In 1544, Calvin was asked to intervene in the dispute between the two parties. Calvin responded by saying that he could not because he did not have all the written materials at his disposal. But he did say that Luther should be the one called to stop the fighting. Although Luther should make greater effort to check himself and fight the true enemies of Christ, he must be remembered as one to whom ‘we owe a great deal’ . Calvin, despite his rebuke, still held a great respect for what Luther had done for the reformation.
Calvin did place his name on a document that tried to reconcile the two sides. Along with Zwingli’s successor, Henrich Bullinger, Calvin signed the ‘Consensus Tigurinus’ in 1549. It had twenty six articles, in which both the Lutheran and Catholic views of the eucharist were rejected.
So what can we say about the theology of Bucer and Calvin? Leonard Hunter, a Lutheran writes, “Bucer’s name would never have been famous had he not, proteus like, transformed himself into all shapes… and so craftily and disingenuously turned himself and all his counsels, words and actions that it could never be perfectly discovered which party he favoured” . This is countered by David Wright who says “It goes without saying that Bucer never contemplated any compromise in the essentials of the reformation gospel” .
This compares with McGrath’s comment that “Calvin was clearly aware of the divergences between Luther and Zwingli, and he attempted to steer a middle course between their rival points” .
I would like to suggest that it would indeed be possible to call Martin Bucer’s theology a mediating theology, while on the other hand, it would not be appropriate to say this of Calvin.
Both men were concerned for the Reformation and its survival. Both men were eager for unity, especially between Luther and Zwingli. But it was Bucer who tried to walk the fine line between the two sides. Bucer’s earlier views on the eucharist lead the Zwinglians to believe he could be accommodated, yet in 1530 and 1536, Bucer signs two documents with the Lutherans (without the Zwinglians) confirming the real and substantial presence of Christ at the eucharist. Bucer tried to hold together the two parties together with his theology, although his motive was for the good of the gospel and the reformation.
I do not believe that Calvin did this. Yes, he was concerned for unity and as we have seen, he condemned both sides for their attitudes and actions. Yet, he always maintained his view on the eucharist and never tried to adopt a mediating theology. His view was one which he believed the scripture taught. Bucer’s driving force was the unity and preservation of the reformation., and it was this that lead him towards a mediating theology.
Even so, it has to be said that for both Bucer and Calvin, Christ and the Gospel was central. Bucer wrote ‘Commit to the Lord any further inessential questions, and zealously guard oneself against all inappropriate contention, the bearer of estrangement and even bitterness of spirit, which cannot be suffered by true Christian faith which works through love’ , while Calvin said ‘so as not to diminish the efficacy of the sacraments, we must remember, that we partake of Christ by the secret and incomprehensible power of God.’