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.
Beyond this thinking, which is always present, there is the development of methodological thought, thought which goes on according to logical rules and methods of dealing with experiences. This methodological thought, if expressed in speaking or writing and communicated to other people, produces theological doctrines. This is, of course, more than the thought element which is implied in every life. This is a development beyond the more primitive use of thought. And ideally such development leads to a theological system, not because systems are especially nice to dwell in – everybody who dwells within a system feels after a certain time that it is a prison, and even if you produce a systematic theology, as I did, you always try to go beyond it and not to be imprisoned by it. Nevertheless the system is necessary because the system is the form of consistency. And I repeat here what I repeated in my answer to my critics in the book on my theology, that those of my Union Theological Seminary students who have the greatest misgivings about the production were most impatient with me when they discovered that two of my statements disagreed with each other; that means, they were unhappy in finding one point in which the hidden system had a gap. But when this system was developed, then they felt it was a mean attempt on my side to imprison them! This is a very interesting double reaction, but understandable because if the prison is taken as a final answer, then it is of course even worse than a prison. If it is understood as an attempt to bring theological concepts into consistent expression, where none contradicts the other, then you cannot escape a system. And even if you think in fragments–as some philosophers and theologians (and some great ones) have done–then every fragment contains implicitly a system. When you read Nietzsche’s fragments – I think he is the greatest fragmentist in philosophy – then you can find in each of his fragments a whole system of life and world implied. So you cannot escape a system except if you want to make verbal statements which are nonsense and completely contradict each other. And that is, of course, sometimes done.