Nicolaus Cusanus’ Understanding of Man and MicrocosmJune 27, 2021
According to Nicolaus Cusanus, man’s place in the universe is unique; because man is located between the angels and the physical world. This sharing was also expressed by philosophers before Cusanus. Man has been understood by almost all medieval philosophers as a creature who establishes the relationship between the material and the spiritual.
For Cusanus, every individual thing can be understood more or less as a contraction of the universe. These contractions form various layers of existence, and the most competent of these layers is human. If man could be lifted up in these layers of existence to unite with the Absolute Infinite; then human nature would become the most perfect fullness of all things, and according to Cusanus this was the case only in Jesus in the whole universe (Hopkins, 1978: 38).
Apart from this, the most important feature of man is that he can contain both matter, organic and animal life, and rationality at the same time. Therefore, according to Cusanus, it would be correct to call man a microcosm. Because of this feature, the return of any human to God will mean that the creation itself returns to God. Therefore, man is nothing but the most perfect reflection of the universe. Man was created in the image of God (imago Dei) (Maurer, 1982: 321; Hopkins, 1978: 40). The fact that man is the closest creature to God only causes him to get closer to God among the created creatures in the universe. According to Cusanus, man’s recognition of God does not occur through mentalization or philosophization. As stated above, according to Cusanus, man’s recognition of God, who is also his ultimate goal, is realized through the revelation of Jesus (Hopkins, 1978: 39).
Cusanus’s statement that there is harmony in the universe arising from the unity of contradictions actually meant the complete rejection of the Aristotelian principle of noncontradiction and the Aristotelian understanding of the universe. As it is known, the Aristotelian universe consists of a finite sphere with the earth at its centre. Around the globe is the realm of fixed stars. The Earth is stationary at the center and the other spheres show a circular motion around it. All movements are measured according to this center, and since the objects move against the center, there are upward and downward movements. However, according to Cusanus, there is no question of an environment limiting the universe. According to him, although the universe does not have a border, it is not unlimited either. The most striking judgment of Cusanus is that since the universe does not have a limiting circumference, its center cannot be found either (Maurer, 1982: 322).
According to Cusanus, we cannot talk about a center of the universe, since there is no perfect circle in the universe. However, in the past, the centrality of the world has been questioned because of the existence of human beings. Thus, Cusanus may be considered the father of the idea that planets have elliptical orbits. According to Nicolaus Cusanus, the earth moves like other celestial bodies and its motion is determined according to other movements. Johannes Kepler, in his first work, stated that Cusanus inspired him divinely. Not just Kepler; also important astronomers such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei were aware of his work. One of Cusanus’ most important determinations is that there is a relative relationship between movement and space in terms of the viewer (Maurer, 1982: 322).
This kind of understanding of the universe of Nicolaus Cusanus is associated with the idea that man can never fully know this universe. Man brings together the perspectives he has obtained by looking at reality from many different points and times. However, what emerges is not the whole truth; but it is just an act of forming an idea. This is of course not hypothetical and is based on the measurement of objects. Just like the knowledge of God, the knowledge of the universe is also partly available to us. Therefore, according to Cusanus, we should settle for close knowledge of the truth and never put absolute and complete knowledge in our expectations. Learned ignorance must be at work here too.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook