In Memoriam Martin Bucer

Bucer died on 28 February, 1551.  The early Reformation had no one more interested in unity than he.

bucer2The chief reformer of Strassburg was Martin Bucer (1491–1552). He was a native of Alsace, a Dominican monk, and ordained to the priesthood. He received a deep impression from Luther at the disputation in Heidelberg, 1518; obtained papal dispensation from his monastic vows (1521); left the Roman Church; found refuge in the castle of Francis of Sickingen; married a nun, and accepted a call to Strassburg in 1523.

Here he labored as minister for twenty-five years, and had a hand in many important movements connected with the Reformation. He attended the colloquy at Marburg (1529); wrote, with Capito, the Confessio Tetrapolitana (1530); brought about an artificial and short-lived armistice between Luther and Zwingli by the Wittenberg Concordia (1536); connived, unfortunately, at the bigamy of Philip of Hesse; and took a leading part, with Melanchthon, in the unsuccessful reformation of Archbishop Herrmann of Cologne (1542). Serious political troubles, and his resistance to the semi-popish Interim, made his stay in Strassburg dangerous, and at last impossible. Melanchthon in Wittenberg, Myconius in Basel, and Calvin in Geneva, offered him an asylum; but be accepted, with his younger colleague Fagius, a call of Cranmer to England (1549). He aided him in his reforms; was highly esteemed by the archbisbop and King Edward VI., and ended his labors as professor of theology in Cambridge. His bones were exhumed in the reign of Bloody Mary (1556), but his memory was honorably restored by Queen Elizabeth (1560).

Bucer figures largely in the history of his age as the third (next to Luther and Melanchthon) among the Reformers of Germany, as a learned theologian and diplomatist, and especially as a unionist and peacemaker between the Lutherans and Zwinglians. He forms also a connecting link between Germany and England, and exerted some influence in framing the Anglican standards of doctrine and worship. His motto was: “We believe in Christ, not in the church.”

He impressed his character upon the church of Strassburg, which occupied a middle ground between Wittenberg and Zuerich, and gave shelter to Calvin and the Reformed refugees of France. Strict Lutheranism triumphed for a period, but his irenical catholicity revived in the practical pietism of Spener, who was likewise an Alsacian. In recent times the Strassburg professors, under the lead of Dr. Reuss, mediated between the Protestant theology of Germany and that of France, in both languages, and furnished the best edition of the works of John Calvin.*

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*History of the Christian church (Vol. 7, pp. 571–573).