Philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa
Episode #2 of the course “Brief history of Renaissance and Modern philosophy”
15th-century German philosopher, mathematician, and man of the church Nicholas of Cusa is also known as Nicholas Cusanas and Nicholas of Kues. After becoming a doctor of canon law, Nicholas became involved in the politics of European Catholicism, eventually being made a cardinal and a Prince-Bishop in the church. Although never specifically considered heretical, his teachings were some of the first to influence the humanist ideals of the Reformation. Nicholas argued that the church needed reform because it and its members, even the Pope, had become distant from the role left by St. Peter.
Nicholas’ mystical Christian philosophy included the idea that people could not know God through their normal minds without first teaching themselves “learned ignorance.” He believed that because humans are finite creations and God is infinite, people must attempt to understand the limits between themselves and God, knowing that their ignorance is “learned.” In addition to his theology, Nicholas was a skilled natural scientist, mathematician, and botanist. He wrote over 100 books on a variety of topics, many of which were centuries ahead of their time. In order to demonstrate the limitlessness of God, he included geometric exercises and word problems in his treatise Learned Ignorance.
The latter half of Nicholas’ life was heavily involved in the politics of contemporary Europe, including the dominion of the church over princes and other rulers who were thought to be in power because of divine right. Nicholas proposed that both the Holy Roman Empire and the church needed reform, but he gave the church ultimate authority in the interpretation of scripture and Christian doctrine. He was one of the first to attempt to harmonize the relationship between political and church leaders, making his text The Catholic Concordance one of the most important texts of the next two centuries.
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