Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review of "The Christian Tradition" by Jaroslav Pelikan: Volume I

The late Jaroslav Pelikan demonstrates why he is the master ecclesiastical historian of our era in his five-volume series The Christian Tradition. While Adolf Harnack made tremendous strides respecting Dogmengeschichte, there is no history of early church doctrine more readable and scholarly than Pelikan's work. Jean Danielou's series is excellent, but still not on par with The Christian Tradition by Pelikan.

In volume 1, we are treated to a non-linear discussion of doctrinal history from 100-600 CE. Pelikan touches on the notions of impassibility (apatheia), predestination, Christology, the Trinity and much more. He carefully defines key nomenclature in this treatise and he packs the book with marginal notes for ease of reference. In the final analysis, Pelikan teaches us what the church supposedly has universally professed, taught and believed; moreover, he tries to be fair in his analyses while simultaneously offering some trenchant criticisms in volume 1.

My favorite portion of this work is the discussion regarding Christology and the Trinity doctrine. In chapter four, which reviews the Arian Controversy, Pelikan argues that the Arians and "orthodox" pro-Nicenes had more in common than previously had been supposed. He reviews the factors that precipitated the famed controversy and supplies references demonstrating the common elements that obtained between Arius and those who robustly opposed him.

Pelikan is never deterred from his primary goal of elucidating doctrinal history; nor does he allow political or social developments to distract him from this goal. Hence, if you enjoy reading about Dogmengeschichte, buy this work. You will have a chance to learn from the master historian: I own all five volumes and find them to be indispensable for serious historical research that involves the church.


Keefa Ben Yahchanan said...

Dr. Foster

I appreciate the suggestion to this good read. I enjoy reading books by ecclesiastical historians. This is one I will add to my personal collection.
Thank you!

Duncan said...


Thanks for the recommendation. Ordered the Aug 1975 edition.