*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 9th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today’s show has everything: Early Modern Strasbourg, Schwenkfeldians, lady Reformers, and nearly every other primary reformer you could name. Let’s go.
Also, I cheated. Today, the 9th of January is the anniversary of the death of Matthew Zell in 1548. He’s an important guy- he’s a first-generation Reformer who began his career as a Catholic priest called to the Strasbourg Cathedral in 1518. Hmmm…. What was happening around then? He and his wife would be influenced by Luther and join the Reformation cause.
The city of Strasbourg was one of the most important places in all of Early Modern Europe. It was an “Imperial Free City,” meaning self-governing except for the Emperor. With Zell and Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito, it would become one of the real feathers in the cap of Calvinist Europe in the 16th century.
Zell is interesting, and if we were slaves to random dates on a calendar, I would tell you more of his story. But part of his story is that he was one of the first Reformers to get married. And sorry, Matthias- your wife has a better story. And so today- I’m going to tell you about one of the more remarkable female Reformers in the 16th century: Katarina Zell. And not just like “she supported her husband’s work” she did, but also so much more.
In the 1520s, she wrote her first work, defending clerical marriage- the Strasbourg authorities were shocked and told her husband that he had better keep his wife in line. She paid heed to him and didn’t write again until he died. It just so happens that soon after his death, an old friend from Strasbourg started talking trash about Matthias’ suspect theology.
Initially, Katarina wrote the man, Ludwig Rabus, a letter defending her husband. He sent it back to her unopened. She sent him a letter again, and he did the same thing. So she made her letter public- it was entitled “A Letter to the Entire Citizenry of Strasbourg.” It is a defense of her husband, a call for toleration, and a spiritual and theological autobiography.
It is important to note a few things.
She was writing advocating for a tolerant Reformation at the wrong time. The Lutherans were finally recognized by the Empire just two years earlier, in 1555. But only the Lutherans. Strasbourg had been a Reformed center but was transitioning towards a stricter Lutheran Orthodoxy.
Her reputation was as a competent thinker and speaker. She had hosted both Zwingli and Calvin in her home and stayed with Martin Luther in Wittenberg.
According to her detractors, her primary foul collaborated with Schwenkfeld and his followers. A few weeks ago, you may remember that Caspar Schwenkfeld became a common enemy of both the Reformed and Lutheran because he took a broad view of communion and general religious toleration.
Her arguments for tolerance are exciting but very similar to others in that era. What I find most compelling is her spiritual autobiography. IN this defense of her husband and her theology, she asks questions about how a Protestant woman could serve God. She told the story of her conversion to the Reformation movement. Although she spoke at her husband's funeral, she was not a preacher, and when the magistrates denied a local follower of Schwenkfeld a funeral, she held on for her.
Spiritual autobiography is a legion in the history of the church. And the 16th century was filled with it. But nothing by a Protestant woman. One historian noted that her work was “judged by the gender of the author and remained unread.” It has since been “rediscovered,” and in the past 20 or so years, she has been rightly placed as one of the central female figures- and figures in general- of that Reformation in the Imperial Free City of Strasbourg. Her husband died on this day in 1548- I think he’d be cool letting me take his time to tell you about his remarkable wife.
The last word for today comes from Matthew 28
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb. 2 Look, there was a great earthquake, for an angel from the Lord came down from heaven. Coming to the stone, he rolled it away and sat on it. 3 Now his face was like lightning and his clothes as white as snow. 4 The guards were so terrified of him that they shook with fear and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Don’t be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here because he’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. Come, see the place where they laid him. 7 Now hurry, go and tell his disciples, ‘He’s been raised from the dead. He’s going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ I’ve given the message to you.”
8 With great fear and excitement, they hurried away from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples. 9 But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 9th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Anne Gillespie’s husband, Christopher.
The show is written and read by a man who, for some reason, has a tough time spelling the words Strasbourg, Emperor, and Separate. 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.