Martin Bucer: The “Second Martin” of the Reformation
He never founded a church, yet many Reformation-based Protestant faiths consider him indispensable. He is seldom spoken of, yet he was quite influential. His name was Martin Bucer. In an era when issues like predestination, communion, and infant baptism were tearing denominations apart instead of uniting them, he sprinkled a bit of everything in his theology. As a result, Lutherans, Huguenots, and Anglicans managed to find at least one thing in his teaching that they admired.
Interestingly, Bucer, like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others, started out as a Catholic priest. The first of many iconic meetings came in 1518 when Bucer was living in Heidelberg. Upon discovering that Luther would be speaking on theology, Bucer made it a point to see the controversial reformer for himself. It had only been six months since the 95 Theses had been posted in Wittenberg. One might say that the following weeks were Bucer’s “road to Damascus” moment, when he found himself dangerously perceptive to the “new thought” that was sweeping across Europe.
In another parallel with Martin Luther, Bucer, after disavowing the priesthood and joining the Protestant camp, married a woman who had lived much of her life as a nun. Her name was Elisabeth Silbereisen. Bucer was excommunicated in 1523. To the Catholic world, excommunication meant they were cut off from the Church and denied a chance of salvation. To Bucer, it meant freedom. He went on to intercede between Luther and Zwingli, putting his own thoughts on doctrine into the mix. One of his ecumenical controversies was distributing works by Martin Luther and other reformers while adding his own personal opinions. This naturally caused a rift between the various camps.
|Martin Bucer soon before death|
Throughout the early 1530s, when very new Protestant denominations struggled to get their doctrines down into individual confessions, the extent of disagreement between Bucer, Zwingli, Luther, and others became all too evident. The Lutherans had the Augsburg Confession. Bucer and those in agreement championed the Tetrapolitan Confession. Then, of course, there were the dueling organizations. The “Schmalkaldic League” was a Protestant creation designed to join Lutheran nobles and provide protection for believers in Germany and beyond. This, of course, was countered by the Holy Roman Empire, the Holy See, and the giants of sixteenth century Catholicism.
Martin Bucer was very well known for his association with Strasbourg in Alsace, a region that has historically gravitated between Germany and France. Under Bucer’s direction and with the help of other reformers, Strasbourg became a Protestant locale, one of the centers of the Reformation. Eventually his position put him in danger, and he was banished to England. He counted himself lucky that Protestant King Edward VI was on the throne at the time.
Bucer was tired of disunity. He was grateful for the Reformation but disgusted by the persecution between denominations, and so he determined that all Christians should unite. “We must aspire with the utmost zeal to edify as many people as we possibly can in faith and in the love of Christ – and to offend no one,” he said. Unfortunately, the sixteenth century was awash in blood due to various religious conflicts, and the liberation of the Gospel had been twisted to suit men’s needs so that it also opened up a Pandora’s Box of warfare.
So how did it end for Martin Bucer? He died in England on February 28, 1551. He joined first wife Elisabeth in death and was survived by his second wife Wibrandis Rosenblatt, their daughter Elisabeth, and possibly a few children with his first wife (little is known about them). Even in death, Bucer was controversial. England’s “Bloody Mary” added insult to injury by digging up his earthly remains and burning them. This was in 1556. Three years later, Protestant queen Elizabeth I came to power, and another burial site was constructed so Martin Bucer’s spirit might rest in peace.
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