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  • Introducing Nicholas of Cusa: A Guide to a Renaissance Man
  • Thomas E. Morrissey
Introducing Nicholas of Cusa: A Guide to a Renaissance Man. Edited by Christopher M. Bellito, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Gerald Christianson. (New York/Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2004. Pp. xvi, 480. $29.95 paperback.)

Attempting to introduce Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) to the twenty-first century involves almost as much complexity and nuance as typified the subtle mind of Nicholas himself. The contributors to this volume, mostly members of the American Cusanus Society, have achieved a formidable task. The volume divides into five sections: Introduction, Church and Society, Humanism and Spirituality, Philosophy, Theology, and Science, and a Guide to Research. This works well, for it allows the readers to dip into whichever facet of Cusa's writings has the most fascination for them or one can just read the book straight through. To get a glimpse of the whole picture one would do best by reading the two chapters in Part I:Introduction, i.e., "An Appreciation"by Morimichi Watanabe and chap. 2 "Life and Works"by Donald F. Duclow. They place Cusa in the context of the fifteenth century, and they reflect the breadth of Cusa's interests, the profundity of his thought, but also how his life and works reveal his involvement in the issues and events of his lifetime: the Council of Basel, the attempt at reunion with the Greek Churches, and also an issue of his time and ours, the attempt at dialogue between the European and Christian worlds on one side and the non-Christian and especially the Muslim world on the other.

Section II presents in three chapters parts of Cusa's life that have become better known in the last two generations:[Cusa and] "Reform" by Brian A. Pavlac, "The Church"by Thomas M. Izbicki, and "Political and Legal Ideas" by Morimichi Watanabe. One of the terms in Cusa's mystical theology and metaphysical thinking could be very aptly applied here:"the coincidence of opposites."Pavlac concentrates on Cusa and reform in a discussion of his deeds. Cusa was an advocate of the contemplative life but was constantly on the move, involved in the major crises of his day. He worked for reform as a bishop and preacher but was also a collector of benefices, a curialist at the heart of what many saw as the major structure in need of reform. He was open-minded and a realist in his dealings with the Hussites at Basel and wrote his major treatise (De concordantia catholica) at Basel but then broke with Basel to side with Pope Eugenius IV in hope of having a better chance of reuniting the churches. His personal intervention and journey to Constantinople in pursuit of union led to the remarkable vision and shift in thinking while on the return voyage which leads into the third part in this volume:Humanism and Spirituality. [End Page 309]

Here several writers expound on Cusa and "Renaissance Humanism" by Pauline M. Watts, "Mystical Theology" by H. Lawrence Bond, "Preaching"by Lawrence F. Hundertsmarck, and "Interreligious Dialogue" by James E. Beichler. Many of the insights and clarifications in these are helpful for the section that follows. The fourth section "Philosophy, Theology, and Science" through no fault of the authors presents the most dense reading:"Knowledge and the Human Mind"by Clyde Lee Miller; "Christ and the Knowledge of God" by Walter Andreas Euler; "Sacraments" by Peter Casarella; and "Mathematics and Astronomy" by Tamara Albertini. In reading these it is good to consult chap. 15 "AGlossary of Cusan Terms" by H. Lawrence Bond since Cusa's themes of enfolding-unfolding (complicatio-explicatio), learned ignorance (docta ignorantia) among others play a significant role.

Clyde Miller discusses the relation of God's mind and the human mind, Cusa's idea of the "conjectural" nature of all human knowledge and how this way of thinking, a pre-Cartesian mind-set, is easily misunderstood in later analysis. Walter Euler's essay presents a theme, discussed earlier, that Cusa while striving for interfaith dialogue and openness to the insights and contribution of other religions (e.g., Biechler's article) also tried to balance...


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