Katharina Schütz Zell

Biographical Sketch 

by Brianna Smith, Biola University


Lutheran Reformer: Church Mother (Kirchenmutter) of Strasbourg

Life Events

1497/8 – Katharina is born to a devout Strasbourg family.

1505 – At the age of 7, Katharina dedicated her attention to religious matters.

1508 – Katharina dedicated herself to the church, to a life of celibacy & good works, at 10.

1518 – Matthias Zell is installed as the new priest of Strasbourg.

1521 – Katharina is converted to evangelical faith through the preaching of Matthias Zell

1523 – Katharina marries Matthias Zell

1524-1558 – Katharina published the majority of her works

1526-7 – The Zell’s first child was born and died.

1548 – Katharina’s husband Matthias Zell dies

1562 – Katharina dies in Strasbourg


Strasbourg: a rich urban center that had many religious, political, economic, and cultural benefits.

Reformation: In 1518, Matthias Zell is appointed priest of Strausbourg. A follower of Luther, he began preaching salvation by faith alone. Because of Luther’s writings and Zell’s preaching, Katharina adopted Lutheran theology.

Matthias Zell: Matthias Zell (1477-1548), a prominent reformer, was the bishop of Strausbourg and played an instrumental role in Katharina coming to a protestant understanding of salvation. Katharina and Matthias were married in 1523 and remained married for 25 years until his death in 1548.


Marriage: Katharina was a staunch supporter of clerical marriage. The Zell marriage led to many other clerical marriages in Strasbourg.

Katharina was the most published female theologian of the reformation era.


Katharina had a leaning towards Reformed theology. Katharina believed that it was through Christ alone that one could be saved. Her understanding was that Scripture alone was the foundation for Christian doctrine. She believed that those who receive the gift of faith are saved by faith alone and not by works. Mass did not offer sacrificial atonement; rather it was a gift of grace from God to his people. She understood that Christ was the “bread of heaven” and that the Lord’s Supper was a spiritual feeding with the proper response being love for neighbor. She accepted infant baptism, but did not see it as necessary for salvation.


Type of works: Katharina wrote devotionals, pastoral counsel, catechisms, theology, historical and autobiographical apologetics, letters, and even a sermon. She was able to write well-articulated pieces that integrated biblical and Protestant theology well in a winsome manner, with humor and confidence.

List of Works

Zell, Katharina. 1524. Letter to the suffering women of the community of Kentzingen, who believe in Christ, sisters with me in Jesus Christ. [Augsburg]: [Philip Ulhart d.Ä.].

Zell, Katharina. 1524. Katharina Schütz’s Apologia for Master Matthew Zell, Her Husband, Who is a pastor and servant of the Word of God in Strasbourg, because of the great lies invented about him. Strassburg: W. Köpffel.

Zell, Katharina, and Ludwig Rabus. 1557. A letter to the whole citizenship of the city of Strasbourg from Katharina Zell, widow of the now blessed Matthew Zell, the former and first preacher of the gospel in this city, concerning Mr. Ludwig Rabus, now a preacher of the city of Ulm, together with two letters: hers and his. May many read these and judge without favor or hate but alone take to heart the truth. Also a healthy answer to each article of his letter.


“Katherina Schütz Zell (1497/8-1562).” Published June 22, 2015. Christian Worldview Journal. Accessed October 2, 2016. http://www.breakpoint.org/the-center/columns/changed/22966-katherina-schuetz-zell-14978-1562.

McKee, Elsie Anne. Katharina Schütz Zell Volume 1: The Life and Thought of a Sixteenth-Century Reformer. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

McKee, Elsie Anne. Katharina Schütz Zell Volume 2: The Writings A Critical Edition. Leiden: Brill, 1999.

Nielson, Christian Thomas. “Women Confront the Reformation: Katharina Schütz Zell, Teresa of Avila, and Religious Reform in the Sixteenth Century.” MA thesis Simon Fraser University, 2001. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/MQ61596.pdf.

 “Women of the Reformation, Part 2: Katherine Zell – Speaking Truth to Power.” Published September 28, 2010. RPM Ministries. Accessed October 02, 2016. http://www.rpmministries.org/2010/09/women-of-the-reformation-part-2-katherine-zell-speaking-truth-to-power/.

Zell, Katharina Schütz. 2007. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe : Church Mother : The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany. Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press. Accessed October 2, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.



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