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The Catholic Historical Review 92.4 (2006) 629-631

Reviewed by
Owen Chadwick
Cambridge University
The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 1: A-D; Volume 2:E-I; Volume 3:J-O; Volume 4:P-SH. Edited by Erwin Fahlbusch, Jan Milič Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Lukas Vischer; English-language editor Geoffrey W. Bromiley; statistical editor David B. Barrett. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company 1999, 2001. English translation 2003-5. Pp. xl, 893; 819; xxxii, 884; xxxii, 952. $100.00 each volume.)

When the editors embarked upon this scholarly enterprise they judged that the time was ripe to bring up to date the Christian knowledge of our day. They took as their basis what many regard as the best Christian encyclopedia which is not so bulky and many-volumed that ordinary persons in search of truth can pay for it and find room on their shelves, the Evangelische Kirchenlexikon, its third and revised edition last published in Göttingen by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht in 1997. The English translation of volume 1 appeared two years later and in 2005 four volumes were out in English and the fifth volume (Sl to Z) still lies in the future. Jaroslav Pelikan has been one of the most eminent experts on the Christianity of the centuries, and his loss is sad; yet he helped to give us this as his last contribution.

The articles are short though not superficial, and clear-headed. The English language used is direct and almost entirely free from jargon (on this we ought to pay a compliment to Geoffrey W. Bromiley). When it is said that this is a translation from the German, that is not accurate, first because the articles contain a mass of bibliographical information which appeared at a date later than the German, and certain articles, especially those on very modern and contemporary themes, have been added or altered or supplemented to meet new knowledge and new circumstances. And much more: they have added articles, country by country, on all the States of the world except the very smallest, and enlisted the aid of David B. Barrett, well-known as expert on Christian statistics through the continents and peoples; not easy since the world map can change fast, as with the ex-Communist States after 1989. How will they treat the matter when they come to Ukraine, a fascinating theme for church history?Yet the new state of Macedonia receives informative treatment. They have thought it right to add more than seventy biographies.

So we are given three kinds of article: those where study is available already and when knowledge is moving forward it walks very deliberately; those where a new discovery means that conclusions even of the remote past must still be [End Page 629] a matter of argument (for example, with the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, here under Qumran); and the modern or contemporary articles which must break the rule that one can hardly understand anything in a right perspective until at least thirty or forty years have elapsed. Within that last variety there can be much good factual information, such as the date when a female rabbi was first appointed, or the astonishing number of books by Karl Rahner which have been sold in paperback. It treats many wide themes in the history of doctrine or morals, theories or movements such as God is dead, or religionless Christianity (a truly thoughtful article), and histories of an idea or ethical question like Pacifism and the extent to which it has Christian origins and later Christian influence. Sometimes this tackles problems which are as yet impossible to get into balance. There is a contrast between two articles close to one another. Proverbs is full of matter without ever becoming boring, and the reader rises from it feeling that there is a surprise that so much more is to be learnt. And just before comes the article on Program to Combat Racism, where the material cannot help but be bitty and provisional and hardly yet in a...


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