The limits of Pelikan-apologetics

I am not going to name the website so it won’t look like I am picking on them.   Still, a certain Orthodox apologetics site routinely quotes the renowned historian Jaroslav Pelikan as an example of why Protestantism is wrong.   Almost every post’s format is the same:  statement of the problem, section on Pelikan, a quote from Ignatius/Irenaeus, and a conclusion that Protestants don’t match this.

I am only going to point out one problem in the above presentation.  Quoting Pelikan is not the same thing as an argument.  I respect his scholarship as much as the next guy, but church history has come a long way and Pelikan never actually advanced arguments on whether a position is true.  He merely stated the positions (and stated them well).

In volumes 1 and 3 I admit his introductory chapters on tradition do make it seem like Protestantism is out of tradition, but may I make two responses:  1) precisely what is the content of that apostolic tradition?  You cannot use later church fathers and Scripture is obviously silent, so how do you know your tradition matches theirs?  2) Antiquity is not a sign of truth.   The Pharisees were older (temporally speaking) than the church.

Further, Pelikan doesn’t have the room to analyze the specifics.  In volume 4 he references Martin Chemnitz but never quotes his actual arguments.  This is significant, for many consider Chemnitz to have utterly refuted Anchoretism.  Secondly, the sword cuts both ways:  I think the counter arguments to the Filioque in volumes 2 and 3 have just as much force as the presentation of the Eastern position.  Using Pelikan alone, who adjudicates?  My point exactly.


3 comments on “The limits of Pelikan-apologetics

  1. John* says:

    1) If Pelikan quotes Hellenistic and Hellenized “Church Fathers” and a Hellenised phronema, does that make him, ipso facto, right? And sound?

    He would have more credibility if he used a Hebraic thought process / mindset, and quoted Hebraic Sages to dissect Church history and the “Church Fathers”.

    I see nowhere in Pelikan the use of the hermeneutic of PaRDeS (see my earlier post below), only support for the super-suspect Hellenic Allegory and Symbolism of Alexandria and Antioch respectively.

    2) Is Pelikan’s support for “tradition” the Tradition of the original Jerusalem Church of Yaakov haTzaddik, or is it of some Hellenized, moderate Marcionite / Constantinian “tradition”? If the second, then this “tradition” is suspect.

    • Those are good points, but Pelikan isn’t even making logical arguments. He is just reportiing what others have said and some are equating that with Refuting x.

      • John* says:

        Thanks J for this. You are right . . .

        EO these days is not required to make logical arguments. Its basic positions are “set in stone” and are not to be challenged with lateral logic.

        This “logic” process in EO commenced with Ignatius, but only got its “full head of steam” after 135CE and the fall of Jerusalem under Hadrian.

        Being a “Original Theologian” in EO merely requires you to be a “parrot”, or, if you please a playback tape-recorder (or USB stick) – regurgitating what others have told you to think – irrespective of its quality or contemporary relevance. In doing so, you have, after all, done as you were told and have gone back to the “origins” of the thought.You are not required to think for yourself. Nor evaluate what you have learned. Merely repeating what others have told you, for the purposes of the apologetic/refutation is sufficient. A mere compilation from the past is all-sufficient.

        This is “catechism” stuff – with only one “right” answer – playback! And this “right answer” is supposed to be timelessly relevant for all ages. This encourages personal mental laziness and self-complacency.

        Contrast this with the Jewish method of “Original Theology”:

        In a Jewish Yeshiva, you are commanded to think for yourself! Personal mental laziness is not tolerated, but is punished severely. You are required to sift and evaluate what all Sages have said in the past, and ask yourself the following questions:

        1):Is what they have said still relevant today?
        2) Were they right to say what they said then? (Here a spectrum of “right-ness” is permitted.)
        After sifting their relevance for today and the “right-ness” of what they said in the past:
        3) What “right” timeless principles can we discern from the past? and then
        4) How can we apply these timeless principles for both today and tomorrow in the context of today and tomorrow?
        5) What form of apologetic for today do we need on the basis of #3 and #4

        ALL this requires you to both have and exhibit deep, personal, creative, lateral thought. And in doing so, you.are being an “Original Theologian”. In other words, you are coming up with something that no one has ever come up with in the past. And the more “original” you are, the more you are lauded.

        I trust that I do not have to labour the point further.

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