Martin Bucer (or Butzer) was a German Protestant reformer, probably best known for his efforts at ecumenical unification among the various emerging branches of reformed denominations. He was born at Schlettstadt in Alsace (today Sélestat, in France), in 1491. By 1515, Bucer had entered the Dominican Order, taken his vows as a full Dominican Friar, became ordained as a Deacon, and was studying theology at the Dominican monastery in Heidelberg. The following year, he took a course in dogmatics in Mainz, where he was ordained as a priest, returning to Heidelberg in 1517 to enroll in the university. It was in Heidelberg that he was first introduced to the works of Erasmus and Luther. In 1518, Johannes von Staupitz, the vicar-general of the Catholic Augustinians, invited the radical Wittenberg reformer, Martin Luther, to a theological debate at what came to be known as the Heidelberg Disputation. This was where Bucer first met Luther.
Bucer was impressed with Luther, and found himself in full agreement with some of the 95 Thesis. The events that led to his leaving the Dominican Order grew out of the fact that his Dominican brothers were taking notice that he was embracing new ideas and allowing himself to be influenced by humanists like Erasmus, and reformers like Luther. A Dominican brother named Jacob van Hoogstraaten, the Grand Inquisitor of Cologne, had decided to prosecute Bucer in order to make an example of him as a supporter of Luther. The Dominicans were the leading movers
of the inquisitions, and it was understood, they could not permit a bad apple in their midst.
The only way for him to escape prosecution, was to have his vows annulled, which would extricate him from Dominican jurisdiction. He successfully accomplished this, and was formally released from the Order in 1521. Soon after the release from his vows, he married a nun named Elisabeth Silbereisen. In 1523 Bucer went to Strasbourg where several strains of the reformation were already underway.
In Strasbourg, Bucer found himself in the company of other reformers such as Zell, Capito, and Hedio. In Strasbourg the numbers of people who supported the reformers was growing and conversely, hostility to the traditional Catholic clergy was spreading like an epidemic. However, the city council had not yet taken sides. In 1524 a riotous mob attacked and broke into the monasteries, looting and destroying religious images. There were many arrests, and the council requested a statement from the reformers to explain the matter. Bucer drafted the response, enumerating 12 articles of faith that outlined the teachings of the reformation, including justification by faith (sola fide). He also rejected the Catholic Mass and concepts such as monastic vows, veneration of saints, and purgatory. He renounced the authority of the pope, while acknowledging that obedience to the civil government was a Christian precept (Caesar's things to Caesar).
One of the primary concerns of the Strasbourg reformers was finding common ground around which the different reformation movements might unify to form a collective ecclesiastical front against the great monolithic standing of the Roman Catholic church. His group composed a common "order of service" that would be acceptable to all, and they presented some proposals to the theologians in Wittenberg, and Zurich. Bucer published some ideas where he assailed the idea of the Mass as a sacrifice, discarded liturgical vestments, the alter and certain forms of ritual. He also introduced German hymn singing, and by 1525 liturgical reforms were being instituted throughout Strasbourg's parish churches.
Beginning in 1524 Bucer was devoting his attention to the primary point of contention that divided the leading reformers, the eucharist. Over this issue he attempted mediation between Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli. The two theologians disagreed on whether the body and blood of Christ were physically present within the bread and wine during the celebration of the eucharist, a fundamental Catholic teaching. Luther favored the Catholic tradition of transubstantiation, the corporeal, literal, real presence of the Lord's flesh and blood. A mystery. Zwingli, on the other hand, believed Christ's body and blood were made present only in a spiritual sense, by the Holy Spirit. Bucer personally agreed with Zwingli's interpretation, differing from Luther, but didn't believe the reformation should depend on either interpretation. He believed all issues of dispute were secondary to the fundamentals of true faith in the Christ, and in this respect, differed from Zwingli. All around, there was not a great deal of agreement.
Bucer became a leading figure in the reformation, proposing and promoting initiatives meant to establish doctrinal compromise between the disagreeable parties of Wittenberg, the south German cities, and the Swiss. He became known for his willingness to travel anywhere in order to help mediate disagreements between reformers. In 1536 a meeting was convened in Wittenberg between the Protestant factions. It began badly with Luther launching into the south Germans, demanding that they recant their false interpretation of the eucharist.
Compromise wording was formulated on a point of distinction concerning "unworthy" recipients of the eucharist, defined as sinful believers in the faith, and "unbeliever," recipients, such as unbaptized students. Luther finally approved of the compromise which left the question of unbelievers unanswered. This was called the Wittenberg Concord, and was accepted in both Wittenberg and Strasbourg. However, when it was presented to the Swiss, it was rejected outright. Zurich in particular would not consider even a watered down statement that suggested a literal union of Christ with the elements of the eucharist. Bucer made diplomatic entreaties to the Swiss, but to no avail. The Swiss congregations simply turned their backs on the issue, and would neither accept nor reject the Wittenberg Concord.
In 1546 war broke out as Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, began an aggressive campaign to reclaim disputed lands for the Roman Catholic church. He led his troops into Bonn, where Bucer had been negotiating reforms with the archbishop-elector of Cologne. The archbishop ended up being excommunicated and Bucer, along with a number of colleagues, were forced to flee to Strasbourg. Protestantism was suddenly in full retreat within the empire, which was neither holy nor Roman. In 1547 Strasbourg surrendered to the imperial army, and after a decisive victory at the Battle of Mühlberg, Protestant resistance broke down completely.
In 1548 Charles V produced an imperial decree known provisionally as the Augsburg Interim. By decree he imposed Roman Catholic rites and sacraments throughout the empire. There were only a few concessions to the reformers. Charles had Bucer brought to Augsburg, and insisted he sign the document. After refusing, Bucer was arrested, but after a short period of imprisonment, he capitulated and gave up his signature. He continued in his reformation efforts, but was in direct conflict with Charles. Charles ordered the burning of some of his books, but he and a number of colleagues continued in their efforts to preserve the Protestant faith within the narrow directives of the Interim. Finally, after dismissal, Bucer and others left Strasbourg as refugees.
He received several offers of sanctuary including from Melanchthon in Wittenberg, and Calvin in Geneva, but he accepted the offer from Thomas Cranmer in England, in 1549. He believed the English reformation had advanced sufficiently under the reign of Edward VI. (see - Anglican separation from Catholicism). He was granted the position of Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge with the help of Cranmer.
At this point in his life, however, Martin Bucer preferred to avoid divisive confrontations, given that the debates and all the persuasive arguments were neither fruitful nor conducive to unity within the reformist movement. Invited to participate in theological debates, he would decline arguing that the parties should concentrate on more important matters such as the lack of pastors, or the need for catechetical instruction. He did some writing, including his ideas for revisions to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which Cranmer had requested.
At the request of the young King Edward VI, with whom Bucer was on friendly terms, he wrote De Reigno Christi (The Reign of Christ), by which he intended to teach the true constitution of God's Kingdom, and how it might be realized in a place such as renaissance Europe. This would be his final writing effort. He would become known as one of the fathers of the Church of England, while also influencing the English Puritan movement.
a reformer's struggle to unify the creeds and convictions of the big enchiladas who were directing the course of the reformation movement -
but unification was never the order of the day
Actually, throughout his time in England, he was beset with illness. Symptoms suggest he may have suffered from a severe case of tuberculosis. He passed away at the age of 59 in 1551 and was buried in Cambridge at Great Saint Mary's. After Edward VI died and his half sister Mary I (Bloody Mary) took the throne, she set about on an aggressive campaign to restore Catholicism to the English realm. She was ruthless in her rush to reverse Edward's reforms. She had Bucer and his colleague Fagius tried posthumously for heresy. In a ghastly formality their caskets were dug up and their remains were burned along with their books. However, when her half sister, Elizabeth I, followed Mary to
the throne, Elizabeth set out to undo all of Mary's anti-Protestant reforms. This included having their convictions overturned and a brass plaque placed on the floor of the church to commemorate the grave sites of the two men.
the burning of the remains of Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius included a solemn procession