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.

Zwingli’s Liturgical Reforms

Zürich’s first evangelical service of the Lord’s Supper occurred in a dramatic fashion during Holy Week 1525. Before the sun rose on Maundy Thursday, Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) had a dream sparked by the groundbreaking decision of the Zürich city council earlier in the week to abolish the Mass. The discussion which led to this momentous breakthrough involved an argument with conservative under-secretary Joachim am Grüt over the precise signification of the Eucharist, a dispute which vividly appeared to Zwingli anew as he slept. A counselor appeared in his dream, calling him out of his slothfulness and directing him to the parallel between the Passover and the Lord’s Supper.[1] Zwingli immediately awoke, meticulously examined his Bible, and that morning expounded the passages before the congregation with such might that he persuaded nearly all those present. The ensuing worship over the course of the Easter Triduum drew crowds so numerous, that Zwingli remarked: “such a Passover of Christ was celebrated as I have never yet seen”.[2]

Huldrych Zwingli was born on 1 January 1484 in Wildhaus in the Toggenburg valley region of Switzerland. After schooling in Basel, and then Bern, he arrived at the University of Vienna in 1498, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts. There he became friends with Joachim Vadian (and would have overlapped too with Diebold Schwarz). In 1502, he moved to the University of Basel, where he met Leo Jud and Konrad Pellikan, and proceeded Master of Arts. He was ordained in 1506 and ministered in Glarus, where he taught himself Greek, and read and corresponded with the great Erasmus. In 1516, he moved to the Benedictine Abbey in Einsiedeln as the people’s priest and grew to love the Scriptures, even preaching the truths of the Gospel against indulgences and Marian veneration. His most important ministerial appointment came in 1519, when he became the people’s priest at the Great Minster (Grossmünster) in Zürich.

The next five years witnessed three important manifestations of Zwingli’s growing evangelicalism. First, he established himself as a skillful expositor of the Scriptures. His first sermon on 1 January 1519 (his 36th birthday) began at the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew and he preached sequentially through books of the Bible. Second, he took a public stance on the evangelical freedom from fasting. During Lent in 1522 there were a dozen men at the house of the printer, Christopher Froschauer. Due to the expensive price of fish, Froschauer asked his wife to purchase some meat, and she returned with two smoked sausages which were cut into pieces and distributed among the twelve (somewhat of a striking parallel to the Last Supper). Although Zwingli refused, everyone else ate the sausages, including the pastors Leo Jud and Laurence Keller. News of this shocked the city, so Zwingli preached a sermon on fasting and defended his friend’s Christian freedom.[3] Just as the “Sausage Affair” was dying down, the third manifestation of Zwingli’s growing evangelicalism occurred that year: he secretly married Anna Reinhard in the spring, and publicly denounced compulsory clerical celibacy in the summer, through his publication, A Friendly Petition and Admonition to the Confederates.

By this time, Zwingli was firmly convinced of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. He lambasted the supposed sacrifice of the Mass in two publications: An Attack on the Canon of the Mass (1523) and the Commentary about the True and False Religion (1525). These evangelical opinions spread rapidly, and after the city council approved his proposal (excepting the antiphonal recitations) to replace the Mass with an evangelical worship on Tuesday of Holy Week, 1525, he implemented his landmark liturgical reforms during the celebration of Easter only a few days later.

Zwingli’s decision to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on four occasions throughout the year (Easter, Pentecost, Autumn and Christmas)[4] meant the creation of two liturgical orders: a weekly service of the Word, A Form of Prayer … At the Beginning of the Sermon and a seasonal service of the Sacrament, Act and Custom of the Supper.[5]  ….

[the rest of this introduction will be in the book, but here is an interesting sample from Zwingli’s Preface in the Act and Custom]

“After being long in error and darkness we rejoice, most beloved brethren, over the right way and the light, which God our heavenly Father has made known to us through His grace. And we have valued it much more highly and received and embraced it with a much greater desire, because the errors were many, harmful and dangerous. But although innumerable errors have occurred until now, to the detriment of faith and love, it seems to us that not the least of them occurred in the abuse of this Supper. Just as the children of Israel reintroduced the Passover lamb in the times of the kings Hezekiah and Josiah, so we by God’s help, as we hope, have reclaimed the Easter Lamb after a long captivity and restored it to its proper use.”

[1] Huldrych Zwingli, Subsidium sive coronis de eucharistia (Tiguri: Frouscher, 1525), sig. D.iiir: “Ibi ἀπὸ μηχανῆς visus est monitor adesse (ater fuerit an albus, nihil memini, somnium enim narro), qui diceret: Quin ignave respondes ei, quod Exodi 12. scribitur: Est enim Phase, hoc est: transitus domini.”

[2] Ibid., “Factumque est, ut tribus istis diebus coenae domini Parasceues ac Resurrectionis tantum pascha Christi celebratum sit, quantum ipse nunquam vidi: eorumque numerus, qui ad allia ollasque Aegyptias respectarent opinione longe minor esset.”  The Easter Triduum, also known as the Holy or Great Triduum is liturgical shorthand for the period which spans Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.

[3] 29 March; printed on 16 April as Regarding the Choice and Freedom of Foods.

[4] The reference to ‘Autumn’ may imply the Feast of Felix and Regula, or All Saints’ Day.

[5] Huldrych Zwingli, Ordnung der christenlichenn Kilchenn zuo Zürich. Zürich, 1525; Huldrych Zwingli, Action oder Bruch des Nachtmals. Zürich, 1525.

Diebold Schwarz: German Mass (1524)

No one remembers to have seen the benches of our churches filled by a people so zealous, resourceful, and eager for instruction. Before the minister has gone into the pulpit, one sees innumerable crowds discussing the Word of God, or listening to the reading of the passage that is to be expounded. The buzzing of the crowd as it arrives is such that one would have said a bishop was to be consecrated.’

The above account of church life in the free imperial city of Strasbourg reflects the impact of the liturgical reforms spearheaded by Diebold Schwarz in 1524.  Although Schwarz is a largely forgotten figure today, the course of his evangelical ministry – which ranged from assisting Matthew Zell through to helping the Marian exiles – provided the backbone for the reformation of the city of Strasbourg.

Schwarz was born in Hagenau in 1484/5.  His father Hans (a citizen of Strasbourg) was an iron worker who could afford to send Diebold to study at the University of Vienna in 1501, where he entered the Dominican order and proceeded MA in 1508.  He became a member of the Hospitallers of the Holy Spirit at Bern in 1516, and was afterwards put in charge of the order in Stefansfeld in 1520.  Some years later he returned to Strasbourg, a convinced evangelical, and served as assistant to Matthew Zell at the Cathedral of our Lady.  In 1524 he became the pastor to the Strasbourg parish of Old St. Peter and remained in that role for over 25 years – excepting a year with Wolfgang Musculus in Augsburg (1531-2), and a visit to Martin Luther in Wittenburg (1538).  In 1554 he became the pastor of the poor parish church of St. Aurelia (where Martin Bucer ministered upon his arrival to Strasbourg), located on the opposite side of the river Ill that encircles the city.  The prebendaries of Old St. Peter’s let him a house (called ‘Zum Holderstock’ located on the nearby Weinmarkt) which he generously passed on to Bishop John Ponet, the most senior English reformer among the Marian exiles.[1]  He retired of old age in 1558, but this did not put an end to ministerial zeal: he was carried into the pulpit to preach the first sermon of the newly reopened church of Old St. Peter in 1560.  The following year he went to be with the Lord.

However, Schwarz is best remembered for leading the first entirely German mass – earlier than Zwingli or Luther – for the congregation of St. Lawrence in the north transept of Strasbourg Cathedral on 16 February 1524.[2]   This German Mass (Deutsche Messe) has been described as ‘much less radical yet essentially more creative than any revision Luther either suggested or achieved.’[3]

(further details of the liturgical reforms will be included the historical introduction to this section, but to get a feel for the changes, here is an account given by an enthusiastic French student who wrote to his friend and patron, the reformist Bishop of Meaux):

‘On the Lord’s day, which is the only day they keep as a festival, . . . they celebrate the Lord’s Supper in this manner: The Table is set well forward, in a place in full view of the church, so that it may be seen by all.  They do not call it an altar, in order that they may not be thought to be in any way like those who make a sacrifice out of Christ’s Supper, but the Table does not differ in any way from ordinary altars. To this Table the minister comes, but in such a manner that he faces the people and does not turn his back upon them. . . . Standing at the Table, with his face towards the people, and while the eyes of all the people are upon him, he says first certain brief prayers . . ., and then psalms are sung by all. When this has been done and the minister has prayed again, he goes up to the pulpit and reads the Scripture which he wishes to expound, in such a way that it may be understood by all The sermon finished, he returns to the Table, and the Creed is sung by all. After this, he explains to the people why Christ left us His Supper, . . . then relates the words of Christ as they are written by the Evangelists or Paul. Thereupon, he gives bread and wine to those who wish to come forward (for no one is compelled, but all are bidden), true symbols of the body and blood of Christ, sealed in His death and left by Him to His apostles. While they are communicating and each one receives his portion of the Supper, Kyrie eleison is sung by all, that by this hymn they may render thanks for the benefit received. And communion is so ordered that the minister may partake last, in order that he may consume all that remains.  When this is finished, each one returns to his home.’

[1] A devastating fire burned the house down and much of its contents in 1556, and both Diebold Schwarz and Stadtmeiester Sturm pleaded the case of Bishop Ponet before the city Council of XXI.

[2] Most of the Strasbourg parishes had their own churches, however St. Lawrence used the north transept of the Cathedral and St. Stephen’s shared a church with a nunnery.

[3] Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship, 88.

Guillaume Farel’s “Manner and Way” (1524?)

 ‘Then Farel, who was working with incredible zeal to promote the gospel, bent all his efforts to keep me in the city. And when he realized that I was determined to study in privacy in some obscure place, and saw that he gained nothing by entreaty, he descended to cursing, and said that God would surely curse my peace if I held back from giving help at a time of such great need. Terrified by his words, and conscious of my own timidity and cowardice, I gave up my journey and attempted to apply whatever gift I had in defense of my faith’

When John Calvin recounted the 1536 event that turned a one night stopover in Geneva into a more permanent arrangement which would alter the course of Christian history, he aptly described the zeal and forthrightness of first great French reformer, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565).   Despite sometimes being treated as an historical footnote to Calvin, recent scholarship has demonstrated not only Farel’s instrumentality to keep him at Geneva, but has hinted at the instrumentality of Farel’s ideas upon the thought of the great Genevan.

Farel was a student at the University of Paris and came under the influence of the humanist Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples.  He rose through the ranks of reform-minded Catholics and found that as he encountered evangelical ideas, ‘little by little the papacy fell from my heart.’  Convinced of the primary authority of the Scriptures, he was compelled to leave France after the Sorbonne condemned the Lutheran books and ideas that his circle of friends read and spread.  Having left France, his ministry took on a peripatetic character: he spent time in Basel with Johannes Oecolampadius (until he called Erasmus a ‘Balaam’ and was forced to leave), Strasbourg with Martin Bucer, Zurich with Huldrych Zwingli, Geneva where he led the cause of reform, and eventually Neuchâtel where he ministered in until his death in 1565.

In 1524 Farel wrote a preface to Lefevre’s translation of the New Testament (L’Epistre Chrestienne Tresutile) and produced a small prayer book (Le Pater Noster et le Credo) designed to replace the Book of Hours.  These reflected the practical nature of Farel’s theological outlook: the Scriptures were to be understood by the common people and muttering of superstition replaced with zeal.  In 1529 his Summary and Brief Exposition (Summaire et Brieve Declaration) was printed.  This was an early doctrinal handbook popular among the French churches and was reprinted at least six times.

His liturgical work, The Manner and Form (La Maniere et fasson), was written prior to 1533 – possibly as early as 1524 while in Montbeliard.  It contained a preface, and services for baptism, marriage, the holy supper, public worship, and visitation of the sick.

(in the historical introduction to the translation of his liturgy we discuss the liturgy more in depth, but I thought I would mention his thoughts on expository preaching in this blogpost)

Farel has some interesting directions concerning preaching in the section of his liturgy (La Maniere et fasson) entitled, ‘The Way That We Follow in Preaching When the People Are Assembled to Hear the Word of God’:

“After the prayer, the preacher begins by choosing [lit. taking] some text of Holy Scripture, which he reads clearly (Neh 8:1–3), as our Lord did in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–21). And after the reading he declares word for word, without skipping, bringing to bear the passages of Scripture that are useful for the explanation of the one he expounds, without departing from Holy Scripture (Deut 4:2), so that he does not spoil the pure Word of God with the dung of men (Jer 23:16; 1 Pet 4:11), by faithfully bringing the Word and only speaking the Word of God.”

A few things are noteworthy about Farel’s approach to expository preaching:

  • The use of Old and New Testament examples of expounding the Scriptures.
  • The slow and methodical exposition of the text (‘word for word, without skipping’).
  • The ‘analogy of faith’ method of using Scripture to interpret Scripture (‘bringing to bear the passages of Scripture that are useful for the explanation of the one he expounds’)
  • His call to remain close to the text of Scripture (and so avoid spoiling it with ‘the dung of men’) … one wonders what he would make of lengthy sermon illustrations and reflections on pop culture.
  • This expository approach he considers ‘faithfully bringing the Word’ – indeed, it seems this closeness to the text of Scripture is what he considers ‘only speaking the Word of God’.

If you think that is interesting (or a little intense), wait until you see what he has to say about the application (‘to exhort and admonish’) of the text to the congregation, which follows directly afterwards.

Luther’s Liturgical Reforms

With a year to go – Lord willing – on my doctoral dissertation, I thought I would start regularly posting snippets of work in progress.  This month I am taking a break from the doctoral work in order to finish a book on Reformation liturgies with a good friend.  Thus, I will post a few reflections on that subject.

During the winter of 1521-22, Martin Luther (1483-1546) – former Augustinian friar recently declared a heretical outlaw – was protected in the Wartburg Castle by Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony.  While he was occupied translating the Scriptures into the German tongue, a storm of controversy brewed in his beloved Wittenberg.  The urgent, and often unruly, demands of students and citizens for ecclesiastical reform were met by the restive actions of Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1486-1541), who celebrated the mass in his native German tongue on Christmas Day 1521.  The significance of this service of worship lay not simply in the deployment of some aspects of the liturgy in the local lingua franca, but in the violent iconoclasm which came before and after it; much of which was due to Karlstadt’s testy manner and methods.  Martin Luther was drawn out from his repair in at Wartburg and arrived in Wittenburg in February 1522 to denounce the radicalism and restore order.  In time Karlstadt was banished from the university and town, and Luther’s liturgies provided much needed moderation and stability to the future epicentre of the European reformation.

Luther set forth his first outline for celebrating the mass in An Order of Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg (1523).  This short treatise provided guidance for evangelical worship which did not intend to dispense with the old liturgy but restore it to its rightful use.  It specifically aimed to correct abuses that had crept through a lack of the Word of God:

‘And this is the sum of the matter: Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course instead of the prattling and rattling that has been the rule up to now. We can spare everything except the Word. Again, we profit by nothing as much as by the Word. For the whole Scripture shows that the Word should have free course among Christians. And in Luke 10 [:42], Christ himself says, “One thing is needful,” i.e., that Mary sit at the feet of Christ and hear his word daily. This is the best part to choose and it shall not be taken away forever. It is an eternal Word. Everything else must pass away, no matter how much care and trouble it may give Martha.’

This liturgical outline was amplified and developed in his later two liturgical proposals: Form of the Mass and Communion for the Church at Wittenberg (1523; Formula Missae) and German Mass and Order of Service Adopted in Wittenberg (1526; Deutsche Messe). The Formula Missae was aimed at university or city churches with trained choirs (the service was choral and worshippers participated by receiving the Word and Sacrament), and the Deutsche Messe was not aimed specifically at Wittenberg but for churches throughout the region: ‘because of the widespread demand for German masses and services and the general dissatisfaction and offense that has been caused by the great variety of new masses, for everyone makes his own order of service.’

Both liturgical proposals aimed to promote the once for all sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, and strip the liturgy of superstition that would confuse the proclamation of the Gospel.  Together with Luther’s theological companions, Johan Bugenhagen and Philipp Melanchthon, Luther’s liturgical ideas influenced various official church orders (Kirchenordnungen) throughout and well beyond Germany for years to come.