Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we remember Matthias Zell and the beginning of the Reformation Strasbourg.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 21st of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

This past summer, I spent a little over a week in the historical city of Strasbourg in France. Having previously been in Paris, and before that, in the southern French countryside, I was- as many are- struck at the curious nature of this border city in the Alsace.

It is a peculiar place- a German French hybrid that seems to be its own thing- neither German nor French. And this is part of the charm of Strasbourg and attributable to its curious past. As you might guess, it was the historical roots of its Reformation that were particularly interesting to me, and this led me on the trail of Matthias Zell- an often overlooked Reformer and the father of the Reformation in Strasbourg. On this, the 21st of September- the anniversary of his birth in 1477 I’d like to introduce you to him.

He was born into wealth- his father owned a vineyard. As a young man, he was taken with nationalistic zeal for the empire and joined the war against the Swiss. He soon tired of this and decided to attend the university at Freiburg in 1502. He took his bachelor's and master's degree in theology and was made a lecturer at the same university. But he was more interested in the practical application of theology and was made preacher in Strasbourg at the cathedral in 1518.

Strasbourg- then the Germanic capital of the Holy Roman Empire, had two distinct features. One, it was a free imperial city. That is, it had autonomy from the Emperor in a way not afforded to most towns and cities in the empire. Secondly, it was an early center of publishing with a robust printing culture in the wake of Gutenberg's invention.

By 1521 Zell had read the early works of Martin Luther and had begun preaching them from the pulpit. This would outrage the local bishop, but his popularity with the people proved to be a problem. The pulpit- an enormous raised pulpit in the middle of the cathedral was locked by church officials so that the local carpenters guild would build him a portable pulpit he could preach from in the church and wherever else he saw fit.

The civil authorities, reading the public and likely also taken by Zell’s preaching, formed a committee of magistrates and pastors that would make theological decisions for the city. Thus the bishop would be irrelevant, and the Reformation took hold. Wolfgang Capito and Martin Bucer would move to Strasbourg and become the authorities for the Reformation in Strasbourg- but it was Zell who continued to have an effect on the city and people.

He would write his Christliche Verantwortung- or “Christian Response” in 1523 as a defense of the Reformation for the common person, and in 1536 he would publish a catechism.

In 1523 he officiated a wedding of a local priest, and that priest would, in turn, officiate Matthias' own wedding to Katerina Schultz later in the same year. Later the two would travel to Wittenberg to meet Luther and his own Katerina, who married in 1525.

He was known for his desire for peace amongst Reformation factions- and this would ironically lead to controversy amongst other reformers. He would host Zwingli and the radical Schwenkfeld at his own home, hoping to discuss church matters with them directly.

In 1529 the people of Strasbourg would officially vote in the Reformation with the abolition of the mass. The local reformers would produce the “Tetropolitan Confession” in 1530- a modified version of the Augsburg Confession that sought to include Zwinglians. The story of this confession and the controversy is for another time. Still, it is worth noting that Zell didn’t attend the colloquies, nor did he engage in theological debate amongst Reformation Christians.

Other reformers would do the work of debate and codification, and other reformers would use Strasbourg as a base from which they could teach and publish their understanding of Reformation doctrines, but it was Matthias Zell who faithfully preached- even when locked out of his own pulpit- from his call in 1518, his turn to the reformation in 1521 to his death in 1548. Born on this day in 1477, Matthias Zell was 70 years old.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 106:

Therefore the Lord was angry with his people
 and abhorred his inheritance.

He gave them into the hands of the nations,
 and their foes ruled over them.

Their enemies oppressed them
 and subjected them to their power.

Many times he delivered them,
 but they were bent on rebellion
 and they wasted away in their sin.

Yet he took note of their distress
 when he heard their cry;

for their sake he remembered his covenant
 and out of his great love he relented.

He caused all who held them captive
 to show them mercy.

Save us, Lord our God,
 and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
 and glory in your praise.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
 from everlasting to everlasting.

Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Praise the Lord.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who has also been to Strasbourg and was shocked to hear how the French Quarter their git its name! He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who lived on Flammenkuche and snails for a week. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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