Of Pelikan, Pelicans, and the Love of Books

Today I received, at long last, a copy of a book which I had inexplicably neglected to acquire before now: Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996). He describes the context and character of the volume as follows (Preface, ix):

“It was a touching personal tribute, but also a unique scholarly opportunity, when my friend and student Valerie Hotchkiss, librarian of the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, invited me, in observance of my impending retirement in June 1996 after 50 years of teaching, to serve as guest curator for the exhibition ‘The Reformation of the Bible / The Bible of the Reformation,’ and to compose these four essays, which are intended to round out the Catalog of the exhibition but also to stand on their own as a small monograph about this large subject.”

The four essays in question address the following topics:

  1. Sacred Philology (3-21)
  2. Exegesis and Hermeneutics (23-39)
  3. Bibles for the People (41-62)
  4. The Bible and the Arts (63-78)

My perusal of the essays earlier this afternoon confirmed, of course, that they are nothing but exquisite specimens of Pelikan’s magnificently learned prose, and I eagerly look forward to reading them in detail. I noted the arrival of the book on Twitter by posting a picture of it with the attached hashtag, #piepelicanejesudomine. Beyond the obvious connection with Pelikan’s last name, there is an important reason for this: as it happens, Pelikan’s custom book plate features this well-known verse from St Thomas Aquinas’ hymn Adoro te devote under the image of a pelican piercing its breast to feed its young with its own blood—a mythical behavior widely attributed to pelicans in antiquity and the Middle Ages, and taken as a symbol of the Lord’s Passion and the Eucharist,  by which and in which he feeds us with his own Body and Blood. My friend Fr Daniel Greeson, currently a deacon and a student at St Vladimir’s Seminary of Yonkers in New York, took a picture of this book plate at the seminary library, which by his kind permission I share here for your edification:

pelikan_book_plate

Note, in addition to the pelican motif and the related verse, the two medallions: the one on the left featuring Luther’s seal, and the one of the right featuring the Slovak coat of arms, to honor the Slovak Lutheran heritage of the Pelikan family. (Readers will recall that, after a lifetime as a Lutheran, first in the LCMS and eventually in the ELCA, Jaroslav Pelikan was received into the communion of the Orthodox Church on 25 March 1998.) Finally, note that his name is given as “Jary,” the nickname by which his friends knew him.

One more note on Pelikan: thanks to the wonders of the Internet Archive, you may still read his fascinating autobiographical essay, “A Personal Memoir: Fragments of a Scholar’s Autobiography,” originally published in Valerie Hotchkiss and Patrick Henry (eds.), Orthodoxy and Western Culture: A Collection of Essays Honoring Jaroslav Pelikan on His Eightieth Birthday (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006).

As these happy bibliophilic thoughts occupied my mind for most of the afternoon and evening, I was reminded that we are at the head of the week preceding the feast of another consummate bibliophile, our venerable father Jerome of Stridon, sacred philologist and translator par excellence, who reposed in the Lord on 30 September 420. In honor of his memory, that day has long been observed as Bible Translation Day by many Bible societies and translation agencies, and as International Translation Day since 1953 by the International Federation of Translators. To celebrate, I have a couple of posts on Bible translation lined up for this week that hark back to the old days of biblioblogdom. But also, since St Jerome was both a priest and a bibliophile, here is a timely reminder: 30 September 2017 will the 2nd Annual #BuyAPriestABookDay! Kindly remember that, as I have observed elsewhere, “Buy a Priest a Book Day” is superior to the so-called “Buy a Priest a Beer Day” in every way: not all priests like beer, but every priest should like books. And of course, there will be another post on Saturday for this most joyful celebration.

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2 responses to “Of Pelikan, Pelicans, and the Love of Books

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