a skill, and to learn its idiom. The idiom is built up in the Bible, and reaches its consummation in Jesus and the emergence of the Church."-Ibid., 398. Return to Text

[76] . Cf. Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe: The Church's Witness and Natural Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2001). As Milbank speaks of persuasion and rhetoric, Hauerwas pleads for lived out "witness" of the Gospel as the best way of doing theology. While probably neither of them see their work as missiology, what they have written is of utmost importance for any theology of mission in today's world. Return to Text

[77] . I have tried to deal with the relationship between convictions, Christology, pluralism and relativism in "From the Tower of Babel to the Peace of Jesus Christ: Christological, Ecclesiological and Missiological Foundations for Peacemaking," MQR 76 (Jan. 2002), 7-33. Return to Text

[78] . "For theology to surrender this claim, to allow that other discourses-'the social sciences'-carry out yet more fundamental readings, would therefore amount to a denial of theological truth."-Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 388. "For Marpeck, belief in God as Trinity and Christ as the incarnation of that God were that without which theology and the life of the church were not possible. Nor did he . . . hold these tenets merely as formal principles. He identified with their content and saw the challenge of reform as bringing the life of the church into conformity with them. Marpeck's theology...was an attempt to vindicate traditional teaching concerning the incarnation."-Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 143. Return to Text

[79] . Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 388. Return to Text

[80] . For a missiological discussion of Marpeck, cf. Neal Blough, "Messianic Mission and Ethics: Discipleship and the Good News," The Transfiguration of Mission: Biblical, Theological & Historical Foundations, ed. Wilbert R. Shenk (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1993), 178-198. Return to Text

[81] . Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 409. Return to Text

[82] . "All 'political' theory, in the antique sense, is relocated by Christianity as thought about the church. The difficulty, for patristic and medieval thought, was how and whether to conceive of a political structure in addition to that of the Church."-Ibid., 406. Return to Text

[83] . Ibid., 398. Return to Text

[84] . The Catholic Church has done important self-critical work in regards to her own history: cf. the document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past (International Theological Commission, Dec. 1999). Cf. also John H. Yoder, "The Disavowal of Constantine: An Alternative Perspective on Interfaith Dialogue," The Royal Priesthood (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994), 242-261. Return to Text

[85] . Cf. his Expos‚ of the Babylonian Whore and his letter "Concerning the Lowliness of Christ." Return to Text

[86] . "The particular contribution that the theology of Radical Protestantism can make to any ecumenical discussion of the fourth century resides in its suspicion of all forms of 'Constantinianism;' that is, in its critique of all political theology in which theology and politics are fused, or worse, where theology functions as an instrument of political ideology."-Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology, 269. Return to Text

[87] . "Un signe peut ˆtre menteur. Un signe peut ˆtre illisible, opaque. Ou il peut ˆtre … demi effac‚. Ou bien encore, insuffisant, d‚risoire." "Nous devons pourtant reconnaŒtre l'assez effroyable ‚cart qui s‚pare la r‚alit‚ de l'id‚al impliqu‚ dans le fait d'ˆtre sacrement de fraternit‚, d'unit‚, d'esp‚rance, de lib‚ration, de communion, de salut. . . ."-Congar, Un peuple messianique, 84. Return to Text

[88] . Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 433. Return to Text

[89] . I am not proposing a precise definition of the term "catholic," but suggesting that we need to begin seriously asking the question of what it means both theologically and practically. Return to Text

[90] . "This claim that Marpeck sought to do his theological work in faithfulness to the classical Christian confession of God as Trinity is not an assertion that his thinking was an uncritical recapitulation of the received tradition."-Rempel, The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism, 143. Return to Text

[91] . "It is characteristic of Catholic modes of theological reasoning to see in society in its various manifestations analogies to the divine plan of love. Out of this vision comes approval and encouragement for human activities which overcome division and foster unity, affirmation that the Church contributes to this process of ingathering, and finally the affirmation that she fosters the unity of human kind by her presence in the world. This, if you will, is the Catholic ecclesiology of peace: the Church as sacrament and instrument of unity."-Drew Christiansen, "What is a Peace Church? A Roman Catholic Perspective," unpublished paper prepared for the international Mennonite-Roman Catholic Dialogue, Thomashof, Karlsruhe, Germany, Nov. 2000, 21-22. Return to Text

[92] . Gaudium et Spes, 627. 58 The Mennonite Quarterly Review 51 The Church as Sign or Sacrament 29 MQR 78 (Jan. 2004)