Who is Martin Bucer?
Martin Bucer (1491 –1551) was a Protestant reformer based in Strasbourg who influenced Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican doctrines and practices. Bucer was originally a member of the Dominican Order, but after meeting and being influenced by Martin Luther in 1518 he arranged for his monastic vows to be annulled. He then began to work for the Reformation, with the support of Franz von Sickingen.
Bucer's efforts to reform the church in Wissembourg resulted in his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, and he was forced to flee to Strasbourg. There he joined a team of reformers which included Matthew Zell, Wolfgang Capito, and Caspar Hedio. He acted as a mediator between the two leading reformers, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, who differed on the doctrine of the eucharist.
Later, Bucer sought agreement on common articles of faith such as the Tetrapolitan Confession and the Wittenberg Concord, working closely with Philipp Melanchthon on the latter. Bucer believed that the Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire could be convinced to join the Reformation. Through a series of conferences organised by Charles V, he tried to unite Protestants and Catholics to create a German national church separate from Rome.
He did not achieve this, as political events led to the Schmalkaldic War and the retreat of Protestantism within the Empire. In 1548, Bucer was persuaded, under duress, to sign the Augsburg Interim, which imposed certain forms of Catholic worship. However, he continued to promote reforms until the city of Strasbourg accepted the Interim, and forced him to leave.
In 1549, Bucer was exiled to England, where, under the guidance of Thomas Cranmer, he was able to influence the second revision of the Book of Common Prayer. He died in Cambridge, England, at the age of 59. Although his ministry did not lead to the formation of a new denomination, many Protestant denominations have claimed him as one of their own. He is remembered as an early pioneer of ecumenism.
Death and legacy
Bucer's time in England was dogged by illnesses, including rheumatism, coughs, and intestinal ailments. Symptoms such as vomiting, shivering, and sweating suggest severe tuberculosis. In February 1551, his health finally broke down, and on the 22nd he dictated an addition to his will.
He named Walter Haddon and Matthew Parker as executors, commended his loved ones to Thomas Cranmer, and thanked his stepdaughter Agnes Capito for taking care of him. On 28 February, after encouraging those near him to do all they could to realise his vision as expressed in De Regno Christi, he died at the age of 59. He was buried in the church of Great St Mary's in Cambridge before a large crowd of university professors and students.
In a letter to Peter Martyr, John Cheke wrote a fitting eulogy:
We are deprived of a leader than whom the whole world would scarcely obtain a greater, whether in knowledge of true religion or in integrity and innocence of life, or in thirst for study of the most holy things, or in exhausting labour in advancing piety, or in authority and fulness of teaching, or in anything that is praiseworthy and renowned.
Bucer left his wife Wibrandis a significant inheritance consisting mainly of the household and his large collection of books. She eventually returned to Basel, where she died on 1 November 1564 at the age of 60.
When Mary I came to the throne, she had Bucer and Fagius tried posthumously for heresy as part of her efforts to restore Catholicism in England. Their caskets were disinterred and their remains burned, along with copies of their books. On 22 July 1560, Elizabeth I formally rehabilitated both reformers. A brass plaque on the floor of Great St Mary's marks the original location of Bucer's grave.
After Bucer's death, his writings continued to be translated, reprinted, and disseminated throughout Europe. No "Buceran" denomination, however, emerged from his ministry, probably because he never developed a systematic theology as Melanchthon had for the Lutheran church and Calvin for the Reformed churches. Several groups, including Anglicans, Puritans, Lutherans, and Calvinists, claimed him as one of their own. The adaptability of his theology to each confessional point-of-view also led polemicists to criticise it as too accommodating.
His theology could be best summarised as being practical and pastoral rather than theoretical. Bucer was not so concerned about staking a doctrinal claim per se, but rather he took a standpoint in order to discuss and to win over his opponents. At the same time his theological stand was grounded in the conditions of his time where he envisioned the ideal society to be one that was led by an enlightened, God-centred government with all the people united under Christian fellowship. Martin Bucer is chiefly remembered for his promotion of doctrinal unity, or ecumenism, and his lifelong struggle to create an inclusive church.
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