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When Jaroslav Pelikan died at age 82 on May 13, 2006, the world of Christian scholarship lost its greatest living advocate and the best church historian America has ever produced. Words like "greatest" and "best" are frequently used in a loose manner simply to say something nice about someone—but in the case of Jary, as his friends called him, they are really true.

The achievements of his life are remarkable: He wrote nearly 40 books and over a dozen reference works on numerous aspects of Christian history. He taught several generations of students at Valparaiso University, Concordia Theological Seminary, the University of Chicago, and, since 1962, Yale University. He served as Dean of the Graduate School at Yale and was also President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Jefferson Award of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1983 and the John Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievements in the Human Sciences in 2004. He presented the Gifford Lectures at University of Aberdeen and the Gilson Lectures at the University of Toronto and was awarded honorary degrees from 42 universities around the world.

Many other accomplishments could be listed, but accomplishments alone do not reveal the deepest passion of his soul—to tell the story of the Christian tradition in all of its fullness, drama, coherence, romance, and rigor, thereby exposing the deepest textures of meaning inherent in the Christian message itself.

A Slavic heritage

Pelikan loved to quote this line from Goethe, his favorite poet: "What you have received as heritage, take now as task and thus you will make it your own." Pelikan's remarkable scholarly career was rooted in his Slavic family background. Both of his parents were born ...

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