Christoph von Utenheim (c. 1450-1527) was Bishop of Basel from 1502
until his resignation from that office in 1527.
Christoph von Utenheim was born about the year 1450. He studied
theology and canon law at the University of Basel and the University
of Erfurt. In either 1473 or 1474 he became the rector of Basel
University. He earned his doctorate in theology in 1475. The cathedral
chapter of Basel elected von Utenheim as its new bishop on 1 December
1502. Most bishops in the Holy Roman Empire at this time were members
of the landed aristocracy, and von Utenheim was no exception. At this
time the cathedral chapters and the bishoprics of the empire were
dominated, for better or worse, by local aristocratic families.
While many bishops in the empire treated their office as a way to
aggrandize the power and wealth of their particular family, von
Utenheim appeared to take his spiritual duties as bishop seriously.
His motto was "Spes mea crux Christi; gratiam, non opera quaero" which
translates to "The cross of Christ is my hope; I seek mercy, not
works". This profession was also the motto of Jean Gerson, the 15th
century French theologian and conciliarist.
Von Utenhiem may have had some conciliarist sympathies but subsequent
actions paint him as more of a humanist than anything else. In 1503
the new bishop called together a synod for the purposes of reforming
his diocese. The noted humanist scholar Jacob Wimpfeling was invited
by the bishop to attend this synod. Any attempts at actual reform in
the diocese of Basel however were halted because of the refusal of the
cathedral chapter to cooperate with the reforming bishop.
This early failure to correct abuses in his diocese did not discourage
von Utenheim from reformist enterprises however. He continued his
attempts to regenerate the life of his clergy. At one point the
reforming bishop "warned his clergy not to curl their hair with
curling-tongs, nor to carry on trade in the churches, or to raise a
disturbance there, not to keep drinking booths or to engage in
horse-dealing, and not to buy stolen property." In 1515 he invited
Johannes Oecolampadius to serve as his cathedral preacher at Basel
Münster. While serving under Bishop von Utenheim, Oecolampadius
demonstrated his reforming fervor when he criticized the introduction
of humorous stories into Easter sermons. Later an important figure in
the Reformation, Oecolampadius served as preacher in the Cathedral of
Basel until his resignation in 1520.
By the time Oecolampadius left Basel in 1520 the Reformation was
already underway. Throughout the 1520s von Utenheim held on as bishop
in Basel as the Reformation, a movement which increasingly ignored
established episcopal authority, steadily gained momentum in the city.
On 26 January 1524 the beleaguered von Utenheim, along with the
bishops of Lausanne and Konstanz, complained at the Diet of Luzerne of
the deteriorization of ecclesiastical unity. A program of reform for
the three bishoprics was laid out at the Diet but was never enacted.
This slow decline in the bishop's authority continued and culminated
in his resignation on 19 February 1527. Von Utenheim relocated to the
town of Pruntrut along with his cathedral chapter. He died shortly
after leaving Basel and his burial took place in Delsberg. In
retrospect von Utenheim can be grouped with contemporary bishops of
the Catholic Church such as Guillaume Briçonnet and Hugo von
Hohenlandenberg who attempted, unsuccessfully, to reform the Church
along evangelical lines without breaking up ecclesiastical unity.
Catholic Church titles
Caspar von Mühlhausen
Prince-Bishop of Basel
Philippe von Gundelsheim
ISNI: 0000 0003 7118 3548