Building the Minister’s Library: Limericks
John G. Bales
In an April 1975 editorial of Theology Today, Hugh T. Kerr jokingly lamented the loss of a certain kind of humor among seminary students. Kerr reminisced about his years at Princeton University, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Edinburgh University when students gave their professors various nicknames. He provided several examples, including, “Root’s Roots” (for Robert Root’s course on language), and “Wee” Hodge (Caspar Wistar Hodge, contrasted with the more famous Hodges.) Kerr believed that it was healthy for an individual to laugh at oneself, at one’s teachers and at each other.
Over the years Kerr kept a file of “theological verse” which poked fun at professors and he hoped his editorial in Theology Today would spur on other such “frivolous” activity. Here is a sampling:
“William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, poked fun at Reinhold Neibuhr after a student conference at Swanwick, at the time when R.N. was provoking the doctrine of sin:
At Swanwick, when Niebuhr had quit it,
Said a young man: “At last I have hit it.
Since I cannot do right,
I must find out tonight
The best sin to commit – and commit it.”
Another verse from one of Kerr’s own students reflected upon one of their “irrepressible” New Testament professors:
If you’ve noticed that all I conclude
Is in thoroughly radical mood,
It will be no surprise
When you see my excise
The Pastorals, both Peters, and Jude.
Kerr could not withhold a shot at Karl Barth, even though he said it would be “difficult for some to imagine a more sober theologian." A Lutheran missionary contributed this verse:
A difficult thinker is Barth.
His logic will tear you apart.
With his dialectic,
Life gets so hectic,
You hasten for refuge to Sartre.
Or what about Rudolf Bultmann? Kerr includes one for him:
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Bultmann is the latest thing.”
At least, they would if he had not
Demythologized the lot.
I also came across this limerick for famed New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd:
There was a professor called Dodd,
Whose name was exceedingly odd;
He spelled, if you please,
His name with three “D’s,”
When one was sufficient for God.
Kerr concluded his editorial attempting to address the question why students lacked a sense of humor with their mentors. He thought it was because “there is so little substance to our theology.” Kerr believed we would do well to practice the kind of humor exemplified by Churchill “who once said of Clement Atlee, ’he was a modest man with much to be modest about.’” I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion about theology today, but I do think that it can be beneficial to laugh at oneself and others. I wonder if some of the Westminster Seminary California alumni or current students have ever penned such things. Here’s my feeble attempt:
In Noah’s days one learned theology from Strimple,
yet his popular dogmatics was anything but simple.
Then VanDrunen assumed the chair
With exhaustive notes and perfect hair,
His systematics now carry on the OP mantle.
Or if you like:
All discussions inevitably end with church history
Whenever it’s led by, our man, Bob Godfrey.
Preaching three-points with comforting psalm,
But a whiff of heresy is countered with napalm.
And where would we be without Sister Aimee?