Posted today to the “Daily Shouts” section of the New Yorker’s website, a humor piece by Patrick Crooks, a contributing writer who also describes himself as a “Creative thinker. Strategic problem solver. Administrative professional.” He’s certainly creative, and he’s obviously written an administrative office email message or two. On his Linkedin page, he cites experience from “grassroots organizing, to Capitol Hill, and the financial sector.”
I think he’s pretty well grounded in Luther’s theology, too.
The 95 Theses are almost universally considered the kickoff to the Protestant Reformation. Luther sent them on Oct. 31, 1517, to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, proposing an academic debate on the sale of indulgences, essentially cash payments for the forgiveness of sin. Legend has it he nailed a copy on the Castle Church (Schlosskirche) in Wittenberg, but it probably isn’t true, even though the church door served as sort of a bulletin board at the time.
Luther’s theses were written in Latin, and couched in the formal terms of academic debate, or disputation. Patrick Cook’s parody is written in the studiously informal/yet-somehow-formal language of interoffice memos. It is headlined “”Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, as E-mailed by Your Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker,” and it consists of a series of emails. The New Yorker’s headline, as usual, perfectly captures the essence of the article. Here’s one of Cook’s emails:
TO: All Vatican Staff
Subject: Re: Plenary Indulgences
While I’m on the subject, maybe we should go over the whole forgiveness-of-sins thing? Last I checked, Jesus hasn’t returned, so I think that falls on us. I mean, God forbid we actually do our jobs, right? LOL JK.
But returning to the subject, repentance shouldn’t be an easy, empty apology. If that were the case, they’d let any schmuck into Heaven, and we’d all be out of work.
I think he’s got it! Both the corporate lingo and the Lutheran theology. For the sake of comparison, here’s how the city of Wittenberg’s www.LUTHER.de website translates Luther’s prolog and the first four of his theses:
Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. …
Which is basically what Patrick Crooks says in his parody emails. If it’s not inappropriate to say this about Luther’s 95 Theses, I think he nailed it.
Patrick Crooks, “Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, as E-mailed by Your Passive-Aggressive Co-Worker,” New Yorker, Nov. 14, 2020 https://www.newyorker.com/humor/daily-shouts/martin-luthers-ninety-five-theses-as-e-mailed-by-your-passive-aggressive-co-worker.
Kommunale Datenverarbeitungsgesellschaft mbH (municipal data processing company), LUTHER.de, Wittenberg, Germany. https://www.luther.de/en/index.html.
“Legends about Luther: Nailing the 95 Theses,” in KDG Wittenberg, LUTHER.de https://www.luther.de/en/legenden/tanschl.html.
“The 95 Theses,” in KDG Wittenberg, LUTHER.de https://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html.
[Posted Nov. 14, 2020]