Jaroslav Pelikan Reprint Series
While compiling a comprehensive bibliography of the works of Jaroslav Pelikan for a Festschrift celebrating his 80th birthday in 2003, I occasionally brought to light an article or lecture that Jary himself had all but forgotten. This is not surprising, given his prolific, fifty-eight-year publishing history. Called “the premier historical theologian of our time,” Pelikan took on the history of Christianity and Christian doctrine in its entirety--from East to West and from the apostolic age to contemporary issues. Indeed, to say he is the “premier” or “foremost” scholar in this field is an understatement, for he is the only scholar recognized as the authority for the immense field of all of Christian history.
This Wipf and Stock series aims to reprint a selection of Pelikan’s writings that are no longer in print, such as Historical Theology, an erudite survey of the history of theology as both bound by tradition and ever- changing, or The Melody of Theology, a collection of brief reflections on important theological topics which one reviewer called “the ultimate bed- side book.” The versatility of Pelikan’s thinking is apparent in another work reprinted in this series, The Excellent Empire, which juxtaposes Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the “rise and triumph” of the Christian Church. Pelikan’s facile mind comprehended big, expansive ideas and as an author he could synthesize, analyze, compare, and interpret large periods of history. His sweeping views of theological history, as in From Luther to Kierkegaard, are invaluable for understanding the field, but he could also zero in on a particular author or topic, as in his elegant study of Faust the Theologian, or his last publication, a commentary on The Acts of the Apostles. From great editorial projects such as Luther’s Works (55 volumes) to succinct and cogent essays such as Whose Bible Is It?, Jaroslav Pelikan considered himself “a chronicler of one of the most overwhelming explosions in the history of the human mind and spirit,” that is, Christianity and its impact on theology, philosophy, culture, and world history.
The reprinting of Pelikan’s writings is a worthy undertaking not only because they were so influential in the twentieth century, but also because they will stand the test of time and continue to influence students, schol- ars, ministers, and laypeople. Though scholarly in nature and dealing with complex themes, Pelikan’s work is nonetheless accessible and his topics are compelling. Jesus Through the Centuries (1985) and Mary Through the Centuries (1996) were popular best-sellers. Other examples include his Bach Among the Theologians (1989), which is required reading for musicians. And several of his books began as public lecture series, including Imago Dei (1990), What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? (1997) and Interpreting the Constitution (2004), in addition to the Jesus and Mary works. Pelikan’s writings show us the interrelation of Christian tradition and intellectual history within broad cultural frames of reference drawn from philosophy, music, the visual arts, literature, rhetoric, political and legal theory, and the natural sciences. Crossing boundaries and making connections was Pelikan’s strength. He knew the primary literature and the languages in which they were written. He saw the larger picture and he painted it with breathtaking majesty and mastery.
Jaroslav Pelikan was a man of many achievements. In addition to his prodigious publishing career, he also served in positions of distinction from Dean of the Graduate School at Yale to president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received prestigious awards such as the Jefferson Award of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences (bestowed by the Library of Congress which in 2000 named him a “Living Legend”), and accepted some forty-six honorary degrees. Now through this reprint series, the legend continues and the man lives on through his writings.
Valerie Hotchkiss, Andrew S. G. Turyn, Endowed Professor and Director of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign