Bucer, Martin

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BUCER, MARTIN (14911551), Christian humanist and reformer. Best known as the chief reformer of the Free Imperial City of Strasbourg, Bucer illustrates the combining of Martin Luther's evangelical theology with aspirations and traditions that predated the Reformation. A Dominican, Bucer was thus trained in the via antiqua of Thomas Aquinas but early fell under the spell of Erasmian humanism. Meeting and hearing Luther for the first time at the Heidelberg Disputation (1518) led him to become increasingly dissatisfied with his vocation and finally to secure release from his vows. He thus arrived in Strasbourg (1523) as a dispossessed and married cleric who could only appeal to that city's authorities for protection from the episcopal court. Friends arranged a position for him; he led in the efforts to abolish the Mass (1529), to erect a new church (15331534), and to construct the city's policy of mediation in the Sacramentarian Controversy. Eventually he became president of the Company of Pastors, but he was forced because of his opposition to the Interim (a temporary religious settlement arranged by Charles V) to flee to England, where he participated in the revision of The Book of Common Prayer shortly before his death. Ostensibly he appeared to have broken decisively with the intellectual and religious traditions that predated his encounter with Luther.

Bucer was thoroughly evangelicaland a follower of Lutherin the basic outline of his theology, but prior allegiances were apparent in his actions. At colloquies with representatives of Rome in the 1540s, he agreed to a theory of "double justification," according to which a Christian cooperates with God after the gift of salvation, a claim that may hark back to Thomas. In the Sacramentarian Controversy, although he was an early adherent to Zwingli's spiritualist view of the elements and later agreed with Luther in the Wittenberg Concord (1536), he consistently argued that the true meaning of the Lord's Supper was communion among the believers and with Christ. His mediatory efforts both flowed directly from this view and reflected the earlier influence of Erasmus and northern humanism.

These prior traditions and aspirations showed through most clearly in the sort of reformation Bucer promoted and the manner in which he did so. Like many others who translated Luther's theology into practice, Bucer sought a thorough reform of all of Christian society, as is well summarized in his posthumously published De regno Christi, dedicated to Edward VI. Outlined there is the program he followed throughout his entire career. Not only did he advocate that the Mass be abolished and proper Christian worship and doctrine be put in its place. He also helped found schools that had the humanist educational program at the heart of the curriculum. He laid the groundwork for creating in Strasbourg and elsewhere an educated clergy, who in turn made religion even at the popular level a matter of the mind as well as of the heart. And he helped to establish civil authority over relief for the poor and over marriage and morals. Finally, throughout his career he sought to tame the turbulent reform movement by working with the Christian magistrates, as he called the princes and city councils, so that peace might prevail and Christian society flourish.


Martin Bucer's works are collected in Martin Bucers deutsche Schriften, edited by Robert Stupperich (Gütersloh, 1960), and in Martini Buceri opera Latina, edited by François Wendel (Paris, 1954). See also Correspondance de Martin Bucer, edited by Jean Rott (Leiden, 1979). A good English biography is Hastings Eells's Martin Bucer (1931; New York, 1971). For bibliography, see Bibliographia Bucerana, by Robert Stupperich (Gütersloh, 1952), and Bucer und seine Zeit, edited by Marijn de Kroon and Friedhelm Krüger (Wiesbaden, 1976).

James M. Kittelson (1987)

Bucer, Martin

views updated May 14 2018

Bucer, Martin (1491–1551). Christian Reformer and theologian. A Dominican friar, he was attracted in 1518 to Luther's teaching. Released from his monastic vows in 1521, he led the Reformation in Strasbourg and was noted for his tolerance and diplomacy in theological debates. His De Regno Christi offers a stimulating interpretation of ideal Christian society.

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