The Anabaptist Exception: The Divine Madness of Ecclesial (Re)Beginning

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On a winter night in 1525, a group of adults gathered in a home in Zurich, prayed, and then baptized each other. This re-founding of the Church, with no appeal to apostolic continuity, solidified the Anabaptists' breach with the reformer Zwingli and appears unique in Reformation history. In this paper, I will undertake a reading of this peculiar Anabaptist moment and the possibilities hidden in the available account. I will suggest that it reads as a radically combative moment, not merely reforming or separating from an established ecclesial order but claiming the impossible: the authority to re-begin or re-constitute the Church. Yet this founding moment is troubled from the start, its beginnings are
improper and beset by contradiction even from within
their own immanent logic. The available account from Caspar Braitmichel is especially peculiar in its apparent self-aware admission of these contradictions, especially
in its silence on any kind of divine fiat for such rebeginning, neither as a general possibility nor as
exceptional event. This tensive character means that the Anabaptist moment represents, in spite of itself, a kind of modest madness set apart from more unambiguous claims to divine truth or revelation common in other strands of the Radical Reformation. The moment oscillates, I will suggest, between a totalitarian tendency and the possibility of Christ's uniquely nonviolent sovereignty. The radical exception of these improper beginnings at the same time illustrate the most common and everyday experience of being Church: Beginning again, together, receiving a Church that is still becoming, the divine invitation always nearly slipping away into silence. Against its own desire for the purity of separation, the structure of the Anabaptist moment thus entails its proliferation and repetition, that is, its own de-centering and softening towards the other.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2021
EventLEST XIII: Dissenting Church: Exploring the Theological Power of Conflict and Disagreement - online, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 20 Oct 202123 Oct 2021


ConferenceLEST XIII
Internet address


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