On Protestant Humor

“The lack of humour and irritability into which we in the contemporary Church and contemporary theology have so often slipped is perhaps one of the most serious objections which can be brought against present-day Christianity,” wrote Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German Catholic theologian, in his book An Introduction to Christian Faith . I’ll say: some Catholic priests make you wonder how they can say that they “celebrate” the Mass when they never crack a smile.

It’s not just a Catholic problem. The Rev. Martin Marty, the distinguished Protestant theologian, author of many books and over 5,000 scholarly articles, told me that certain aspects of the Protestant tradition have always struck him as “grim.” In a recent interview Marty said, “Hilaritas is not characteristic of the Protestant ethos.”

Professor Marty saw that as ironic since Martin Luther, about whom Marty has written extensively, often stressed the value of “play” in his writings. He was also fond of the occasional witticism. In one of the sayings later collected in Luther’s Table Talk, one of his friends recounts Luther’s amusing way of preparing to deliver a particular homily. “Tomorrow I have to lecture on the drunkenness of Noah,” said the great man, “so I should drink enough this evening to be able to talk about that wickedness as one who knows by experience.”

Ironically, Professor Marty said that his whole career could be attributed to a sense of humor. While studying at Concordia Seminary in Missouri, he and his friends playfully concocted a fictional scholar named Franz Bibfeldt, whose fake name and spurious accomplishments they attempted to place in as many academic settings as they could--student newspapers, the school’s library card catalogue, and so on.

In response to these shenanigans, the dean called him into his office for a scolding. He told Marty that someone with such frivolity could never be a good Protestant scholar, and sent him to work with a pastor. But at that church the pastor told the young man that all his assistants studied for their doctorates. So that’s what Marty did. “So my whole professional life was thanks to a prank!” he told me.

Today you can find on the Internet references to the work of the fictional professor, including a book penned by Marty and a friend with the wonderfully serious title of The Unrelieved Paradox: Studies in the Theology of Franz Bibfeldt. Among the fanciful articles are “Franz Bibfeldt and the Future of Political Theology.”

“And I’m still accused of not being serious enough!” said one of the country’s greatest scholars of religion. “I have a real taste for humor.”

Read the rest here.

John Barbieri
5 years 3 months ago
If I recall correctly, Mark Twain once said that the only things that couldn't be subjected to humor were the pompous and the ridiculous because humor was their natural enemy.
Eugene Pagano
5 years 3 months ago
Here is an amusing collection of Episcopalians' sense of humor:
 http://gracecollegehill.blogspot.com/search/label/Episcopal%20Humor

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

“My folks taught us that if someone is hungry, you feed them. That if someone is thirsty, you give them drink. If someone is a stranger you welcome them into your home.”
Michael O'LoughlinFebruary 27, 2017
Almost all major cities in the United States have experienced major decreases in violent crime over the past 25 years.
James T. KeaneFebruary 24, 2017
This is not a country at ease with itself, if it ever were. The United Kingdom continues to display more and more intolerance and anger.
David StewartFebruary 24, 2017

On St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate our Irish heritage and our good fortune to be Americans.

George J. MitchellFebruary 24, 2017