Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"The Father of Calvinism"

Today in 1551, one of the gentler souls of the Reformation died at the age of sixty. His name was Martin Bucer and he was the leading Reformer in the strategic city of Strasbourg, capital of the territory of Alsace. Older biographies refer to him as The Father of Calvinism.

Bucer’s contribution to the spread of the Reformation is often neglected by contrast with that of Luther and Calvin, both of whom he knew. The former he heard in 1518 while serving in the Dominican cloister at Heidelberg. Luther was explaining his understanding of “justification (salvation) by faith alone” before the officials of the Augustinian order. Bucer withdrew form his orders in 1521 and became one of the first Protestant ministers to marry. He was duly excommunicated and immediately sought refuge in Strasbourg. It was in this city, over a dozen years later, that John Calvin (recently exiled from Geneva) came into contact with him. Bucer undoubtedly shaped Calvin’s understanding of many important themes, especially the latter’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper. His ecumenical spirit, especially in his attempts to reconcile Zwinglians and the Lutherans, brought him criticism from both sides. Luther (as was his wont) said of the attempt: “It is better for you to have your enemies than to set up a fictitious fellowship.”

Bucer’s final years were spent as Regius Professor of Divinity in Cambridge, England, where his influence on Thomas Cranmer brought about reform of the the ill-conceived “First Book of Common Prayer” in 1549. The language of the Second edition (1552) was to prove enormously influential in the utility of the English language.

Following his death, Queen Mary (in 1557) ordered that his body be exhumed and burned and his tomb demolished. Her successor, Queen Elizabeth 1st, ordered that his honors be restored at Cambridge.

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