Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jaroslav Pelikan, 1923-2006.

Returning from my retreat at Colombiere, I was saddened to learn that Jaroslav Pelikan died on Saturday. The Ohio-born son of a Slovak Lutheran pastor, Pelikan earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago at the age of 23 and spent the better part of his sixty year career in academia as Sterling Professor of History at Yale, turning out scores of erudite tomes on diverse topics in the history of Christianity. A brilliant synthesist, Pelikan is perhaps best known for sweeping survey works like The Christian Tradition, his five-volume history of the development of doctrine, and the much more concise but no less learned Jesus Through the Centuries and its sequel Mary Through the Centuries. At the same time, Pelikan also produced masterful studies on specific topics as diverse as the theological underpinings of J. S. Bach's music, the ongoing relevance of John Henry Newman's The Idea of a University, and the life of Ukrainian Catholic prelate Josyf Slipyj. The editor of many volumes in the collected works of Martin Luther and a Lutheran pastor himself, Pelikan raised a few eyebrows when he was received into the Orthodox Church at the age of 74. Pelikan's decision to become Orthodox followed decades of reflection and writing on the works of the Greek Fathers; though the learned professor never publicly revealed the exact reasons for his conversion, he reputedly joked that in making the move he went from being "the Lutheran with the greatest knowledge of the Orthodox Church" to "the Orthodox with the greatest knowledge of Luther." Pelikan continued writing and publishing into his eighties, and his death leaves a void that won't soon be filled. I regret that I've read only a handful of his books, but in the coming years I hope to read more. Though his pen has been stilled, Jaroslav Pelikan's works have earned him a place in the pantheon of intellectual immortals whose influence lingers long after their death. In blessed repose, grant, O Lord, eternal rest to the soul of your servant Jaroslav, and remember him forever. AMDG.


At October 01, 2007 2:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pelikan's "The Spirit of Eastern Christendom," volume, was instrumental in leading me to Orthodoxy.


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