Bucer was born at Schlettstadt in Alsace (today Sélestat, in France). In 1506 he entered the Dominican order, and was sent to study at Heidelberg. There he became acquainted with the works of Erasmus and Luther, and was present at a disputation of the latter with some of the Romanist doctors. He became a convert to the reformed opinions, abandoned his order by papal dispensation in 1521, and soon afterwards married a nun, Elisabeth Silbereisen.
In 1522 he was pastor at Landstuhl in the palatinate, and travelled hither and thither propagating the reformed doctrine. After his excommunication in 1523 he made his headquarters at Strassburg, where he succeeded Matthew Zell. Henry VIII of England asked his advice in connection with the divorce from Catherine of Aragon.
After the death of his first wife he married 1542 Wibrandis Rosenblatt the widow of the reformers Johannes Oecolampadius and Wolfgang Fabricius Capito.
On the question of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, Bucer's opinions were decidedly Zwinglian, but he was anxious to maintain church unity with the Lutheran party and constantly endeavouredespecially after Zwingli's deathto formulate a statement of belief that would unite Lutheran, south German and Swiss reformers; hence, the charge of ambiguity and obscurity which has been laid against him. After the failure of the Marburg Colloquy of October, 1529 to bring about such a union, Bucer himself persisted in seeking agreement with the Lutheran reformers. Such an agreement, the Wittenberg Concord, was concluded on May 29, 1536. The south German signatories were Bucer, Wolfgang Fabricius Capito, Matthäus Alber, Martin Frecht, Jakob Otter, and Wolfgang Musculus. The Lutheran signatories were Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Johannes Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, Caspar Cruciger, Justus Menius, Friedrich Myconius, Urban Rhegius, George Spalatin. Later Bucer disavowed the agreement due to his differences with the Lutherans over the interpretation of manducatio indignorum (that "unworthy communicants" also eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist). Bucer held that such "unworthy communicants" could only be Christians, though "unworthy" due to impenitence. The Lutherans held that "unworthy" communicants included unbelievers as well.
In 1548 he was sent for to Augsburg to sign the agreement, called the Interim, between the Catholics and Protestants. His stout opposition to this project exposed him to many difficulties, and he was glad to accept Thomas Cranmer's invitation to make his home in England. On his arrival in 1549 he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. Edward VI and the protector Somerset showed him much favour and he was consulted as to the revision of the Book of Common Prayer. But on February 28, 1551 he died, and was buried in the university church, with great state.
In 1557 Queen Mary's commissioners exhumed and burnt his body (along with that of Paul Fagius) and demolished his tomb; it was subsequently restored by order of Queen Elizabeth I. Bucer is said to have written ninety-six treatises, among them a translation and exposition of the Psalms and a work De regno Christi. His name is familiar in English literature from the use made of his doctrines by John Milton in his divorce treatises.
Bucer's collected writings are being published in three series: the Opera Latina edited by Francois Wendel et al (1955-), the Deutsche Schriften edited by Robert Stupperich et al (1960-), and the correspondence, edited by Jean Rott et all (1979-). Many of his biblical commentaries (among his most important writings) remain without a modern edition. A volume known as the Tomus Anglicanus (Basel, 1577) contains his works written in England. The most recent biography is Martin Greschat, Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times, trans. Stephen Buckwalter (Munich, 1990; English trans. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2004). See also JW Baum, Capito and Butzer (Strassburg, 1860); A Erichson, Martin Butzer (1891); and the articles in the Dictionary of National Biography|Dict. Nat. Biog. (by AW Ward), and in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopädie (by Paul Grunberg).