Edited by Paolo Ponzù Donato
In the writings of John Chrysostom and especially Augustine we find appreciation of nature as a “layman’s Bible,” but it is not until the fifteenth century that this idea becomes widespread. Raymond of Sabunde (c. 1385–1436) was the first thinker to emphasize not only the obvious chronological priority and availability of the book of nature, but also its interpretative clarity in comparison with the book of Scripture. Raymond’s direct influence on Nicholas of Cusa and their conjoint influence on Jan Amos Comenius (1592–1670), the “teacher of nations” and early modern educational and religious reformer, is evident. Less familiar, however, is Comenius’ triadization of the traditional book metaphor. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the two traditional dyads “book of nature–book of Scripture” and “book of the mind–human books” transform into the metaphorical book triad “nature–mind–Scripture.” Such a transformation is slightly suggested already in Augustine and Hugh of St Victor, diffidently expressed in Bonaventure and Cusanus, explicitly postulated in sixteenth-century Lutheran mysticism, and finally impressively developed in Comenius’ universal method of pansophia. Yet while diffident, Cusanus’ development of this theme is nonetheless important. Drawing on the Anselmic, Lullist and “Sabundian” tradition of natural theology, Cusanus as nomenclator Dei seeks God in the maximal Unity that is the same (or “not-other”) with his Triunity. Cusanus’ employment of the book metaphor for both nature and mind prepares the way for Comenius, whose project of universal reform, in the words of Jan Patočka, “suddenly breaks out with a volcanic power from its Cusan germs.” The hypothesis of this chapter is that Comenius’ universal reform included – not as an epiphenomenon but as a conscious and productive intention – the triadic reform of the traditional book metaphor, inspired by Cusan ideas.
Richard J. Oosterhoff
Before their ill-fated efforts at Meaux in the 1520s, the circle of Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples undertook a programme of ressourcement in patristic and medieval authors. They especially turned to Boethius, last of the ancients and first of the medievals, whose legacy formed the central corpus for medieval learning. Uniquely, Boethius left mathematical books that hinted at theology, and theological books that drew on mathematics – themes picked up by twelfth-century thinkers and Nicholas of Cusa. The possibility that mathematics might bridge the arts and theology fascinated these early French reformers, and they produced important editions of Boethius, the Victorines, and of course Cusanus. Pursuing the thread of the “mathematical Trinity” through some of these commentaries and editions, this chapter explains why this influential circle – like Cusanus – thought mathematics might be an essential tool in the reform of university, monastery, and even the diocese.
An ancient axiom claims that there is no proportion between the finite and the infinite. In the context of the Christian tradition, which considers nature as creation, creation as the image of the Word of God, and God as ens infinitum, this raises a problem. For it seems that it is forbidden for human thought, which is necessarily finite in character, to contemplate the infinite origin, reveal its footprints in nature, and, consequently, find (and found) the true science. The only way to escape this paradox is paradoxically to enter inside it and come to understand reality as symbolic. For both Cusanus and Leibniz, access to the inaccessible understanding of the infinite consists in symbols. Since mathematics traditionally represents the privileged science of symbolic expression, the core of their inquiry consists in a mathematical treatment of symbols. Through their exploration of the related concepts of horizon and limit, both thinkers offer an analogical approach to the symbolic nature of quantity, and this in turn profoundly shapes their conceptions of continuity, infinity and God. Moreover, their reflections on infinity not only raise the question of the role of a symbolic understanding of nature in the rise of mathematical science, but also show the importance of this notion in the wider reform of human knowledge and praxis.
Thomas M. Izbicki and Luke Bancroft
Nicholas of Cusa became known as the Hercules of the Eugenian cause, supporting Eugenius iv against the Council of Basel. Eugenius had at first been closely allied with Rome’s Orsini clan and served mostly by fellow Venetians. By the time he returned to Rome in late-1443 Eugenius had come to welcome into his circle of advisors a broad cohort whose various skills and perspectives proved invaluable in the struggle to win back authority for a papacy that was at one time threatened on all fronts. How did a pope whose early years were characterized by stubbornness and repeated diplomatic blunders win the adherence of men like Cusanus, Juan de Torquemada, or Flavio Biondo? Eugenius discovered during a troubled reign the need to employ men of talent – men such as those named above – rather than just relying on Orsini clients and natives of the Veneto. Eugenius’ work for unity became more important to Cusanus than the reforms the Council of Basel tried to impose. Nor did service to Eugenius prevent him from seeking, often in vain, reform of Church and Curia. Despite occasional gaffes, the pope became able to recognize merit in these men and others who aided his cause, rewarding their service with favour and promotion.
The Figure of Nicholas of Cusa
Michael Edward Moore
During the 1920s in Germany, medieval and Renaissance studies, while innovative, were carried out in an atmosphere of anxiety, as may be seen in the work of Warburg, Klibansky, Panofsky or Curtius. For his part, Ernst Cassirer combined the cultural philosophy of the German idealist tradition with the Kulturwissenschaft of the Warburg Library to develop a unique approach to the history of philosophy. In the context of Weimar-era political apprehension, the Renaissance became for Cassirer a site of exploration regarding the ability of philosophy to lead the creative tasks of culture. Cassirer saw the philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cusa as a key figure in Renaissance philosophy and the emergence of modernity. Cassirer’s interpretation is best understood against the backdrop of the Weimar era. Nicholas of Cusa’s vindication of human creativity and individual existence served as a focus for Cassirer’s defense of humanistic culture.
Gary W. Jenkins
Cusanus’ 1453 treatise De visione Dei, written as an exercise in mystical theology, marks a final stage in Cusanus’ Trinitarian theology, one developed from his initial statements in De docta ignorantia. Far from being based on a mere reworking of Latin Trinitarianism, Cusanus demonstrates a detailed and imaginative theology that is at once Augustinian and Dionysian. Cusanus had been impacted both in his reading of Dionysius and his understanding of God by his time in Constantinople, and this impact can be traced through his works, beginning with De concordantia catholica (written before his embassy to Constantinople and thus forms the baseline for his understanding of the Areopagite) and through such late works as De apice theoriae. This presents a strange legacy for Cusanus in subsequent thought, since most of the Reformers rejected Dionysius’ hierarchical theology, they would blatantly disdain Cusanus’ ecclesiology in De concordantia catholica; and since they held to the medieval inheritance of God as first actus purus they could never extricate themselves from the interminable debates about relationships within the Trinity. they could never extricate themselves from the interminable debates about relationships within the Trinity.
Towards a Reassessment
Simon J.G. Burton, Joshua Hollmann and Eric M. Parker
Nicholas of Cusa is today widely acknowledged as a seminal thinker of modernity. Yet, in the words of Stefan Meier-Oeser, he still remains a “forgotten presence” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Here the theme of the entire volume, and especially the multivalent concept of reform employed, will be introduced and placed in relation to the existing scholarship on Cusanus and early modernity. The rationale for the section division into theological, ecclesiological, perspectival and methodological reform will then be explored. The introduction will conclude with a detailed contextual summary of each of the four sections and the papers within them.