The real quality of this book is only apparent when one has read standard introductions to Christian doctrine which treat each piece of emerging doctrine as the only possible solution to each theological problem. Pelikan shows that almost every issue was the subject of fierce debate because the range of sources - the scriptures, early Christian thinkers, Greek philosophy - could not be brought together into any coherence. He shows for instance that four distinct and incompatible answers to the question of whether Christ was fully God can be suggested from biblical sources alone- and this was before the issue became entangled with Platonism! Traditionalists may be shocked by this approach but Pelikan is providing a fine tribute to the fertility of the Greek mind and the seriousness with which early Christians approached the search for truth. Pelikan remains traditional,however, in separating the making of doctrine from the political setting. In most cases 'orthodoxy' was imposed from above by emperors tired of the endless debates which threatened to undermine political stability and a full picture of the making of Christian doctrine needs to include this dimension. However, Pelikan's erudition, refusal to be overawed by established points of view and the clarity with which he explores the issues make this an essential book for students of early Christian history.
"The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition" (and the "Christian Tradition" series as a whole) is among the most useful books I have ever come across. Mr. Pelikan has focused like a laser on what was TAUGHT (as in "the stuff we have actual historical documentation for") by the church throughout history. This is most refreshing. No pet theories or speculation taint this book... This book can be dry in spots. This probably speaks more to my distaste for "scholarly works" than any deficiency in Mr. Pelikan's writing style. However, most readers will probably find this book both captivating and edifying. I recommend it.