Mysticism: the pornography of academic philosophers – Nicholas of Cusa and Hegel – part five

What Hegel read but never acknowledged and what all the academics missed. Why?

09.12.13

From Johann Gottlieb Buhle, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie seit der Epoche der Wiederherstellung der Wissenschaften, in six volumes, Johann Georg Rosenbusch, Göttingen, 1800, volume 2

pp. 341-353 continued

De sapientia, a work in three books, is a commentary on De coniecturis. It is in dialogue form, an imitation of the similarly titled dialogue of Petrarch.1 A Layman and an Orator (professor of rhetoric) meet in the Roman Forum; the former scoffs at scholastic learning, the latter defends it. The author makes a third person, describing the external setting of the dialogue. In the third book a fourth person makes his appearance, a renowned philosopher from outside Rome, present there for the Jubilee, whom the Orator meets by chance. Nicholas, speaking in the person of the Layman, presents in a popular form his theory of the numbers as the beginnings of knowledge. He begins with the observation that the people in the Roman Forum are counting money, weighing goods, measuring out commodities. How are they able to do this, he asks the Orator. And he proceeds to expound his philosophical system of numbers in its application to God, the world, and the soul. These dialogues demonstrate once again that the gift of setting out philosophical concepts in a comprehensible, popular manner was one utterly denied to Nicholas. Before long the Layman is speaking in such mathematically mystical terms that the Orator would be fully justified in throwing back at him the rebukes he himself suffered for his scholastic learning at the beginning of the dialogue. How much more appropriate and interesting is the Petrarchian dialogue that Nicholas is seeking to imitate! That Nicholas gives himself the role of the Layman is not so much due to contempt for scholastic learning, which Petrarch indeed shared, but to Nicholas’ desire to present his philosophy as one of non-knowing, as merely the outcome of speculation, as he called it, and thus opposed to the supposititious knowledge of the rhetoricians and philosophers of his time; for the renowned foreign philosopher too is brought by the Orator to the Layman and has to submit to his teaching.

Nicholas deals in particular with the numbers as the most appropriate signs of the nature of objects in a treatise of which the compendium has been transcribed;2 as he further expounds his theology in the treatises De visione Dei (On the vision of God), De Dato Patris luminum (On the gift of the Father of lights), De quaerendo Deum (On seeking God), De venatione sapientiae (On seeking for wisdom), and De apice theoriae (On the Summit of Contemplation).3 These last treatises differ from the aforementioned in being even more thickly interwoven with Alexandrine mysticism; in them Nicholas adopts much of the mystical theological enthusiasm of Dionysius the Areopagite, one of his favourite authors (as he is of most philosophers of the Middle Ages as well as of Nicholas’ own day), whom he follows almost without reserve. Nicholas further shows himself a fiery zealot on behalf of Christian Catholicism against the Muslims and the Bohemian Hussites. In a separate work he undertakes a comparison of Christianity with the religion of Mohammed,4 proves the Koran a forgery, and defends Christianity against the reproaches of the Moorish philosophers, in some cases from passages of the Koran itself. The Bohemians or Hussites are the target of four Epistles. His remaining works are concerned with mathematics, astronomy and physics.5

Part five/to be continued…

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Notes

1. The opening of the dialogue is just like Petrarch’s, except that the Layman and the Orator, as the author notes, go to a barber shop to continue their philosophical discussion undisturbed (Vol. 1, fol. 75). I would draw attention to the following passage of the dialogue: ORATOR. Quomodo ductus esse potes ad scientiam ignorantiae tuae, cum sis Idiota? IDIOTA. Non ex tuis, sed Dei libris. O. Qui sunt illi? I. Quos suo digito scripsit. O. Ubi reperiuntur? I. Ubique. O. Igitur et in hoc foro. I. Immo etiam dixi, quod sapientia clamat in plateis. O. Optarem audire quomodo? I. Si te absque curiosa inquisitione affectum conspicerem, magna tibi panderem. O. Potesne hoc brevi tempore efficere, ut qui(d) velis degustem? (ORATOR: Since you are a Layman, how are you able to be led to a knowledge of your ignorance? LAYMAN: Not from your books but from God’s books. O.: Which books are they? L.: Those that He wrote with his finger. O.: Where are they found? L.: Everywhere. O.: Therefore, even in this Forum? L.: Yes, indeed! I have already said that wisdom proclaims itself in the streets. O.: I would like to hear how it does so. L.: If I saw that you were not motivated by idle curiosity, I would disclose to you important matters. O. Can you at this moment bring it about that I sense what you mean?) — We see that the Layman speaks as the scholar ought to speak, and the scholar as the Layman ought to. In Petrarch the converse is the case. In the second book or dialogue the Rhetorician goes looking for the Layman, finds him circa templum aeternitatis (near the Temple of Eternity), and the conversation resumes. In the third dialogue the Rhetorician meets the Philosopher, a stranger, on a bridge over the Tiber and takes him to the Layman, who is carving wooden spoons in the basement of a house. The Layman is of the opinion that if the stranger is a true philosopher he will not despise his occupation. The Philosopher replies that Plato too is said to have painted now and then.—Nicholas appends to each dialogue the time it took to complete. The first was written in one day in July 1465, the second in two days in early August, and the third and longest near the end of August.

2. Vol. 1, fol. 169

3. Ibid. fol. 99, fol. 193, fol. 197, fol. 201, fol. 219

4. Cribrationes Alchorani libb. III (A Scrutiny of the Koran) (3 books)], Vol. I, fol. 126ff.

5. Nic. Cus., Epistolae contra Bohemos (Epistles against the Bohemians), Works, Vol. III, fol. 5

English translations of the works of Cusanus by Jasper Hopkins

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