A Personal Memoir: Fragments of a Scholar's Autobiography

by Jaroslav Pelikan

Repeatedly in recent years, members of my family as well as my friends, colleagues, and former students have been urging me to write a full-length autobiography. I have resisted these suggestions, objecting that I am much more interested in the phenomenon that John Henry Newman in 1845 called "the development of Christian doctrine" through the centuries than in the phenomenon that he went on in 1864 to call "the history of my [own] religious opinions." At least in part, I tried nonetheless to address this proposal when I accepted the invitation of the Harvard University Press to write, as editor Aida Donald called it, a "middle-sized book" that "could amount to a kind of autobiography in small bites"; it appeared under the title The Melody of Theology: A Philosophical Dictionary in 1988. But that was the better part of two decades ago — for me extremely eventful decades, including as they did my Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in 1992/1993, published as Christianity and Classical Culture; my retirement in 1996 after exactly fifty years as a faculty member (although I have been holding one full-time academic appointment or another ever since); my reception into the fellowship of the Orthodox Church in 1998; the publication of the four volumes of Creed and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition with Credo in 2003; and several additional monographs, including two for 2005, one of them being my commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. These events, and particularly the third of them, do seem to call for some explanation and comment, even for something approaching an apologia pro vita sua (to borrow yet again from Cardinal Newman).

Short of such an apologia, this "personal memoir" may in some respects be read as a series of glosses on The Melody of Theology (to which, at the risk of perpetrating a self-advertising blurb for my own book, I shall be referring continually even when I do not mention it explicitly). Such entries in that book as "Development of Doctrine," "Harnack, Adolf von," "Languages," and "Newman, John Henry" underlie, and are presupposed by, much of what I am saying here. More than that book was, however, this is intended as a "personal memoir." I have been persuaded (though still somewhat reluctantly) by my beloved friends, the editors and the publisher of the present volume, to "feel free" to lay aside much of my usual embarrassment about a public display of my feelings and to speak more personally than is my wont, and to do so quite spontaneously and without hiding behind footnotes or any of the other usual scholarly apparatus. At the same time, my innate and incurable resistance to such display (a legacy, no doubt, from my mother) seems to imply that I should continue to observe a basic distinction between "personal" and "private." This is, then, definitely not my version of Augustine's Confessions; and therefore I am afraid, for example, that I must disappoint the currently fashionable curiosity (which, to me, is sometimes difficult to distinguish from voyeurism) about such private matters as my relations to my siblings, my marriage, and my relations to my children. Even about my own childhood I am mentioning only a few details that seem (to me at any rate) personally relevant to my having grown up to be a scholar of this kind rather than something else.

The subtitle of this essay, "fragments of a scholar's autobiography," is (as is, for that matter, more than a little of what I say and write) a quotation from Goethe, who once described his writings as all "fragments of one great confession." That remark has sent generations of his readers scurrying through The Sorrows of Young Werther, Wilhelm Meister, Elective Affinities, the lyric poems, and other works, and above all through the twelve-thousand lines of Faust, to get at "the real Goethe" lurking behind the various characters. Just to frustrate any oversimplified one-for-one conversion, Goethe entitled his own autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (Fiction [or Poetry] and Truth), in a tantalizing mixture. And he did say "fragments," which is also the most that I am in a position to promise here.

1

I like to say that I was born into a family that was rich in everything except money — good food in abundance, music, books, languages, and above all tradition and faith. My parents both came from Slovak families and were born in Slavic Europe — my father in what was to become Czechoslovakia (and now Slovakia), my mother in Vojvodina, which eventually became (and still is, at least as of this writing) a province of Yugoslavia, polyglot but chiefly Serbian-speaking. The genetic distribution of labor that Goethe described in his autobiographical verses,

Vom Vater hab' ich die Statur
Des Lebens ernstes Führen,
Von Mütterchen die Frohnatur
Und Lust zu fabulieren
[From my father I inherited my stature
And my seriousness about the conduct of life,
From my dear mother my happy disposition
And a delight in telling stories],

worked out rather differently in my case. Not only am I a couple of inches shorter than my father was; but my "seriousness about the conduct of life" acquired some of its special qualities from my mother, with her iron sense of duty and her loving determination that I must not, as she often put it to me, "get by on brains and glibness." The "happy disposition and delight in telling stories" that I have had since childhood and still (thank God) possess, on the other hand, is a reflection of the magical and positive view of the world for which my father was widely known throughout his life. It included a deep and all-but-pantheistic sense of affinity with Nature, which I inherited from him, together with a high energy level and a capacity for sustained effort for long stretches of time, followed by the ability to fall asleep instantly — which has proven to be just the right combination for a scholar.

As his father had been before him, from 1895 to 1930, my father was a Lutheran pastor, from 1919 to 1963, and a preacher of great eloquence and power, both in his native Slovak and in his adopted English. He and my mother, who was a parochial school teacher before their marriage, were therefore my first teachers of theology, which took the form of Luther's Small Catechism, of the Lutheran chorales in the Czech translations of Jiri Tranovsky, and of many tomes in my father's library that I read or skimmed long before I was ready for them. (My late friend, the Benedictine Godfrey Diekmann, in introducing me for a lecture at Saint John's Abbey, claimed to have discovered that when, as a little boy I could not reach the dining room table, my parents had me sit on volumes of the Patrologia, with the result that I absorbed the church fathers a posteriori.) For whatever reason, their teaching stuck, so that I have had to admit, sometimes with a bit of chagrin, that I was quite out of step with many in my generation, especially among theological scholars at universities, in never having had fundamental doubts about the essential rightness of the Christian faith, but having retained a continuing, if often quite unsophisticated, Slavic piety. The kind of orthodox confessional Lutheranism I imbibed from that source may have been slightly tinged with pietism, but it tended to sit rather loosely to ecclesiastical institutions and structures. Having emigrated to the United States with their parents in the opening years of the twentieth century, both of my parents attended German-speaking Lutheran schools: my mother, the first and only member of her family to go to college, Doctor Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota (1920); my father, Concordia [Junior] College in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1916) and Concordia Theological Seminary in Saint Louis (1919). After they married in 1921, my father was drafted by his father to serve as a pastor in the (unsuccessful) experiment at a Lutheran church independent of the state in the new Czechoslovakia. During their two years there, a son who had my name (or, rather, I was given his name) was born to them and died after a few days; I have long had the deep sense that I grew up carrying responsibility for Jaroslav Ivan as well as for myself, which could be seen as an unfair burden to lay on a young child, but which may well have helped to provide some of the extra motivating force that a scholar needs.

2

In 1936, at the age of twelve, I followed my father to Concordia Fort Wayne. This was a transplanted version of the classical German Gymnasium, equivalent in American terms to the six years of high school plus junior college. It was, I have often quipped, the best eighteenth-century education available in twentieth-century America for a hundred dollars a year including board and room, very light on laboratory science and social science but correspondingly heavy on the Bible and the catechism and on languages, especially German, Latin, and Greek (Hebrew having been transferred to the seminary shortly before I would have taken it). Particularly in Latin and in German — less so, to my regret, in Greek, which I came to love best but in which eventually I had to do, and did do, some catching up — I was blessed with patient and demanding teachers at Fort Wayne. My grasp of Latin took off very early, and I even won national standing in a competition based on the poetry of Vergil. Being, as a Slovak, a member of an ethnic minority there (and in the late 1930s at that), I was determined to master German better than my classmates, who often knew just enough German from home to have corrupted their English ("Pass me the pitcher of milk over" or "My hair are wet"). Memorizing the long narrative poems of Schiller and beginning on my own the annual reading of Goethe's Faust, which I have continued ever since, I even contemplated the possibility of going to graduate school in German language and literature. Combined as it was with my own bilingual background in Slovak and English (plus a fair amount of Czech and of Serbian, which then led easily to Russian by way of the Cyrillic alphabet), this saturation exposure to the Classical languages and to German became, and remains, something of an obsession for me. It was followed by Hebrew when I entered Concordia Seminary at age eighteen, so that well before I left my teens I was at the point that I would automatically read any text in the original (and, as only an eighteen-year-old can, tended to look down on anyone who could not).

Going on to the seminary was a natural step in 1942, even though it was generally recognized, especially by my parents, that my vocation lay in scholarship and teaching rather than in the pastoral ministry Two of my seminary professors, Paul M. Bretscher and Richard R. Caemmerer, immediately became close friends and mentors (and remained so until their deaths), defending me to their colleagues and encouraging me to carry on my independent study in the well-stocked library above and beyond the rather minimal requirements of the seminary curriculum. There was in the ethos of Concordia Seminary a deep ambivalence: a respect for high level theological scholarship that would lead, for example, to the almost unique phenomenon of a church subsidy for the translation into English of Walter Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (published by the University of Chicago Press); but alongside this respect, though not from the same people, dire and constant warnings about the dangers of historical-critical study. (That ambivalence was to erupt into a full-scale schism several decades later.) For me personally, it meant that I was encouraged to pursue advanced studies, but under something of a cloud of suspicion. Many, though not all, of my fellow students manifested some of the same ambivalence, which probably tended to make me even more of a loner than I already was. I had never belonged to an athletic team or a singing group or an orchestra or any other ensemble. In later years I discovered, and began to quote, the aphorism of Harnack that "anyone who is a scholar is part monk,… and someone who wants to amount to something in scholarship must get off to avery early start." However, I had believed and practiced that all along.

Above all, my student years at Concordia Seminary gave me what confessional Lutheranism could have been expected to give, a detailed knowledge and technical grasp of church doctrine, especially the dogmas of the Trinity (only in its Western configuration, to be sure) and of the two natures in Christ (which, because of its controversies with Calvinism over the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Lutheranism had elaborated largely on the basis of the Greek church fathers and later councils). The central defining element in Christian faith was seen as doctrine, not practice, and neither church polity nor liturgy nor piety; "consentire de doctrina evangelii [consensus on the doctrine of the gospel]" was, according to The Augsburg Confession of 1530, necessary for the unity of the Church, together with the proper administration of the sacraments. Despite occasional twinges of an inclination toward systematic theology or dogmatics, however, I knew that it was the history of Christian doctrine, more usually called (from its German origins and career as Dogmengeschichte) "the history of dogma," that I wanted to study and for which this combination of preparatory studies had in a special way been equipping me.

3

But I really hit my stride only in the autumn of 1944, when I entered the Ph.D. program of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven.

I was twenty years old, fully conscious (probably more than fully conscious) of my powers, and in the heady atmosphere of a place where at last it was never necessary to explain — much less to apologize for — a passion for the scholarly life.

What had drawn me to the University of Chicago, in addition to its overall academic eminence under the leadership of President Robert Maynard Hutchins (and, of course, its being in my home city, so that I could stay with my parents), was its faculty in the history of Christianity, specifically two professors, Matthew Spinka and Wilhelm Pauck. Czech-born Professor Spinka was at the time the leading university based historian of Slavic Christianity in North America — he later wrote what is still in many ways the standard work in English on the church history of the Balkans — and he had already been encouraging me in my earlier explorations of that subject. Wilhelm Pauck, pupil of Karl Holl and Adolf Harnack, was a justly celebrated teacher of the history of Christian thought and a specialist on the Reformation. It had been my plan to work with these two scholars together, concentrating in "historical theology" with a dissertation somewhere in the Slavic East. But by the time I arrived at Chicago, Professor Spinka had departed for Hartford Theological Seminary, and there was no Ph.D. program any more in the Greek and Slavic East. Thus I specialized in the Reformation, writing my dissertation in 1946 on the Czech Confession of 1535 and Luther's preface to it. It included the first English translation of that text (which, incidentally, was not published until it was included in the second volume of our Creed and Confessions of Faith fifty-seven years later). A number of my courses I took in other parts of the University, including a memorable seminar on historical method with Louis Gottschalk, historian of the French Revolution and specialist on Lafayette. When I had completed my course work and examinations for the Ph.D. in December 1945, with much of the dissertation completed, I still had three semesters to go at Concordia; by some juggling of credits, this was reduced to one semester. Thereby the seminary did not have to face the problem of a Ph.D. taking its undergraduate courses, and neither did I. I received both the B.D. from Concordia and the Ph.D. from Chicago in 1946.

My first academic appointment was in a department of history (as would my final appointment be). At Valparaiso University from 1946 to 1949 I taught a variety of courses in European history, with a concentration on intellectual history, including philosophy, but I did not have the opportunity to teach the history of Christian thought as such until after those three years I was brought to Concordia Seminary as a junior faculty member. There I took over the existing course in "History of Dogma," which concluded with the Reformation, and added a course on the history of theology since the Reformation. For this sequence I prepared in 1952 a syllabus of 51 single-spaced pages, from which I taught the courses and on the basis of which I hoped to write my book, which did not in fact begin to appear until nearly twenty years later (and with occasional phrases and sentences lifted from that syllabus). Both the burden of my heavy teaching responsibilities at the seminary and the theological climate within the Missouri Synod were making it increasingly clear to me that my pious hopes of being a scholar in the direct employ of the Church were not to be fulfilled; and in 1953, after a total of seven years of that balancing act at Valparaiso and Concordia, I accepted the invitation of the University of Chicago to succeed my mentor Wilhelm Pauck, who had meanwhile accepted the Briggs Chair of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

For the next nine years at Chicago I gave a year-long lecture course "The History of Christian Thought," usually with an accompanying seminar each quarter on specific topics from across all the periods of the history: for example, Tertullian, Athanasius's The Incarnation of the Word juxtaposed with Anselm's Cur deus homo, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Schleiermacher, the nineteenth century. I was only half-joking when I explained that I was carrying on my private education in public, filing in gaps from my previous study and deepening my grasp of the larger history. When I moved to Yale in 1962, it was to succeed Roland H. Bainton in the Titus Street Professorship of Ecclesiastical History in the Yale Divinity School, but with the understanding that I would take over Robert Lowry Calhoun's sequence on "The History of Christian Doctrine." My subsequent transfer to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and then my designation as Sterling Professor in 1972, did not alter that concentration. But my appointment as Acting Dean, then Dean, of the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 1973 to 1978 took me out of the classroom (though not out of the library or my study), and when I rejoined the faculty, it was as Sterling Professor of History, which I remained until my retirement in 1996. An important component of my portfolio was the graduate program in Medieval Studies, which I also chaired for several years. My signature course in Yale College was a two-semester sequence on "The Intellectual History of the Middle Ages East and West," from the Cappadocians and Augustine to the Renaissance and the fall of Constantinople.

4

In one way or another, therefore, most of my teaching over the years flowed into the project that already in my early student days I had begun to identify as a special vocation: to write for my generation a successor to Adolf Harnack's three-volume Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte. I would eventually take an almost mystical pleasure in the unintended coincidence that its fifth and final volume was published in 1989, exactly a century after the publication of Harnack's first volume. That sense of vocation, including the emulation of Harnack, brought together a number of both scholarly and personal elements. My grandfather, Jan Pelikan, after studies in Slovakia, completed his theological preparation at the University of Erlangen, where Harnack's father Theodosius, a strict confessionalist Lutheran (as was my grandfather), had earlier been professor. The post-World War I generation of Adolf Harnack's students in Germany had, with some exceptions, been prevented by the vicissitudes of those decades from undertaking a new telling of the history of dogma. In the United States, the two scholars best prepared to write such a history were Robert Calhoun, who also brought to the subject an unrivalled mastery of the history of philosophy, and Wilhelm Pauck, who had studied under the greats in Germany in the 1920s and who spanned the two worlds with a dazzling virtuosity; but for a variety of reasons, some of them no doubt quite personal, neither of these scholars brought it off. Therefore the preparation of a comprehensive history of Christian doctrine had in effect skipped a generation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Intellectual and scholarly trends in theological scholarship, as in humanistic and historical scholarship generally, were at the same time working against such a history. Increasingly, a historical scholar had to be identified by region and/or period, as I was by the Reformation, especially after becoming editor of the American Edition of Luther's Works in 1955. But both in my teaching and in my publishing, I was determined not to succumb to the lure of such specialization in one epoch. By selecting only one aspect of Christian history (though still a massive one) — as I would define it at the opening of my first volume, "what the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches, and confesses on the basis of the word of God" — I strove to be responsible to the primary texts regardless of period or provenance and to pay attention not only to change but also to continuity. My lifelong love affair with all those languages helped to make this possible. So did the growth of ecumenism, as Christians were discovering that there were believers and churches on the other side of the mountains. I had the opportunity to participate in this process directly during the 1950s and 1960s as a member of the Commission on Tradition and Traditions of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches (WCC), chaired by Albert C. Outler and bringing together into the same room my once and future mentors, Wilhelm Pauck and Georges V. Florovsky (with me in the crossfire between them). I saw it as one of my assignments to introduce the several Christian traditions to each other — and, even more importantly, to their own ancestors. The price I paid for such an assignment was the increasing inability to take a direct part in contemporary theological debate. Students and colleagues used to complain that when I was expounding Augustine they thought I was a card-carrying Augustinian, until I came to John of Damascus or Thomas Aquinas or Luther or Schleiermacher or Dostoevsky, when I was again stating the position of each of them as though from within. There was, no doubt, a certain amount of a tentative relativism at work here, together with a conscious effort to achieve, at least pedagogically, what Samuel Taylor Coleridge calls "a willing suspension of disbelief." But increasingly I came to believe that every theological system, even a heretical theological system, emphasizes one valid aspect or dimension of orthodoxy defined as "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20.27), but at the expense of others. Therefore I also found, not in theological liberalism and historical relativism (as so many of my predecessors, teachers, and contemporaries did) but in tradition and orthodoxy, the presupposition from which to interpret any portion or period. At some point, therefore, The Christian Tradition became the working title of "the big book" (as I usually referred to it unofficially).

Just as various of my books and articles on various periods that appeared before and during the publication of the five volumes of The Christian Tradition between 1971 and 1989 were essentially "feeders" providing more detailed documentation for the larger work, so, particularly as I was completing it, I began investigating its implications for several fields of human thought and culture: philosophy already in my first book, From Luther to Kierkegaard (1950), and then in others, including What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem? (1997) on Plato's Timaeus; music in Bach Among the Theologians (1986), on the occasion of the tercentenary of his birth; historiography in The Excellent Empire (1987), coming to terms with my boyhood study of Gibbon's Decline and Fall; art history in Imago Dei (1990); higher education in The Idea of the University — A Reexamination (1992); literature in "Russia's Greatest Heretic" on Tolstoy (1989), Eternal Feminines (1990) on Dante, and Faust the Theologian (1995) on Goethe; rhetoric in Divine Rhetoric (2001), and Constitutional hermeneutics in Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution (2004). I did not pretend that I had become a scholar in any of these fields, although I did read myself deeply into the scholarly literature and was, on the whole, received hospitably by the inner circles of the specialists. Rather, as a chronicler of one of the most overwhelming explosions in the history of the human mind and spirit, I was looking at its fallout across the cultural landscape. That was also in keeping with my primary location within the academy, which for most of my career has been in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. I was never dean of a divinity school, much less of a church seminary, but of a graduate school of arts and sciences. I was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1994 to 1997, and of the American Academy of Political and Social Science for 2000–2001. The two highest recognitions I have ever received for my scholarship were both humanistic rather than theological or ecclesiastical: the Jefferson Award of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1983, and the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences in 2004. But I have been deeply gratified that my historical scholarship has been of service to the Church, its laity as well as its clergy, and to theological seminaries and church colleges across the denominational spectrum, and increasingly, through many translations (including, now, at long last, even translations into Slavic languages), across the globe.

Both from the observations of my reviewers and from my own "authorial intent" it seems clear that my history of Christian doctrine differs from its predecessors, and specifically from Harnack's, in several important respects. It consciously rejects the arbitrarily narrow definition of the history of dogma by which Harnack felt able to ignore not only the individual theologians but also the creeds and confessions of all the post-Reformation churches (which are surely "dogma" even in a technical sense). It takes the relation of Christian doctrine with its Jewish partner not as a problem that the first and second centuries had to overcome, but as a permanent component of the teaching of the Church (as the Epistle to the Romans says it is). By contrast with Harnack, who in the appendix to his first volume could bring himself to say that it was "another instance of the exceptional nature of Christianity [that] for a considerable period it possessed no ritual at all," I interpreted the formulation of church doctrine as the process by which what was already believed in worship was spelled out in creed and confession. And a major component of my narrative was an examination of the key passages of Holy Scripture that the church claimed to be bringing together in articulating its doctrines.

5

There is at least one additional point of differentiation between my history of doctrine and Harnack's (as well as most others): the inclusion of the Christian East. Harnack was born in Dorpat/Tartu, Estonia, in 1851, when it was part of Tsarist Russia, and in school he was required to learn Russian, which in fact he would know better than he did either French or English. Nevertheless he was shockingly tone-deaf to the specific accents of Eastern Orthodoxy such as the devotion to icons. "It was," he said describing the Orthodox liturgy, "to destroy this sort of religion that Jesus Christ suffered himself to be nailed to the cross!" In addition to the heavy reliance on Greek and Syriac patristic materials in my first volume and on Russian and Greek theologians in the fifth volume, I devoted the entire second volume (1974) to The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-17OO), corresponding in time span to volumes 3 and 4 for the West, which were so much longer because they had to encompass scholasticism and the Reformation. In that second volume, moreover, various readers could discern personal accents along with the scholarly ones, and my late friend Father John Meyendorff was gracious enough to call it "the most comprehensive history of ideas in the Christian East, very perceptive and challenging."

This was one in a series of books over several decades by means of which, I may quote myself yet again, "while others were reading their way into Orthodoxy, I wrote my way into Orthodoxy." Already in The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (1959), winner of the Abingdon Award and (at least partly because of its timing in relation to the Presidential election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and to the Second Vatican Council) the first of my books to receive widespread public attention, it was evident from the chapter "How Christianity Became Catholic," which quoted A. S. Khomiakov on its second page, that the book was animated by a vision of the Church more akin to the Eastern than to the Western tradition. The invitation to deliver the Andrew W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, on the twelve-hundredth anniversary of the Second Council of Nicaea in 1987, became the occasion for an analysis in depth of how "a faith which began by attacking the worship of images… eventually embraced such worship and turned prohibition into permission — and permission into command." The Melody of Theology of 1988, which has been a subtext for this entire memoir, concludes its preface with the words: "The book bears no dedication… If there were a dedication, it would have been inscribed to Georges V. Florovsky (1893-1979), who, more than any other person except my late father, taught me to sing 'the melody of theology' this way." When Clifton Fadiman invited me to prepare The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought, which came out in 1990, I chose as the two bookends for this interfaith collection Dostoevsky's "The Grand Inquisitor" and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Lecture, "Beauty Will Save the World." And when I was honored by the University of Aberdeen to give the Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology in 1992/93, I defined their scope by "triangulation" from two of my predecessors in the lectureship there, Etienne Gilson (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, 1930/32) and Karl Barth (The Knowledge of God and the Service of God according to the Teaching of the Reformation, 1937/38): "The Metamorphosis of Natural Theology in the Christian Encounter with Hellenism," as this was manifested in "the Three Cappadocians," Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Saint Basil of Caesarea, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, together with the sister of the latter two, Saint Macrina the Younger, whom I dubbed "the Fourth Cappadocian"; thus I examined the systems of thought which, taken together, do for the Christian East much of what the theology and philosophy of Saint Augustine of Hippo do for the Latin West.

After all these hundreds of published pages it may have been something of a shock, but I cannot believe that it came to anyone as a surprise, when, on the Feast Day of the Annunciation to the Theotokos (25 March) in 1998, I was received by chrismation into the sacramental fellowship of the Orthodox Church in America. As I said to my friend and father in Christ, His Beatitude Metropolitan Theodosius, who chrismated me, "any airplane that circled the airport for that long before landing would have run out of gas." Quoting more broadly than its original meaning the commandment "Every one should remain in the state in which he was called" (I Cor. 7.20), I had long been resisting the ecclesiastical conclusion to which the force of my ideas and beliefs was increasingly pressing me. Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church in America, in a series of moves that I had begun to limn, however dimly, in an essay that was published in The Christian Century in 1963, was becoming, to use the terminology of that essay, less and less of a "confession" and more and more of a "denomination." Thus we were, as Yogi Berra might have put it, "headed on a collision course by moving in opposite directions."

I shall happily leave to some future psychobiography (if any) the task of sorting out the "real reasons" and deeper motivations of my move. In response to literally hundreds of inquiries, most of them quite friendly but some rather hostile, I usually ended up using one of two quotations: from Moliere's M. Jourdain, who exclaimed, "For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it"; or from Robert Frost, who defined home as "the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Scholars of autobiography, as well as its more self-critical practitioners, have long warned both against the danger of confusing memory with legend and against the Whiggish tendency to look at an entire lifetime through the prism of its outcome and therefore to suppose that it could not have come out any other way than it in fact did. I hope I may nevertheless be permitted, with sincere gratitude to God, to find a certain continuity between the direction of the drive and the direction of the putt.

This essay was originally published in Orthodoxy and Western Culture and reprinted with permission of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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was professor of History at Yale University. He's written more than 40 books, including his 2003 opus, Credo. His most recent work is Whose Bible Is It? A History of Scriptures Through the Ages.