Click here to advertise on


By Diogenes (articles ) | May 16, 2006

Jaroslav Pelikan, Professor Emeritus of Yale University, died last Saturday at the age of 82. "In the estimation of many," says the First Things site, he was "the twentieth century’s most distinguished historian of Christianity."

Pelikan's vast learning made him an intimidating figure to many. A story -- whose genuineness I can't vouch for -- has it that from time to time Pelikan would find an over-excited grad student in his office, eager to expound an original theological discovery and win the Master's acclaim. Having seated the student on the other side of his desk, the Professor would say, "I am very interested to hear your new theological idea, Mr. So-and-so, but, before you explain it, let me tell you three things about it: One. It was already propounded by a fifth-century Syrian monk. Two. He expressed himself better than you will. Three. He was wrong."

I hope it's true.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Our Fall Campaign
Progress toward our year-end goal ($27,707 to go):
$150,000.00 $122,292.96
18% 82%
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - May. 17, 2006 10:47 PM ET USA

    During my conversion from Lutheranism to Catholicism, I phoned Pelikan (long-distance from Australia) to ask why he converted to the Russian Orthodox faith. He said Newman converted at 44, & wrote a 600p book; whereas he converted at 74 & would require a 1000 pages to do my query justice. I said that if he ever did write that book, I would definitely buy it, & he said, “Yep, I think it will be a best seller!" Sadly the book was never written, and we will never know.

  • Posted by: rpp - May. 17, 2006 12:02 AM ET USA

    It is always wonderful when a faithful servent of God goes to his reward. While we may miss the person, we are only parted for a short time. May the Lord bless and keep Professor Pelikan. It so good, by the way, to see some good news about a good and faithful servernt in this column.

  • Posted by: Quadratus - May. 16, 2006 11:50 PM ET USA

    Professor Pelikan started as a Lutheran and converted to the Orthodox Church late in his life. His scholar credentials were impeccable and his works outstanding most of all in Classical culture and Christianity. He was however a little liberal in some of his views at the end of his life. All in all we have lost a giant in the field of theology and Church history. Rest in Peace Jaroslav Pelikan.

  • Posted by: Pete133 - May. 16, 2006 9:27 PM ET USA

    What a pity none of our bishops or priests held the distinction of being "the century's most distinguished historian of Christianity." Perhaps not knowing from where we've come explains not knowing where we are, where we are going, or how we're going to get there.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - May. 16, 2006 7:15 PM ET USA

    Pelikan, I have often noticed, is a Protestant more Catholic than many Catholics. May he be enlisted with the (non-canonized) saints rapidly.

  • Posted by: stpetric - May. 16, 2006 5:14 PM ET USA

    As a graduate student at Yale in the mid-1980s, I was very moved one Good Friday to see Professor Pelikan at the liturgy of the day on his hands and knees to venerate the Cross. A great scholar and a man of great faith, may he rest in peace.

Fall 2014 Campaign
Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on

Recent Catholic Commentary

Another side of Francis: US-Cuba role shows Pope's diplomatic muscle 3 hours ago
Silly season: a Christmas approaches, a scholar questions whether Jesus ever existed 3 hours ago
The intrinsic immorality of torture: still not convinced? 8 hours ago
The Complexity of Reforming Religious Communities December 17
Speaking Softly to Women Religious December 16

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Pope Francis: Europe seems 'elderly and haggard' CWN - November 25
Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch sign joint declaration, lament persecution of Christians CWN - December 1
Consistory for new cardinals scheduled for February CWN - December 11
Vatican report on US women religious calls for further self-assessment CWN - December 16
Pope brokered deal to open US-Cuba ties CWN - December 17