The Anabaptist Moment

Aporias of Ecclesial Self-Constitution

The research project The Anabaptist Moment sets out to investigate the logic of Anabaptism as a quintessentially self-constitutive church, as especially exemplified by the mutual baptisms of Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, Georg Blaurock and others in January 1525 in Zurich. Where the changes and separations effected by other reformers continued to fundamentally operate within the traditional space of a Church already constituted and basically continuous throughout its history, the Anabaptist moment represents a more radical break with the existing ordo ordinatus, embodying the antagonistic assertion that the Church as a community must ground itself again in a (re)founding act or ordo ordinans. More simply put, according to the Anabaptists, the only Church that can exist is the one we make ourselves. Anabaptist beginnings thus contain the seed of an inventive theology of Anabaptism as a “do-it-yourself”-Church, whose essence consists in the paradox of its “auto-theonomy” as it grounds itself (auto) in Christ (theonomy), that is, as a gathering of free persons who found their togetherness in proclaiming Christ’s sovereignty.

According to most ecclesiology, the Anabaptist moment, thus understood, is simply impossible: One cannot make one’s own Church, only receive her (Ratzinger). And indeed most Anabaptist and Free Church theologians have granted this fundamental point, emphasizing instead the role of the Word and the Spirit in constituting the Church, or describing Anabaptism more as a reform or split than a radical break and constitutive (re)beginning.

This research instead seeks to investigate the radical possibility of the Anabaptist moment as an ecclesial self-constitution. Such a possibility raises profound philosophical and theological questions. For how could such a self-constitution or self-grounding take place?

What (quasi)transcendental logic could be at work in the Anabaptist moment to make it possible as the aporetic self-constituting moment of the Church in constant reference to its ultimate grounding in Christ? What structure of temporal referral makes the Anabaptist moment possible as both the refounding of the supposed lost Church of antiquity and the beginning of a modern religious denomination, and how is it de-centered in its repetition and reconjugation in a living tradition? In what way is the Anabaptist moment political, and what role do associative and dissociative movements play in its constitution of community? How can the threat the Anabaptist moment is seen to pose to other churches be understood, and what ecclesiopolitical danger may be contained in failing to come to terms with its aporetic and therefore also ungrounding nature? Can the Anabaptist moment succeed as a self-constitution or grounding moment — and what is the meaning of that success or failure for the traditions that claim its heritage?

This research project is undertaken primarily by Marius van Hoogstraten as a postdoctoral study.

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