Martin Bucer (Butzer) sought to bring the parties of the Reformation together. He worked tirelessly with Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli to somehow create a united front on the Eucharist and other doctrinal statements so that all could stand together in unity of faith. Bucer’s reputation as a counselor and mediator made him a magnate of advice that even kings hearkened to hear. In addition, Bucer’s writings played a significant role in the reformation and continue to play a role in the church today.
Born in Schlettstadt, Alsace (now Sélestat, France) in 1491, Bucer grew up in an area that was constantly switching hands between France and the Holy Roman Empire. At the age of 16, Bucer joined the Dominican order and eventually ended up at a Dominican monastery in Heidelberg. While in Heidelberg, great changes were happening in the Holy Roman Empire. Martin Luther pounded the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 and much debate was growing on how the church might be reformed. Luther’s presentation at the Heidelberg Disputation captivated Bucer who listened attentively to him while attending the event. Bucer’s embracing of Luther’s reforming ideas set the tone for the rest of his life.
Between the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518 and Bucer’s excommunication in 1523, a radical shift happened in Bucer’s life. He left the Dominican order, got involved in politics, became a pastor in Landstuhl, and moved to Wissembourg and married a former nun Elisabeth Silbereisen. So much had changed in Bucer’s life that he was almost unrecognizable. Trinterud relates, “[Bucer] envisioned a renewal of the individual and society that was based on his earlier humanist views, and he believed that such a renewal would result from the preaching of the true Gospel and from faithful adherence to the divinely given pattern of living found in the Bible.” (“Martin Bucer”) As with many of the reformers, Renaissance humanism helped to pave the way for a renewal in the intellectual life of scholars and lay-people. Bucer made it a point to be involved in almost every aspect of the reformation, evening going to the Diet of Worms to witness Luther’s trial. (Hanko)
Bucer’s time in leading the reformation in Strasbourg is what he is most known for. Trinterud explains that from his home base there, “Bucer participated in nearly every meeting on religious questions held in Germany and Switzerland between 1524 and 1548.” (“Martin Bucer”) These debates led to some great accomplishments including the Tetrapolitan Confession of 1530 and the First Helvetic Confession of 1536. Both of these documents stood as the first national confessional standards of the Reformation period. Indeed, the Second Helvetic Confession that is revered and used today among some reformed churches is in part the work of Martin Bucer overshadowed by Heinrich Bullinger.
Another important work Bucer wrote in 1538, called Concerning the True Care of Souls. It has recently been translated into English for the first time by Peter Beale and published by Banner of Truth. Bucer’s diplomatic quest for unity in the church is encapsulated:
“Concerning the true care of souls and genuine pastoral ministry, and how the latter is to be ordered and carried out in the church of Christ: Here you will find the essential means whereby we can escape from the present so deplorable and pernicious state of religious schism and division and return to true unity and good Christian order in the churches. Knowledge which is useful not only to the congregations of Christ, but also to pastors and rulers.” (Bucer)
Bucer’s work in Strasbourg was much aided by the help of John Calvin during his few short years there. Calvin wrote of him, “that most excellent servant of Christ, Martin Bucer…employing a kind of remonstrance and protestation like to which Farel had recourse before….” Calvin also said that Bucer was a man of “profound learning, abundant knowledge, keenness of intellect, wide reading, and many other varied excellencies in which he is surpassed by hardly anyone. No one in our time has been more precise or diligent in interpreting scripture than he.” (Bouwsma) Needless to say, Bucer’s writings and preaching gained him much respect in his time. He would even be sought for a formal opinion for a defense of Henry VIII’s sought annulment from Catherine of Aragon. (Selderhuis)
Bucer’s writings gained him much fame; so much that when Charles V conquered Strasbourg and the Protestants were expelled he was invited to join Thomas Cranmer in his reforming efforts in England. There, he served on the faculty at the University of Cambridge until his death in February of 1551. A few short years later, Foxe’s Acts and Monuments recalls the digging up and burning of the bones and books of Bucer by Cardinal Poole at the orders of Mary I. (“Persecutions”) He would be exonerated in 1560, by Queen Elizabeth I. Martin Bucer served as an integral part of the reformation and his legacy remains strong to this day.
Bucer, Martin. Concerning the True Care of Souls. Trans. Peter Beale. Banner of Truth. Quoted in Kevin Deyoung. “Concerning the True Care of Souls.” TGC. 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Oct 2015.
Calvin, John. Quote. In William J. Bouwsma. John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait. Google Books. 08 Oct 2015.
Foxe, John. “Persecutions Against the Faithful and True Servants of Christ, From the Beginning of January, 1557, and the Fifth Year of Queen Mary.” The Acts and Monuments of the Church. Michale Hobart Seymour, ed. Google Books. 08 Oct 2015.
Hanko, Herman. “Martin Bucer: Ecumenist of the Reformation.” Portraits of Faithful Saints. Reformed Free Publishing Association. Web. 8 Oct 2015.
Selderhuis, H.J. Marriage and Divorce in the Though of Martin Bucer.
Trans. John Vriend and Lyle D. Bierma. Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1999. Google Books. 08 Oct 2015.
Trinterud, L.C. “Martin Bucer: Protestant Religious Reformer.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.