“It Is Fallow Ground Here”: Martin Bucer As Critic Of The English Reformation -- By: N. Scott Amos

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 61:1 (Spring 1999)
Article: “It Is Fallow Ground Here”: Martin Bucer As Critic Of The English Reformation
Author: N. Scott Amos

“It Is Fallow Ground Here”: Martin Bucer As Critic Of The English Reformation

N. Scott Amos*

When Martin Bucer arrived in England in April 1549, he was a reformer of European stature with over twenty-five years of experience in conducting and advising on ecclesiastical reform. In addition to his work in Strasbourg, he was involved as an organizer of reform in a number of territories and cities, including Ulm, Augsburg, Hesse and the archdiocese of Cologne. Given the breadth of his experience, he no doubt expected that this experience would be put to use by his English hosts.1 Invited by Thomas Cranmer to assist in England’s reform, Bucer almost certainly set himself to appraise the situation in order to contribute constructively to what was then a reformation in its early stages. However, to a greater extent than any of the other reformations in which he was involved, Bucer found himself in the role of an outsider, an unaccustomed position compounded by the fact that he was not immediately involved in the planning and execution of reform to quite the extent he might have expected. Apart from a few projects on which Cranmer set him to work, his posting to Cambridge as Regius Professor of Divinity proved to be the chief employment of his talents.2 As far as the actual conduct of reform in England, the most Bucer could do was observe its progress, bide his time and await opportunities for intervention as they were presented to him.

What Bucer observed and then expressed in his writings during these years is of more than passing interest, for in them we find an analysis of the conduct of reform in England that is searching and critical. This aspect of Bucer’s English sojourn has not gone unnoticed, but has been given relatively

N. Scott Amos is a graduate student in St. Mary’s College, the University of St. Andrews and a member of the Reformation Studies Institute.

little attention.3 Bucer’s criticisms are more substantive than a lament. They drive to the very heart of how reform is to be achieved, and central to his critique is the ministry of the church. In Bucer’s estimation, the fundamental failing of English reform was the serious weakness of the evangelical ministry and especially of preaching, and he saw this as the direct result of misguided government policy compounded by the rapacity of the landed aristocracy. In view of the general picture of Bucer as a largely uncritical supporter of the evangelical establishment,4 this essay will point to a need for another look...

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