Martin Bucer: Psalter with All Church Practices (1539)

“We are deprived of a teacher, of such greatness the world has hardly known: whether in knowledge of true religion, or in integrity and innocence of life, or insatiability for the study of the most holy things, or insufferable toil for progressing in piety, or in authority and breadth of teaching, or in anything that is praiseworthy and glorious.”[1]

These were the affectionate words of the renowned English humanist, Sir John Cheke, upon Martin Bucer’s death in Cambridge on 28 February 1551. They represent the widespread respect for an evangelical luminary who wrote voluminously — his verbosity much to the annoyance of Calvin, and his handwriting much to the agony of modern scholars — and worked irenically for the advance of the Reformation.

Martin Bucer (1491–1551) was born in Sélestat (Schlettstadt), south of Strasbourg, and entered the city’s Dominican monastery at age 15. In 1517, he enrolled in the University of Heidelberg and immersed himself in both scholastic and humanist sources (an inventory of his books at the time demonstrates an astonishing collection of Aquinas’ works and growing fascination with Erasmus).[2] It was here, at the famous Heidelberg Disputation, where he first met Martin Luther. Bucer largely accepted Luther’s Reformation theses and shortly thereafter left the Dominican Order in 1521. One year later, he married a former nun, Elisabeth Silbereisen, and the following year headed off to study in Wittenberg. On route, however, he was stopped by Heinrich Motherer in Wissenberg, who asked him to minister to the town. His powerful preaching (serially through books of the Bible) announced the supremacy of Scripture and denounced the error of the Mass. This eventually resulted in his excommunication by the Bishop of Speyer, and, in May 1523, he secretly fled with his pregnant wife to the nearby city of Strasbourg.

When Bucer arrived in Strasbourg the Reformation was already underway due to the efforts of Wolfgang Capito, Caspar Hedio, Diebold Schwarz, and Matthew Zell. After a period of living with Zell and working as his chaplain, Bucer was appointed minister of St. Aurelia in March 1524. His impact was immediate: images were removed from the church, the shrine of St. Aurelia was dismantled and exposed as a forgery, and his important treatise concerning evangelical worship —Ground and Reason (Grund und Ursach) — was printed at the end of December. Written to Count Palatine Frederick to explain the recent liturgical reforms, he described the principles of his treatise as “the common faith of those who of us who are in the ministry and under compulsion to preach the Gospel here in Strasbourg”.[3] The outline of worship in Ground and Reason demonstrated that a liturgical revolution had taken place since Diebold Schwarz said the first German Mass earlier that year. The service had been stripped of sections such as the Kyries eleison, Gloria, Sanctus, Lavabo, and Agnus Dei. The elevation of the cup had been removed due to its popular association with the adoration of the host and the sacrifice of the Mass. Whereas Schwarz’s liturgy was entirely spoken, Bucer had instituted four sung components: a Psalm or hymn after the absolution, the Decalogue or another hymn after the exposition of the Epistle, the Apostle’s Creed after the sermon, and a hymn after the distribution of the Lord’s Supper.[4] Thus, Bucer’s liturgical reforms within Ground and Reason were characterized by simplicity and a great deal of singing, with appreciation for the latter evidenced in the flurry of hymnals produced during the following years.[5]

the full historical biography will appear in the book, but here’s a fascinating excerpt from Bucer’s liturgy in his Psalter with All Church Practices (1539) 

At the end of the sermon, the action of the Holy Supper is explained with the admonition to observe it with right faith and true reverence. This admonition usually consists of four parts.

First, that, because here the Lord wants to share His flesh and blood with us, we should bear in mind that our flesh and blood, that is our whole nature, is corrupted towards all evil and hence to eternal death, so that, of itself, it may never share in the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15).

Second, that in order to save us from such corruption, the eternal Word of God became flesh, so that there might be a holy flesh and blood, that is, a truly devout man, by whom all of our flesh and blood would be restored and sanctified, which happens, when we truly eat and drink of his flesh and blood.

Third, that the Lord truly gives and administers to us the same, His holy and sanctifying flesh and blood in the Holy Supper, with the visible things, bread and wine, through the ministry of the church, as His holy words say, “Take and eat. This is My body, which is given for you. Drink of it all of you. This is My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” We are to accept these words of the Lord in simple faith and not doubt that He, the Lord Himself, is in our midst through the outward service of the church, which He Himself has ordained for that purpose. Such He reveals to us in these His words, that also for us the bread, which we break, truly is the communion of His body; and the cup, with which we give thanks, is the communion with His blood (1 Cor. 10). Let us, therefore, always consider diligently why the Lord communicates to us His holy, saving communion in the Holy Sacrament; namely, for this purpose, that He may more and more live in us, and we may be one body in Him, our Head, just as we all partake of one loaf (1 Cor. 10).

Fourth, that, in this act of remembrance of the Lord, we hold fast with true reverence and thankfulness, and hence always laud and praise him with all our words and deeds, with our whole life for all His benefits, for His incarnation and bitter death, whereby He paid for our sins, and for this blessed communion of His body and blood, that is wholly of himself, who is true God and man, through whom alone we obtain righteous, true and blessed life, life both now and in eternity.

[1] Martini Buceri Scripta Anglicana fere omnia … a Con. Huberto … collecto [Tomus Anglicanus] (Basel, 1577), prefatory “Iudicia Doctissimorum”, sigs. βr-v.

[2] Martin Greschat, Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 24–25.

[3] Ottomar Frederick Cypris, “Basic Principles: Translation and Commentary of Martin Bucer’s Grund und Ursach, 1524” (Doctoral Dissertation, Union Theological Seminary: NY, 1971), 214. The signatories of the Ground and Reason were Wolfgang Capito, Caspar Hedio, Matthew Zell, Symphorian Pollio, Diebold Schwarz, Johann Latomus, Antony Firn, Martin Hag, and Martin Bucer. The scope of churches compliant with the Ground and Reason was probably limited to the signatories and possibly a few others, since, by May 1528, there were still four churches which retained the old Mass: the Cathedral, Young and Old St. Peter, and St. Thomas’.

[4] The Order of worship in the Ground and Reason was: Admonition (Confiteor), Prayer for Pardon, Confession on behalf of Congregation, Absolution, Sung Psalm or hymn, Prayer, Epistle, Short Exposition of Epistle, Sung Decalogue or hymn, Gospel, Sermon, Sung Creed, Prayers for Rulers and All People, Admonition before Lord’s Supper, Gospel Reading of Lord’s Supper, Distribution, Sung hymn, Prayer, Benediction, Dismissal. See Cypris, “Basic Principles”, 150–51.

[5] Daniel Trocmé-Latter, The Singing of the Strasbourg Protestants, 1523–1541 (London: Routledge, 2016), 77–96; 255-265.

2 thoughts on “Martin Bucer: Psalter with All Church Practices (1539)

    • hugely influential, especially in the area of liturgy. Calvin says “As for the Sunday prayers, I took the form of Strassburg, and borrowed the greater part of it.” and certainly in terms of eucharistic theology too, though Calvin slightly demurred from Bucer later on.

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