07 June 2016

Convivial Thoughts Part 2: Theodore Beza and Martin Bucer

Go here to read my preceding post on the 2016 iteration of the Convivium Irenicum sponsored by The Davenant Trust. For a précis of all the papers presented go here. For coverage of the extremely good time had by all, you'll need to consult those in attendance.

Two more papers for today. First, one by Eric Hutchinson: “Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as Testament to and Program for Reformist Humanism.” (For comments on Hutchinson’s papers from 2014 and 2015 go here and here.) As a classicist, Hutchinson needs no excuse for the obscure, and you might find a picture of Theodore Beza’s Icones in the dictionary for obscure. But obscure doesn’t meaning uninteresting or unimportant and his early-modern multimedia address (woodcuts, prose, and exceptional poetry) to James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) can stand as a testament to Beza’s extraordinary humanistic erudition, his broad and ecumenical range of contemporary Christian “heroes” (icons), and his hope for continued reformation of church and culture.

No one knows if James read the Icones; it seems likely that even before he became king of England he found other matters in Scotland of more pressing concern. Nonetheless, the Icones stands as a counterweight to the popular perception of Beza as the intellectual inferior to his mentor John Calvin and as a narrowing influence on the Reformed churches preoccupied with the doctrine of predestination.

Second, Jake Meador’s paper addressed the (in)famous Reformed “third mark of the church” in “That No One Should Live for Himself, but for Others: Love and the Third Mark of the Church in the Theology of Martin Bucer.” Since spending the better parts of three summers in Strasbourg during the first decade of this millennium, I’ve become a bit partial to Martin Bucer and it’s to Bucer that credit is often given for adding administration of discipline to the preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments as a mark of the true church. Why Bucer would do so and the purpose of the third mark in Bucer’s understanding were the burdens of Meador’s paper.

Bucer was called to the pastorate of Saint Aurelia’s Church in Strasbourg at the behest of the city’s large and powerful gardeners guild. This guild along with other Strasbourgeoise had been affected by the radical Reformation. A leading Anabaptist, Pilgram Marpeck, subsequently arrived in Strasbourg in 1528 and caused a number of Reformed leaders to lean toward the Anabaptist position. Bucer worked hard to lead them back to the Reformed fold but greatly appreciated the emphasis of the Anabaptists on a disciplined life issuing in selfless love.

In addition to trying to reach a modus vivendi with the Anabaptists in Strasbourg, Bucer was working to bridge the gap between the Reformed and Lutherans more broadly. Ultimately, his efforts to cover their differences with artful (if not obfuscating) drafting lead both sides to mistrust him and, in any event, his efforts came to naught.

Ultimately, the Strasbourg city council with Bucer’s support ordered Marpeck to leave the city. Nonetheless, Bucer’s personal irenicism, his ecumenical efforts, and his long-standing work with Anabaptists guided him to add church discipline oriented toward loving restoration as a mark of the true church.

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