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Martin Bucer

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Bucer, MARTIN (also called BUTZER), one of the leaders in the South German Reformation movement, b. November 11, 1491, at Schlettstadt, Alsace; d. February 28, 1551, at Cambridge, England. He received his early education at the Latin School of his native place, where at the age of fifteen (1506) he also entered the Order of St. Dominic. Later he was sent to the University of Heidelberg to prosecute his studies, and matriculated, January 31, 1517. He became an ardent admirer of Erasmus, and soon an enthusiastic disciple of Luther. He heard the Saxon monk at a public disputation, held at Heidelberg in 1518, on the occasion of a meeting of the Augustinian order, became personally acquainted with him, and was immediately won over to his ideas. Having openly adopted the new doctrine he withdrew from the Dominican order, in 1521, became court chaplain of Frederick, the Elector Palatine, and labored as secular priest at Landstuhl, in the Palatinate (1522), and as a member of the household of Count Sickengen and at Weissenburg, Lower Alsace (1522-23). During his incumbency at Landstuhl he married Elizabeth Silbereisen, a former nun. When, in 1523, his position became untenable at Weissenburg, he proceeded to Strasburg. Here his activity was soon exercised over a large field; he became the chief reformer of the city and was connected with many important religiopolitical events of the period. His doctrinal views on points controverted between Luther and Zwingli at first harmonized completely with the ideas of the Swiss Reformer. Subsequently he sought to mediate between Lutherans and Zwinglians. The highly questionable methods to which he resorted in the interest of peace drew upon him the denunciation of both parties. In spite of the efforts of Bucer, the Conference of Marburg (1529), at which the divergent views of Luther and Zwingli, especially the doctrine regarding the Eucharist, were discussed, failed to bring about a reconciliation. At the Diet of Augsburg, in the following year, he drew up with Capito the “Confessio Tetrapolitana”, or Confession of the Four Cities (Strasburg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau). Later on, moved by political considerations, he abandoned this for the Augsburg Confession. In 1536, he brought about the more nominal than real “Concordia of Wittenberg” among German Protestants. He gave his own, and obtained Luther’s and Melanchthon’s approbation for the bigamy of the Landgrave Philip of Hesse, attended in 1540 the religious conference between Catholics and Protestants at Hagenau, Lower Alsace, and in 1541 the Diet of Ratisbon. The combined attempt of Bucer and Melanchthon to introduce the Reformation into the Archdiocese of Cologne ended in failure (1542). Political troubles and the resistance of Bucer to the agreement arrived at by Catholics and Protestants in 1548, and known as the “Augsburg Interim”, made his stay in Strasburg impossible. At the invitation of Archbishop Cranmer, he proceeded to England in 1549. After a short stay in London, during which he was received by King Edward VI (1547-53), he was called to Cambridge as Regius Professor of Divinity. His opinion was frequently asked by Cranmer on church matters, notably on the controversy regarding ecclesiastical vestments. But his sojourn was to be of short duration, as he died in February, 1551. Under the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58) his remains were exhumed and burned, and his tomb was demolished (1556), but was reconstructed in 1560 by Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603).

Bucer was, after Luther and Melanchthon, the most influential of German Reformers. For a clear statement of doctrine he was ever ready to substitute vague formulas in the interest of unity, which even his able efforts could not establish among the Reformers. He forms a connecting link between the German and the English Reformation. Of the thirteen children he had by his first marriage, only one, a weak-minded son, survived. Wibrandis Rosenblatt, the successive wife of several Reformers (Cellarius, (Ecolampadius, Capito, and Bucer), whom he married after his first wife died from the plague in 1541, bore him three children, of whom a daughter survived. Only one of the ten folio volumes in which his works were to appear was published (Basle, 1577). It is known as “Tomus Anglicanus” because its contents were mostly written in England.


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