Monday 15 May 2006

Jaroslav Pelikan: 1923-2006

I was deeply saddened to learn that our greatest contemporary church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, has died.

Pelikan passed away on Saturday at the age of 82, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was the Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, where he served on the faculty from 1962 to 1996. He wrote more than 30 books, including the brilliant 5-volume work The Christian Tradition, which is perhaps the best single history of Christian theology ever written. He was also involved in editing and translating many historical works, including the 55-volume American edition of Luther’s Works, and the 4-volume Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition.

A life-long Lutheran and an ordained Lutheran minister, Pelikan entered the Orthodox Church in 1998. He was a profound and gifted scholar who will be sadly missed.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben, for the obit.

You might like to know that as a result of conversations on F-T, I finally got around to getting Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture (since 1700) (1989), the final volume of The Christian Tradition. I must admit that, unlike the other volumes I've read (one and four), I found it disappointing, as if JP had run out of gas - or was simply less and less comfortable as history got more and more modern. (Interesting, in this context, his conversion to Orthodoxy.) But that's to be churlish: The Christian Tradition is an awesome achievement. Who will jump the bar?

However JP would have disapproved of your reference to his magnum opus being a "history of Christian theology"; he insisted explicitly that it was a history of Christian doctrine!

Finally, speaking of praising famous men, we should note the passing (on April 12th) of William Sloane Coffin. Though of course no academic theologian, what a pastor and prophet! While Billy Graham was busy playing Hananiah, Coffin stood out as a
pugnaciouis Jeremiah, a part he continued to play to the end, right in the face of the Religious Right: "How God must despise the spectacle of Christians who climb upon the cross to be seen from afar."

And clearly the good Lord himself smiled at Coffin's bon mot: "Clearly the trick in life is to die young as late as possible."

JP and WSC: RIP!

Jim said...

The Seattle Post has the obit-

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