Bruce Gordon on the Relationship between Calvin and Bucer

I posted on Calvin and Bucer in the not too distant past. This relationship has sort of been on my mental back burner for the past year or so since one of my colleagues is working on a Bucer dissertation. So I was happy to come across the below discussion from Gordon’s book. I have redacted it a bit – i.e., you can look it up for yourself and learn still more than I have reproduced here. The end of what I have given you here is particularly good, I think. It is at least an interesting way to think about and characterize Calvin’s relationships with the other major reformers of his day. One also gets a sense in this material of just how much Calvin owed to Bucer, not only intellectually but career-wise as well.

Bruce Gordon, Calvin, 86.
Calvin was not really needed in Strasbourg. Bucer took him under his wing to teach him how to be a pastor, but his purpose was ultimately missionary. Calvin was to return to Geneva and resume his work.
Gordon highlights here both how Bucer went out of his way to help Calvin and how his motivation was not merely charitable. He had a goal in mind. Bucer was a general – he surveyed the field of battle and he deployed resources. Human and theological resources, in his case. He recognized the potential in Calvin and wasn’t going to miss his chance to put him to good use. One sees much the same modus operandi in Calvin himself later in his career. Anyway, continuing…

Bruce Gordon, Calvin, 88-9.
At first glance, Martin Bucer and John Calvin cut very different figures. In 1538 Bucer was a veteran of the Reformation whose achievements owed as much to his patience and fortitude as they did to his theological acumen. His efforts in establishing the reformation in Strasbourg and in seeking peace between the warring Protestant churches had come at considerable personal cost, all too often pilloried by both sides for his flexibility – or his lack of principles, as it was portrayed by his detractors. Calvin, eighteen years his junior, was a volatile firebrand who oscillated between . . .self-confidence and . . . self-doubt. Yet Bucer saw in him the possibility of greatness.

Bucer’s cumulative influence on Calvin during these years forms a central part of our story. Above and beyond the opportunities afforded by refuge, a congregation and a teaching post, the Strasbourg years witnessed a discernible broadening and deepening of Calvin’s theology, and for this he owed much to Martin Bucer. In particular, he believed Bucer to be the best of the Protestant commentators on scripture . . .

Calvin’s debt went further and became evident after his subsequent return to Geneva, where his fourfold office of ministry, the liturgy and church discipline bore the mark of Bucer’s teaching. He embraced Bucer’s understanding of the early church as a model for the organization of the church in the sixteenth century. . . .

Bucer put himself out for Calvin in every respect: he provided accommodation in his own home, introduced him to his circle of friends, and finally found a house with a shared garden where they might easily meet and converse. Calvin’s Strasbourg letters contain numerous references to evenings spent deep in conversation with Bucer’s circle, which he came to refer to as ‘we’. . . . Even in this idyll and with a man he admired as much as Bucer, Calvin’s relationships were never straightforward. By the time he returned to Geneva he would describe his relationship to his teacher in terms of father and son, and expressed his willingness to submit himself to the Strasbourg reformer’s authority. But as with all sons and fathers there was conflict and willful declarations of independence. . . .

Yet, . . . Bucer remained foremost in Calvin’s affections. Although we have no access to their conversations in their shared garden, we know that Calvin’s relationship with Bucer was different. Farel was a loveable, if frustrating, uncle; Bullinger was the close cousin; Melanchthon the good school friend; Beza the son. Bucer was truly the father figure.


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