Martin Bucer's Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism

Martin Bucer's Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism

Martin Bucer's Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism

Martin Bucer's Doctrine of Justification: Reformation Theology and Early Modern Irenicism


Martin Bucer has usually been portrayed as a diplomat who attempted to reconcile divergent theological views, sometimes at any cost, or as a pragmatic pastor who was more concerned with ethics than theology. These representations have led to the view that Bucer was a theological light-weight, rightly placed in the shadow of Luther and Calvin. This book makes a different argument.

Bucer was an ecclesial diplomat and a pragmatic pastor, yet his ecclesial and practical approaches to reforming the Church were guided by coherent theological convictions. Central to his theology was his understanding of the doctrine of justification, an understanding that Brian Lugioyo argues has an integrity of its own, though it has been imprecisely represented as intentionally conciliatory. It was this solid doctrine that guided Bucer's irenicism and acted as a foundation for his entrance into discussions with Catholics between 1539 and 1541. Lugioyo demonstrates that Bucer was consistent in his approach and did not sacrifice his theological convictions for ecclesial expediency. Indeed his understanding was an accepted evangelical perspective on justification, one to be commended along with those of Luther and Calvin.


Characterizations of Martin Bucer’s theology have generally been influenced by his irenicism, an irenicism that, unfortunately, has been represented as a zeal for unity at the expense of the truth. This perspective is characterized by Gordon Rupp’s cricket analogy stating that Bucer was “the greatest ecclesiastical spin bowler of the age, the very model of a modern ecumenical.” Yet, such a pragmatic caricature cannot be wholly substantiated in regard to Bucer’s negotiations over the doctrine of justification with his colleagues that were loyal to the traditional church. Bucer’s doctrine of justification has its own inner coherence, rooted in his understanding of the truth.

1. the most recent scholar to advance this perspective has been Thomas Kaufmann, who describes Bucer’s role in the Supper strife as outrageous and dishonest. Kaufmann, however, neglects the secondary theological role that the Lord’s Supper played for Bucer during these early years. See Thomas Kaufmann, Die Abendmahlstheologie der Straßburger Reformatoren bis 1528 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1992).

2. Gordon Rupp, Protestant Catholicity: Two Lectures (London: Epworth Press, 1960), 24.

3. This is a line of thought that follows some of the more recent research in Bucer studies. See particularly Reinhold Friedrich, Martin Bucer—“Fanatiker der Einheit”?: Seine Stellungnahme zu theologischen Fragen seiner Zeit (Abendmahls- und Kirchenverständnis) insbesondere nach seinem Briefwechsel der Jahre 1524–1541 (Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, 2002); Friedrich, “Martin Bucer—Ökumene im 16. Jahrhundert,” in Martin Bucer and Sixteenth Century Europe: Actes du colloque de Strasbourg
(28–31 août 1991), ed. Christian Krieger and Marc Lienhard, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1993), 257–268; and Volkmar Ortmann, Reformation und Einheit der Kirche: Martin Bucers Einigungsbemühungen bei den Religionsgesprächen in Leipzig, Hagenau, Worms und Regensburg, 1539–1541 (Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 2001). Friedrich sees Bucer as worthy of being called an ecumenic, making concessions at Worms and Regensburg, but unwilling to reach concord at any price. Friedrich focuses on Bucer’s letters to understand how Bucer understood his role in the

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