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Reviewed by:
  • Cusanus: The Legacy of Learned Ignorance
  • D. P. O'Connell
Peter J. Casarella , editor. Cusanus: The Legacy of Learned Ignorance. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006. Pp. xxxii + 280. Cloth, $74.95.

The past years have seen the official completion of the Opera Omnia of Nicholas of Cusa and have witnessed, as well, the production of a plethora of new studies on this fifteenth-century thinker. It is no longer enough, however, to be familiar with scholarship in German, Italian, and English in order to have a comprehensive view of the newer Cusanus research. One must also have a command of Spanish and Portuguese as well. An informal survey of the Philosopher's Index, by no means exhaustive, of the secondary literature on Cusa reveals that over the last decade, the ratio approaches 1:1 when one compares Spanish and Portuguese entries on Cusa with those in other languages. Although Cusa was already a figure of interest in these two countries in the early 1960s, due in no small part to the work of Eusebio Colomer involving Ramon Llull, and that of Mariano Álvarez-Gómez, one can now see the work of these earlier scholars bearing fruit in the work of their students and their students' students. This scholarship, while it may be categorized broadly as history of philosophy or ideas, has tended to focus primarily on three fields of philosophical interest: philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics. It has involved a community of scholars not only from Spain and Portugal—João Maria André bears mention here—but also in Brazil and in Argentina, where Claudia D'Amico, together with others, recently organized a major international conference on Cusa held in Buenos Aries and attended by many, including Peter Casarella, the editor of the work under review here, who himself presented in Spanish.

The studies in this present volume—the fruit of a conference held at The Catholic University of America in October 2001—present, by contrast, the work of many of the most prominent American interpreters of Cusa, including Louis Dupré, Bernard McGinn, Karsten Harries, Jasper Hopkins, Paul Sigmund, Cary Nederman, Elizabeth Brient, and Il Kim, as well as offerings from some of their counterparts in Germany and the Netherlands, including Wilhelm Dupré, Regine Kather, Thomas Prügl, and even Walter Andreas Euler of the Theological Faculty of Trier University, who, in April 2007, was appointed the new director of the Institut für Cusanus-Forschung at Trier. There is also an English translation included of one of the rare vernacular sermons of Cusa, which was the subject of a workshop during the conference; the translation is by Frank Tobin and it is accompanied by an illuminating introduction by Nancy Hudson. There is a short preface by Morimichi Watanabe, who just last year retired as the founding President of the American Cusanus Society, and the whole book is more than capably introduced by the editor, who makes an insightful contrast between the papers that came out of a 1964 conference in Brixen (Nicolo' Cusano agli inizi del mondo moderno [Firenze, 1970]), which commemorated the 500th anniversary of Cusa's death, in 1464, just as this conference celebrates the 600th anniversary of his birth, in 1401. [End Page 314]

Historians of philosophy will probably find the most useful contributions to be those of Harries, Brient, Hopkins, and Louis Dupré, though this should not be taken to suggest any deficiency in the other contributions, which are of a uniformly high calibre.

Jasper Hopkins draws together the two figures on which he has spent much of his time at Minnesota, Anselm of Canterbury and Cusa, offering a reading of the latter that highlights his debt to Anselm and that may be seen, among other things, as an antidote to the readings of Hermann Cohen and Ernst Cassirer of Cusa as a proto-Kantian and "the first modern." Dupré's essay looks at pantheism from Eckhart to Cusa, not just in a historical context, but with regard to the metaphysical and religious-philosophical content of each thinker's writings. Harries' contribution, to my mind one of the gems of the volume, examines the intellectual...