Nicholas of Cusa
Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – August 11, 1464), also referred to as Nicolaus Cusanus and Nicholas of Kues, was a German philosopher, theologian, jurist, astronomer, cardinal and mystic of the Catholic Church. One of the first German proponents of Renaissance humanism, he made spiritual and political contributions in European history. A notable example of this is his mystical or spiritual writings on "learned ignorance," as well as his participation in power struggles between Rome and the German states of the Holy Roman Empire. Papal legate to Germany from 1446, he was appointed cardinal for his merits by Pope Nicholas V in 1448 and Prince–Bishop of Brixen two years later. In 1459 he became vicar general in the papal states.
- 1 Quotes
- 2 Quotes about Cusa
- 3 External links
- It is you, O God, who is being sought in various religions in various ways, and named with various names. For you remain as you are, to all incomprehensible and inexpressible. When you will graciously grant it then sword, jealous hatred and evil will cease and all will come to know that there is but one religion in the variety of religious rites.
- Great Thoughts Treasury 
- You know how the divine Simplicity enfolds all things. Mind is the image of this enfolding Simplicity. If, then, you called this divine Simplicity infinite Mind, it will be the exemplar of our mind. If you called the divine mind the totality of the truth of things, you will call our mind the totality of the assimilation of things, so that it may be a totality of ideas. In the divine Mind conception is the production of things; in our mind conception is the knowledge of things. If the divine Mind is absolute Being, then its conception is the creation of beings; and conception in the human mind is the assimilation of beings.
- With the senses man measures perceptible things, with the intellect he measures intelligible things, and he attains unto supra-intelligible things transcendently.
- God, therefore, is the one most simple essence of the entire universe.
- Within itself the soul sees all things more truly than as they exist in different things outside itself. And the more it goes out unto other things in order to know them, the more it enters into itself in order to know itself.
- Nicholas of Cusa and Jasper Hopkins (Translator). On Equality. 1459.
- Now I behold as in a mirror, in an icon, in a riddle, life eternal, for that is naught other than that blessed regard wherewith Thou never ceasest most lovingly to behold me, yea, even the secret places of my soul. With Thee, to behold is to give life; 'tis unceasingly to impart sweetest love of Thee; 'tis to inflame me to love of Thee by love's imparting, and to feed me by inflaming, and by feeding to kindle my yearning, and by kindling to make me drink of gladness, and by drinking to infuse in me a fountain of life, and by infusing to make it increase and endure. 'Tis to cause me to share Thine immortality. . . . For it is the absolute maximum of every rational desire, than which a greater cannot be.
- Theosophy Trust, Great Teachers Series 
- Life, as it exists on Earth in the form of men, animals and plants, is to be found, let us suppose in a high form in the solar and stellar regions. Rather than think that so many stars and parts of the heavens are uninhabited and that this earth of ours alone is peopled – and that with beings perhaps of an inferior type – we will suppose that in every region there are inhabitants, differing in nature by rank and all owing their origin to God, who is the center and circumference of all stellar regions
- De docta ignorantia 
- Of the inhabitants then of worlds other than our own we can know still less having no standards by which to appraise them.
- The universe has no circumference, for if it had a center and a circumference there would be some and some thing beyond the world, suppositions which are wholly lacking in truth. Since, therefore, it is impossible that the universe should be enclosed within a corporeal center and corporeal boundary, it is not within our power to understand the universe, whose center and circumference are God. And though the universe cannot be infinite, nevertheless it cannot be conceived as finite since there are no limits within which it could be confined.
De concordantia catholica (The Catholic Concordance) (1434)
- Translated by Kevin Gallagher 
- That all legislation is based on the natural law, and that all coercion must be brought about by the choice and consent of the subjects, since we are equally free by nature, and that jurisdictions that are created have no power from themselves, but only according to the laws and canons. This is a fine argument.
- Therefore since all men are free by nature, every government that restrains its subjects from evils and uses the fear of punishment to orient their freedom towards the good, whether it consists of written laws or of a living law in the person of the prince, is constituted only by the agreement and consent of the subjects. For if by nature men are equally powerful and equally free, then the true and well-ordered authority of one who is a fellow and equal in power can only be established by the choice and consent of others, just as laws are established by consent
- A human society comes together by a general agreement in order to obey its kings. So in a truly well-ordered regime there ought to be an election of the ruler himself, by which the ruler is set up as the judge of those who choose him. Well-ordered and correct lordships and honors, then, are established by election, and so also are general judges established over those who elect them.
- Now men, who from the beginning have been gifted with reason above all animals, which is a great advantage for the conservation of their fellowship and community, and for the end on account of which each one of them exists. Indeed, having come to understand what is necessary through rational discourse, they were moved by a natural instinct to unite with one another and, once they were living together, to construct villages and towns. And if man had not discovered the rules for preserving peace against the corrupt inclinations of many, union would not have been enough to save him. And it is for this reason that cities were established, in which the citizens are united, and there are laws to preserve that unity and agreement by the common consent of all, and there are also guardians over them all, with the power to do as much as is necessary for the public good.
- By a law that was divine, most admirable, and bestowed by grace upon all, it was made known to men that community was greatly in their interest, and that they are therefore preserved by an order in which laws are established by the common consent of all, or at least of the wise and heroic, with the others’ support
- For we see that man is a civil and political animal, and is naturally inclined to civilization.
- Now law ought to be made by all those who are to be bound by it, or by a majority in an election, because it is for the good of the community, and what affects all ought to be decided by all, and a common decision can only be reached by the consent of all, or of a majority. There can be no excuse for disobeying the laws when each has established the law for himself.
De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance) (1440)
- Translation by Dolan (1962)
- In God, absolute unity is absolute multiplicity, absolute identity is absolute diversity; absolute actuality is absolute potentiality
- For a persistent and continued ascent to [the Principle and Source of] life is the constituent element of increased happiness.
- Wisdom is not to be found in the art of oratory, or in great books, but in a withdrawal from these sensible things and in a turning to the most simple and infinite forms. You will learn how to receive it into a temple purged from all vice, and by fervent love to cling to it until you may taste it and see how sweet That is which is all sweetness. Once this has been tasted, all things which you now consider as important will appear as vile, and you will be so humbled that no arrogance or other vice will remain in you. Once having tasted this wisdom, you will inseparably adhere to it with a chaste and pure heart. You will choose rather to forsake this world and all else that is not of this wisdom, and living with unspeakable happiness you will die.
- I am a -living shadow and Thou the Truth... Therefore, my God, Thou art alike shadow and Truth; Thou art alike the image and the Exemplar of myself and all men.
- The greatest danger against which most men have warned us is that which comes from communicating intellectual secrets to minds become subservient to the authority of an inveterate habit, for such is the power of a long-lasting observance, that most men prefer death to giving up their way of life.
- All we know of the truth is that the absolute truth, such as it is, is beyond our reach.
- Therefore, the inhabitants of other stars — of whatever sort these inhabitants might be – bear no comparative relationship to the inhabitants of the earth (istius mundi ). [That is true] even if, with respect to the goal of the universe, that entire region bears to this entire region a certain comparative relationship which is hidden to us — so that in this way the inhabitants of this earth or region bear, through the medium of the whole region, a certain mutual relationship to those other inhabitants. (By comparison, the particular parts of the fingers of a hand bear, through the medium of the hand, a comparative relationship to a food; and the particular parts of the foot [bear], through the medium of the foot, [a comparative relationship] to a hand — so that all [members] are comparatively related to the whole animal.) Hence, since the entire region is unknown to us, those inhabitants remain altogether unknown.
- trans. Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: Arthur J Banning Press, 1990), 119 – 20.
De Pace Fidei (The Peace of Faith) (1453)
- Translation by William F. Wertz
- News of the atrocities, which have recently been perpetrated by the Turkish king in Constantinople and have now been divulged, has so inflamed a man [Cusa himself] who once saw that region, with zeal for God, that amongst many sighs he asked the Creator of all things if in His kindness He might moderate the persecution, which raged more than usual on account of diverse religious rites. Then it occurred that after several days—indeed on account of lengthy, continuous meditation—a vision was manifested to the zealous man, from which he concluded that it would be possible, through the experience of a few wise men who are well acquainted with all the diverse practices which are observed in religions across the world, to find a unique and propitious concordance, and through this to constitute a perpetual peace in religion upon the appropriate and true course.
- You know, Lord, that a great multitude cannot exist without much diversity and that almost all are compelled to lead a laborious life full of troubles and afflictions, and in servile subjugation must be subject to the kings who rule. Hence it has occurred, that only a few men have enough leisure time to employ the freedom of their will and to gain knowledge of themselves. They are distracted by many corporeal cares and duties. Thus they cannot seek You, who are the concealed God.
- For this reason You have given Your people diverse kings and seers, who are called prophets, of whom the majority instituted cults and laws corresponding to the purpose of their legation in Your name, and thus instructed the uncultivated people. They subsequently accepted these laws, as if You, the King of Kings, had spoken with them face to face, and believed they heard not those men, but rather You in them.
- To the various nations, however, You have sent various prophets and masters, the one for this, the other for another time.
- Therefore, come to our assistance, You who alone are powerful. For this rivalry is on account of You, whom alone all venerate in all that they seem to adore. For no one desires anything in all that one seems to desire other than the Good, which You are. Also in all intellectual deliberation no one searches for something other than the true, which You are. What does the living search for other than life? What does the existing search for other than existence? You, therefore, who bestow life and existence, are that one, who seems to be sought differently in the diverse rites and is named with diverse names, since You as You are remain unknown and ineffable for all.
- We praise our God, whose mercy rules over all His works and who alone has the power to bring it about, that such a great diversity of religions would be brought together in one harmonious peace
- You will not find another faith, but rather one and the same single religion presupposed everywhere
- There can only be one wisdom. For if it were possible that there be several wisdoms, then these would have to be from one. Namely, unity is prior to all plurality
- Even though you acknowledge diverse religions, you all presuppose in all of this diversity the one, which you call wisdom
- See, therefore, how you, the philosophers of various schools of thought, agree in the religion of the one God, whom you all presupposed in that which you as lovers of wisdom acknowledge
- All men strive and hope for nothing other than eternal life in their human nature. For this they instituted purgations of souls and sacred rites, in order to be better adapted in their nature to that eternal life.
- Translation by H. Lawrence Bond 
- From one individual was multiplied the many people who inhabit the earth's surface. And even if that intellectual spirit, sown in earth and swallowed up in shadow, does not see the light and the source of his beginning, nevertheless, you created along with him everything through which he, kindled by wonder at those things which he contacts by the senses, can sometimes lift the eyes of his mind to you, the Creator of all, and can be reunited to you in highest love and so can finally return to his source with joy
- Therefore, come to our aid you who alone are able. For this rivalry exists for sake of you, whom alone they revere in everything that all seem to worship. For each one desires in all that he seems to desire only the good which you are; no one is seeking with all his intellectual searching for anything else than the truth which you are. For what does the living seek except to live? What does the existing seek except to exist?
- Therefore, it is you, the giver of life and being, who seem to be sought in the different rites by different ways and are named with different names, because as you are you remain unknown and ineffable to all. For you who are infinite power are none of those things which you have created, nor can a creature grasp the concept of your infinity since there is no proportion between the finite and the infinite. But you, almighty God, who are invisible to every mind, are able to show yourself as visible to whom you will and in the way in which you can be grasped. Therefore, do not hide yourself any longer, O Lord; be merciful and show your face, and all peoples will be saved who are no longer able to forsake the source of life and its sweetness when they have had even a little foretaste of them. For no one withdraws from you unless he does not know you.
- If thus you would deign to do this, the sword and the bilious spite of hatred and all evil sufferings will cease; and all will know that there is only one religion in the variety of rites. But if perhaps this difference of rites cannot be removed or if it is not expedient to do so in order that the diversity may contribute to devotion, as when any region expends a more attentive effort in performing its ceremonies as if they would become the more pleasing to you, the King: at any rate, just as you are one, there should be one religion and one veneration of worship. Therefore, may you be appeased, O Lord, for your wrath is compassion and your justice mercy: spare your weak creature. So we, your deputies, whom you have placed as keepers for your people and whom you see here, humbly beseech your majesty by every means of entreaty possible to us
De visione Dei (On The Vision of God) (1453)
- Translation by Salter (1960)
- Hence, in Thee, who art Love, the lover -is not one thing and the loved another, and the bond between them a third, but they are one and the same-Thou, Thyself, my God. Since, then, in Thee the loved is one with the lover, and being loved [is one] with loving, this bond of coincidence is an essential bond. For there is nothing in Thee that is not Thy very Essence.
- I see, Lord, through Thine infinite mercy, that Thou art Infinity encompassing all things. Nothing exists outside Thee, and all things -in Thee are not other than Thee
- I behold Thee, 0 Lord my God, in a kind of mental trance
- Thus, while I am borne to loftiest heights, I behold Thee as Infinity
- And when I behold Thee as absolute Infinity, to whom is befitting neither the name of creating Creator nor of creatable Creator-then indeed I begin to behold Thee unveiled, and to enter into the garden of delights!
- [In that vision] nothing is seen other than Thyself, [for Thou] art Thyself the object of Thyself (for Thou seest, and art That which is seen, and art the sight as well)
Cribratio Alkorani (Sifting the Qur'an)
- Translation by Peter J. Casarella
- Moses had described a path to God, but this path was neither taken up by everyone nor was it understood by everyone. Jesus illuminated and perfected this path; nevertheless, many even now remain unbelievers. Muhammad tried to make the same path easier, so that it might be accepted by all, even idolaters. These are the most famous of the said paths to God, although many others were presented by the wise and the prophets
- Therefore in the Qur'an the splendour of the Gospel shines forth to the wise, to those who are led by the Spirit of Christ
- The goal and intent of the book of the Qur'an, is not only not to detract from God the creator or from Christ or from God's prophets and envoys or from the divine books of the Testament, the Psalter, and the Gospel, but also to give glory to God the Creator, to praise and bear witness to Christ (the son of the Virgin Mary) above all prophets, and to confirm and approve of the Testament and the Gospel. When one reads the Qur'an with this understanding, assuredly some fruit can be elicited from it
- We find passages in the Qur'an that are useful for us
Quotes about Cusa
- Arguably the most important German thinker of the fifteenth century, Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) was also an ecclesiastical reformer, administrator and cardinal. His life-long effort was to reform and unite the universal and Roman Church, whether as canon law expert at the Council of Basel and after, as legate to Constantinople and later to German dioceses and houses of religion, as bishop in his own diocese of Brixen, and as advisor in the papal curia. His active life as a Church administrator and bishop found written expression in several hundred Latin sermons and more theoretical background in his writings on ecclesiology, ecumenism, mathematics, philosophy and theology. Cusanus had an open and curious mind. He was learned and steeped in the Neoplatonic tradition, well aware of both humanist and scholastic learning, yet mostly self-taught in philosophy and theology. Nicholas anticipated many later ideas in mathematics, cosmology, astronomy and experimental science while constructing his own original version of systematic Neoplatonism...Of particular note are two works he wrote during these years that reached out to other religions, especially Islam, De Pace Fidei (1453) and Cribatio Alchorani (1461).
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
- The immense energy Nicholas constantly poured into church reform at every level never obscured his philosophical clarity nor his subtle mysticism. For him, consciousness should ever seek Divine Unity, whilst action should have fraternal harmony as its purpose. The church, according to Nicholas, is a living unity, a fraternity united to the divine presence symbolized in Christ. As Deity is simple and also light, the shadows and reflections which constitute the world catch and transmit the light only to the degree that they form a universal harmony, the primary reflection of Divine Unity. Since Divine Light is simple and therefore the referent of only one Word, language and the categories of thought are necessarily engendered from experience of the realm of shadows...Opposites suggest new levels of synthesis; Deity is the coincidentia oppositorum, the reconciliation of contraries. Thus Nicholas, who taught that knowledge in one sense is conjecture, held that a careful examination of Nature and human thought reveals contraries and contradictions that can guide one to ever greater understanding. He found time to study Islam in detail, to propose a method of squaring any circle, to argue for the rotation of the earth on its axis, and to propose that the universe is boundless in time and space. Harmony is understood, he professed, and unity achieved by loving each and every thing according to its place in the community of Nature...Drawing from Pythagoras, Dionysius the Areopagite, and Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa kept alive the mystic flame of intuition and passed it to individuals as different as Giordano Bruno and Copernicus. Whilst struggling for moral reform within a decaying structure, he subtly laid the foundation of human dignity upon which both the Renaissance and the Reformation would be built.
- Theosophy Trust, Great Teachers Series 
- Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) was a German cardinal, philosopher, and administrator. For many years he served as papal legate to popes Eugene IV, Nicholas V, and Pius II. In addition to leading an extremely active public life, Nicholas managed to write extensively on a wide variety of juridicial, theological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In his philosophical writings he departed from the prevalent Aristotelian and scholastic doctrines. His first and most famous treatise, On Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia), is a mystical discourse on the finite and the infinite. In addition to presenting his important philosophical concepts of learned ignorance and coincidence of opposites, this seminal treatise also contains various bold astronomical and cosmological speculations that depart entirely from traditional doctrines. For example, long before Copernicus, he proposed that the earth is not at the center of the cosmos, and is not at rest. He also argued long before Kepler that the motions of the planets are not circular. These speculations, however, were not based on empirical observations but on metaphysical principles.
- Thomas J. McFarlane (1999) 
- Nicholas read widely in various languages and was influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thinkers such as Plotinus and Proclus. Nicholas also drew inspiration from Dionysius and Meister Eckhart. From Anselm he took the notion of God as ultimate Maximum. From Ramon Lull he took the idea that the infinite is the joining of beginning, middle, and end. The fundamental insight that inspires Nicholas’s thought, however, comes not from his wide learning, but from a mystical illumination in 1437 during a journey home from Constantinople. This gift from God, as he describes the vision, provided him with the key that allowed him to talk about the ineffable, and provided a way of viewing opposites as coincident from the point of view of infinity. According to Nicholas, this logic of infinitude unites opposites, transcends comparison, overcomes limits of discursive reasoning, and goes beyond both positive and negative theology.
- Cardinal Cusa claimed that God sent a variety of prophets into the world in order to reveal Himself to humanity. To achieve this goal these prophets created a variety of faiths, the customs of which have, over time come to be regarded as immutable truths founded not by prophets, but by God. Since the human person has freewill, and because over time opinions, languages and interpretations undergo change, humanity needs a number of visitations to eliminate the religious errors which inevitably develop. In this manner Cusa gives such figures as Buddha and Muhammad a similar status to that of prophets of the God of Israel...In short there is but one religion, but a diversity of religious faiths. Because of this Cusa does not think that religious diversity need be a source of conflict. For Cusa since the diversity of faiths are merely different ways of articulating the same underlying truth, there is no real basis for mutual attacks over these differences
- David John De Leonardis, Ethical implications of unity and the divine in Nicholas of Cusa