Nicholas of Cusa and His Age: Intellect and Spirituality

Nicholas of Cusa and His Age: Intellect and Spirituality

Nicholas of Cusa and His Age: Intellect and Spirituality

Nicholas of Cusa and His Age: Intellect and Spirituality


This volume commemorates the 6th centennial of the birth of Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), a Renaissance polymath whose interests included law, politics, metaphysics, epistemology, theology, mysticism and relations between Christians and non-Christian peoples. The contributors to this volume reflect Cusanus multiple interests; and, by doing so they commemorate three deceased luminaries of the American Cusanus Society: F. Edward Cranz, Thomas P. McTighe and Charles Trinkaus.Contributors include: Christopher M. Bellitto, H. Lawrence Bond, Elizabeth Brient, Louis Dupré, Wilhelm Dupré, Walter Andreas Euler, Lawrence Hundersmarck, Thomas M. Izbicki, Dennis D. Martin, Yelena Matusevich, Bernard McGinn, Clyde Lee Miller, Thomas E. Morrissey, Brian A. Pavlac, and Morimichi Watanabe.Publications by Charles Trinkaus: Edited by C. Trinkaus and H.A. Oberman, The pursuit of holiness in late medieval and renaissance religion, ISBN: 978 90 04 03791 5 (Out of print)


Depending on the perspective we choose, we can approach Cusanus as a writer who resumes and develops themes of traditional spirituality or as an author who problematizes the meaning of the spiritual tradition in ways which make it necessary to speak of distinct features in his understanding of spirituality. In this paper I would like to concentrate on the second approach. What distinguishes this approach from the first one is the understanding of the human being as creator of its own world and of history as the place where this creativity begins to become visible in forms of different worlds. To the extent that this understanding succeeds, it permits us not merely to focus on the principles, the elements and the conditions of human world creation, but it also becomes a tremendous challenge to apply its insights to one’s own world and to structure and restructure its meaning accordingly.

To outline some of the features of a spirituality which finds its expression in and through the dynamics of human world creation, I will proceed as follows. I begin with a sketch of the place where spirituality becomes an issue in the thought of Nicholas of Cusa. In the two steps that follow, I intend to discuss the meaning of spirit and mind respectively. I conclude with a few remarks on highlights in the assessment of the spirituality of Cusanus.

Place of Questioning

In a formal sense we could describe the spirituality of Cusanus as anticipation and enactment of an ongoing synthesis between the God-given meaning of unfolding the human potential and the intention to structure one’s life accordingly: first as human being, then as Christian, and finally as the person one happens to be because of circumstances and by vocation.

The central idea in this description is the complementarity between complicatio and explicatio, between enfolding and unfolding, as a comprehensive feature of all being and becoming. Whatever we know is marked by evolution and development. Every being is, in essence, becoming, with variable beginnings and results, and its specific form is a structured whole without which nothing exists. In fact, if we focus on ourselves and the whole of mankind, there can be no doubt that we are, as individuals who have been born and grown up, and as cultures which emerged in history, the result of multiple processes, and that the unfolding of mankind provides the milieu in which we find the form and features of our humanity.

However, what distinguishes humans from other beings we are aware of is both the need and the ability to relate to these processes, and to begin anew in this relation. In the necessities of becoming we encounter the freedom of making decisions and giving preferences. In the experience of actions we face multiple

1 I refer to his sermon Erunt novissimi primi et primi novissimi, in Excitationum libri decem, in Opera, 3 vols. (Paris, 1514), 2.75v.

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