Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Pelikan Brief

I decided to order 2 theology books today. I asked myself:

What Christian History is universally praised by everyone?

Jaroslav Pelikan's history of the Christian Tradition.

Already having J.N.D. Kelly's early Christian Doctrines which teaches about the Patristic era, I bought book 3, "The Growth of Medieval Theology" (600-1300)

and because I wanted to better understand the European (rather than just the English) Reformation and Counter-Reformation, I ordered book 4, "Reformation of Church and Dogma" (1300-1700) which I dearly hope deals fairly with Roman Catholicism.

I've heard good things about Pelikan, but only from the Orthodox and from Reformed people, which makes me suspicious.... I'd like to know how he treats Roman Catholicism, and how Roman Catholics like his work. In any case, these books will teach me alot I'm certain, and whether he likes Romanists or not, he still is the best Church Historian who ever lived, so I should probably listen to him before judging.


  1. On The Christian Tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan:

    "The century's most comprehensive account of Christian teaching from the second century on."

    -Richard John Neuhaus.
    naming it one of the 100 most important books of the last century for National Review

  2. Pelikan is very fair. I think you will enjoy him. I can at least give you my impression of Volume 3 that helped my understanding of medieval Christianity. I think he helps everyone with a particular perspective they try to read history through step back and realize their way of reading Christian History (through the eyes of the doctrine of justification or the history of the papacy) is too narrow for such a rich and organic story. I could finally appreciate and embrace some medieval theologians as brothers with is well supported conclusion that: "it was the doctrine of the person and work of Jesus Christ, rather than the doctrine of justification or even the doctrine of grace, that became the principle vehicle for affirming the character of salvation as a free and utterly unearned gift of God." - pg 116. It also helps to see the Medieval church was diverse. It was not devoid of proto-Reformation ideas, and it was not entirely made up of them. Lutheran sounding doctrine were taught, and Semi-Pelagian sounding doctrines were taught side by side.

    You will appreciate Pelikan's impartiality when reading the part in volume 4 detailing the Counter-Reformation in the Roman church. He details their case without commentary, positive or negative. It could have been written by a Roman.

  3. I'm really excited to read them now. I just read the first few pages in a preview on Amazon and it makes me want to get my master's in Church History...but then I'll have to learn Latin better and learn Greek and then I realize I'll have to do modern church history. Maybe I could do historical theology without having to learn latin well.

  4. Andrew, Pelikan's works are great! If you get a chance read Mary through the Centuries! Equally good!

  5. Pelikan is good... He was a lutheran before he was orthodox, lol... looks light he found the light.

    Ive read one book of his and it was good... You'll dig him