Saturday, May 20, 2006

RIP Jaroslav Pelikan

Via On The Square, I learn of the passing of the prominent biblical scholar Jaroslav Pelikan. I'm not the one to do him a proper encomium, so have some quotes, instead:

Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.
-- Jaroslav Pelikan

The presence in the Bible of attitudes toward nature and the universe that are, in our judgment, "prescientific" is[...]not simply a nutshell that can be discarded to find the eternal kernel inside. [...T]hese attitudes are bound up with its fundamental message. Nevertheless, when seen in the light of the history of biblical
commentary and interpretation, whether Jewish or Christian, this "prescientific" picture of the universe is in fact one that it has been possible for widely divergent "scientific" pictures, as they have succeeded one another through the ages, to accommodate. It is a fair generalization that there is no scientific or philosophical cosmology with which the biblical message has been unable to come to terms at least in some measure, and at the same time none with which it has been entirely comfortable. What is more, the accommodation of the biblical message to this or that cosmology has often reached its completion at just about the same time that the cosmology was yielding to its successor. It is impossible to make up an alternate formulation, using the vocabulary of any scientific or philosophical
worldview ancient or modern, that could have the eternal staying power of the sublime opening words of the Book of Genesis, "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." The very irrelevance of biblical cosmology has made it relevant over and over.
-- Jaroslav Pelikan, _Whose Bible Is It?_, 2005

To invoke a Kierkegaardesque figure of speech, the beauty of the language of the Bible can be like a set of dentist's instruments neatly laid out on a table and hanging on a wall, intriguing in their technological complexity and with their stainless steel highly polished--until they set to work on the job for which they were originally designed. Then all of a sudden my reaction changes from "How shiny and beautiful they all are!" to "Get that damned thing out of my mouth!
-- ibid

My favorite quotation from Nietzsche: "Advice to a young revolutionary, be careful you are not crushed by a falling statue." Because what replaces the tyranny of tradition is what Lord Acton once called "the tyranny of the air we breathe." Structure and tradition are not the natural enemies of moral spontaneity, but the natural framework within which that spontaneity can be free to breathe.
-- Jaroslav Pelikan, Baccalaurate lecture "Morals Without Laws are Unstable", 2004, in University of Pennsylvania Almanac,

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