The late distinguished professor at Yale produced a five-volume series of books (1685 pages) about Christian doctrine from the ancient Church to the present.
I’m not an academic type person. I read this to get the big-picture. It turns out that there are a lot of Pelikan’s biases in the writing (which he admits). He was raised Lutheran, so there is as a consequence a large amount of material about the doctrines of the Reformation (as he points out, the Reformers and their followers challenged all the doctrines of the Catholic Church.
But, only in the last chapter of the last volume does he indicate the overall emphasis in each (arbitrary) period of doctrinal development. It is perhaps owing to the lack of the printing press and other means of communication that some of the disputes lasted for centuries and centuries.
This book could be subtitled the review of the heresies of Christianity since the beginning up to the present.
I would advise anyone attempting to read this series to make a cheat-sheet organized by doctrine (or heresy) and the person who that doctrine (or heresy) is attributed to. In one pass through of reading, I certainly did not come away with any competency of this complex subject.
Pelikan investigates the doctrines with his unrelenting energy. He really delves into these in great detail. His list of primary and secondary sources is extensive. He is described as a master teacher.
He seems to accurately describe Catholic doctrine, and how the Roman Catholic Church just hangs out there all by itself in promulgating doctrines and dogmas, despite the opposition. The information he covers in 10 pages might represent a couple centuries of theological study.
It is surprising to learn that early “Catholic” theologians were accused of heresy, even Augustine and Aquinas. He didn’t seem to expand on how Augustine embraced Manicheanism for seven years, after he became a Catholic.
The Reformers challenged that there was a visible church that one could call “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” He explores each of those attributes virtually ad absurdem. There are those who feel the Catholic Church is none of these.
Augustine shines as an early “father” of the church, for Catholics and Reformers, respectively choosing different quotation from him to support their position. He seems to have largely favored predestination, but there is some acknowledgment of free will in his writing.
It was an effort to plow through all this reading. Pelikan ended the book largely praising Lumen Gentium from Vatican II, for how it addressed a lot of concerns internal and external to the Church.