Ryan Klassen

The Conrad Grebel Review 28, no. 2 (Spring 2010)

Daniel Izuzquiza. Rooted in Jesus Christ: Toward a Radical Ecclesiology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Daniel Izuzquiza, S.J. is one of a new generation of Roman Catholic theologians committed to developing a theological foundation for Catholic social teaching and practices. Rooted in Jesus Christ is his proposal for an ecclesiology centred on the lived experience of the church and founded on the person of Christ. The first part of the book is a dialogue – with postliberal George Lindbeck, radical orthodoxy’s John Milbank, Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, and Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement – on how the Christian community when rooted in the life and death of Christ can embody a radical alternative to the dominant Western worldview. Izuzquiza orders this dialogue through four themes drawn from liberation theology: methodology, God, martyrdom, and the option for the poor.

The method of liberation theology gives primacy to praxis, the lived experience of Christian communities. The result is the creation of an alternative community that embodies Christian practices based on the members’ experience of God in the incarnation of Christ. In order to avoid falling into sectarianism, the community must develop a theological discourse grounded in those shared experiences which can then be translated into a discourse that is intelligible in a pluralistic society.

The nature of this alternative social reality is based on a theology of lived martyrdom and the option for the poor. Izuzquiza makes lived martyrdom a necessary ethical imperative by inextricably linking Jesus’ life and death to reveal a nonviolent way of peace and justice that overcomes the structures of sin, evil, and oppression. By living in imitation of Jesus’ revolutionary nonviolence, Christian communities demonstrate how human culture can be radically transformed: creating a real alternative to the oppressive capitalist economic system, participating in nonviolent direct political action, and promoting the common good in solidarity with the poor.

The second half of the book is more explicitly Roman Catholic in both subject matter and method. Using Scripture, tradition, and ecclesial teachings, the author develops the notion of the body of Christ as the guiding image for understanding the nature and role of the church in the world. Echoing Yoder’s approach in Body Politics, Izuzquiza reveals the social, political, and economic transformative power in the sacramental practices of the Christian community. The seven sacraments encompass all aspects of life – social, economic, and political – uniting the whole of the individual and the community with the new eschatological reality created by Jesus’ life and death. If Yoder were Roman Catholic, this could be exactly what he would have written.

Izuzquiza’s ecclesiology may not seem particularly radical to those from the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition, but it is a departure in Roman Catholic thought. First, the author draws more from the ecclesiology of non- Catholic Christian traditions than is typical for Catholic theologians. He also gives a more significant role to the people in Christian communities; it is the laity, not the priesthood, that is the essence of the church. Affinities with Mennonite theology continue in his re-imagining of the relationship between the church and world – a counter-cultural role he feels is well suited for a pluralistic post-Christendom age.

The reduced role for the priesthood and the virtual absence of the Catholic hierarchy in Izuzquiza’s ecclesiology is both a strength and a weakness. Izuzquiza’s Christian communities mediate the radical transformation they experience through Jesus Christ to the world while renouncing worldly structures of power and domination. But in reality, the hierarchy forms the primary structure of the Catholic church, one in which power and domination are embedded. The author’s ecclesiology is that of a minority church in a powerless position, and the Catholic church in the Western world has yet to realize that this is the state she is in. Izuzquiza’s congregationalist critique of the power structure of the Catholic church while remaining faithful to that church is a strong challenge for the Anabaptist-Mennonite church to contemplate how essential schism is to its own identity.

Izuzquiza acknowledges that the second half of the book may be slightly tedious or technical for non-Catholic readers. He’s right. The book is written for those with some level of formal theological education and familiarity with Catholic tradition. Yet his openness and clear desire to engage with the practices of the broader Christian tradition – and the Mennonite tradition in particular – make this book worth engaging regardless of one’s tradition.

Ryan Klassen, PhD student, Toronto School of Theology, Toronto, ON