Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary


Religion, Theological Studies PhD

First Advisor

Fernando L. Canale

Second Advisor

Miroslav M. Kis

Third Advisor

Martin Hanna


Topic. Due to the nature of the discipline, the importance of our understanding of the meaning of the term "system" in systematic theology cannot be gainsaid. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be little discussion or critique to how this term is being used and its meaning is often taken for granted, even though it seems to mean different things to different authors.

Purpose. To address this ambiguity, this study takes a close look at the etymological development of this word in its various linguistic forms as it has been used in theology through history. Then, based on this etymological analysis, an intensional definition is proposed with analysis of each element represented inthat definition (whole, parts, and articulation) to clarify the meaning of this term as it has been used in theology. Finally, from that definition and its isolated elements, an instrument of analysis (the architectonic analysis) is designed and applied to two examples of theological systems to demonstrate the function of this idea in theology.

Sources. For the etymological survey, this study focused primarily on theological and philosophical works inhistory that address the meaning of the word "system" with its Greek (συστημα) and Latin (systema ) roots. These sources begin with the introduction of the word into theological usage with Bartholomew Keckermann's Systema logicae (1600) and trickle off shortly after Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), with particular attention to John Heinrich Lambert, Immanuel Kant, and Soren Kierkegaard. In additional to my own bibliographical research, I was indebted to Otto Ritschl's System und systematische Methode in der Geschichte des wissenschaftlichen Sprachgebrauchs und der philosophischen Methodologie (1906). For the application of the architectonic analysis on specific examples, I chose the iconic works of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica and Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.

Conclusions. After applying the architectonic analysis to the works of Aquinas and Barth, the definition proposed--'A theological system is a cognitive whole of articulated theological doctrines'--was found adequate to account for the structures represented by the Summa Theologica and Church Dogmatics . That is, based on the meaning of system as it is used in theology, these two works can confidently be called "systems." Also, inaddition to confirming the meaning of this word and demonstrating its function in these great works, the architectonic analysis proposed here exposed the essential element of a conditioning, transcendental principle in anything properly called a system. That is, a system will always include at least one independent, necessary part, which provides the basis for both the whole expected and the articulation of its parts. Additionally, reminiscent of Gödel's incompleteness theorem, this part is axiomatic and transcendent, and can not be validated or invalidated by the system in which it is found, but separately, as a dependent part in a greater system.

Subject Area

Theology, Theology, Doctrinal, System (Theology)