Monday, April 27, 2009

Forgotten Reformer: Ambrose Blarer

Ambrose Blarer is a forgotten reformer although he has contributed a great deal to modern churches and should be remembered by those who appreciate hymnody. Ambrose was born in 1492 to a wealthy family of Constance (sometimes spelled Konstanz). He probably became Reformed in his university days. He studied at Tubingen where he met Philip Melanchthon. Ambrose’s brother, Thomas, studied at Wittenburg under Luther himself, so Ambrose would clearly have been acquainted with Reformation thought. Despite all of the Lutheran contact, Ambrose became reformed and favored Zwingli’s view of the Lord’s Supper. Ambrose became a monk, but his reformed thought got him kicked out sometime between 1520 and 1523. By 1525 Ambrose was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity to the people of the southern Germany city of Constance. His brother Thomas was on the city council, which helped give political support to the new preaching. Constance was the seat of a bishop, so it was no small feat when the city declared for the Reformation. Blarer had a great deal of help from his cousins, Johannes Zwick (a pastor) and Conrad Zwick (another politician).

Blarer would not be content to free just the city of Constance from the grip of Rome and the papal anti-christ. He would also serve as the main Reformer for the cities of Ulm and Memmingen. Blarer also aided in the reformation of other towns such as Montebeliard, and countless others through his correspondence. Some of the work would be undone during the Augsburg Interim imposed after the victory of Emperor Charles. Blarer refused to sign the Augsburg Confession and fled to Switzerland in 1548. There he continued to preach in Swiss towns and give out advice to whoever sought it. He died in 1564.

His impact however was greater than this. When the Reformation took cities over they did not always come to the same conclusions regarding music. For example, the people of Zurich did not participate in singing at all at first. It actually took some time before the people took up their voices in song. The people under Bucer, Zell, and Capito, sang only psalms in the beginning. But the people of Constance wrote and sang hymns. By 1533, the Blarers and Zwicks had written a Constance Hymn Book. It was half psalms and half hymns. Ambrose wrote several hymns and he collected hymns from others. He did include many of the Lutheran hymns, and he also got several other Protestant Reformers to contribute hymns like Leo Juda of Zurich. Ambrose wrote catechical hymns, he wrote evening and morning hymns, and he wrote festal hymns. It took less than five years before Strassborg changed their worship style to include these new hymns flowing out of Constance. In 1540, Blarer collected more and published a new edition and had his friend Johannes Zwick write a defense of hymnody for the preface. These Reformers gave us the great tradition of hymns and adding hymns to our services. This is no small accomplishment. These men not only preached the gospel, but loved to sing the praises of their God and Savior. Blarer took a lead in that, and for that alone he deserves to be remembered.