BUCER, Martin

(1491-1551)
Martin Bucer, a Protestant Reformer, was most famous for his efforts to me­diate religious differences, both between his fellow Reformers and between Prot­estants and Catholics. Born in Schlettstadt (Selestat), Alsace, to a family of humble means, Bucer reluctantly entered the Dominican order at the age of fifteen so that he could receive an education. His studies at Heidelberg led him to the works of the humanist scholar Desiderius Erasmus,* and in 1518 he began a correspondence with Martin Luther.* He left the Dominicans in 1521 and, after briefly serving one of the electors of the holy Roman emperor, was ap­pointed pastor in Landstuhl; he then married Elisabeth Silbereisen, a former nun, becoming one of the first ordained priests among the Reformers to marry.
Excommunicated in 1523 for recommending the study of the German Bible and advancing Lutheran views, Bucer fled to Strasbourg and joined the many Reformation sympathizers in that city. Strasbourg was particularly well situated for Bucer's purposes, lying between southern Germany and Switzerland, where the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli* held sway, and northern Germany, an area heavily influenced by Martin Luther. A dispute between these two famous Reformers arose after 1524 over the nature of Christ's presence in the Host at Communion. Bucer attempted to effect a compromise between Zwingli's hu­manist view that Christ's presence was largely spiritual and Luther's more tra­ditional belief that the presence in the bread and wine was more concrete. At the end of a colloquy to resolve the dispute, Luther refused to compromise with Bucer and Zwingli. In an attempt to mend this and other rifts in the Reform movement, Bucer participated in virtually every conference focusing on religious questions held in Switzerland and Germany from 1524 to 1548.
The 1530s saw Bucer rise from a relatively uninfluential Protestant divine who nevertheless showed great potential to an eminent figure in the Reforma­tion. He acted as an ecclesiastical consultant in several towns in southwest Ger­many and became a trusted and useful advisor to Philip of Hesse—unfortunately also contributing to that landgrave's infamous bigamy. Bucer reorganized the ecclesiastical order of Hesse and was a motivating force behind instituting and organizing the Reformed church in Strasbourg.
In 1541 Bucer participated in the Diet of Regensburg, the goal of which was to reach an agreement between Protestants and Catholics on certain issues—for example, the doctrine of sin and issues of the Mass and Communion. The ul­timate goal was the reconciliation and reunification of the church, but the resis­tance to compromise on both sides proved too great for any hope of a lasting peace. In that same year, Bucer's wife and several of his children died of the plague; a year later he married the widow of Wolfgang Capito, a noted Hebrew scholar and fellow Reformer who also had a reputation as a mediator of religious disputes. The 1540s saw Bucer pushing doggedly for reform, beginning with an at-tempt—which ultimately failed—to work with Hermann von Weid, the arch­bishop of Cologne, to implement a moderate church reform in that city. In the course of the decade, the combination of the judgments of the Council of Trent and the attempts by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V* to force unity on the princes of Germany resulted in the Augsburg Interim of 1548, a compromise with which Bucer disagreed. The Interim succeeded in suppressing the discus­sion of theology to an extent unacceptable to Bucer, and at the invitation of Thomas Cranmer,* archbishop of Canterbury, he sought refuge in England in 1549.
His last years in England were active. Cranmer sought Bucer's advice re­peatedly, and a professorship of divinity at Cambridge was arranged for his livelihood. Bucer was asked to contribute criticism to the first edition of The Book of Common Prayer, warned the religious community in England against importing the continental dispute over the Communion into the British Isles, and completed his greatest work, De regno Christi, in October 1550 (published posthumously in 1557).
Bucer was a prolific writer, producing over ninety works in his lifetime, from sermons to treatises on theology to detailed plans of religious reform. He influ­enced many other religious thinkers than those already mentioned, including Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Calvin,* and Philip Melanchthon,* and was second only to Erasmus among major foreign Protestant divines invited to England in the sixteenth century. His most enduring claim to fame is the ceaseless effort he devoted to promoting a constant equitable dialogue between religious factions in the early years of the Protestant Reformation.
Bibliography
H. Eells, Martin Bucer, 1931.
Richard J. Ring

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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