Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Pilgram Marpeck's Sacramental Theology: Based on His Confession of 1532

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Pilgram Marpeck's Sacramental Theology: Based on His Confession of 1532

Article excerpt

  Abstract: In 1532, Pilgram Marpeck presented a defense of his beliefs
  before the city council at Strassburg. His "Confession" addressed
  primarily three points: the separation of the covenants (old and
  new), infant baptism and the place of Christians in positions of
  power. The root of the problem, as he saw it, was a rift in
  sacramental practice (specifically, baptism) founded upon a certain
  understanding of ecclesiology. What developed in Marpeck's thought
  was a sacramental theology that was neither Catholic nor Lutheran
  substantialism, nor Reformed memorialism produced in opposition to
  substantialism. Rather, beginning from the anthropological problem
  and a profound affirmation of the physical incarnation of Christ,
  Marpeck developed a sacramental theology that advanced beyond
  substantialist conceptions toward an understanding of sacrament as
  embodied action. This article moves through the strands of Marpeck's
  thought presented in his "Confession" so as to elucidate Marpeck's
  unique contribution to sacramental theology.


One of the most interesting aspects of Pilgram Marpeck's confession before the city council of Strassburg is the initial framing of his argument. Marpeck's first sentence portrays the problem anthropologically: humanity is plagued by sin and this sin is the misappropriation of knowledge. Reading further through the confession we come to understand that Marpeck's thought and his solution to the problem of sin is profoundly sacramental. Indeed, though his work is largely focused upon a defense of adult baptism, Marpeck began his defense with the reality of sin.

Recent scholarship focusing on the sacramental theology of Pilgram Marpeck has emphasized the holistic and dynamic nature of his thought. Most notably, John Rempel's The Lord's Supper in Anabaptism has thoroughly investigated Marpeck's understanding of the Lord's Supper and sacraments in general. Rempel notes that Marpeck's thought is decidedly incarnational and dependent upon a "dynamic Trinitarianism." He further shows that a sacrament is not a static element in Marpeck's thought, but the real presence of Christ in the transformation of the community and the prolongation of his life through that community. Neal Blough has further contributed to the discussion with both his sacramental and christological writings on Marpeck. Blough's article, "The Church as Sign or Sacrament: Trinitarian Ecclesiology, Pilgram Marpeck, Vatican II and John Milbank," notes the trinitarian nature of Marpeck's sacramental theology and emphasizes sacrament as the necessary "outer reality" that must precede the appropriation of an inward reality. Both Blough and Rempel note that Marpeck extends the concept of sacraments beyond the ceremonies themselves to the entire life of the community. Sacrament thus moves beyond substantialism to the presence of God in action.

Though not dealing specifically with the sacramental theology of Pilgram Marpeck, the work of Stephen Boyd in Pilgram Marpeck: His Life and Social Theology provides a detailed analysis of the incarnational life. Rempel, while agreeing with Boyd's identification of the church as the medium of God's presence in the world, notes that Boyd "does not give the ceremonies their due as moments in the life of the church."(1) What we do find useful is Boyd's understanding of the incarnational presence manifested in social justice. This social justice acts in concert with the sacramental life.

Thus, we are presented with a quite holistic and dynamic sacramental theology. In order to understand Marpeck's argument more fully, we will investigate the reasoning of Marpeck's "Confession" for a specific view of sacrament in concert with later developments of his theology. This investigation begins where Marpeck begins--from below, focusing on the state of humanity. It is a theology based upon a specific understanding of knowledge and the human situation promulgated upon a view of the incarnation as the fundamental aspect of sacrament. …

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