Erasmus of Rotterdam
Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1466, and he died in 1536. He was a reformer, but one that stayed loyal to the Roman Catholic Church and the supremacy of the pope. His reformation work focused on fixing the abuses of the clergy. Erasmus is famously remembered by modern day reformers for his exchange with Luther in which he sought to defend humanity’s freewill in conversion against the predestination teaching (faith alone is a work of God) espoused by many of the Reformers. Erasmus’ writing and rhetorician skills, Luther claimed was far superior to his own in the opening of Bondage of the Will, Luther’s response to Erasmus’ apology for freewill. Apart from his role in this famous debate with Luther, Erasmus has had a long lasting influence on the Church by his emphasis to returning to the original languages of the texts of Scripture. For almost a millennium the Bible was largely published in Latin in the Western Church, but Erasmus took it upon himself to publish a Greek text of the New Testament compiled from the best manuscripts available to him. It is from future editions of Erasmus’ Greek text of the New Testament that Luther translated the New Testament into German and Tyndale translated the New Testament into English. Today it is expected to learn Greek for a M.Div. degree, instead of Latin, and this educational and hermeneutical emphasis can be traced back to Erasmus of Rotterdam.
Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1534) was a Swiss priest who founded the Swiss Reformed Church. He was as reformer much like Luther, from the start arguing against not just abuses in the Church, but also against accepted practices that he found to be unbiblical, such as the ordinance that priests are not to marry and many of the required fasts of the Roman Catholic Church during Lent. To such ends, he didn’t just write; Zwingli actively demonstrated his teaching by being married in public and chowing down on sausages for all to see during the Lenten fasts. It would seem that such a brazen man who proclaimed Christ’s work to save and who actively broke unbiblical mandates would have found unity in their reformation movements, but Luther and Zwingli butted heads to the extreme over the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli didn’t just reject transubstantiation as Luther did; he reduced the meal down to a symbolic remembrance meal, that flew in the face of Luther who was still very much a sacramentarian, who recognized that all the grace of God was given in the meal to all who partook of it. An obvious stain in history for Zwingli for the eyes of the modern day Christian is the militant force he exerted against the Anabaptists within his area of jurisdiction. Zwingli died on a battlefield as a chaplain in a fight against the Roman Catholic Church.
Marin Bucer (1491-1551) was a German Reformer who was forced to center his work in Strassburg, Germany, after his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church for his work in Wissembourg. He is remembered most for his uniting work in his attempts to bring agreement between Luther and Zwingli, as well as his longstanding hope and work to see Roman Catholics join the Reformation. When Strasbourg accepted the Augsburg Interim after a defeat to the Roman Emperor in the Schmalkaldic Wars, Bucer was exiled to England for his remaining dissension against the terms of the interim agreement. Bucer was welcomed in England and was even asked to work on a revision of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayers. Due to his work and agreement in so many different factions of the Reformation Movement, Bucer is claimed as being a member of multiple camps of the Reformation today.
Born in Germany in 1499, Johann Brenz was a young man studying in Heidelberg and was present to hear Luther’s 1518 Heidelberg Disputation theses. Brenz was soon won over by Luther’s teachings and at his first preaching assignment in 1522 at St. Michael’s in the Franconian city of Schwäbisch-Hall, he set about reforming the Church in that territory, which became a 26-year endeavor. In addition to his reforming work in Schwäbisch-Hall, Brenz became a leader in further formulating, clarifying, and advancing of Luther’s teachings, most notably in the Luther and Zwingli debate over the Eucharist. Brenz wrote Syngramma Suevicum, a text that defined the Lutheran position of the sacrament of the altar, and he was a voice for the Lutheran position of the Lord’s Supper at the 1529 Marburg Colloquy. Later in his life. Brenz picked up the debate again against the Swiss position on the Eucharist that reduced the meal to a symbolic memorial with his 1561 writing, De personali unione duarum naturarum in Christo. Aside from this major focus of this teachings, Brenz was an influential voice for religious tolerance, calling for debate and not bloodshed over doctrinal differences, as was the typical response to religious disagreement in the 16th century.
Thomas Muntzer (1489-1525) was a German priest who had separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church before Luther’s Reformation Movement had started. This meant he wasn’t entirely against Luther’s work, but to Muntzer, salvation by grace through faith alone wasn’t enough. One couldn’t simply trust in Christ from the words of the Bible for salvation, or have assurance from participating rightly in the sacramental system of the Roman Church, one had to suffer personally to partake in the benefits of Jesus’ crucifixion. In addition to this off kilter view of salvation among all the camps of the Church in his day, Muntzer held that the end of the world and the return of Christ were imminent, and that the work of true Christians would usher in this return. In as much the same way that many Shiite Muslims believe the last imam will return in a moment of immense chaos (war), Muntzer rallied many peasants into an uprising against the feudal system of Germany seeking an overthrow of both of the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers led by Luther’s teachings. Through their fighting, God would cleanse the world. That was Muntzer’s radical belief at least, and in 1525 the peasants who followed him followed him to their deaths in what is known as the Peasants War. Muntzer was captured, tortured, yet he refused to recant. His head was put on a pike as a warning for others who might entertain the thoughts of forcefully overthrowing the feudal system in the name of God.