Wordtrade LogoWordtrade.com

Religion Christianity


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Nicholas of Cusa

Tracing Nicholas of Cusa's Early Development by J. de Guzman Miroy(Philosophes Medievaux: Peeters) When Nicholas of Cusa collected all his works in attractive codices at the end of his life, he did not include his earliest major work, namely, De concordantia catholica (DCC). Eventually, however, the work was included in the editions of his collected works, the earliest being the 1514 Paris edition'. From the time of its exclusion, the DCC has been considered to be outside the corpus of Nicholas of Cusa, who is now known as a metaphysician and a mystic. On the other hand, scholars of medieval political philosophy have considered him as one of the earliest thinkers to make "consent" constitutive of legitimate government. For this reason, contemporary popular academic perception regards Cusanus either as a philosopher or as a political thinker.

With the possible exception of William of Ockham, no other Western thinker suffers, if you will, from such a split image in the minds of his or her students2. What accounts for scholars' dualistic view of Cusanus? It probably arises from the dichotomy academics make between philosophy and political theory. Philosophers often think that political theory is not philosophy because of its very close relationship with ephemeral actuality. Philosophy, on the other hand, is supposed to be concerned with eternal and unchanging truths. Moreover, medievalists have not considered medieval canonist writing as part of what can be regarded as medieval thought3. This might explain the neglect of Cusanus' DCC, long held as a canonical and a political text, in the study of his speculative thought.

But how does the writer of this canonical text become the greatest metaphysician of his age, one comparable to other great metaphysicians in the history of western thought? The question, however, could be moot in the face of Cusanus' own abjuration of his canonical work. His action somehow suggests that he thought the text should not be considered part of the unity of his metaphysical writings. Yet Cusanus did not reject the earliest of his great texts because of its weakness but because of its power. It minors the very same probing spirit that penned his other famous works, such as De docta ignorantia and De visione Dei.

This is reason enough to think that comparing the DCC to Cusanus' other speculative works will be philosophically fruitful. This work seeks to find the relationship between the DCC and De docta ignorantia (DDI), which the history of philosophy has considered to be unrelated. In estab-lishing the relationship between the two texts, the study also wishes to make a case for a proper place for the DCC in the whole of Cusanus' works. To accomplish this, it will read the DCC philosophically, paying special attention to the metaphysical and religious foundations of the political philosophy. It will also do a political reading of the DDI, taking a particular interest in metaphysical notions on hierarchy and plurality. The study also tries to trace the career of the idea of concordance in the rest of Cusanus' works, especially the De pace fidei.

The study will compare the two texts, that is, it will discover the relationship between them, discerning their similarities and differences. The comparison seeks to ascertain the consistency of the ideas between the texts. But in doing this, the work does not intend to make a historical study of the relationship between the texts. The study will not primarily endeavor to establish the historical/biographical links between the two texts through the use of relevant documentary evidence. Rather, it wants to study and compare their concepts. More specifically, it hopes to read the two texts in terms of metaphysics, epistemology, and political theory as well as of the philosophy of religion and ethics. This study is not a comprehensive investigation of Cusanus' political philosophy or of his speculative thought or of the relationship between the two. It is confined to the conceptual relations between the DCC and the DDI, with some reliance on other texts, such as the Letter to Rodrigo Sanchez de Arevalo and De pace fidei.

That this study asks a fifteenth century figure — very much medieval and not yet renascent — to join the scene where players ask the all too press-ing question of the relationship between politics and religion, should be startling enough. Does Cardinal Cusanus really have anything important to say to liberals, post-moderns, anti-metaphysicists, and anti-religious types? For this reason, a historically careful reading of his thought on politics and religion becomes necessary. What makes this conceptual comparison dif-ficult is the lack of a historical comparison of the two texts. Most Cusanus scholarship still reflects the prevailing dichotomy between the "political Cusanus" and the "speculative." The reason for his abandonment of the Council of Basel is a question that has long held the interest of Cusanus' biographers, a problem further complicated by the paucity of sources for Cusanus' brand of papalism. Nevertheless, this work will be limited to the comparison of philosophical ideas that critically take into account the avail-able historical data. Thus, the reader should be careful not to take the conclusions as historical conclusions. Hopefully, the conclusions of this study will aid future endeavors. The aim here arises simply from the question "What if one compares Cusanus' DCC and DDI?" Whimsical though the beginnings may be, the study hopes to arrive at serious conclusions. More than that, it wishes to view Nicholas of Cusa as proof of the possibility of human beings attaining success in both their public and private lives.

The work has seven chapters. The first chapter discusses Conciliarism and the Conciliar Movement as the context of the ideas of the DCC. It mentions historical details that should afford the reader a better grasp of the text, such as a short narrative of the Conciliar Movement from the Great Schism to the self-dissolution of the Council of Basel. More importantly, it not only discusses conciliarism's ecclesiology but also its polit-ical and philosophical presuppositions. For this reason it provides a discussion on the meaning and development of papal plenitudo potestatis, which conciliarism sought to refute. The chapter argues that conciliarism tried to counter papalist claims a) by counteracting a heavily canonical view of government, and b) by questioning the philosophical tenability of absolute power. Finally, the chapter discusses the relevance of medieval canon law in broadening our understanding of medieval thought.

Chapter II is the first of three chapters on the DCC. This chapter pre-sents the theoretical framework of the DCC's conciliarism. It discusses, firstly, its metaphysics, which includes emanation metaphysics, the trini-tarian worldview, and the metaphysics of concordance. The chapter asserts that concordance, as the unity of diverse and unequal parts, is the overriding principle that marks the DCC's aim to argue an intermediate conciliar position. Secondly, it deals with the rational discourses Cusanus used for his moderate political position, namely, a) the reassessment of canon law in view of more fundamental divine and natural law, and b) the appropriation of traditional materials (sacred scriptures, canons of ancient councils, and the teachings of the Fathers) for political philosophy. In this way, Cusanus was able to redefine Church authority through new notions of unity and the whole. Chapter III, on the other hand, questions the dominant view that the DCC's political philosophy is based mainly on egalitarianism. The chapter shows that not only does the notion of concordance validate hierarchy but it requires it. Concordance is the basis of all other arguments Cusanus uses in the DCC; namely, rule of law and con-sensus. The chapter also emphasizes that Cusanus based his political position on natural freedom and the impossibility of absolutism. Finally, it tries to bring out the relevance of DCC's political ideas to the philosophy of religion, especially how Cusanus combines the notions of the holy, power, and law. The DCC, however, is an example of how religion and politics can be combined to produce an intermediate and moderate political philosophy.

The fourth chapter presents the DCC's constitutional ideas. It provides the details and prescriptions for achieving concordance by delineating the functions of and relationship among the papacy, the council, and the emperor. This section reveals the prescriptive nature of the DCC as a text, which distinguishes it from the symbolic and speculative nature of the later works. But, as Chapter II shows, these prescriptions have a broader basis in a meta-physics of concordance. This chapter ends with a discussion of Cusanus'

place in the Council of Basel. It concludes, however, that the questions are complex and require a great deal of research not only into the Council of Basel but also into the Council of Constance and individual conciliarists. Nonetheless, it presents some evidence that Cusanus shared many of the Basel positions, such as communal sovereignty, corporation theory as well as the effort to provide constitutional limits to Church government. The chapter also tries to compare Cusanus with other Basel conciliarists, such as Heimericus de Campo and Juan de Segovia. Admittedly, Cusanus disagreed with Basel on major points, such as conciliar infallibility and normative ruler-ship. Nevertheless, knowing Cusanus position in the Council of Basel may be helpful in ascertaining his reasons for shifting to the side of the papacy.

Chapter V discusses the DDI, proffering a reading of the text not only from the point of view of metaphysics but also from that of the philos-ophy of religion and political philosophy. It begins with the DDI's meta-physics of participation, and then discusses the transcendence of God. It asserts mainly that learned ignorance is a principle by which a) the human being perceives the finitude of his knowledge, b) understands transcendent reality, and c) seeks union with that reality. It shows how the DDI accounts for the relationship between God and creatures, through a) the couplet complicatio-explicatio, b) the notion of maximum contraction (Jesus), and c) the intellectual and spiritual means of learned ignorance and faith. The final section of this chapter talks about the political implications of the DDI's metaphysical and religious ideas. It shows how Cusanus moderates the idea of hierarchy through a) the notion of plurality, b) the subsuming of external hierarchy to interior transcendence, c) the idea that religion does not obscure a person's par-ticularity, and d) the idea of love as perfection of faith. The DDI, then, is a metaphysical work by which Cusanus refashioned himself as a papalist. But even in this new political alliance, Cusanus retains his moderation. The DDI's metaphysics affirms hierarchy without reducing reality to inequality through discourses on plurality, transcendence, and learned ignorance.

Chapter VI discusses the problem of this work directly. It argues that the DDI forms a discontinuity with the DCC by a) explaining Cusanus' later political philosophy as expressed in the Letter to Rodrigo de Arevalo and b) his later ideas on Church government as found in the last chapter of the DDI. It will demonstrate that the DDI develops the problems and solutions of the DCC insofar as it also asks the question of concordance. The later work, however, is properly philosophical for it no longer asks how unity can be achieved, but what it is. It sharply diverges from the conciliar tract when it equates unity with God, who is considered the coincidence of opposites. As a systematic work, the DDI also enables Cusanus to provide theoretical justification for the idea of non-infallibility found in the DCC. At the same time, the principle of learned ignorance causes him to move beyond the identification of the holy with the Law and the idea that the mind can reach certitude about religious matters. Instead, Cusanus affirms that the transcendent can only be reached through the continuous negation of one's knowledge of God. The discovery of the transcendence of God also led Cusanus to see the Goodness of God. The DDI, however, does not follow up the DCC's reflec-tions on the will and freedom, which it discusses only indirectly through ideas on individuality. Most of all, the chapter will argue for the development through the transformation of the metaphysics of concordance into the metaphysics of contraction. The new metaphysics detaches the idea of concordance from the divine and limits it to finite reality. Furthermore, the later metaphysics is not another name for the same meta-physics for it not only speaks of multiplicity but also of particularity. The chapter ends by showing how the ethical prescriptions of the DCC are also transformed within the DDI's notion of intimacy.

The seventh chapter serves as an epilogue and briefly describes the development of the metaphysics of concordance in the rest of Cusanus' metaphysical works. It will show that although Cusanus foreswore the DCC at the end of his life, he nonetheless continued to use and improve it. He not only subsumes it within the metaphysics of contraction, but cou-ples it with differentias as well. This means that creatures are also con-nected in accordance with their differences. Furthermore, the idea of con-cordance figures prominently in the irenicism of the De pace fidei, which stated that the transcendence of God is expressed in the variety of rites. The existence of a single religious rite would obscure his absoluteness. As such, the chapter gives prima facie evidence for why the De pace fidei, as a symbolic work, did not seek to prescribe the establishment of a single religion.




Headline 3

insert content here