Just a Church Door

A heavy, wood and iron door, the side entry into one of many churches in the town. There were at least three or four, plus this church, depending on how you counted chapels. People came and went through the door. It had been there since the stones of the church were laid in order on their foundations, an ordinary door to keep weather out and people in. Like every other door in every other church.

Almost. Because this door was the place where people put messages, especially university faculty and students. Someone wanted to meet to discuss what to do on the Feast of St. Barbara, so they tacked a note onto the door. Someone else proposed a debate on Plato’s archetypes and up went a piece of scrap, nailed to the door. Bits of weather-torn parchment and pieces of paper fluttered or hung on the door, out of date or up and coming. Disgruntled faculty or amused students tore a few down, and the people in town likely ignored most of them. That was University business, unless it was one of the announcements from the prince or the bishop, and those were also posted on other doors and walls for all to see. A few passers-by might have skimmed over the top layer of announcements and lecture proposals out of curiosity if they were so inclined, but they were just notes on a door.

One day, in late October, a faculty member tacked up a list of points for debate. This was not new, although his list was rather long. But many people had heard at least one story about him and his endless questions and whispers about his fears for his own salvation. it was not a large city as cities went, and gossip traveled faster than fast. Another list hung on the door, and people went their way, doing their usual things, perhaps speculating as to why Master Kellner had purchased such a large Indulgence from Father Jan Tetzel, anyway. Maybe that story about his grandfather murdering that cousin had been true after all… Or perhaps, could it be, Kellner himself who needed additional help from the Church’s treasury of merit?

October 31, 1517. Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 arguments, or theses, to the door of the university church in Wittenburg, Saxony. And Western Christendom changed forever.

Only a list, tacked to a door, an ordinary wooden door.

Just a door, nothing fancy…


14 thoughts on “Just a Church Door

  1. Only 500 years from a list of valid, important questions to a group of gay women and trans-things removing Geo. Washington’s pew from their church in Alexandria, VA. What service the former church serves the creatures now inhabiting and dominating it, I do not know.

    Thank you for the reminder of the anniversary, and the beautiful description of an ordinary door. Some things have greatness thrust (or in this case, nailed) upon them, and events spiral out of control. From that small acorn, a mighty forest of differential theology grew, watered with sweat, tears, and blood.

  2. this was how things went viral 500 years ago. Somebody saw the theses, copied them down, and used that new-fangled technical marvel–the movable type printing-press–to dash off a few hundred copies that got circulated. Thus ended the Babylonian captivity of the Church. Semper Reformanda!

    • I agree that it’s the following events that matter… but I still “believe” the church door story because, to quote a Mary Renault character, “It’s such great theatre.”

      Or to put it another way, it’s one of those stories that perfectly encapsulate what was going on at the time, whether or not it’s true. Like Henry IV standing in the snow at Canossa, Galileo’s “Eppur, si muove,” or Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!”, it’s “true” because it ought to be true.

    • I think, no matter the historical events of Oct 30, 1517, the story of the doors is True in the sense of capturing the spirit and core of the event. As Margaret Ball says, it was “great theater,” but also catches the idea that there were a number of people who had difficulties with certain Church teachings. It was Luther who threw down the gauntlet and inadvertently split Christendom. “Heir stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders. Gott hilf mich. Amen.”

  3. Speaking of doors, a door question for you (TXRed), since you are deeply historical: Why red doors?

    It wasn’t until I watched the Grimm TV series that I realized that having a red door on a house is a pretty common occurrence. In Grimm I noticed all the significant houses had red doors (indeed, nearly every up-close scene had a significant red element in it), so I figured it was a theme for the show, but then I started looking around and realized there are a lot of red doors on houses where red would not otherwise be in the color scheme.

    Naturally I searched the innerwebs and came up with lots of answers, none of them definitively sourced. There are religious explanations: Passover and the Blood of the Lamb, or in a slightly newer version, passing through the Blood of Christ, red is the color of the Passion, supposedly (catholic) church doors were red as sign of sanctuary (probably derived from Christ’s blood). Secular versions say red is warming, cheerful, has Feng shui attributes. And so on.

    What say TXRed? (hey! there’s that red again!) Does your historical research reveal any “One True Reason” for red doors?

    I note that Martin Luther’s bulletin board appears dark gray, at least in current garb.

    • The doors in Wittenburg now have bronze on them with the 95 Theses, and the doors are no longer used for entry/exit, so they are pretty drab.

      I’ll poke around my folklore and see what I can find.

    • When I see a red door I want to paint it black… At least that’s what I hear on the radio.

      Karl Barth was a Swiss theologian who started asserting the orthodox (non-liberal) view of Scripture. To this his students (theological liberals) asked, “Did the snake speak?” To this the theologian answered, “What did the snake say?”

      The circumstances/events of the Reformation are probably much more nuanced than what we were taught. Nevertheless, I believe the doctrines of grace, the five solae, were articulated as we understand them today–mostly. As we better understand creation things like free will are reinterpreted in light of quantum mechanics.

      Moving through time, our knowledge of past circumstances becomes more clouded and our knowledge of the present world becomes clearer.

    • Hmm, I don’t know about doors, but I wonder if their being red is related to the reason that barns are traditionally red – the red paint on barns was a mixture easily made on the farm with available materials, so it was a cheap way to preserve and protect outbuildings.

  4. Church doors…. I have a friend who tells of going on a Church Crawl (sounds much more respectable than Pub Crawl, but I wasn’t there) in Greater Cincinnati, viewing ecclesiastic architecture. Apparently there are a lot of fine old church buildings in the older neighborhoods, though not so much out here in the suburbs, where Postwar Institutional seems to be a more common style.

    • Several of the churches in Amarillo have architectural tours. They are all pre WWI, and are generally Neogothic or neo-Spanish or Byzantine.

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