The pleasures of this life are nothing more than the the foyer, the atrium, the entranceway to much greater joys beyond. After all, no joy here is untouched by at least some measure of sorrow and no pleasure here is unattended by at least some element of pain. None of our pleasures are pure and unadulterated, but all are in some way clouded, all in some way alloyed. Every pleasure that fulfills some longing simply exposes another.
If you have ever visited Wittenberg, Germany and have taken the time to tour its famous Castle Church, you may have made the same observation I did: The best part of the building is its doors. Castle Church is, of course, the spot where Martin Luther chose to post his Ninety-Five Theses. Centuries later, King Frederick William IV chose to commemorate the event by commissioning a beautiful set of bronze doors inscribed with Luther’s words. And, though they’ve been refurbished in the years between, they hang there still as the city’s foremost landmark.
Any tour of the cathedral begins with the doors. Once the tourists have gazed at them for a time, snapped the requisite photographs, and heard how Luther inadvertently sparked what we now know as the Protestant Reformation, the tour leads inside. And the inside is rather uninteresting by comparison. There are a few sculptures high up on the columns and a number of graves embedded in the floor, including Luther’s. But in most ways it is just another of Europe’s innumerable cathedrals without much to distinguish it from all the others.
I don’t know about you, but I consider it a disappointment when the doors to a building are the best part of the building. Likewise, it’s a disappointment when the opening scene of a film goes unsurpassed by any that follow over the next two hours, and a disappointment when the opening strains of an oratorio are the composer’s best.