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Nicholas of Cusa

(1401—1464)


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(1401–64),

German philosopher. In 1433 he took part in the Council of Basle as an advocate in a dispute concerning the see of Trier; he also worked for the reconciliation of the Hussites and procured the acceptance of the Calixtines by the Council. He originally favoured the Conciliar Movement, but he became estranged from its supporters and from 1437 devoted himself wholly to the cause of the Pope. Nicholas V made him a cardinal and in 1450 appointed him Bp. of Brixen (in the Tyrol) and Papal legate for the German-speaking countries. He worked for reform until a conflict with Duke Sigismund forced him to leave his diocese. He spent his last years in Rome.

In intellectual outlook Nicholas was a forerunner of the Renaissance. His main work, De Docta Ignorantia, was a defence of his two celebrated principles, ‘docta ignorantia’ and ‘coincidentia oppositorum’. ‘Docta ignorantia’ was the highest stage of intellectual apprehension accessible to the human intellect, since Truth, which is absolute, one, and infinitely simple, is unknowable to human beings. Knowledge by contrast is relative, multiple, complex, and at best only approximate. The road to Truth therefore leads beyond reason and the principle of contradiction; it is only by intuition that we can discover God, the ‘coincidentia oppositorum’, wherein all contradictions meet.

Subjects: History by Period — Christianity.


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