In the tension between the philosopher Hegel and the theologian Schleiermacher, you know that Schleiermacher emphasized the function of “feeling,” or emotion, in religion; and Hegel, who emphasized the function of thought, said: “Even dogs have feeling, but man has thought.” Now this was based on an unintentional misunderstanding of what Schleiermacher meant with “feeling,” a misunderstanding which we find very often even today. But it expresses some truth.
Man cannot be man without thought. He must think even if he is the most primitive devotional Christian, with no theological education or understanding.
Even in religion we give names to special objects. We distinguish acts of the Divine. We relate symbols to each other. We explain their meaning. There is language in every religion, and the existence of language means that there are universals, and of universals that there are concepts, and of concepts that one must think, even on the most primitive level. It is interesting that this fight between Hegel and Schleiermacher was anticipated by a man like Clement of Alexandria, in the 3rd century, who said that the religion of animals, if they had a religion, would be mute, without words. And he must have derived from this that every man who lives religiously, must participate in religious thought.
Now I repeat : REALITY PRECEDES THOUGHT. But I repeat also : THOUGHT SHAPES REALITY. These two are interdependent. You cannot abstract the one from the other.
Therefore when you shall fall into despair – which you certainly will, when we come to the sections on trinity and Christology, where much thinking is needed because the Church Fathers for hundreds of years did much thinking about these problems – don’t forget that the decisions which were made on the basis of this thinking are decisions which have influenced the life of the most primitive Christian, ever since, not because they understood the discussions going on between the philosophical theologians, who were in classical Greek philosophy, but in the way the devotional life itself developed. The decisions of the Church councils are omnipresent, and they are omnipresent even in the least theological congregations today in this country. So don’t underestimate them, as I certainly wouldn’t ask you to overestimate them.