Friday, May 26, 2006

Jaroslav Jan Pelikan (1923-2006), historian of Christianity

It has been nearly two weeks since Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University, died of lung cancer at the age of 82. Yet it is fitting and proper that we mark his passing. Pelikan, the author of more than 30 major books on church history, was by all accounts among his generation's preeminent authorities on Christian history and most accomplished scholars.

Born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio, to a Serbian mother and Slovak father, he joined the Yale University faculty in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 1996. He served as dean of the Graduate School from 1973 to 1978. He is remembered as an outstanding speaker, for his compelling personality, and widely respected for his even-handed treatment of church history.

Yale History Department chair Paul Freedman said that Pelikan, an expert in church history from the 3rd to 16th century AD, raised the University's profile in the field of medieval history: "He was a world-recognized scholar in the large, important and venerable field of church history," Freedman said in the Yale Daily News. "He was one of a group of people who made Yale one of the prominent centers of medieval history in particular." Pelikan delivered the annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the highest honor conferred by the U.S. government for outstanding achievement in the humanities, in 1983.

A life-long Lutheran, Pelikan was increasingly troubled by trends in the ELCA. Unlike Richard John Neuhaus, Leonard Klein, Reinhard Huetter and other Lutherans who swam the Tiber to become Roman Catholics, Pelikan entered the Orthodox Church 1998. Funeral liturgies were held at the chapel of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Dr. Pelikan, requiescat in pace.

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