Acclaimed Historian Fills Joseph Chair

By Sandra Howe
Staff Writer

Yale University history professor Jaroslav Pelikan, a renowned scholar on the history of Christian thought and the president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has joined the Boston College faculty for the 1996-97 academic year as the inaugural holder of the Joseph Chair in Catholic Theology.

Established in 1994 by an anonymous donor, the chair will be filled by distinctive scholars in Catholic theology who illustrate the role of effective research, said College of Arts and Sciences Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ. Holders of the chair - which will be filled every other year with a one-year appointment - also will teach one graduate seminar each semester on the fathers of the early Christian Church.

"To have someone like Dr. Pelikan, an historian who knows tradition so well, brings considerable visibility to the Joseph Chair and to the Theology Department," said Fr. Barth. "Having a scholar of his stature working in the Boston College community will be a source of inspiration for not only his students, but his colleagues as well."

Jaroslav Pelikan is the inaugural holder of the Joseph Chair. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
"Jaroslav Pelikan is an enormous fountain of knowledge on the contribution of Church fathers to Christianity and has had a tremendous influence on the understanding of patristics and doctrinal development," said Prof. Donald Dietrich, chairman of the Theology Department.

As Joseph Professor, Pelikan said he will have the opportunity to contribute to the understanding of large-scale tragedies and conflicts, such as Bosnia, which have roots in religious differences. Boston College's commitment to classical education, he added, encourage these forms of scholarship.

"It's taken for granted at a place like Boston College that the bodies of thought and literature that helped shape the Western tradition continue to be important objects of study," Pelikan said. "It is one of relatively few places where you don't have to explain or apologize that you are interested in these subjects, and everybody shares the idea that we can understand each other better by understanding the teachings of our common ancestors."

In January, Pelikan will deliver a public lecture titled "The Church Fathers: Our Common Memory." He also will conduct research for his four-volume collection of the major creeds of Christendom, Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition , to be published by Yale University Press. The last such extensive compilation was published a century ago, Pelikan said, and these volumes will re-examine old creeds and include new ones, such as those regarding the Second Vatican Council and the Church's struggle against the Nazis.

Pelikan, who has authored and edited numerous books, is a member of President Clinton's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. He holds 35 honorary degrees and has received numerous awards and medals, including a 1984 Boston College Joseph Coolidge Shaw, SJ, Medal. Pelikan also has served as president of the American Society of Church History and the International Congress of Luther Research.

Pelikan holds a bachelor of divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis and a doctoral degree from the University of Chicago.

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