Katharina was born in 1498 and lived most of her life in Strasbourg.
Katharina called herself a church mother (“Kirchenmutter”). She believed that she was called by God to care for the church and its people.
She served as a pastoral care provider, a writer, and even a preacher.
She was 20 years younger than her husband, Matthias Zell. She had two children who died as infants. She ministered as a partner with her husband. She developed women’s ministries and published a book of Psalms for women to sing.
She was constantly entertaining people, including such personages as Calvin. She took a leading role in organizing relief for 150 men exiled from their home towns during the religious wars for their faith. She wrote Scriptural encouragements to the wives and children they left behind.
During the Peasants’ War, she organized Strasbourg to deal with 3,000 refugees for a period of 6 months. She traveled frequently with her husband, unusual in that day. She was very well educated, familiar with the writings of Luther and other Reformers.
She was also enthusiastic about passing on education to others. One of the most widespread expressions of lay theology is found in song. In public worship, the priesthood of believers unite in prayer and singing. Katherine Schutz Zell realized this and published a collection of hymns to provide believers with “sermons in song.” So she produced one of her most influential and most widely used texts – a hymnbook called, “Some Christian and Comforting Songs of Praise about Jesus Christ Our Savior.”
She also wrote many other things, including letters of consolation, devotional writings, biblical meditations, catechetical instructions, a sermon, and lengthy polemical exchanges with male theologians.
She showed tolerance and concern for Anabaptists, who were considered heretics in their day, and made frequent visits to those who were imprisoned. As an aside here, many of the women that I read about during this time period were much more tolerant of other religious sects than the men were. This is because Katharina had a “mother’s heart” and wanted to see Christians united in their love for the Savior and for the Gospel.
She was widowed in 1548, and spoke at her husband’s funeral. Afterwards, Martin Bucer sent her to Basel to recover from her grief. When she returned to Strasbourg, persecution was being imposed on reformers by Charles V. She hid Bucer and other religious leaders in her home for several weeks until they could escape to England.
She gave an address at a funeral of the wife of a follower of Schwenckfeld shortly before her own death in 1562. Followers of Schwenckfeld were considered heretics, so there were no other pastors at the funeral. With extraordinary Christian charity, she just did it herself.
Of all of the Reformation women, Katharina Schutz Zell is among the most extraordinary. She responded as a woman to the needs of the people in her town. As mentioned earlier, she had compassion for all Christians, even those who had different opinions than hers. She sought unity and peace for the sake of the Gospel. She was tireless in her efforts to comfort, guide, and counsel others.
Katharina was the most published woman theologian of her day. She did not just write about her experiences, or draw from the experiences of others. She relied on the Scriptures as her authority in her writings. She believed in the primacy of the Word and its claims on believers for their everyday lives. She had a special vocation as pastor’s wife, mother, teacher, and writer, but she believed that everyone is called to full time ministry as well in proclaiming the Gospel in deed as well as word.
At a time when many women did not feel brave enough to speak out, she used her voice, her influence, and her sense of calling to speak as a Christian and as a woman.