- Nicholas of Cusa’s Didactic Sermons: A Selection
In an accomplishment spanning over three decades and ten volumes, Jasper Hopkins has made Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401–64) available to an English-speaking readership. This volume concludes what Hopkins has called his “major scholarly activity.” (p. iv) Intended as a companion to Nicholas of Cusa’s Early Sermons: 1430–1441 (Loveland, CO, 2003), the sermons in the present volume range more widely in time, between 1431 and 1459, with most from the years 1455–57. Most of them, therefore, were preached in Brixen. The texts are in greatly disparate lengths, since they are in different forms: sermon sketches, complete sermons, and transcriptions by hearers. [End Page 609] Some were in fact small treatises that must have expanded the original sermon considerably. All were written in Latin, even though most would have delivered in German. There are few references to the localities in which they were delivered; so Cusa likely excised them when he revised or reviewed the sermons for wider circulation. Hopkins admits that his own principles of selection and arrangement were “purely subjective.” He chose “the sermons that most appealed” to him and arranged them according to his “degree of interest” (p. iii). As a result, the sermons are presented neither chronologically nor thematically. The latter would have been very difficult in any event, since there could be several themes within a single sermon.
Although Cusa’s sermons are not scholastic thematic ones in format, the content and argumentation would strain the abilities of all but the most educated. In fact, Hopkins warns modern scholars that they dare not ignore them. Didactic does not quite capture the style; as Hopkins concedes, all of Cusa’s sermons were, after all, didactic. Perhaps academic would be a good description; exegetical even better. The sermons are highly intellectual with little appeal to the emotions, so the fact that St. Thomas Aquinas was an important source comes as no surprise. But Cusa was quite capable of trimming his sails to his audience. The remarkable little treatise on “Fides autem Catholica” (pp. 95–114) places faith above or even against intellect, something one would not expect from Cusa. While Hopkins argues that if one thinks very carefully about what Cusa said, one could actually place intellect at the pinnacle. That may be, but the sermon is clearly written to suggest the opposite. Cusa affirms the faith taught by the Church as a reliable standard, especially for those who had neither the time nor the talent for intellectual pursuits. The bishop had trumped the scholar.
As always, Hopkins’s translations are clear and reliable. He has also provided a helpful list of corrigenda to the Latin texts in the Opera Omnia, currently being published by the Heidelberg Akademie der Wissenschaften.1 Hopkins also includes a useful bibliography, although the volume lacks an index. Given the variety of topics found in the sermons, the latter would have been greatly appreciated.
1. Nicolai de Cusa opera omnia (Hamburg, 1959–).