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He was the leading reformer in the German city of Strassburg and made an enormous contribution to the Protestant movement.

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The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. II:
This document has been edited for greater clarity. jmf
MARTIN BUCER (1491–1551)
Early Protestant Reformer
Early Activity in the Protestant Cause
The Reformation in Strasburg
Endeavor. to Reconcile Luther and Zwingli
The Wittenberg Concord
Critique of Bucer's Attitude in the Controversy
Bucer in England
Death of Bucer

Early Activity in the Protestant Cause

Martin Butzer(Bucer) was born at Schlettstadt Nov. 11,1491; d. at Cambridge, Eng., Feb. 28,1551. He received his first education at the excellent Latin school of his native town, and in 1506 joined the order of the Dominicans. In 1517 he was at Heidelberg, where he studied the Bible, the writings of Erasmus and Aquinas and also those of Luther, whose personal acquaintance he made in 1518 and with whom he began to correspond in 1520. Being suspected by his order and accused at Rome, Bucer, who favored the evangelical cause, left the monastery in 1520 to avoid further difficulties, and became an associate of Hutten and Sickingen. The latter called him in 1522 to the pastorate of Landstuhl, and in the same year he married, being one of the first priests to break his vow of celibacy. When Sickingen was defeated by the elector of Treves, however, Bucer had to leave the city, and for a year he acted as evangelical preacher at Wissenburg in Alsace, supported by the council and citizens, but attacked by the Franciscan monks.

The Reformation in Strasburg

In 1523 he went to Strasburg, where the Reformation, prepared in different ways, was already in progress. Together with Zell, Capito, and Hedio, Bucer became the soul of the Strasburg Reformation, and by preaching and writing, by letters and journeys, and by personal relations with ecclesiastics and statesmen, he exerted a reformatory and organizing activity, not only in Alsace but also in different countries. He was pastor of St. Aurelia 1524-31, and pastor of St. Thomas 1531--40, having already become in 1530 president of the newly founded church council which was the supreme ecclesiastical authority in Strasburg, As spiritual spokesman of the Strasburg citizens, who were eager for the Reformation, and as leader of the evangelical ministers, he appeared before the council, which proceeded cautiously and advisedly. He accomplished the abolition of the mass on Feb. 20, 1529, by a decree of the lay assessors, and thus the introduction of the Reformation into the free imperial city Strasburg was made a matter of history. But long before this the reorganization of the divine service and of ecclesiastical life began. Bucer's Order and Contents of the German Mass (1524) was typical of the Reformed order of worship. He devoted special attention to catechetics and published three catechisms between 1524 and 1544, while by the church ordinance of 1534 he introduced the lay presbytery into Strasburg, and in 1539 he inaugurated confirmation in the same city. Bucer’s teachings on the Holy Spirit and church discipline as vital to church polity, and on the need for the participation of the laity in church affairs eventually became an integral part of the Calvinist message. During a three year stay in Strassburg, John Calvin learned much from Bucer. Together with his friend Johannes Sturm, Bucer went on to lay the foundations of the Protestant educational system in Strasburg, founding the gymnasium in 1538, and the seminary in I544. In the interest of ecclesiastical discipline he energetically opposed the Anabaptists and such radicals as Carlstadt, Hetzer, Denk, Sebastian Frank, Schwenckfeld, Melchior Hofmann, and Clemens Ziegler. Outside of Strasburg Bucer brought about the introduction of the Reformation into Hanau-Lichtenberg (1544), while Wurttemberg, Baden, and especially Hesse owed him much. For the elector of Cologne, Archbishop Hermann of Wied, Bucer, together with Melanchthon, composed an order of reformation (1543). His influence even reached as far as Belgium, Italy, and France.

Endeavor to Reconcile Luther and Zwingli

Bucer's activity in ecclesiastical organization is treated too lightly in most works on church history, which lay their main stress on his efforts toward a union of the two main streams of the Reformation, and especially on his endeavors to reconcile Luther and Zwingli in the eucharistic controversy, which significantly interrupted the course of the main events in this period of the Reformation. When Carlstadt had to leave Strasburg in 1524, Bucer addressed a writing to Luther in the name of the Strasburg ministers, in which he and they expressed their position in regard to Carlstadt. Concerning the sacrament of the altar, they taught that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine his blood, but that greater importance should be attached to the commemoration of the death of Jesus than to the question of what one eats and drinks. At first Luther answered reassuringly, but in his work Against the himmlischen prophets (1525) he attacked the Strasburg theologians. The latter sent an envoy to appease Luther, but he emphasized the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper more than ever, and gave the Strasburgers to understand that they should not be deceived by the light of reason. The Strasburgers now saw themselves driven more and more to the side of the Swiss, so far as the doctrine of the sacrament was concerned. At the Disputation of Bern in 1528 Bucer made the personal acquaintance of Zwingli, with whom he had been corresponding since 1523. Luther again attacked his opponents in his Large confession of the communion (1528), but Bucer did not lose hope of coming to an understanding by a personal interview. Together with the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who was animated by the same interest in the union and agreement of the Protestants, he brought about the religious conference of Marburg in 1529. Concerning the question whether the true body and blood of Christ are actually present in the bread and wine, no agreement could be reached; nevertheless, each party was to show Christian love toward the other, so far as the conscience of each allowed.

The Wittenberg Concord

Bucer visited Luther at Coburg in Sept., 1530, and received the promise to examine a new confession which Bucer intended to prepare. Bucer now endeavored to induce the Protestants, at least in southern Germany, to prepare a declaration which should approximately satisfy Luther, since the Swiss opposed every further advance, an additional incentive being the threatening attitude of the emperor toward the Protestants at this time. The outcome of these endeavors was the Wittenberg Concord which was agreed upon with Luther in 1536 by a delegation of Upper German theologians under the direction of Bucer. In this Concord the concession was made to Luther that the body and the blood of Christ are truly and essentially present with the bread and with the wine and are so given and received, the only modification being that the unworthy, but not the unholy, actually receive the body of the Lord. By this agreement a certain sort of theological understanding was reached between Luther and the South Germans, but the rupture between Bucer and the Swiss was accomplished,

Critique of Bucer's Attitude in the Controversy

Whatever views be held of Bucer's efforts for union, especially in the eucharistic controversy, his honest intention and his unselfish zeal to serve the Church are beyond all question. His diplomatic tactics were not always such as to inspire confidence, and they gave offense to other parties besides Luther. Bucer himself felt it afterward and honestly acknowledged that he had not always interfered in a discreet manner. The whole subject of controversy was of less interest for Bucer than for Luther, hence Bucer's readiness to make concessions and ever new formularizations. The real success of his endeavors was that the South Germans were not only induced to make common political cause with the North Germans, but were also drawn into the communion of Lutheranism, in spite of their peculiar doctrine of the Lord's Supper. The fact that Melanchthon, influenced partly by Bucer, took an intermediate position, and was thus drawn nearer to Calvin, was also far-reaching in its importance for the future formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany. The outcome of the Schmalkald War and the defeat of the Protestants (1547) gave the emperor power to settle the religious troubles by the Augsburg Interim in 1548, which was accepted by the majority of the intimidated diet and was to be forced upon the city of Strasburg. This was most energetically opposed by Bucer and his younger colleague, Paul Fagius, on the ground of the Romanizing character of the document. But when the council, yielding to the force of circumstances, accepted the Interim, Bucer perceived that he could remain in Strasburg no longer.

Bucer in England

Bucer, together with Fagius, accepted an invitation to England from Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, the soul of the Reforrnation in England. In Apr,, 1549, both arrived at London, and were met by Cranmer and King Edward VI. The king wished them to translate the Bible from the original into Latin, this version being intended to serve as the basis of an English version for the people. The work was commenced at once. At the end of the summer of 1549 Bucer and Fagius were to go to Cambridge as teachers and assist in the education of candidates for the ministry. Fagius arrived first, but died of a slow fever (Nov., 1549). In Jan., 1550, Bucer cornmenced his lectures at Cambridge, which were attended by large crowds of students, some of whom afterward exercised a powerful influence in the Anglican Church. Bucer was directed to examine the Book of Common Prayer, and was thus led into a public disputation held on Aug. 6, 1550, to expose the opposition of the English bishops (who still leaned toward Rome) to evangelical principles and innovations.

Death of Bucer

At the request of the young king, Bucer wrote his The Reign of Christ, which he prepared in less than three months. This work was intended to teach the true nature of God's kingdom and the means by which it might be realized in earthly form in a country like England. This work was Bucer's last. Scarcely had the king expressed his warm approval and the university conferred the degree of doctor of divinity unconditionally, a thing which never happened before, when Bucer died after a short illness. He was buried with great honor in the principal church at Cambridge; but in 1556 his body was exhumed and publicly burnt. Four years afterward, however, Queen Elizabeth again honored his memory.
PAUL GRUENBERG.
 
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