Cusanus: A Legacy of Learned Ignorance

edited by Peter J. Casarella
Copyright Date: 2006
DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk
Pages: 309
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This volume offers a detailed historical background to Cusanus's thinking while also assaying his significance for the present. It brings together major contributions from the English-speaking world as well as voices from Europe.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2035-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.1
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.2
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.3
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.4
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxx)
    Peter J. Casarella
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.5

    As Morimichi Watanabe has already indicated, the contributors to this volume all participated in a conference in October 2001 at the Catholic University of America to mark the sixth centenary of the birth of Nicholas of Cusa. The previous May some of the participants had also attended a gathering in Nicholas’s birthplace. Following the precedent already set at the symposium in Bernkastel-Kues, the participants in the Washington conference discussed “Nicholas of Cusa: 1401–2001.”¹ Although the two events were separated in time and place, serious effort was made in each case to link the one whom Klaus Kremer named “one...

  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxxi-xxxii)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.6
    (pp. 1-25)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.7

    The text of the sermon on the Pater noster (the “Our Father”) is based on a homily given by Nicholas of Cusa on January 1, 1441, in Augsburg. The transcription and dissemination of the sermon was done at the request of the bishop of Augsburg, Cardinal Peter von Schaumberg.

    Seven manuscripts of the sermon in his native Mosel-Franconian dialect and one incomplete early Latin translation are extant. Although the written version remains in the form of a sermon, it incorporates many of the philosophical concerns with which he was preoccupied, including those of De docta ignorantia. Certainly the Neoplatonic movement...

  8. 2. SEEING AND NOT SEEING Nicholas of Cusa’s De visione Dei in the History of Western Mysticism
    (pp. 26-53)
    Bernard McGinn
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.8

    In Exodus 33:20 God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one will see my face and live.” But in Genesis 32:30 Jacob names the place where he wrestled with a divine adversary “Phanuel,” claiming “I have seen God face-to-face and my soul has been saved.”¹ Similarly, after his vision of “the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne” in the Temple, Isaiah announces, “with my own eyes I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:5); but in Deutero-Isaiah 45:15 we find the proclamation: “Truly, you are a hidden God, the Savior God of...

    (pp. 54-73)
    Jasper Hopkins
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.9

    During this sexcentenary of the birth of Nicholas of Cusa, there is an almost ineluctable temptation to super-accentuate Cusa’s modernity—to recall approvingly, for example, that the Neokantian Ernst Cassirer not only designated Cusa “the first Modern thinker”¹ but also went on to interpret his epistemology as anticipating Kant’s.² In this respect Cassirer was following his German predecessor Richard Falckenberg, who wrote: “It remains a pleasure to see, on the threshold of the Modern Age, the doctrine already advanced by Plotinus and Scotus Eriugena, received [by Cusanus] so forcefully that time, numbers, spatial figures, and all categories ... are brought...

    (pp. 74-88)
    Louis Dupré
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.10

    The term “pantheism” did not exist before the eighteenth century. Giordano Bruno and Baruch de Spinoza, now often associated with the pantheist position, were called atheists. The term was coined by the Irish philosopher John Toland and received the meaning that came to define it from Gotthold E. Lessing’s confession that, to him, God was hen kai pan, one and all. The first Vatican Council condemned the doctrine according to which “una eademque [est] Dei et rerum omnium substantia” (the substance of God and all things are one and the same).¹ This kind of pantheism is incompatible with a religious...

  11. 5. THE IMAGE OF THE LIVING GOD Some Remarks on the Meaning of Perfection and World Formation
    (pp. 89-104)
    Wilhelm Dupré
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.11

    In considering the metaphor of man as a living image of God, I am taking up a theme central to the thought of Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464). One of the reasons for focusing on Cusanus is the six-hundredth birthday that we commemorated in 2001. But more important than this external reason is the relevance of his ideas to the contemporary understanding of reality and what it means to be a human being. In the light of the questions that inspired him to think about the most elementary features of humanity, we discover that the problems of his age are...

    (pp. 105-126)
    Karsten Harries
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.12

    Were it possible, I would have begun this essay by showing an episode from Roberto Rosselini’s The Age of Cosimo de’ Medici, a film dating from 1972. Its third part focuses on Leon Battista Alberti. Included is a meeting between Alberti and Cusanus, supposed to have taken place in Florence at the time of the council that fleetingly reunited the Eastern and the Western Church. In the film it is the mathematician and doctor Paolo Toscanelli who appears to have brought Cusanus and Alberti together. The scene begins with a brief consideration of some of Toscanelli’s achievements as geographer and...

    (pp. 127-142)
    Walter Andreas Euler
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.13

    The original working title of this paper was “The Christology of the Cribratio alkorani.” While working on my presentation, however, I came upon a short article among my papers about a painting in Sassoferrato, Italy, from the late fifteenth century, whose proximity to the ideas of Cusanus’s Cribratio alkorani is fascinating. Since it is likely that only a very few Cusanus scholars know about the painting at all, and since I consider it to be—along with the Cribratio alkorani—one important document in the Christian examination of Islam, I could not resist the temptation to put this painting at...

    (pp. 143-149)
    Il Kim
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.14

    Preaching in his episcopal see of Brixen on the feast of All Saints in 1456, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa confirmed the pivotal importance of painting to his understanding of reality:

    Consider then a painter who, when he wants to depict something, e.g., a narrative of some sort, intuits the very concept of painting the thing and fashions a picture in the likeness of the idea that he intuits within himself. But until the intellect undertakes to depict the art of painting, it could depict nothing that can be painted according to any particular fashion, not the heavens, the earth, an...

    (pp. 150-177)
    Thomas Prügl
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.15

    In his Dialogus concludens Amedistarum errorem (“Dialogue Resolving the Error of the Amedists”), a polemical work that Nicholas of Cusa writes to justify his ecclesiological and political turnaround, the Disciple reminds the Master that he has still to explain the argument of infallibility. The Master, trying to evade the issue, answers: “This seems so unimportant to me that I have decided to ignore it.”¹

    Although—or indeed because—Cusanus tries to lay a false scent, it is worth studying his ecclesiology, paying particular attention to the concept of infallibility. I shall suggest that for Cusanus infallibility is one of the...

  16. 10. EMPIRE MEETS NATION Imperial Authority and National Government in Renaissance Political Thought
    (pp. 178-195)
    Cary J. Nederman
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.16

    The study of Renaissance political thought by both historians and political philosophers in recent decades has concentrated disproportionately upon civic republicanism—to the point, indeed, that one might well be surprised to discover that thinkers of the quattrocento knew of, let alone embraced, any other political doctrine.² Yet in truth— and pace a long line of scholars including, most recently, the contributors to the volume Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage³—civic republicanism was, practically speaking, a historical dead end. The way forward in shaping the political landscape of modernity lay instead with the territorial nation-state, organized usually around monarchic power...

  17. 11. MEDIEVAL AND MODERN CONSTITUTIONALISM Nicholas of Cusa and John Locke
    (pp. 196-209)
    Paul E. Sigmund
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.17

    The study of political theory involves the analysis of the origin and historical development of central concepts of government. One such concept is that of constitutionalism, which has a long history in Western political thought. This paper will examine the development of the idea of constitutionalism and evaluate a current debate about the relation of the medieval and modern forms of that concept. We will use the writings of Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), George Lawson (1598–1678), and John Locke (1632–1704), to identify elements of continuity and of change in constitutionalist thinking.

    The term “constitutionalism” has been defined...

  18. 12. HOW CAN THE INFINITE BE THE MEASURE OF THE FINITE? Three Mathematical Metaphors from De docta ignorantia
    (pp. 210-225)
    Elizabeth Brient
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.18

    Early on in De docta ignorantia, Nicholas of Cusa clearly states a fundamental principle of his speculative metaphysics: “[I]t is evident that there is no proportion between the infinite and the finite.”¹ When two things stand in a proportional or comparative relationship, Cusanus holds, they agree in some respect, by virtue of which agreement they can be compared. At the same time, the two things maintain a degree of difference with one another, for otherwise they would fall into identity and would no longer be two distinct things. Indeed, Cusanus holds, number is a necessary condition of all comparative or...

  19. 13. “THE EARTH IS A NOBLE STAR” The Arguments for the Relativity of Motion in the Cosmology of Nicolaus Cusanus and Their Transformation in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
    (pp. 226-250)
    Regine Kather
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.19

    In Book II of his treatise De docta ignorantia, Cusanus initiated a decisive transformation in the idea of the universe. For the first time in occidental cosmology, the universe loses every center. Neither the earth nor the sun, as even Nicholas Copernicus continued to maintain, is the center of the cosmos.

    Concerning the decentering and the relativity of motion of the celestial bodies, Cusanus can be called a predecessor of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Nevertheless, the form of argumentation that leads Cusanus to his thesis differs completely from the method that Einstein practiced. And, as a consequence, the relation...

  20. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 251-254)
    Peter Casarella
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.20
  21. List of Contributors
    (pp. 255-260)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.21
  22. Index of Names
    (pp. 261-268)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.22
  23. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 269-280)
    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt284vvk.23