Professor Pelikan

A keen sense of what matters
Church historian Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, who died May 13, felt like a relative, thanks to consanguinity among our Slovak friends. I could not have taught Christian history without using his books, though he could teach at least 39/40ths of what he taught without ever consulting one of mine.

People in our business say that no 20th-century scholar in the Christian East or West could have written what he did. Writing his five-volume work on The Christian Tradition demanded linguistic skills that were unmatched. The press reported that he spoke ten languages. I’d add “for starters.” Once, riding in a shuttle bus with him, I heard him amiably chatting in a foreign language, and after disembarking I asked him what language it was. “Albanian.” Albania was the most closed-off country in Europe in those years. How could he have learned conversational Albanian? “Oh, once you know one of those languages, you know them all.” Oh.

 

This article is available to subscribers only. Please subscribe for full access—subscriptions begin at $4.95. Already have an online account? Log in now. Already a print subscriber? Create an online account for no additional cost.

This article is available to subscribers only.

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.