The North African bishop Cyprian’s greatest influence was on the doctrine of the Church. The problem which he discussed was also a very existential one – as in all Church history very few people were mere scholars; most of them had very fundamental existential affairs and concerns, and out of that arose their doctrines.
In the moment in which a theology says something which you cannot existentially realize any more, either the theology is bad or you have not yet had a special experience – both things are possible. But usually, I would say, the theology then is bad, or these parts of a theology are bad. And I believe – this is self-criticism – that in every theological system there are, besides those elements which are creations of existential concern and therefore full of blood and power and speaking to others, sections which are like lines drawn out in order to fill the system up, but not created on the basis of existential concern. And I believe that most of you are very sensitive to this; that is the reason why for a teacher every lecture should be a matter of fear and trembling – at least it is for this teacher! And just for this reason, because I never know, with absolute exactitude, (whether) something I tell you in systematics – and my whole “history of Christian thought” is very much systematic, as you know – is existential or not. That is the meaning of the word “existential.” Nietzsche called it “spirit”, and then he has said: Spirit is the life which cuts into its own life; out of its own suffering it produces its own creativity… He doesn’t use the word existential, but that’s what it means.
For the people like Cyprian, the problems of the Church were existential problems.