It should now be evident that Bucer is no longer “the little known,” “the forgotten,” “the lesser prophet” of which the literature as late as the 'twenties and even the 'thirties spoke. The rediscovery of Bucer began earlier, with the assertion of his formative influence upon Calvin, in writings by Seeberg, Lang and Anrieh, by Pannier and Otto Ritschl. Hyma (19) suggested that Bucer “made Calvin a Calvinist”; and Pauck (15) concluded that Calvin left Strassburg as Bucer's “pupil or follower.” That thesis in its broad assertion prompted research into specific aspects of his influence upon Calvin. The question of church organization drew special investigation, to which Lang, Courvoisier, Stupperich and Strohl made important contributions. It was generally agreed that the Reformed “type of church” was Bucer's creation.
The point of Calvin's debt to Bucer has been well taken. But recent Calvin scholarship has tempered the claim (cf., 24, 25, 30). And Bucer scholarship inclines to redirect attention to the man himself, to his whole life and work.
Two concerns mark the trend in Bucer study. The first is to understand his personality, and thus more fully his contribution. Strohl (30) notes “the openness of his mind, his faculty of comprehension and assimilation, which qualified him to be an agent of liaison among the great minds of his time.” Ritter (32) marks the same trait. Courvoisier (21) contrasts it to Calvin's greater clarity of mind. And Heinrich Bornkamm cites it as the reason why Bucer did not produce a firm kirchcntypus, why his work found no enduring form, why his contribution is so hard to grasp; for he “sought conciously the whole above particulars, unity above opposites”: Martin Bucers Bedeutung für die europäische Reformationsgeschichte: Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte, Nr. 69, Jahrg. 58, heft 2. Another side of his personality, according to Strohl (and Ritter and others), was “his practical sense, his pastoral spirit, his preoccupation of cultivating the Christian life individually and collectively, of realizing a Christian society.” Pauck (114) and others have found this trait underlying his social ethics. Weber (29) describes his thought as ein praktisches Erleben des Christusglaubens. Again, scholars have called attention to Bucer's humanism—Pauck (114) in terms of his social and political ethics, Strohl in reference to both his ethics (124–26) and his educational policies (111–12), Stupperich (127) in connection with his unitive efforts. Again, Holsten (128–29) has noticed the “germ” of Pietism in his attitude toward non-Christian religions. Frick (130) speaks of him more confidently as “the Pietist of the Reformers.” And Lang begins his study of Puritanismus und Pietismus (152) with Bucer. But Van de Poll (92) concludes:
He cannot be called a spiritualist, as Köhler did, for then one forgets the connection with the whole of his liturgical activities; no more is it right to entitle him the pietist among the reformers, as Lang has done, for this name would do no justice in his conceptions on Church, Office and Holy Supper.
The second concern is to reveal the extraordinary range of Bucer's activity and influence. Hastings Eells wrote Martin Bucer (8) to satisfy students of the Reformation who “have found his footprints not only in Germany but in Switzerland, France, England, and other countries as well.” Under “The contributions of Martin Bucer to the Reformation” (51), Eells lists: Reformer of Strassburg, Conciliator of the Lutherans and Zwinglians on the Eucharist; Imperial Statesman; Protestant Partisan (after Regensburg, 1541) and Reformer of Cologne; and Contributor to the English Reformation. Bornkamm (180) concludes that
the union of inner-German Protestantism, Divine Worship and the organization of the Reformed Church, the Anglican conception of church and state, the Puritan and Pietist movements bear his touch in various degrees.
Studies of this extensive career underscore Bucer's importance and make him an appealing figure to the twentieth century. In an era of ecumenical effort, McNeill recalls him to us as “the most zealous exponent of church unity of his age.” His teachings and negotiations concerning the Lord's Supper have been interpreted in many studies by Eells and illuminated in the important documentary articles by Ernst Bizer. In a time of liturgical reflection, Maxwell presents him as the father of the Reformed tradition; and Van de Poll ascribes to him the development of “the actual character” of the Reformed Church. His contribution to the English Reformation has been reported by Hopf; the enduring importance of his De Regno Christi upon English religious affairs, by Pauck; his influence upon Puritanism and Pietism, by Lang. Questions about the sacramental teachings of the Book of Common Prayer have prompted serious and controversial studies of Bucer by Smyth, Dix, Timms and Richardson. Bucer's influence upon Calvin need not again be mentioned; he is numbered among the fathers of the Reformed Church.
Why then has Bucer been so little known? It was not his purpose to leave behind a separated church; and history counts him less than the founders. In Strassburg and elsewhere, the Gnesio Lutherans suppressed his writings and tried to discount him entirely. His career was marked by failures; but even they reflect the measure of his ambitions. “There is much of the tragic about his work,” writes Bornkamm (180), citing the frustrations in Strassburg and the failure of his unitive efforts. “But for that his stimulus flows in the whole of European Reformation history.”