• Elaine Kelly

Should Women Preach? Katharina Schutz Zell

Updated: Oct 8

Yes! In Bible times, Medieval times, and today!


Katharina Schutz Zell (1497-1562) wrote, taught, preached and lived her faith. She was a lay preacher (unordained) at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation began on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther posted his theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. At the time, they were hoping to reform the Catholic church, not break away into various protesting (Protestant) churches.


Born in Strasbourg, Katharina Schutz Zell was well educated. She agreed with teachings the Reformation wanted to make in the Catholic church:

  • Scripture alone over tradition or church teaching for guidance

  • Faith alone over works for salvation

  • Grace of God alone vs. human merit

  • By Christ alone for salvation and as mediator between God and humans (not priests)

  • For God's glory alone, not the Pope, saints, angels, or the mother Mary, because God is the author of their goodness


The reformation taught there was no need for a priestly intermediary, that we are all members of the "priesthood of believers". As such, Katharina Schutz Zell felt called to be a 'fisher of people'. Like many Reformers of the day, she was happy to approach God through Christ without any human as mediator. She was the most published female theologian of the reformation era.


Reformers taught that marriage of clerical servants was Biblical. In 1523, Katharina Schutz married Matthew Zell and became the first Strassburg lady to marry a priest.


In 1534 Katharina Schutz Zell updated songs and hymns to match Protestant theology and to include imagery of woman's work. She welcomed refugees and nursed those sick from the bubonic plague.


In 1548 at the funeral of her husband, Matthew Zell, Katharina Schutz Zell preached a long sermon recounting his life and the reformation message.


Her autobiography is written in the book Church Mother: The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany (2006) Translated by Elsie McKee and available on Amazon.


Katharina Zell asked that she be judged not according to the standards of a woman, but according to the standards of one whom God has filled with the Holy Spirit. Thank you to those who have kept her story alive! She was a protestant reformer and is a foremother of our faith.