Church Mother: The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany

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Overview

Imbued with character and independence, strength and articulateness, humor and conviction, abundant biblical knowledge and intense compassion, Katharina Schütz Zell (1498–1562) was an outspoken religious reformer in sixteenth-century Germany who campaigned for the right of clergy to marry and the responsibility of lay people—women as well as men—to proclaim the Gospel. As one of the first and most daring models of the pastor’s wife in the Protestant Reformation, Schütz Zell demonstrated that she could be an equal partner in marriage; she was for many years a respected, if unofficial, mother of the established church of Strasbourg in an age when ecclesiastical leadership was dominated by men.

Though a commoner, Schütz Zell participated actively in public life and wrote prolifically, including letters of consolation, devotional writings, biblical meditations, catechetical instructions, a sermon, and lengthy polemical exchanges with male theologians. The complete translations of her extant publications, except for her longest, are collected here in Church Mother, offering modern readers a rare opportunity to understand the important work of women in the formation of the early Protestant church.

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Editorial Reviews

H-Net Book Review
I heartily recommend this book and appluad McKee's decision to issue these important texts in translation. . . . A quick Google search shows that [the book] is already on the required book lists of a number of Fall 2006 courses. This volume, with its wealth of quality analysis and easy-to-read translations, certainly will, and should, appear on many more such book lists in the years to come.

— Tryntje Helfferich

Sixteenth Century Journal

"A welcome addition to the English language corpus of primary works suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses on the Reformation. . . . [McKee has] provided an important service to students and scholars--easy access to a long-ignored but significant writer who was quite influential in her day, in a text that provides both up-to-date scholarship and helpful information for beginners in Reformation theological issues and debates."

— Beth Kreitzer

Religious Studies Review
The writings of Schuetz Zell reveal her understanding of women and ministry, her practices of biblical interpretation, and her own important defenses of Protestant belief and practice. This book should be in every seminary library, and it is a necessary text for any college or seminary class on women and the Protestant Reformation.

— G. Sujin Pak

Sixteenth-Century Journal
A welcome addition to the English language corpus of primary works suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses on the Reformation. . . . [McKee has] provided an important service to students and scholars—easy access to a long-ignored but significant writer who was quite influential in her day, in a text that provides both up-to-date scholarship and helpful information for beginners in Reformation theological issues and debates.

— Beth Kreitzer

H-Net Book Review - Tryntje Helfferich
"I heartily recommend this book and appluad McKee's decision to issue these important texts in translation. . . . A quick Google search shows that [the book] is already on the required book lists of a number of Fall 2006 courses. This volume, with its wealth of quality analysis and easy-to-read translations, certainly will, and should, appear on many more such book lists in the years to come."
Sixteenth Century Journal - Beth Kreitzer
"A welcome addition to the English language corpus of primary works suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses on the Reformation. . . . [McKee has] provided an important service to students and scholars—easy access to a long-ignored but significant writer who was quite influential in her day, in a text that provides both up-to-date scholarship and helpful information for beginners in Reformation theological issues and debates."
Religious Studies Review - G. Sujin Pak
"The writings of Schuetz Zell reveal her understanding of women and ministry, her practices of biblical interpretation, and her own important defenses of Protestant belief and practice. This book should be in every seminary library, and it is a necessary text for any college or seminary class on women and the Protestant Reformation."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author

Elsie McKee is professor of church history at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the editor of the collected works of Katharina Schütz Zell in German and author of the companion biographical volume.

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Read an Excerpt

CHURCH MOTHER

The Writings of a Protestant Reformer in Sixteenth-Century Germany


By Katharina Schütz Zell THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS

Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-97966-3



Chapter One

THE LAY REFORMER, TEACHER, AND PASTOR

INTRODUCTION

Most of the writings of Katharina Schütz Zell in the first generation of the Protestant movement can be characterized as the work of a reformer. The key focus is adapting the communication of "the Gospel" to the needs and level of lay Christians, calling them to a new understanding of faith, and supporting them in the break with Rome that she had already experienced and that now had reshaped her life.

Schütz Zell's first printed publication was a letter of consolation and encouragement to the women of Kentzingen in July 1524. Here she expresses both her commitment to the new teaching of the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone on the authority of scripture alone and her admiration for the women's witness to that faith against their Roman overlords. Building on traditional religious ideas such as spirit versus flesh, Schütz Zell leads her hearers-housewives-to reinterpret their apparent powerlessness (staying at home with the children) as active service to Christ in accord with His command. There is also an implicitclaim and an explicit suggestion that women can use scripture to encourage and even teach themselves and others (including men-their husbands!) in spite of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

In early September 1524 Schütz Zell drew together several privately circulated manuscripts to form her second publication. This was an apologia for clerical marriage, an explanation of the new "heretical" idea of what constitutes a holy life, and a defense of scriptural authority. The teaching of the Gospel is cast into high relief by the way Schütz Zell guides her lay readers to see how they have been misled by the Roman clergy and traditional theology. It is not in the first place the "bad life" of the clergy and other leaders that is the problem: lay Christians can identify hypocrisy and sexual immorality for themselves. It is the "wrong teaching" of Rome undergirding the clergy's claims for holiness that is dangerous to salvation, and for that doctrinal instruction simple Christians need the kind of help their devout neighbor can offer. This fiery little book also presents a very creative argument for the right and obligation of any Christian-including a woman!-to speak out against unbiblical teaching for the sake of the truth and love of her neighbors.

The lay reformer's next text was an exposition of the Lord's Prayer, which Schütz Zell circulated privately in 1532. This was written to help those who, because of their rearing in Roman teaching, could not find peace of conscience and how to please God. The text provides a clear picture of her commitment to the orthodox, traditional creeds with their unhesitating affirmation of the trinity and to the Protestant reformers' conviction that right knowledge of God in His word is not an academic exercise but vital to pastoral care and peace of conscience. Schütz Zell's exposition also gives attention to specific Protestant teachings such as the significance of biblical preaching and the character of the ministers who preach and the people who hear them. Her treatment of the right way to celebrate the Lord's Supper and the relationship of the Supper to the Christian fellowship include distinctively "Reformed" notes. Besides the evidence for a woman teaching scripture, the preface to this exposition of the Prayer provides fascinating insight into the author's willingness to use feminine, especially maternal, imagery for Christ (and perhaps even for God the Father).

Two years later, in 1534, Schütz Zell wrote a foreword to the hymnbook of the Bohemian Brethren. This brief dense text expresses the central Protestant view of faith as the sole way to please God-no veneration of the saints-and especially develops the understanding of the priesthood of believers, including preeminently the "religious vocation" of women of faith and other laity (like peasant agriculturalists) in their most mundane domestic or daily chores. There are also pointed attacks on popular immorality and Roman monasticism. Clearly, in Schütz Zell's eyes it is not only the traditional clergy who need to change; lay Christians also need to reform their behavior and take proper responsibility for their households' religious education. Equally clear, however, is Schütz Zell's confidence in the capacity of "ordinary" Christians to take an active role in "preaching" their faith. If they have the help of a sister who knows somewhat more than they do, if they have a friend to direct and challenge them and provide them with ready-made "sermons in song," they can take charge of their lives by appropriating and passing on the good teaching offered to them.

Schütz Zell's sermon at her husband's burial in January 1548 is explicitly intended both as a witness to his faith and life and as a defiance of and guard against Roman teaching. She presents several summaries of Protestant teaching, especially insisting on the sole sufficiency of Christ as savior. This is coupled with a strong affirmation of the unique authority of scripture, interpreted though the early church creeds and the Chalcedonian definition of Christ's two natures, and explained by the Protestant reformers, as the basis of all belief and practice. There is an explicit picture of the Protestant rejection of Roman teachings such as trust in the Mass and in human merit and the belief in purgatory, as well as implicit criticism of Roman clerical behavior. The most significant thing about this sermon for women (or lay Christians) is not its content but its preacher, and yet the clarity and coherence of the contents in fact demonstrate the significant role that laity, reformers of the third or fourth or fifth rank, could and did play in adapting the new theology to "ordinary" people.

Over the course of the months following Matthew's death, Katharina expressed her grief partly through intensified Bible study. Her very private meditations on the Psalms give a glimpse of the pain and a sense of the sinfulness that were part of the traditional-and biblical-association of affliction with punishment for sin. Along with this there is also, however, the firm Protestant denial that human beings can do anything to save themselves, along with the frequently repeated affirmation of trust in God's mercy and forgiveness alone. The dynamic is often expressed as the struggle between belief and unbelief, faith and its opposite, a typically Protestant angle of vision on sin and salvation. This is evident in Schütz Zell's understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in making known to the sinner the depth of the problem of sin and convincing the fearful that God's promises of grace can be trusted. So the one redeemed by grace can be and must be changed to act according to the pattern set out by God's word. Clearly, the role of the Holy Spirit is not to reveal further content; that the Spirit has already done in the Bible. But the Spirit makes the teaching alive in the believer and the believer alive in the teaching-a transformed life shaped by God's law, giving a "Reformed" inflection to a common Protestant theme. Here Schütz Zell includes a strong affirmation of the religious equality of women and men, high and low, married, single, or widowed, people of every condition, equality in sin and grace and Christian responsibility. The origin of these meditations in Schütz Zell's personal struggle with grief testifies to the way that the new faith could support and reshape individual devotional life.

The last of Schütz Zell's extant writings is the pastoral letter of consolation to Sir Felix Armbruster in July 1558. Here the same themes are heard again, including human sinfulness and God's mercy in Christ alone, the authority of scripture and the fellowship-creating, leveling experience of the priesthood of believers, and the different offices of the Holy Spirit and the human pastor-teacher. In this letter one hears the mature voice of confidence in God, Schütz Zell's expression of a faith that had been tested and tempered by adversity and come through to unshakeable trust. Again a woman teaches scripture publicly to a man, one of the "common people" to an aristocrat, with a wise and profound serenity. Or perhaps better: here Schütz Zell presents the record of two mature "ordinary" Christians giving and receiving encouragement in the understanding and practice of their faith as a model for those not yet so well taught or experienced in Christian life. In effect, this final text has moved beyond polemic to stand as a kind of testament to the lay reformer: believer, teacher, and pastor.

LETTER TO THE SUFFERING WOMEN OF THE COMMUNITY OF KENTZINGEN

Introduction

In July 1524, the first "public" text by Katharina Schütz Zell appeared in print, although other writings had previously circulated among selected recipients. This letter of consolation and praise was directed to the women of the small city of Kentzingen who were suffering in the conflict between the Protestants of the town and their bishop and civil overlord, a vassal of the Habsburgs who were attacking "heretics" in all the areas they controlled. When trouble broke out, many of the men of Kentzingen accompanied their pastor into exile, but the women and families remained at home to face their angry rulers.

As a sister in the Christian faith, Schütz Zell felt compelled to write to the women left behind in Kentzingen where Protestants were being persecuted. Her letter combines consolation with admiration and encouragement based on exposition and personal appropriation of scripture. Far from considering the women pitiful, their Strasbourg sister praises their witness to their faith and even expresses a certain envy for their privilege of suffering for the Gospel, suffering that she assures them is evidence of their election by God as His children. Of all Schütz Zell's writings, this one is most like a tapestry of biblical quotations; these are not simply heaped up, however, but are woven into a pattern to form the substance of her argument. Besides drawing on New Testament passages such as the Sermon on the Mount and Old Testament texts of consolation in Isaiah, she gives particular attention to the biblical story of Abraham, Isaac son of Sarah, the heir of the promises, and Ishmael son of Hagar, the representative of the rejected children of the world.

Several aspects of Schütz Zell's argument are worth noting. One is theological, the expression of her Protestantism. A number of her themes, such as the contrast between the worldly and the holy, are quite traditional, but their treatment has a new orientation. The encouragement that Schütz Zell offers to the women of Kentzingen is not only intensely biblical, it is clearly a Protestant reading of scripture. This is often expressed somewhat indirectly, for example, by giving a gloss to interpret a passage that she is using in her argument. In treating the biblical contrast between the spirit and the flesh, Schütz Zell makes a traditional equation of the flesh with the world. She then, however, explicitly equates spirit with the gift of faith ("... the spiritual, that is, the believing person ...") rather than asceticism, which gives an unexpected twist to the argument-which she is directing to women "in the world," not their traditionally holy sisters in a convent. While it is certainly not stated in so many words, the conflict between the spirit and the flesh that echoes throughout this writing is defined primarily along confessional lines, Protestant versus Roman, faith versus the traditional idea of works. For example, Schütz Zell tells the women to pray the biblical prayer "Lord, help my unbelief" and so she indicates that the danger is really lack of trust in God, that is, the opposite of faith, not persecution. But the way God chooses to demonstrate their faith in Him to the women, that is, the very people who might doubt themselves, is through the obedience to His voice, His word. That is how He convinced Abraham of his own faith, by his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, and so the women can reassure themselves of their faith by their obedience to God's word in this suffering.

By comparison with other texts of the period (including her own "Apologia for Matthew Zell on Clerical Marriage"), Schütz Zell's tone here is not explicitly polemical. Implicitly, however, she associates the Roman church with those who persecuted Christ because it is their Roman overlords who are persecuting the women of Kentzingen who "believe in Christ" (alone) for their salvation. When the women confess their faith publicly, they are following in Christ's steps and so, after suffering abuse for Him, they will also share in His glory. In this context, Schütz Zell even implicitly envisions the women as "preaching" to their husbands to encourage them by offering them quotations from Christ's own words.

Another notable feature of Schütz Zell's text is the language and imagery of gender. This is found in her fascinating paraphrase of Christ's teaching about abandoning everything for His sake.

So also to you, believing women beloved by God, Christ says, "Whoever does not want to leave father and mother, wife, husband, and child, and all that he has, for my sake and the Gospel's, that one is not worthy of me. Whoever, however, for my sake leaves father and mother, wife, husband, and child, farm and field, to that one I will return them a hundredfold here, and in the age to come eternal life".

The primary reference here is the two Matthean texts that list parents, children, siblings, and property; the Lukan parallel provides the "wife." However, Schütz Zell herself adds the word "husband," which does not appear in either gospel. Although this idea fits in one sense, as a parallel to a husband leaving his wife, it would not be considered "fitting" in Schütz Zell's own day when there was usually a strong prejudice against a woman leaving her husband for any reason, even for the Gospel. In effect, besides giving a somewhat free paraphrase of scripture, their Strasbourg sister is also reinterpreting the Kentzingen women's situation in a rather daring way. Despite the fact that the women of Kentzingen have stayed at home with the children, their female teacher has reversed the sign on that separation from their husbands from negative to positive. It is because they have stayed at home with the children, where they are actively suffering for the Gospel, that they can be said to have obeyed Christ's command and "left" their husbands for their faith; they, the women, are the ones who bear the immediate brunt of persecution, even while they are properly keeping house! Implicit here is the idea that this obedience should reassure the women of their faith, even as it witnesses to others.

Schütz Zell's language for men and women and her male and female imagery developed throughout her life; this first pamphlet shows only the earliest stages of that process. In the context of praising Abraham's faith in God as demonstrated in his acts, Schütz Zell exhorts her readers to share Abraham's "manly" courage, the only time in her entire corpus that she applies this kind of masculine language as an ideal for for women. Later in the letter she balances this with feminine imagery for God and likens the God who loves and has chosen the women of Kentzingen to a nursing mother [Is 49:15].

This open letter was printed in Strasbourg by Wolfgang Köpffel on July 22, although without the name of place or publisher. It apparently became known and appreciated over a fairly wide region of Germany and German Switzerland; it was reprinted by Philip Ulhart in Augsburg in November 1524 and received favorable comment in the chronicle by Johannes Kessler of Saint Gall. The author sent a copy to Martin Luther, which may be the one later owned by his correspondent Felicitas von Selmenitz.

LETTER TO THE SUFFERING WOMEN OF THE COMMUNITY OF KENTZINGEN, WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST, SISTERS WITH ME IN JESUS CHRIST (1524)

May God, the Father of all mercy, send and grant you grace, peace, salvation, strength, and long-suffering patience [cf. 1 Tm 1:2] in overflowing fullness, through the merit of Jesus Christ, in your distressing suffering and trouble sent by God, O believing Christian women of the whole community at Kentzingen and my sisters especially beloved in God.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from CHURCH MOTHER by Katharina Schütz Zell Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Series Editors' Introduction
Volume Editor's Introduction
Volume Editor's Bibliography
Note on Translation

I. The Lay Reformer, Teacher, and Pastor
Introduction
Letter to the Suffering Women of the Community of Kentzingen
Introduction
Translation
Katharina Schütz's Apologia for Master Matthew Zell, Her Husband
Introduction
Translation
Some Christian and Comforting Songs of Praise about Jesus Christ Our Savior
Introduction
Translation
Lament and Exhortation of Katharina Zell to the People at the Grave of Master Matthew Zell
Introduction
Translation
The Miserere Psalm Meditated, Prayed, and Paraphrased with King David by Katharina Zell . . . , Sent to the Christian Man Sir Felix Armbruster
Introduction
Translation

II. Autobiography and Polemic: A Lay Theologian Amid the Conflicts of Confessional Divisions
Introduction
To Sir Caspar Schwenckfeld
Introduction
Translation
A Letter to the Whole Citizenship of the City of Strasbourg from Katharina Zell, . . . concerning Mr. Ludwig Rabus
Introduction
Translation

Appendix: Letter of Ludwig Rabus to Katharina Schütz Zell (April 1557)
Series Editors' Bibliography
Index

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