Zell, Katharina (16th century)

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Katharina Zell, the wife of Matthus Zell, made a true shelter for religious exiles. Schwenckfelders, Waldenses, and Anabaptists were admitted into their house. She paid no attention to names, for as Christians "it is our duty to show love, service, and mercy to everyone; Christ our teacher taught us that." On the evening before his death, her husband urgently asked her to dedicate all her strength to the service of the poor and the persecuted. She was also to tell his assistants and his deacons that they should leave the Anabaptists and all of other faiths in peace, preaching Christ alone and gathering His sheep, not scattering them. Katharina Zell faithfully continued her Christian benevolent activity after her husband's death, although no capital was left at her disposal. Among others she took into her home the wife of an Anabaptist preacher who had been executed in Liege and then provided a place for her as a worker in an institution for the poor. But when Ludwig Rabus, Zell's successor in office, discovered that an Anabaptist was occupying an important position in a public institution of the city, he insisted that she be removed. Deeply saddened Katharina Zell, an effective writer, on 14 March 1557, wrote "to the young, proud, zealous, who come to the altar too early and before their time" a moving letter defending the Anabaptists. "Now as to the poor Anabaptists, that you are so angry and wrathful about them, and the authorities everywhere chase them as a hunter urges his dogs upon a wild boar or a rabbit. They, after all, confess Christ with us on the main things in which we have parted from the papacy. . . . Shall one then persecute them and Christ in them whom they confess with zeal, and many of them have confessed unto misery, prison, fire, and water? Rather give yourselves the blame that we in our life and teaching are the cause of their separating themselves from us. He who does evil, him shall the government punish, but it shall not compel and govern faith, as you think. It [faith] belongs to the heart and the conscience and not to the external man." Those who were persecuting the Anabaptists, she said, should read the booklet written by Martinus Bellius to Duke Christoph of Wrttemberg after the death of Servetus in Geneva, in which he had collected the opinions of all the pious and the learned regarding the treatment of erring men called heretics. To be sure, the authorities believed that the Anabaptists would soon begin such a tyranny that the cities and villages would become empty. Strasbourg was not yet an example of mercy, sympathy, and acceptance of the wretched; there was still many a Christian in it whom the authorities would have liked to see driven out. Matthaus Zell had not done this, but had gathered the sheep instead of scattering them. Nor had he consented to such a policy except with a sad heart and great earnestness, since the theologians once complained to the authorities that he had said openly in the pulpit, "I take God, heaven, and earth as my witness on that day that I will be innocent of the cross and the expulsion of these poor people."


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Stähelin, E. Elsässische Lebensbilder aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. New York: Herausgegeben von der Amerikanishen Traktatgesellschaft, 1869: 241-42.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Wilhelm Wiswedel
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Neff, Christian and Wilhelm Wiswedel. "Zell, Katharina (16th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 30 May 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zell,_Katharina_(16th_century)&oldid=146772.

APA style

Neff, Christian and Wilhelm Wiswedel. (1959). Zell, Katharina (16th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 30 May 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Zell,_Katharina_(16th_century)&oldid=146772.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 1023. All rights reserved.

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