A Scarlet Woman

Written by Anthony Douglas on 11 November 2017.

ZellOn December 3rd, 1523, Katherine Schutz married Matthias Zell. At 6 o’clock in the morning. It was an appalling thing to do.

We normally think of weddings as happy occasions, a great celebration of God’s gifts to human beings, a time for family and friends to gather and witness the promises made by the bride and groom. And so did the people of the sixteenth century...

...except, of course, that priests were not allowed to marry, and Katherine’s new husband, Matthias Zell, was a senior preacher in the cathedral in Strasbourg. That meant that many would have thought of Katherine as little better than a prostitute.

Why would anyone expose themselves to such public disapproval? Katherine has left us her own words, for she published a defence of her husband’s integrity less than a year later. Certainly, she loved Matthias, but she also insisted on the freedom of any believer to marry. And crucially, she identified the reason why the Catholic church still required celibacy: so that they could extract an annual tax from those clergy who kept mistresses.

Katherine would not be cowed, and continued to call out any practices that were inconsistent with the Bible, no matter whether they were those of friend or foe. As one of the very first women to marry a clergymen, she demonstrated that both men and women could serve the church together, with great love and integrity: Zell by name, zealous by nature, aflame with the love of God.

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