Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mathematical Theologies: Nicholas of Cusa and the Legacy of Thierry of Chartres

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Mathematical Theologies: Nicholas of Cusa and the Legacy of Thierry of Chartres

Article excerpt

Mathematical Theologies: Nicholas of Cusa and the Legacy of Thierry of Chartres. By David Albertson. [Oxford Studies in Historical Theology.] (New York: Oxford University Press. 2014. Pp. xiv, 483. $74.00 clothbound. ISBN 9780-19-998973-7.)

If his first major publication is any indication of his future career, David Albertson will be one of the key figures in late-medieval philosophy and theology for decades to come. Winner of the 2014 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise, Mathematical Theologies reads like the product of a mature scholar. The overall framework of the book is a response to one of the classic narratives of the origins of modernity, what Albertson calls the mathesis narrative- essentially, the thesis that figures like Galileo and Descartes led the transition to modernity when they rejected medieval notions of the cosmos and replaced them with a cosmology rooted in precise mathematics. While granting that one of the marked features of modernity has been the mathematization of reality, Albertson disputes the widely held assumptions that mathematization was "new" in the seventeenth century and that it necessarily required a rejection of theology (i.e., secularization). The proof for his thesis is the deep fusion of mathematics and theology at the core of the work of two significant medieval theologians, Thierry of Chartres and Nicholas of Cusa. Part 1 of the book is an introduction to classical Pythagorean philosophy, a subcurrent in the Platonic tradition, which saw in mathematics both a reflection of and a means to ascend to the one divine source. Despite the fact that Platonism deeply influenced the whole Christian theological tradition, the major sources of Platonic thought available in the medieval West (Proclus through Pseudo-Dionysius, and Plotinus through St. Augustine) intentionally suppressed the Pythagorean aspects of the tradition. The one exception to this was the quadrivium of Boethius, which preserved a strong mathematical emphasis, but one clearly separated from his theological writings.

Part 2 focuses on the twelfth-century figure of Thierry of Chartres. …

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