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Confirmation and Christian Fellowship: Martin Bucer on Commitment to the Church

  • Amy Nelson Burnett (a1)

Extract

During the last years of his ministry in Strasbourg, the Protestant reformer Martin Bucer and his fellow pastors introduced a new procedure for the exercise of church discipline, the voluntary enrollment of their parishioners in “Christian fellowships.” The parish structures created in Strasbourg have been regarded as forerunners of Pietist conventicles ever since the late seventeenth century, when Philip Jakob Spener justified his own Pietist assemblies by publishing a memorandum in which Bucer had defended the “Christian fellowships.” In the twentieth century, Gustav Anrich brought the attempt to establish “Christian fellowships” to the attention of scholars in his publication of an abridged version of Bucer's initial proposal. Anrich's student, Werner Bellardi, wrote the standard study of the movement's origin, development, and eventual disappearance on the basis of documents preserved in the Strasbourg archives. In their discussions of the movement, both Anrich and Bellardi were led astray by their assumption that Bucer originally intended to form conventicles of believers within the city's official church. In fact, those enrolled in “Christian fellowships” did not begin meeting together until the autumn of 1547, almost a year after Bucer first proposed the enrollment procedure.

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1. “Ein Bedacht Bucers über die Einrichtung von ‘Christlichen Gemeinschaften’,” in Festschrift für Hans von Schubert zu seinem 70. Geburtstag, ed. Scheel, Otto, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte Ergänzungsband 5 (Leipzig, Germany, 1929), pp. 4670.

2. Die Geschichte der “Christlichen Gemeinschaft” in Straβburg (1546/1550). Der Versuch einer “zweiten Reformation,”, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte 18 (Leipzig, Germany, 1934).

3. The assumption that Bucer originally desired to establish conventicles has distorted most subsequent discussions of the movement. In his original proposal, however, Bucer did not propose commitment to a fellowship but rather to the fellowship of the church—that is, he advocated greater participation in the parish church, not the formation of conventicles of believers. For a discussion of the place of conventicles in the movement, see Burnett, Amy Nelson, The Yoke of Christ: Martin Bucer and Christian Discipline, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies 27 (Kirksville, Mo., 1994), pp. 180207.

4. Anrich, “Bedacht,” p. 64.

5. Zürcher Ehegericht und Genfer Konsistorium, vol. 2, Das Ehe- und Sittengericht in den Süddeutschen Reichstädten, dem Herzogtum Württemberg und in Genf, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur schweizerischen Reformationsgeschichte 10 (Leipzig, Germany, 1942), p. 470.

6. For the development of Bucer's use of these concepts, see Burnett, Amy Nelson, “Martin Bucer and the Anabaptist Context of Evangelical Confirmation,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 68 (1994): 95122. Throughout this paper I have translated sich ergeben as “to surrender oneself” and sich begeben as “to commit oneself”; I have occasionally used the phrase “to give oneself” for the general concept of sich begeben/sich ergeben.

7. Martin Bucers Deutsche Schriften, Martini Buceri Opera Omnia, Series 1, ed. Stupperich, Robert (Gütersloh, 1960–) [hereafter BDS] 3:113.15–20; 5:131.23–27.

8. BDS 5:131.33–35.

9. BDS 5:293.15–19; 209.1–7.

10. “Die kirch Christi ist Christo ganntz begeben,” BDS 3:118.7–8.

11. “Sich ergeben in die gehorsame des h. Evangeli und wort Gottes,” BDS 6/3:166.3–5; 71.22; BDS 5:306.29–31; “sich begeben zu büβ und besserung,” BDS 5:308.12–17; 306.39–307.3; BDS 6/3:85.26–86.4, 90.12–14, 90.19–22.

12. Kurt Frör notes the difference between the two verbs, identifying ergeben with the Latin tradere and begeben with addicere; “Zur Interpretation der Kasseler Konfirmationsordnung von 1539,” in Reformatio und Confessio: Festschrift für D. Wilhelm Maurer turn 65. Geburtstag am 7. Mai 1965, ed. Kantzenbach, Friedrich Wilhelm and Müller, Gerhard (Berlin, 1965), pp. 161179, esp. 169. These translations are not exact, however; in the Latin translation of Von der waren Seelsorge, se tradere and se addicere are used interchangeably for both sich ergeben and sich begeben; moreover, a third term, se dedere, is also used frequently for both German verbs.

13. In 1531, Bucer suggested to Ambrosius Blarer that the evangelical ministers should consider the possibility of a public profession of faith at an upcoming conference at Memmingen, but he made no further mention of confirmation until the end of 1533; Briefwechsel der Brüder Ambrosius und Thomas Blaurer, ed. Traugott Schieβ, 3 vols. (Freiburg i.Br., 1908–1912) [hereafter Schieβ] 1:245 (20 February 1531).

14. BDS 5:175.39–176.10; BDS 6/3: 92.14–20; Quid de baptismate infantium…sentiendum, excerpt in Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer. Elsass I.–IV. Teil, ed. Manfred Krebs, Hans Georg Rott, et al., Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte 26–27, 53–54 (Gütersloh, 1959–1988) [hereafter TAE] 2:224.13–17 (no. 471).

15. BDS 5:217.12–17.

16. Ibid., 5:218.33–35.

17. Ibid., 5:175.23–30.

18. “Sich auch da offentlich Christo dem herren und seiner kirchen ergeben,” BDS 7: 264.16–19. For a discussion of the terminology sich begeben/sich ergeben in the Ziegenhain Zuchtordnung, see Frör, “Zur Interpretation,” pp. 169–172.

19. “Wiltu dich auch in die gemeinschafft und gehorsam der kirchen Christi begeben?” The ordinance specified that one child could give the responses explaining the Creed and the fellowship of the church, but each child was asked individually to make the public submission “as you have now heard that this child believes and confesses and submits himself to the church of Christ”; BDS 7:311.31–312.28.

20. Alfred Niebergall argues that this public submission (sich ergeben) in the Hessian confirmation ceremony cannot be interpreted as a confirmation vow, “Zur Problematik des Konfirmationsgelübdes,” in Confirmatio: Forschungen zur Geschichte und Praxis der Konfirmation, ed. Frör, Kurt (Munich, Germany, 1959), pp. 118152, esp. pp. 121–133, but his argument is unconvincing because he misses the distinction between a more general “surrender to Christ” and the more specific “commitment to obedience”; see also Frör, “Zur Interpretation,” p. 171 n. 27. Bucer himself referred to the profession of obedience as a promise or a binding obligation (Verpflichtung), Die evangelische Kirchenordnungen des 16. Jahrhunderts: Urkunden und Regesten zur Geschichte des Rechts und der Verfassung der evangelischen Kirche, ed. Aemilius Ludwig Richter (Weimar, 1846; reprint, 1967), 2:40a–b; Alle Handlung und Schrifften…zu Regenspurg verhandlet und einbracht (Strasbourg, Germany, [1541]), fols. 198v–199r.

21. BDS 6/3:242.31–33; 247.11–15; Wie leicht vnnd füglich, Chrislliche vergleichung der Religion…zu finden (Strasbourg, Germany, 1545), p. 85;Wider Vffrichtung der Messen… (Strasbourg, 1545).

22. Alle Handlungen fols. 198v–199r.

23. Ibid., fol. 116r–v. In Bucer's Censura of the Book of Common Prayer he stated, “Even in the restoration of the discipline we do not attempt a difficult thing if we approach it earnestly, as faithful ministers of Christ must do, and if we do not overlook the advice which I gave about confirmation and, first of all, about the reception of children and adolescents into the full fellowship of the church”; Martin Bucer and the Book of Common Prayer, ed. and trans. Whitaker, E. C., Alcuin Club Collections 55 (Great Wakering, England, 1974), pp. 137.

24. Die Ander Verteydigung vnd erklerung der Christlichen Lehr…(Bonn, 1543), fol. 91v; fol. 91r; Was im namen des Heiligen Euangeli…geprediget würdt…(Marpurg, [1543]); the confirmation ceremony in Einfältiges Bedenken. Reformationsentwurf für das Erzstift Köln von 1543, ed. Gerhards, Helmut and Borth, Wilfried (Düsseldorf, 1972), pp. 136138.

25. Briefwechsel Landgraf Philipp's des Grossmüthigen von Hessen mit Bucer, ed. Lenz, Max, 3 vols., Publikationen aus den königlichen preussischen Staatsarchiven 5, 28, 47 (Leipzig, Germany, 18801891), 2:159 (no. 172);BDS 6/3:247.19–24; Bestendige Verantwortung, auβ der Heiligen Schrift… ([Bonn], 1545), fol. 64v; Wie Leicht vnnd füglich, p. 69. See Hammann, Gottfried's description of confirmation as a type of “lay ordination,” Entre la Secte el la Cité: Le Projet d'Eglise du Réformateur Martin Bucer (1491–1551), Histoire et Société 3 (Geneva, 1984), pp. 297303.

26. There is no satisfactory study on Bucer's view of the covenant. On Bucer's acceptance of a bilateral covenant, see Koch, Karl, Studium Pietatis: Martin Bucer als Ethiker, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Lehre der reformierten Kirche 14 (Neukirchen, Germany, 1962), pp. 6263; on the distinction between unilateral testament and bilateral covenant during the early Reformation, see Baker, J. Wayne, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Athens, Oh., 1980), pp. 181191. August Lang asserts that the covenant did not hold an important place in Bucer's thought, but he bases this statement on an evaluation of Bucer's commentaries published through 1536, Der Evangelienkommentar Martin Butzers und die Grundzüge seiner Theologie, Studien zur Geschichte der Theologie und der Kirche 2/2 (Leipzig, Germany, 1900), p. 258 n. 4. The covenant became more important in Bucer's thought at the end of the 1530s, however, as a result of his debates with Melchiorite Anabaptists in Hesse and Strasbourg; see Burnett, “Martin Bucer.”

27. BDS 6/3:79.6–9; BDS 5:195.1–8; BDS 17:216.30–217.2.

28. BDS 6/3:75.8–11.

29. Ibid., 6/3:264.6–9, 16–21. Frör also points out the parallel in terminology between baptism and confirmation but does not see the relationship to Bucer's covenantal theology, “Zur Interpretation,” pp. 171–172.

30. Martini Buceri Scripta Anglicana fere omnia… (Basel, 1577), 228.62–65;Richter, , Kirchenordnungen, 2:40a–b; BDS 6/3:247.19–25.

31. BDS 6/3:247.16–248.20.

32. BDS 17:215.10–28; Bucer's explicit comparison of the public profession of faith and obedience with the covenant-renewal ceremony after Jews had returned from Babylon in his discussions with Melchior Hoffman and his followers in 1539, TAE 3:325.31–326.17.

33. BDS 1:260.16–20.

34. Schieβ 2:227.

35. Hubert, Friedrich, Die Straβburger liturgischen Ordnungen im Zeitalter der Reformation (Göttingen, 1900), pp. 5556. The Concordia sacri ministerii of 1542 charged Bucer with drawing up “at least three questions from which it may be discerned whether [the godparents] are Christians or not,” BDS 6/2:229.7–8; in 1543 a complaint was made to the Strasbourg council that one of the pastors had refused to baptize a child when he found the godparents unworthy, TAE 4:16, no. 1260 (12 February 1543).

36. BDS 17:215.29–217.2.

37. BDS 4:236.8–19; BDS 6/2:150.34–152.6.

38. BDS 7:271.14–19.

39. BDS 17:216.6–16.

40. Bestendige Verantwortung, fols. 109v–110r.

41. BDS 7:311.31–312.16.

42. See Bucer's continued skepticism about the efficacy of a public confession made before the baptism of an adult in the 22 articles adopted at the 1539 synod, BDS 5:381.28–31; on dating of these articles, see Hammann, , Entre la Secte, pp. 429430.

43. Burnett, , The Yoke of Christ, pp. 99–113.

44. On the dating of this treatise, Von der kirchen mengel vnnd fähl, see TAE 4:201–202 (no. 1526). It is possible that the reference to the pastors' memorandum on church discipline, in their presentation to the Council on 17 July 1546, was to this treatise, BDS 17:201.28–30 (where Von der kirchen mengel vnnd fähl is misdated to January 1546).

45. BDS 17:183.11–187.28.

46. Ibid., 17:187.28–33.

47. Ibid., 17:254.28–255.2.

48. Ibid., 17:194.13–17; 192.31–35.

49. “Sich begeben in die gehorsame der kirchen” occurs five times; “sich begeben in die gemeinschafft” occurs eight times directly and twice indirectly (“sich begeben dahin”; “sich begeben gegen einander”). The editor of Von der kirchen mengel vnnd fähl identified the former phrase as a technical term for the enrollment in a Christian fellowship; BDS 17:174, n. 109; it would be more correct to describe this phrase as a technical term for confirmation, which Bucer was describing at this point in the document, while enrollment is described by “sich begeben in die gemeinschaft.”

50. gemeinschafft Christlicher zucht, BDS 17:276.29; in die Christliche zucht, pp. 276.27; 277.18; 278.18; zuchtgemeinschafft, 278.14.

51. Ibid., 17:193.32–40; 186.16–19; 182.19–22.

52. Ibid., 17:188.5–18.

53. Ibid., 17:182.35–183.2; BDS 7:198.5–14.

54. See BDS 17:282.8–283.19.

55. See Bucer's statement to Blarer concerning the confirmation of children and servants under the authority of the Hausvater. In a proposal which probably dates from the 1530s, Bucer suggested that children should make a public profession of faith between the ages of 10 and 12; see Burnett, , Yoke of Christ, pp. 102–194.

56. See BDS 17:277.22–279.6 for provisions regarding enrollment and discipline of female members.

57. Ibid., 17:277.17–21; the vorbereytung was the service held on the Saturday evening before the Lord's Supper was celebrated in the church, and all who wished to receive the sacrament were encouraged to attend this service; for the provisions concerning this service adopted at the 1539 synod, see BDS 6/2:243.15–244.2.

58. BDS 17:89.2–6. In the same 1547 document which presented confirmation as the expected result of catechetical instruction, Bucer and his fellow pastors called for the clarification of parish boundaries in Strasbourg “so that Christian fellowship may be better preserved with the adults, and so that the church wardens, pastors and deacons in each parish may better carry out their office and ministry towards everyone with regards to all pastoral care and the fellowship and discipline of Christ”; Ibid., 218.6–9.

59. In his defense of the fellowship movement submitted to the city council in November 1547, Bucer described the scriptural and patristic practice of a public profession of faith and obedience, BDS 17:262.23–264.9. It has generally been assumed that Bucer was here referring to enrollment in a Christian fellowship, but he was actually describing a public confirmation ceremony, including the imposition of hands; his wording is very similar to one of his earliest defenses of confirmation written at the time of the second Strasbourg synod in 1539; see also BDS 6/2:203.3–204.3 with BDS 17.262.30–263.18.

60. BDS 17:255.3–6. Elsewhere the pastors mention the baptismal registers kept “by order of the magistrate,” Ibid., 216.25–26; they also requested that domestic help and apprentices be brought to the pastors so that their names could be added to the parish registers, Ibid., 217.23–24.

61. See Burnett, , Yoke of Christ, pp. 163179.

62. See the recurrent refrain that “it is the Lord's command that we teach the baptized to obey all that he commanded [Matt. 28:20]”; BDS 17:213.24–25; 216.22–24; 218.10; 280.6–7; 294.12–13; 319.19.

63. Bucer's writings during the later 1540s are full of statements such as the one he made in his critique of the first Book of Common Prayer that “the intolerable wrath of God…burns so dreadfully in more than miserable Germany, for the neglect of this same discipline”; Whitaker, , ed., Martin Bucer, p. 136.

64. Hammann has also pointed to Strasbourg's worsening political position preceding and during the Schmalkaldic War as one of the chief factors which prompted Bucer to suggest the creation of the fellowships, Entre la Secte, pp. 367–369.

65. On Bucer's efforts to prevent any appearance of disagreement among the clergy, BDS 17:291–316; Bellardi, , Geschichte, pp. 48–57.

66. “Ad susceptionem in Ecclesiam requiruntur catechizatio, fidei confessio, et obedientiae Christi professio…Iam administrare hanc disciplinam, est sic Christi populum docere, instituere, regere, ut…catechizandos se et suos praebeant: percepto catechismo Christi, fidem suam coram ecclesia tota confiteantur, et obedientiam plenam Evangelii praestandam Christo domino, eius Ecclesiae, cunctisque fidis eius ministris et membris promittant” Scripta Anglicana, p. 571.

67. Melanchthon and Bucer, ed. Pauck, Wilhelm, Library of Christian Classics 19 (Philadelphia, 1969), pp. 228229.

68. Schieβ 1:245; TAE 1:403.31–33, 406.23–26; BDS 5:98.34–36.

69. Whitaker, , Martin Bucer, pp. 101105; citation at p. 103.

70. Ibid., p. 105.

71. BDS 5:217.10–21.

72. Pauck, , Melanchthon and Bucer, pp. 229230.

73. Ibid, p. 229; for his admission, while defending the enrollment in parish fellowships, that many might “commit themselves into these fellowships who are not of Christ,” see BDS 17:323.17–20.

74. Pauck, , Melanchthon and Bucer, p. 229.

75. The pastors may have confirmed some children on their own during the 1540s; the references to confirmation in Bucer's 1543 catechism and in his Summary of Christian Doctrine…taught in Strasbourg, published in 1548, imply that the ceremony was not unfamiliar to the city's inhabitants; see BDS 6/3:247.16–248.20; BDS 17:134.9–14.

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