Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’

Jan van Leyden1535
Jan van Leyden, Prisoner:

It is enough that God is with me;
I need no priest.

The Sentence:

And let the bodies of those condemned–
Krettech, Knipperdolling, Jan ‘the King’ –
Being brought from the place of execution
Be severally hung in iron cages
Wrought to that purpose.
And let the aforesaid cages hang
High on the steeple of St Lambert’s,
That being the place of first offending.
And let the people thus remember
What follows of misery and excess
When foolish men puffed up by wicked pride
Despise the just and natural laws
Of God and princes.

The Polygamous Wife:

Brag in the wind, old bones!
Preach in your stinking cage till the trumpets sound
To set to partners in that resurrection dance
Where there’ll be neither marriage nor giving in marriage.
Dreaming, we thought you promised with God’s voice
Our spirit’s freedom, but woke to find
You’d bound us harder than ever before
In marriage and childbed. A prisoner to his cell,
Battering at hateful walls, you entered my flesh.
Sisters in God? Did a brotherly hand
Slash off my friend’s head in the market-place
For ‘disobedience’? Did you not hear us all
Pray in our hearts with our first martyr
‘See to it heavenly Father – if you’re Almighty –
That I’m no more forced to mount this marriage-bed.’?
You could say that He answered. I say rather
Let them toll the cages, not the bells,
Let the cages cry to the Sunday city
‘Where is God now? Your God? Our God?
Where is God? Is God? Where?

The Priest of St Lambert’s:

God in my hands: shall I offer Him then
To a congregation with eyes glazed
By terror and something more – a terrible greed
Unsated by mere symbols of torn flesh?
The Bishop says that God is Love,
The Bishop says God is in the wafer,
The Bishop says the Church is in God:
I would set down God and Church together
For my hands’ bones ache with weight
Even as the beams of the church groan
With the spire’s burden. Last night
In the chancel I found another crack.
Every night I beg my God
That the great stones fall
And set me free, that the earth
Open, and swallow me whole.
But is it the same unanswering God
He cried to, breaking upon the wheel?
If I spoke my doubts they’d call me
At best possessed and hunt a witch to burn
At worst, corrupt with heresy.
I have seen exorcism, I have been
Shown the instruments of interrogation;
I am too afraid. In dreams the altar rails
Close round to cage me in.
If the Church be the instrument of God
Let Him use it and make an end.

The Girl:

Every night my heart knocks in its cage of ribs.
If it got out, how they’d startle
These grave masters, hitching their pants,
Laying down coins and solemn reflections
On fallen man. Thoughts are like stones.
My lover’s hands were gentle, to me at least.
Let them think they have him, rags of flesh,
Snared in their iron cage. I know
I can charm him out. Every night
Between midnight and dawn he sings in my thighs.
They’ll not burn me; by day
I creep about in the roots of the city,
By night I have my protectors.
What are beliefs? We might have had children.
In love he’d call me his mouse, his rabbit –
They crunched his bones in the teeth of their traps,
They flayed him living with red-hot tongs.
I vowed the day they set his corpse
To dangle on their ‘House of Love’
I’d never think of God again.


The Tourist:

They seem so insignificant there on the steeple,
Quiet as a birdcage after the bird has flown;
Centuries of rain have rinsed the stones of anguish,
If they are crumbling it’s not from the workings of blood;
Terrible things are done, now as yesterday.
Leaving through sunlit woods, I watch a hawk
Sweep, hover and strike. Unheard on the wind
The thin wail of whatever small furred thing
Had blundered into the open, natural prey.
Leaving Europe, I pack away a Manichean postcard:
The world as God’s cage for heretics.

– Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 208–10.

Baptism – an Evangelical Sacrament Part 5

In this post, I continue my thoughts on baptism as an evangelical sacrament, seeking to explore what it means to say that Jesus Christ is baptism’s objective reality.

(ii) Christ as the objective reality of baptism.

In rejecting the ex opere operato, the Reformers were careful not to separate baptism from salvation, for the New Testament directly links baptism with a salvation event. This ruling out of ex opere operato is clearly seen in the Apostle Paul where, in 1 Corinthians 10:1ff., he corresponds baptism with the Exodus event, and in Titus 3:5f., where he wrote that God ‘saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior’. Likewise the Apostle Peter, identifying baptism with Noah and the flood narrative, wrote that ‘Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 3:21).

It may indeed be true, as Berkouwer notes, that baptism is ‘a cause of grace, but the objective character of baptism as saving grace is bound to the redemptive event of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The original ‘regenerative aspect of baptism is the ‘regeneration of the body of Christ in resurrection. It is the humanity of Christ that is regenerated through his baptism (death and resurrection), and our baptism is a sign and seal of our participation and regeneration in his own new life, but always with the eschatological tension between the Word and power of this act. This is why we must speak of the regenerative aspect of baptism as associated with the ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13), and not with the physical act itself. And it’s also why baptism is an unrepeatable and indelible act.

Thus baptism is salvation through faith as a divine act of grace. There is no disjunction between the objective aspect of baptism as a divine work and the human appropriation of baptism as a subjective act through faith and water on the part of the human subject. Faith is not a condition which effectually causes baptism to regenerate, but regeneration through the Holy Spirit effectually binds the human subject through faith to the salvation of Christ. It is in this sense that baptism is an ‘evangelical sacrament, for here, the evangel is declared every time this ‘proclamation activity is performed. It is for this reason that Torrance can conclude:

Quite clearly the word and sacraments belong together. The Gospel as it is proclaimed in and by the sacraments belongs to evangelism as much as the Gospel proclaimed in word. Christ communicates himself to us through both and through both together, providing us in different ways with the appropriate human response which we cannot make ourselves but through which the Gospel becomes established in us … Thus … the sacraments … are not to be regarded merely as ‘confirming ordinances but as ‘converting ordinances, for in and through them the Gospel strikes home to us in such a way as to draw us within the vicarious response to God which Jesus Christ constitutes in his own humanity, the humanity which he took from us and converted back to God the Father in himself.

Paul repeatedly refers baptism to the historical work of Christ in obtaining salvation. There is no ‘second cause, or causa instrumentalis, of salvation through baptism allowed in the form of faith as a subjective act. The fact that faith is indispensable to baptism issues out of the fact that baptism of the Holy Spirit is the effective cause of faith, apart from which there would be no sharing in the Baptism of Christ. As Weber perceptively writes,

Our relationship to the Covenant of God with us is not like an ‘objective fact’ which we can examine and then could appropriate as ours. It embraces us because Jesus Christ as ‘true God and true man’ is absolutely precedent to us as the Bearer and Guarantor of the Covenant. This precedence, this embrace, this surpassing of our faith through God’s covenant act is what defines baptism. If we understand it as a gift which we personally experience, then it is always ‘incomprehensible’. It becomes accessible, although not “comprehensible”, when we see in it the warrant of the Covenant of God which establishes our faith. In it God’s will to save and to covenant is made known as the will which first calls us into the existence of believers. The reason this is true is that both baptism and faith are established on Jesus Christ. The unity, the point of juncture between faith and baptism, is not found in the sequence of human or interpersonal acts but in him. That removes them from the realm of our manipulation. We can neither see faith based in baptism, nor see baptism grounded in faith. Both are based in the salvific act of God in Jesus Christ which is effectively communicated to us through the Holy Spirit. The error of the Anabaptist view is that it places this conjunction of human faith and humanly given and received baptism in a temporal sequence, whereas that can only be understood in a pneumatic way in their conjunction. What they failed to see is the surpassing significance of the Covenant, concluded in Jesus Christ and directed towards the Eschaton, still to come in terms of its visibility. This failure will always arise when human behaviour, faith, and a human-ecclesiastical action, baptism, are brought together as such. In that situation, faith will be examined for its controllable correctness and durability. And in that situation, baptism becomes an inner-worldly, calculable consequence of faith. But only in that situation! The Covenant of God surpasses both faith and baptism and comprehends them both.

The temporal or chronological sequence of faith and water baptism are both relative to the baptism of Christ. As the base of the triangle, faith and water baptism converge in the apex of Christ as the objective reality and content of both baptism and faith.