Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

KATHARINA ZELL
(1497-1562)

Germany
Protestant Humanitarian

Katharina Zell was a German Protestant activist and reformer in the city of Strasbourg. She came from the respected and politically influential Schutz family of Strasbourg. Her marriage to the clergyman Matthew Zell in 1523 marked the beginning of a life of public activity on behalf of Protestantism.

After a brief tenure as rector at the University of Freiburg ( 1517- 1518), Matthew Zell ( 1477-1548) had arrived in the city of Strasbourg in order to serve as Roman Catholic priest of the cathedral parish. He also held the office of poenitentarius (penitentiary), charged with carrying the bishop's right to absolve grave sins. Zell soon found himself attracted to the views of reformer Martin Luther, and as early as 1521, he began preaching sermons with a Lutheran emphasis. He insisted that he was preaching the "pure Gospel," but the authorities took notice. The Bishop of Strasbourg attempted to have the cathedral chapter oust Zell, but the effort failed in the face of the popularity of the sermons. So great was his reputation that the city council decided to extend their protection to the preacher. Clearly the majority in this sovereign city wanted a reform of the church.

Zell led the movement for reform in Strasbourg from 1521 until 1523, when he was joined by Wolfgang Capito and by the former Dominican Martin Bucer. In 1523 Zell published a defense of the Reformation entitled Christliche verantwortung (Christian Answer). He followed this in 1525 with the publication of the city of Strasbourg's first evangelical catechism, and he took a principled stand against the use of force in religious matters. Throughout his professional life, Zell focused on preaching and pastoral work. But it was his renunciation of the celibate life that had the greatest impact on the religious life of Strasbourg. Following Bucer's example, Zell broke his vow of celibacy and married Katharina Schutz on 3 Decem

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