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Kirchengeschichte: Reformationszeit


Wright, D. F. [Ed.]


Martin Bucer. Reforming church and community.


Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1994. XIV, 195 S. gr. 8o. ISBN 0-521-39144-X.


Michael G. Baylor

This set of thirteen papers by an international team of specialists on Martin Bucer's thought and career commemorates the 1991 quincentenary of his birth. The collection's contents span the whole of his mature career as a reformer from his decisive work at Strasbourg and the wide-ranging influence he exerted elsewhere on the continent from his position there, to the final phase of his career in England. As the little suggests, the special emphasis of the collection is on the social dimension of Bucer's thought and action - i. e., it is especially Bucer's ecclesiology and his politics, in the widest senses of both, that gives unity to the volume.

Within the confines of a brief review it is difficult to do more than to summarize the work's contents and to select a few highlights. The collection opens with a group of three papers that establish some of the general parameters for Bucer's thought about religion and the social order. Peter Matheson's useful analysis of Bucer's views on the "Old Church" establishes the wider framework for the subsequent discussions of his work as a reformer. Bucer, like most reformers, possessed an eschatological sense that the church of Rome had become the church of Antichrist and that it was essential to renounce the authority of this corrupting false leadership. Martin Greschat uses the fourteenth of the sixteen articles that Bucer drew up for the Strasbourg synod of 1533, which was largely directed against Anabaptism, as the point of departure for a penetrating analysis of Bucer's conception of the relation between church and civil community. Bucer attacked sharply all who excluded political authorities from exercising a religious function, and his consistent aim, throughout his career, was to create vital, independent and self-confidently independent congretations that would be the genuine partners of the existing political authorities in the establishment of a full christian social order and church discipline. In Greschat's view, evidently, Bucer did not much concern himself about the possibility of conflict in the relation between ecclesiastical and civil authorities. Willem van't Spijker examines Bucer's influence on Calvin and concludes that in fact the lines of influence ran in both directions. A comparison of the 1536, 1539 and 1543 editions of Calvin's Institutes reveals the the ways in which Bucer influenced Calvin's specific conceptions of church organization and discipline.

Two papers deal with the themes of the volume as they are found in Bucer's exegetical work. Peter Stephens examines the concept of the church in Bucer's two published commentaries on St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, one printed at Strasbourg in 1527 and the other based on lectures at Cambridge in 1550-51 and published posthumously in 1562. Irena Backus presents a more comprehensive account of Bucer's related notions of the church, communion, and community as these were developed in his commentary on the Gospel of John, written after the Berne disputation of 1528.

The next group of essays deals with specific concepts that were central to Bucer's thought about the church and the community and with how Bucer put these ideas into practice, especially during the period from the late 1520s to his departure from Strasbourg in 1549: Ian Hazlett writes on Eucharistic communion; James Kittelson on the ministry of the church; David Wright on baptism and community; Cornelis Augustijn on Bucer's ecclesiology in the 1540-41 colloquies with the Catholics. The final two papers of this group deal with Bucer's ecclesiastical experiments at Strasbourg in an effort to enforce and instill parish discipline. Jean Rott examines the establishment and fate of the institution of the Kirchenpfleger from 1531. The parish Kirchenpfleger were limited in their authority and had only powers to exhort the lax or recalcitrant. Their weakness led to Bucer's next effort to attain his disciplinary goals, the "Christliche Gemeinschaften" of 1547-49, small confessing communities within the larger parish structure. The "Christliche Gemeinschaften" are examined by Gottfried Hammann, who clearly delineates the major motifs in Bucer's thought that motivated them.

Among the other highpoints of this central group of essays is Kittelson's essay on the ministry, which examines two key periods in Bucer's career - c. 1528-1538, a time of institutional innovation and conflict with Anabaptism, and 1546-1549, with its negotiations concerning the Augsburg Interim and efforts to establish ecclesiastical discipline - and argues that there were fundamental contradictions in Bucer's pastoral practice, that these were the reflection of inconsistencies in his thinking, and that in the last analysis Bucer was and remained an Erasmian. In a volume that tends to be fulsome in its praise of Bucer's thought, it is refreshing to read an essay asserting that his standing as a theologian has been exaggerated.

The volume as a whole closes with two papers dealing with Bucer's influence in England. Basil Hall presents an overview of the final phase of Bucer's career, his brief stay in England from 1549 to his death in 1551. Gerald Hobbs examines the influence of Bucer's 1529 Latin Psalms commentary on a series of pseudonymous English translations by George Joye and John Rogers during 1529-1537.

This collection is notable for both the unity of its contributions and for their consistently high quality. The work's orientation is theological and the method generally adopted is the textual study of Bucer's writings. Rarely do we hear the ideas of those who disagreed with him and rarely are Bucer's ideas interpreted in the light of modern social or psychological sciences. Throughout his career Bucer was concerned for the commonweal and the spiritual dimension of collective life: Martin Greschat raises the disturbing question of whether this focus is "hopelessly obsolete today." In addition to a brief introduction by the editor and short remarks about each of the contributors, the work includes a helpful bibliography and a series of indices; these scholary aids will make the volume useful for the future study of Bucer.