So it took us forever to get the electronic version of The Door up and running, and yes, we know we’re lame. We’re seven years into the 21st century and we’ve just now discovered the Internet. Our excuse is that we tend to be about five centuries behind the curve anyway. When the Door was founded in 1971, our role model was Martin Luther, who nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. We can’t help thinking that if anyone posted theses on any church door today, the only thing it would result in is prosecution for the Class C misdemeanor of defacing a door. But for our activist founders, who came out of the hippie-ish Jesus Movement, this was the kind of thing they intended to do—paint graffiti on a lot of pretty doors with calls to get rid of stuffy moralistic legalisms, get involved in social reform, and return to the freedom of the gospel. The Door founders were cool guys with beards, but they didn’t know how to spell. It was the fourth issue before they realized it was Wittenberg, not Wittenburg, and so today we carry on the tradition of honoring the nailing of an imaginary Door that was never nailed.
In that respect, our role model has changed over the years as well. Luther was a great guy, brave and bold, we like him and everything, but after we read his collected works, we didn’t find a lot of brilliant satire in there. The guy we should have picked as The Door patron saint is a contemporary of Luther who was also writing subversive texts in the year 1517. His name was Erasmus. If anyone has heard of Erasmus today, it’s because of one book that’s occasionally force-fed to college students studying the Renaissance: “The Praise of Folly.” It’s not a bad little book, but it hardly begins to indicate just how righteously funny the monk from Rotterdam really was. Erasmus also believed Luther to be insufficiently humorous, and he told him so. He basically agreed with everything Luther wrote and everything Luther did, but he didn’t like violence on either side of the controversy, and he constantly called for calm, for mercy, for forgiveness, for quiet reform. He said things like “I will die for God but I will not die for Luther,” and “I love Luther and hate Lutherans.” He published a Greek New Testament that was the first of its kind and launched the age of scripture that could actually be read and understood by the masses. He constantly told the Pope to stop protecting corrupt priests and to turn the church’s attention to the poor, the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the criminal, the pimp and the prostitute. (He was especially incensed that priests used prostitutes but didn’t help prostitutes.) He counseled the church to disband its armies, give its lands to the poor, and return to the simplicity of Christ.
For his trouble, Erasmus was hated by everyone. The Lutherans, who originally thought of him as “one of us,” hated him for not supporting their violent takeover of the churches in Switzerland and Germany. The conservatives in the Vatican caused his books to be burned in several places, including his own university at Louvain, because he refused to condemn Luther. (Instead he wrote privately to Luther, and they disputed scripture together.) He was called a wimp, a man of no conviction, a man trying to protect his own life by not getting involved. And through it all, Erasmus continued to preach mercy, kindness, long-suffering, calm, love of brother for brother, because he refused to accept that any man, for any reason, should be separated from the body of Christ.
What does this have to do with us? Throughout his life, Erasmus returned to the scripture about being “in the world but not of the world,” and Paul’s phrase of “having as if not having.” This allowed him to be thought of simultaneously as “the first humanist”—always writing about current events, especially current events in Biblical scholarship—and as the most devout of cloistered “unworldly”scholars. (His devotion, by the way, had no outward form. He wrote brutal satires about his fellow monks, and their love of the cowl, the hair shirt, the rules and regulations of monastic living. He was one of the most famous monks of his time, and yet claimed there were no rule sand regulations for a monk, that withdrawal from the world was an inner, not an outer, process.) By seeing the world clearly, but standing apart from it, he was able to describe its enthusiasms and trends as a pageant of vanity (he was a fan of Ecclesiastes) while constantly calling those who would hear back to the example ofChrist. And when he should have been enjoying his declining years as one of the most respected and beloved men of letters in Europe, instead he was esteemed as a worthless old man who wouldn’t “get with the times” and turn evangelical.
We would aspire to the same thing. (Well, we could do without the hate letters, but we’ve been getting them for 36 years, so it’s probably too late to change now.) We take as our subject matter the entire world. We find most of the world funny, and much of it frighteningly so. For those of you who remember the undergraduate assignment of “ThePraise of Folly,” you may recall that the speaker, Folly, “nursed by drunkenness and ignorance,” assumes a series of masks in order to berate the lesser fools and knaves of the world. But at the end of the tale, Folly turns out to be . . . Christ, who appears to be a fool to all those who in their folly esteem themselves as wise. This wasErasmus, confounding even those who think they are “in on the joke.”This is our template. Our faithful readers, who despise what we write as often as they praise what we write, know exactly what I’m talking about.
—John Bloom, 2007