Archive Civic Polity Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy

Bucer on Civil Education

In his De Regno Christi (1550), Martin Bucer propagates a number of laws for the establishment of a Christian commonwealth. One is that there ought to be education for all young people. This was, in part, to prevent idleness, which was an evident concern to Bucer. But it was also the case that Bucer wanted to improve the lives and prospects of those made in the image of God. He writes:

Although the Lord promises that he will deal kindly “to a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments (Deut. 7:9) … he nevertheless demands that not only every private person but also every state and commonwealth should educate, form, and train its children for him with utmost care … thus each person, as a sound and useful member of the commonwealth, may contribute his share also to the good of the entire commonwealth, and no idle person may feed as a drone on the labors of others.1

Bucer prescribes the appointment of men ‘of outstanding piety, wisdom, and prudence’ who would coordinate the education of children in their town or area. Interestingly, Bucer goes on to say that education was a way of restoring the imago Dei in those who were fallen. For Bucer, education was a means of spiritual and civic reformation for people, both of which would lead to the reformation of the commonwealth at large.

And since we acknowledge that all our people, in however humble a station and condition of poverty they have been born, have been made in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of the Son of God for their restoration to this image, faithful pastors of the people of God certainly must see to it … that each person committed to their governance should be restored and led back to this very image of God, both by pious learning in the knowledge of salvation and by faithful exercise of every virtue.2

Bucer, like a number of his fellow continental reformers, holds a view that the civic sphere is a school for spiritual and moral righteousness. The reformation of the temporal kingdom serves spiritual ends.

  1. Martin Bucer, De Regno Christi, 2.3, in Wilhelm Pauck ed., Melanchthon and Bucer, (Louiseville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), pp. 333-4
  2. Ibid., pp.335-6

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.