The Life and Works of Nicolaus Cusanus

The Life and Works of Nicolaus Cusanus

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

After the death of Guilelmus de Ockham, the world was preparing for the beginning of a new era.

During these preparations, nearly half a century after Ockham’s death, perhaps the most striking thinker of the fifteenth century, Nicolaus Cusanus was born in 1401. While some introduce him as the last philosopher of the Middle Ages, others accept him as a genius who connects and fuses nominalism and Neoplatonism in a way that has never been tried before.

Some writings also raise the following striking question about him: “Was Nicolaus Cusanus the last of the ancients or the first of the moderns?” (Dupre & Hudson, 2006: 466). This question, of course, should be considered as an opportunity to follow the conciliatory and unifying features of both periods in it.

He was born in Kues, Germany, as the second child of a family of four children. He is also known as Nicholas Krebs, as his father’s name was Johan Krebs. In 1416 he entered the University of Heidelberg, one of the oldest universities in Europe. Then he went to the universities of Cologne and Padua and continued his education there. He was ordained as a priest in 1426. For the next few years he wrote only pastoral works. He took on many duties for the Papacy. He was in Istanbul for a short time and made efforts to unite the Churches. In 1450 he was elected cardinal and appointed bishop of Brixen in the Italian Tyrols. During his cardinal rule, he traveled extensively in Germany. He initiated many reformist initiatives prepared by the local committees of his entourage. However, very few of them came into effect. He died in 1464. His grave is in the Church of St. Pietro in Vincoli, but his body is missing. It is claimed that his heart was removed at his own request and buried in Kues (Maurer, 1982: 419; Dupre & Hudson, 2006: 467).

Today, in his library in the city of Kues, located on the banks of the Moselle river, it is possible to watch live the rivers that Cusanus wrote in his own manuscripts and various works. The works he read came from the pen of Augustine, Proklos, Dionysios, Ibn Sina and Meister Eckhart. All of these works were written in Latin. In contrast, Cusanus knew Ancient Greek and Hebrew as well as Latin.

Nicolaus Cusanus was not only the most brilliant thinker of the fifteenth century; He is also a prominent figure as a Church statesman, mathematician, legislator and diplomat. Therefore, he is someone who has produced many works in many different fields. However, two of his works stand out in every respect. In one of his early works, De Concordantia Catholica (On the Harmony of Catholicism), in which he advocated the idea of ​​the unity of the Church, he argued that the collective unity of faith was the source of all authority in the Church. Thus, he argued that the personal authority of the Pope could not be superior to that of the Consul.

In his most famous work, De Docta Ignorantia (About Learned Ignorance), which he wrote on the way back from his duty in Istanbul, he argues that ignorance obtained as a result of education is the greatest virtue. Among his other works, De Visione Dei (About the Appearance of God) stands out as an important theological text.

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