address appears in the July
6, 2001 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.
Nicolaus of Cusa's 600th Birthday:
A Dialogue of Cultures
Helga Zepp LaRouche
following speech was delivered on May 6, 2001, at a conference
of the Schiller Institute in Bad Schwalbach, Germany. Subheads have been
added. An audio/video
version is also available.
is an extraordinary joy for me to speak about my good friend, Nicolaus of
Cusa. And, given the fact that it is his birthday somewhere between April
and June, he will be 600 years old. And I really mean the joy of a friend
having a birthday, because when a friend has a birthday, you realize that
without this individual, the world would be so much poorer. And I hope that
with my remarks I will interest you in studying Nicolaus of Cusa, his ideas
and concepts, so that he becomes one of your dear friends, too, if he is not
reason why this particular man is so extraordinarily important is, because
it was his ideas which gave the beautiful, Italian Renaissance, the Golden
Renaissance of Florence, an even higher expression, because he was the
towering genius among all the many geniuses who came together at that point.
And it was this unbelievable, fantastic explosion of human creativity
expressed in this Renaissance, which succeeded in overcoming the Dark Age of
the Fourteenth century. And it is more urgent than ever before, to study the
example of the Golden Renaissance, to find the clues to how we can overcome
the Dark Age of today.
during Nicolaus's time, when the issue of peace was of the highest
actuality, so today we have terrible wars raging in Africa, in the Middle
East, in the Balkans, but also within nations, like Colombia, Indonesia, and
many other countries. The image of man, which Nicolaus so beautifully
defined, is once again in shambles; and when the British press talks about
"culling people" in the context of the next global flu epidemic,
being the equivalent of hoof and mouth disease for human beings, you can see
what the value of human life is today. As in Cusa's time, the challenges of
these new diseases are such that a new scientific revolution is required.
But, also, the issues which concerned him—namely, what should be the
principles according to which countries, nations, and peoples relate to each
other?—are of the utmost importance today.
answer all of these questions, one of the most important struggles to
understand, both then and now, is the conflict between those, on the one
hand, who contributed to the emergence of the sovereign nation-state,
through fundamental changes in world outlook during the transition from the
Thirteenth to the Fourteenth centuries, and especially in the Fifteenth
century and Nicolaus's contribution; and those on the other side, who wanted
to go back to imperial structures of the period before that, such as the
forces of globalization today. That globalization is a new version of the
old Roman Empire, an Anglo-American version, which actually kills entire
continents and turns the world into a global plantation, is now being seen
by more and more people.
how precious the instrument of the sovereign nation-state actually is for
the defense of the common good, and what enormous efforts it took, to arrive
at the concepts of national sovereignty and a community of states based on
international law—the knowledge of this has been thoroughly obscured by
those who benefit from globalization, and who point to the nation-state as
the source of all evil.
I want to do in this presentation, is to set the record straight, and
completely agree with that genius of international law, the late Baron
Friedrich von der Heydte, that the ideas of a community of states based on
international law, are so very integral to European culture, that this
culture cannot even be thought of, without them. Globalization directly
threatens the very essence of European culture. Let me therefore present to
you some of the ideas, which went into the emergence of the nation-state and
the community of nations based on international law, and then show you, why
the works of Nicolaus of Cusa meant a qualitative change in the tradition of
all Platonic thinkers before him, and why his breakthrough of the
coincidentia oppositorum, the thinking of the opposites in
coincidence—which today is represented in a qualitatively enriched form by
Lyndon LaRouche—is exactly the level of thinking necessary for a
of the Nation-State
what steps were necessary, for the nation-state to come into being?
Sergei Glazyev spoke two days ago about world organizations, the IMF, World
Bank, WTO; and if, while I'm speaking, you think about the emergence of the
nation-state, you can actually see that the effort to put these current
instruments of globalization in control of the world, is an effort to turn
the clock back before a.d. 1000, 1100; actually, before the idea of
Middle Ages in Europe were essentially dominated by two poles: the Holy
Roman Empire, on the one hand, and the Papacy, on the other; but, despite
changing rivalries, these were united in the concept of a universal,
occidental Christianity, in which the philosophical idea of the "reductio
ad unum," the reduction of the multitude to unity, governed the
political thinking of the time. For example, the "Königsspiegel"
("The King's Mirror") of Gottfried of Viterbo (1180) develops this
universal idea of the Emperor, with all its tradition, in a straightforward
way. Even if there were other, regional ruling structures from the Tenth to
the Twelfth centuries, one could not call these regional power formations,
took the decisive change in political thinking, during the transition from
the Thirteenth to the Fourteenth centuries, for the different aspects of
what eventually, with Nicolaus of Cusa, constituted the sovereign
nation-state, to emerge.
the turn from the Thirteenth to the Fourteenth century, the top of the old
hierarchical order—the Empire, and the Church as a temporal power—lost
influence, and power structures on a lower level were strengthened.
Eventually, these no longer recognized any power, or decision-making
authority, above them, abrogating to themselves the right to decide about
the life and death of their subjects.
in the beginning, these regional ruling structures achieved a
"status," a state, état.
Infante Peter of Aragon talks in his "Fürstenspiegel"
("Prince's Mirror") of 1355, of a "conservative status."
The same formulation is used in a letter by Petrarch to Francesco of Carrara,
about the administration of the community. Also, English authors of the
Fourteenth century use the word "status" for "state."
only challenge to the universal hierarchical order of the Holy Roman Empire,
was in the Tenth and Eleventh century establishment of Norman monarchies on
the outskirts of the Empire—in western France, England, Sicily, Russia,
and Poland—which ignored the philosophy of the power of the Empire, and
based themselves on a strong administration, their own nobility, a mercenary
army, a jurisdiction, and a coherent financial and trade policy. The Norman
historian Orderic Vitalis (1075-?1143), for example, did not entertain the
idea in his work, that the Holy Roman Empire of his time continued the Roman
Empire of the past, but assumed instead that it was the Normans who were the
carriers of world historical development, for which divine providence had
selected them. This was a peripheral development, but it did not go
two individuals who can be called the pioneers—not prophets, but
pioneers—of the modern state, were John of Salisbury (1120-80) and
Guillaume d'Auvergne (?1180-1249); their social teaching was, however, still
based on a cosmological order. John of Salisbury wrote the so-called
Policraticus, a work of state theory, "[a]bout the vain worries of the
courtiers and the influence of the philosophers," which is one of the
few timeless works of state science. But the "res publica" is
still, for him, embedded within a spiritual hierarchy. The same is true for
Guillaume d'Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, who in 1235 wrote of the "state
of the angels," being a model for the commonwealth on earth. These two
books were the first social theory ever, and crucial for the new theory of
the state in France, in which the tendency for a developing nation-state was
Policraticus, taught by the Cistercian monk Heliand von Froidemont and
Guillaume d'Auvergne, influenced Gilbert of Tournoi, Thomas Aquinas,
Bonaventura, and Aegidius Colonna of Rome, who wrote the first modern theory
of the state.
of Salisbury emphased political justice, as being an important step in the
evolution of political theory. Aegidius Colonna was the first to speak of
political theory as an independent science, and he was the educator of
Philip the Fair (1268-1314).
the first sovereign nation-states emerged in England, with Henry II
Plantagenet (1154-89); in France, with Louis IX (St. Louis) (1226-70); in
Sicily, with Friedrick II Hohenstauffen (1212-1250); and in Spain, with
Ferdinand III (el Santo), and his successor, Alphonso the Wise (1252-58).
new state formations were all based on similar features. First, a clearly
ordered jurisdiction. Second, a territorial structure according to
jurisdictional districts. Third, the superiority of royal courts over those
of the nobility and Church. Fourth, the strengthening of royal courts, and
the issuance of new laws and institutions in a code promulgated in the
England, France, and Sicily, an order of financial administration developed
parallel to the jurisdiction.
result of these reforms in these four states was, that it was the new power
structure which had control over life and death, it being exclusively in the
hands of the leadership of the state, and no longer in the hands of the
was a consolidation of power internally, and at the same time, a declaration
of sovereignty toward the external. What that meant was, first, not to
recognize any higher earthly power; second, the leadership of an emperor in
his own territory; third, to be a coherent community.
notion, not to recognize any higher earthly power, suddenly became the
leitmotif of the transition from the Thirteenth to the Fourteenth centuries,
and this became one of the most powerful ideas in the development of modern
the beginning of the Fourteenth century, in the fight between Pope Boniface
VIII and Philip the Fair, this became the fighting slogan of the royalist
party. It led to the summoning of the Estates-General in 1302, and the Act
of 23 February, in which Philip declared his intention to disinherit his
sons, if they were ever to recognize any higher authority in France than
the Wise in Spain, and Frederick II in Sicily, adopted the same formulation.
Sicily, interestingly enough, it was the father and brothers of Thomas
Aquinas, who helped Frederick II found the Sicilian state. Thomas Aquinas
developed this idea to a general theory.
counter-tendency was the theory of the "emperor status" of the
pope, as a temporal power. The main theoretician of this was Aegidius
Colonna, and his ideas were taken up by Pope Boniface VIII, who expressed
them in the Bull Una Sancta.
is an anecdote told—I don't know if it's true, but the anecdote is
told—that Boniface once climbed the stairs of a church in Rome, and
shouted at people: "Ego Caesar, ego Imperator!" Which, obviously,
was absolutely not the intention of what popes are supposed to be.
the other side of the conflict, you had the emerging national sovereignty,
where, for the first time, a shift occured, such that in the state, not only
the interest of the king, but the common good, was a concern.
step in this direction was the writing of Alphonso the Wise, that the king,
as the representative of God, has to guarantee Justice and Truth for the
people he governs.
notion of sovereign equality was first mentioned by the philosopher and poet
Ramon Llull (Lullus) at the end of the Thirteenth century. He also had the
idea of a "persona communa," in whom goodness, greatness, and
stability for the community, are united. For Llull, however, in the
Thirteenth century, this persona communa was still the world emperor.
II Hohenstauffen was the first to appeal to the reason of the rulers of the
sovereign, equal states, instead of just demanding obedience of them.
truly revolutionary breakthrough occured, when the Dominican philosopher
John Quidort of Paris elaborated the idea of a multitude of equal,
independent states and the idea, that there could be peace in the world
only, if there were no Emperor. Only in a system of juridically equal
states, each limited to its own territory, could there be peace and
concordance. The drive for world dominion, the mere idea of being greater
than others, necessarily brings non-peace, he wrote. This represented a
decisive step in the evolution of the modern international law of peoples.
writings were ammunition in the fight of France against the demands of papal
power. The then-famous lawyer Peter Dubois wrote in 1305 in a leaflet:
"In my view, there is rarely a reasonable person, who would like to
believe that, concerning temporal matters, there should be one single ruler
in the whole world, who would govern everything, and to whom all ears would
listen; because if you drive toward such a condition, there will be wars,
riots, and fighting without end, and no one could suppress it, because there
are too many people, too great distances and differentiations of the
individual countries, which are too big, and the natural inclination of
people for opposition and dissonances is too large."
this entire period, the unresolved tension between the Empire and the
emerging states was unresolved, and a "concordantia disconcordantium"
was the essential conflict of the time. The best thinkers and most advanced
kings of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries tried in vain to find a
solution to overcome this tension.
poet Dante is an illustration of Lyndon LaRouche's argument, that the
beautiful visions of poets are often the inspiration for the politicians;
such was the vision in his De Monarchia, which portrayed the ideal of world
community, where the deep longing for peace was realized.
is interesting that, long before this, what Professor von Der Heydte calls
the "birth-hour of the modern nation-state," actually went through
its labor pains. Saint Augustine wrote in the City of God, that only an evil
state would be imperialistic—a clear reference to the Roman Empire—and
that well-meaning men would not derive happiness from the size of their
empire. Because its vast extent, would only have grown because of its
injustice, against which justified wars would have been fought; whereas, the
empire would be small, if there were calm and peaceful neighbors. And thus,
according to Augustinus, smaller states would be better than large,
important for Alphonso the Wise, Llull, and Thomas Aquinas, was the question
of justice in the state. Aquinas even said, that life in society cannot
exist, if there is not someone on the top of the state, concerned with the
Bonum Communum, the common good. And that is exactly what the problem is
with globalization today—that at the top of these supranational
institutions, they could not care less for the common good.
'Concordantia catholica' and Political Freedom
inspired the different philosophers, poets, and state theoreticians who
contributed to the idea of the international law of peoples, and of national
sovereignty, was a passionate drive for peace; and, justice and love were
regarded as the preconditions for peace. Especially today, when there is no
peace in many areas of the world, when globalization causes wars and
threatens a new global Dark Age, it is of the utmost importance to
understand, that it was the desire for peace, which stood at the beginning
of the development of national sovereignty and international law.
philosopher whose political theory represented a grand design for a
functioning peace-order in the world, who resolved the "concordantia
disconcordantium," was Nicolaus of Cusa, the greatest thinker of the
Fifteenth century. His Concordantia catholica (Catholic Concordance), a
paper written for the council of Basel, not only contains in Books I and II,
ideas about the reform of the Church, but in Book III, an argument for the
reform of the Holy Roman Empire. Nicolaus gives here, for the first time, a
concrete institutional form to the constitutional demands on the ruler,
which was a major step in the direction of modern constitutionalism, and
even the separation of powers.
new in Nicolaus's approach, was the idea of natural freedom and equality, as
the basis for participation in government. Here, we have the beginning of
the political rights of all people!
writes in the Concordantia:
since all are by nature free, every governance—whether it consists in a
written law, or in living law in the person of a prince ... can only come
from the agreement and consent of the subjects. For, if men are by nature
equal in power and equally free, the true, properly ordered authority of
one common ruler, who is their equal in power, can only be constituted by
the election and consent of the others, and law is also established by
was totally revolutionary—that the rulers and the governed are equal and
equally free. And, at another place, he says, that what is true for the
German, is also true for the Ethiopian! Nicolaus really meant human rights
as a universal principle.
Book III, he writes:
laws precede all human considerations, and provide the principle for them
all. First, nature intends every kind of animal to preserve its physical
existence and its life, to avoid what could be harmful, and to secure what
is necessary to it. For the first requirement of essence is that it
one were to write a new constitution for a world of sovereign nation-states,
this definition of Nicolaus's could go into it completely unchanged,
because, first off, people have to exist.
from the beginning, men have been endowed with reason, which distinguishes
them from animals. They know, because of the existence of their reason,
that association and sharing are most useful—indeed, necessary for their
self-preservation, and to achieve the purpose of human existence."
therefore, Cusa argues,
beings have built cities and adopted laws to preserve unity and harmony,
and they established guardians of all of these laws, with the power
necessary to provide for the public good."
then, in the clearest way, establishes the principle which separates the
sovereign nation-state from the previous oligarchical forms of society, by
defining the only legitimate source of power, as caring for the common good,
to which all or a majority of people have to consent. He says,
legitimate power arises from elective concordance and free submission.
There is in the people a divine seed by virtue of their common equal birth
and the equal natural rights of all men, so that the authority—which
comes from God, as does man himself—is recognized as divine, when it
arises from the common consent of the subjects. One, who is established in
authority as representative of the will of all, may be called a public or
common person, the father of all, ruling without haughtiness, or pride, in
a lawful and legitimately established government.
recognizing himself as a creature, as it were, of all of his subjects as a
collectivity, let him act as their father, as individuals. That is the
divinely ordained marital state of spiritual union based on a lasting
harmony, by which a commonwealth is best guided in the fullness of peace
toward the good of eternal bliss."
is that not beautiful? I really enjoy reading this, to see that a
constitution can be based on coherence with the common good, but that the
ruler is also asked to act like a father to all, which obviously requires
then defines the representative system, in which the elected representatives
enter a reciprocal legal relationship with both the government and the
governed. He says:
this purpose [the public welfare], the ruler should have the best
qualified of his subjects chosen from all parts of his realm, to
participate in a daily council with him. These counsellors ought to
represent all the inhabitants of the realm. ... These counsellors
ought constantly to defend the good of the public which they represent,
giving advice and serving as the appropriate means through which the king
can govern and influence his subjects, and the subjects on proper occasion
can influence him in return. The great strength of the kingdom comes from
this daily council. The counsellors should be appointed to this task by
agreement in a general meeting of the kingdom, and they should be publicly
bound legally by oath to speak out openly for the public good."
you heard yesterday in the panel on the fight for D.C. General Hospital, a
living example, if all the citizens would publicly speak out for the common
good as it was done by Charlene Gordon or by Dr. Alim, then the state would
function; and that is exactly what we have to accomplish.
wrote this groundbreaking work in 1433, and it took another 343 years, until
these ideas of a representative system as the only practical way to defend
the inalienable rights of the individual, were formulated in the American
Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.
for Nicolaus, this was only his first major work; his real breakthrough was
still to come.
of the Italian Renaissance
Nicolaus was educated by the Brothers of the Common Life is quite probable,
although it cannot be securely established. A great deal is known about his
relationship to the pinnacle of the Italian Renaissance, which both
influenced him, just as he inspired the best thinkers, philosophers,
statesmen, and popes, with his groundbreaking philosophical method, which
was, on the one hand, in the Platonic tradition, but which also added a
spectacular new dimension to the history of philosophical thought.
studied from 1417 to 1423 in Padua, so he was there when he was between 18
and 24 years old. Already, here, he came in contact with the most precious
tradition of European civilization, which had been revived in Italy with
Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, who had started a de facto war against the
dogmatic, scholastic teaching which dominated much of the academic life of
Europe, by consciously reviving Plato and Classical Greek thinking.
pointed out, that Plato's teachings were coherent with Christianity, while
Aristotle's was not; He also attacked the influence of Averroes. Coluccio
Salutati (1331-1406), who knew Petrarch, was, like all humanists, an avid
collector of manuscripts; he became chancellor of Florence in 1375, the year
of Boccaccio's death. Leonardo Bruni, who translated several of Plato's
writings, and was, from 1427 onward, the chancellor of this city, and Poggio
Bracciolini, who was chancellor from 1415 to 1422, were both pupils of
Salutati, and represented the continuation of the Platonist,
anti-Aristotelian tradition. Bracciolini had known Cosimo di Medici since
the Council of Constance; Cosimo had also befriended Nicolaus there.
group of people, with whom Nicolaus was in contact during his studies in
Padua, were his close friend Giuliano Cesarini, Ambrogio Traversari, and
Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, all of whom were in this
same tradition of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.
Padua, Nicolaus also started his lifelong friendship with Paolo dal Pozzo
Toscanelli (1397-1482), who wrote the famous letter to Fernão Martins,
where he argued, that one could reach China and India by the sea route going
west—which later was used by Columbus, and led to his discovery of the
Americas. Through him, Nicolaus had also close contact to the great artists
Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi.
translations of Bruni, Traversari, and others, of Plato and Aristotle, had
already provoked profound debates about the Good, the value of poetry, and
about the nature of the community, which represented the intellectual
environment during Nicolaus's studies in Padua, which he clearly developed
to a higher level in his Concordantia catholica. But, from 1437 onward,
Nicolaus, mediated by his friend Cesarini, took over important functions in
the Vatican, and from this moment on, the history of Nicolaus, that of the
Renaissance popes, and the cultural Renaissance, became extremely closely
intertwined. Already in 1437, Nicolaus travelled to Byzantium, where apart
from his diplomatic mission to accompany and bring back the delegation of
700 representatives of the Orthodox Church, including the Byzantine Emperor
and the Patriarch, he was successful in finding the documents proving that
the formulation of the "filioque"—namely, that the spirit
emanates equally from the father and the son—had already been part of the
creed in the early councils. As we have published, this proof played a very
important role in the unification of the Church in the councils of Ferrara
had the closest contact with the 83-year-old Georgios Gemistos Plethon, who
accompanied the Byzantine Emperor as an advisor. Plethon at that point knew
the entirety of Plato, and naturally Proclus, and as a statesman in his own
right, he intended a Renaissance based on Plato for Greece. In 1439, while
in Florence, he wrote a sharp critique of Aristotle: Aristotle had
misunderstood the Platonic ideas, he had denied God's creation of the world,
and the existence of Providence, as well as the immortality of the soul, he
had undermined ethics, and his theory was irreconcilable with Christianity.
and Bessarion, the Archbishop of Nicea who also wrote polemically against
Aristotle, sparked total excitement about Plato in Ferrara, and it was
especially the famous doctor Ugo Benzi from Sienna, who was teaching in
Padua during Nicolaus's stay there, organized these debates [see Figures 1
and 2]. Cesarini, to whom Nicolaus had dedicated the Docta ignorantia
(Learned Ignorance), was the host of many of these lectures about Plato,
which excited one of his listeners, Cosimo di Medici, in such a way, that he
decided to found a Platonic Academy in Florence, and asked Plethon to
translate the entire corpus of Plato.
had also directly contact with Cosimo di Medici, and Petrus Leonius (Pierleoni)
from Spoleto, who was the personal doctor of Lorenzo di Medici, collected
several of Cusa's writings and circulated them further.
to illustrate the unbelievable intellectual and cultural environment in
which Nicolaus worked: He had close contact with Tommaso Parentocelli, later
Pope Nicolaus V and the founder of the Vatican library, and Aeneas Sylvius
Piccolomini, later Pope Pius II, and also Niccolo Albergati; he saw the
works of Alberti, Fra Angelico, Donatello, Piero della Francesca, and Paolo
Ucello, who had finished his frescos in S. Maria Novella in 1430, where
Masaccio had completed his "Trinity" fresco, painted in
perspective form, in 1427 [see Figures 3 and 4].
della Francesca was in Florence from 1439 on. Ghiberti created the bronze
doors to the Baptistery in Florence, his "Gates of Paradise" [see
Figure 5]. Brunelleschi, in 1417, had created the first model of the cupola
for the Dome of Florence Cathedral, which was completed in 1437, and already
in 1429 he had made new constructions of San Lorenzo and the Pazzi Chapel in
San Spirito [see Figure 6].
the Italian, and especially, Florentine, Renaissance is a prime model, to
study how a civilisation can overcome a Dark Age, it is useful to look at
how the different influences came together. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio's
influence created the foundation. From the beginning of the Fifteenth
century, several great artists and philosophers created a new humanist
movement. But it was the Councils of Ferrara and Florence, especially the
contact with the Greek Platonic scholars, which gave this new movement its
'Coincidence of Opposites'
was the intellectual and cultural environment in which Nicolaus of Cusa made
a conceptual breakthrough. He himself writes, that on the way back from
Constantinople 1437-1438, he experienced an enlightenment, which allowed him
to see all problems in a completely different light.
was his unique "coincidence philosophy." He repeatedly stressed,
that he was teaching something which had never been thought before. He
insisted, that not one philosopher before him recognized the method of
thinking embedded in the coincidentia oppositorum. Aristotle had put forward
the idea, that contradictory statements could not be truthful at the same
time. In a letter of Sept. 14, 1453, Nicolaus wrote, that the disallowance
of contradictory statements had been the common axiom of all philosophy;
Aristotle had said so merely in the most explicit form. All the philosophers
had failed, the "great Dionysius" being the only exception in a
couple of places.
one takes the totality of Nicolaus's attacks on Aristotle together, there
isn't much left of him. Nicolaus reduces him—the absolute master in the
teachings of the scholastics in almost all universities—to someone who has
the wrong method, who cannot find anything, while restlessly running back
and forth, incapable of understanding Platonic ideas.
the "Apologia Docta Ignorantia," a defense of his Docta ignorantia
against the Heidelberg professor Johannes Wenck, who had accused him of
pantheism, heresy, and confusion, Cusa writes:
the Aristotelian tendency dominates, which finds the coincidence of
opposites, which one has to acknowledge to find the ascent toward mystical
theology, to be a heresy.
those trained in this school, this approach seems to be totally
nonsensical. They refuse it, as something completely opposite to their
intentions. Therefore, it would be close to a miracle—as well as it
would be a complete transformation of the school—if they were to abandon
Aristotle, and reach a higher level."
then quotes Hieronymus quoting Philo, in basically making the point that
logic, the Aristotelian method of thinking, is no better than the
understanding (ratio) of an animal. Because, all understanding beings,
humans and animals, are able to draw conclusions:
methodological approach [i.e., the Aristotelian level of understanding] is
necessarily limited between the starting point and the final point, and
these opposing opposites we call contradictions. Therefore, for the
methodological proceeding thinking, the goals are opposite and separate.
on the level of understanding, the extremes are separated, like the notion
of the circle, which says that the center cannot coincide with the
circumference, because the distance from the center point to the
circumference is always the same.
on the level of the reasonable mind, who sees that, within unity, number,
within the point, the line, and in the center, the circle is folded in,
the convergence of unity and multiplicity, point and line, center and
circumference, are reached in the vision of the mind, without
methodological back and forth: That, you could see in the book "De
Coniecturis" ("On Conjectures"), where I showed, that God
is even above the coincidence of the contradictory opposites, because,
according to Dionysius, he is the opposite of opposites."
is not very respectful, that Nicolaus talks here about the
"methodological back and forth" of the Aristotelians! And what
does he mean by their intentions?
these words, the master reminded me to note, that learned ignorance, like
a high tower, brings everyone to the level of vision. Because he, who is
standing up there, has an overview of everything, for which the one moving
over the field, looking for different traces, is searching; he also sees,
how far the one searching, is getting closer or further away from what he
is looking for. In this way, learned ignorance, which belongs to the
domain of the reasonable mind, judges the methodological approach of the
thought process of the understanding."
metaphor of the tower in which reason is self-conscious about itself, the
searcher, and that which is searched, is a pedagogical device to help the
mind think in an elevated way from above.
device is in "De Beryllo" ("On Beryllus"), the idea that
"coincidence thinking" is like a lens, through which one can see
that which was previously invisible. "Coincidence thinking" is not
what is seen, it is the method of thinking.
"De Beryllo," Nicolaus describes the sensuous world as a book
written for us, even created for us, in such a way, that we can understand
it from the way our cognition works. Nicolaus develops a truly subjective,
cognitive approach here.
thinkers before Nicolaus had conceived the idea of a unity which precedes
all contradictory statements. What makes "coincidence thinking"
and the metaphor of beryllus as a lens different, is to show, how
contradicting substantial causes coexist in a principled connectedness,
before they separate into their differentiation.
we have the beryllus, we see the opposites "in principio convexio,"
before they exist in their duality. In the rectilinear, the Minimum of the
acute angle, and the Maximum of the obtuse angle, coincide; before they
separate into their contradictoriness, they are together in the rectilinear.
we will see, this is no academic exercise; rather, Nicolaus is developing a
method of thinking here, which has the most fundamental significance for the
solution of political and religious problems. And, because Aristotle does
not have a beryllus, he cannot think in an efficient way!
the "Beryllus," Cusa escalates his attacks on Aristotle, even
though he—Aristotle, that is—had talked about a third principle of
natural occurrences, namely, the "steresis," the "privatio"
or "Beraubung." But this had been merely an empty construct, it
had not explained anything, only the absence of something. And, after
Aristotle had introduced this worthless explanation, says Nicolaus, his
scientific research got stymied. So Nicolaus concludes, that Aristotle
therefore no longer has any significance for contemporary scientific
studies! Which, at that point, was an absolutely, truly revolutionary
is also a very specific evolutionary conception that Nicolaus's
"coincidence thinking" has for the evolution of the universe,
which emphasizes its unity. But, in a radical difference to absolute unity
and "biggest-ness" ("maximitas," which is God), the
"unitas universi" is a "contracted multitude" ("unitas
contracta"), the incarnation of "unified multitude"
this universe, there exists a hierarchical order of higher and lower
species, which develop into each other for multiple individual
differentiations, but which are nevertheless each separated by a
"species gap." Nicolaus says, that no animal, by itself, can
become reasonable. But, if some animal were educatable in such a way (capax),
that it could develop insight into the insight of man, and would prove this
through its actions, then it would no longer be just an animal.
says, that no individual of any kind, so long as it is no more than an
individual of its kind, has actualized the maximum perfection of its
capacity. For man, this means that he has to be "snatched up," and
mixed with the spiritual nature. Analogously, the inorganic is in relation
to the plant, and the vegetative to the animal-like. The potentiality of the
lower only realizes its perfect fulfillment through its introduction into a
higher principle of being.
the fascinating thing is that, what the late Professor Haubst calls the
"biogenetic law of evolution," the "maximization
principle" of Cusa, does not work from below upwards. Evolution is not
understood as starting with the most primitive forms, to then become more
diffentiated, which is what today's mechanistic theory of evolution
suggests, but it occurs from above. In "De Mente" ("On
Mind"), Nicolaus develops that God's knowledge only descends downward
into the nature of the mind; further down in the scale of things, it only
descends through the mind. "Mens," the mind, is the image of God,
but at the same time, the original image of all successive creatures.
puts man in an extraordinary position in the universe: The world-creating
mind—God—has only one avenue to the world, the human mind! This is not
only a theory of cognition, this is a theory of world formation, of genesis,
in which the mind has an irreplacable mediative role! This is exactly the
same idea, as when LaRouche says, that the universe "obeys" the
cognitive powers of the mind!
Haubst even reads Cusa in this way, that for Nicolaus the universe finds its
fulfillment of meaning only in the designation of man. In that sense, for
the universe, man is irreplacable. The universe needs man to have meaning.
Without man, the universe would be only a torso. If the universe is not
merely to end somehow, its sense designation and perfection can only be the
divinely-creative activity of the human mind.
"De Mente," Nicolaus writes, that number is a coincidence of unity
and multiplicity. Here, we see that he does not restrict "coincidence
thinking" to theological questions. These numbers are constitutive,
because the eternal mind has created the world in a number-like way, as a
composer composes. It is mind, as mind, which creates number, and everything
else. The world is the music of the eternal mind, which causes proportions,
and therefore the beauty of the things of the world. We recognize an idea
here, which we find again in Kepler.
"De Mente," Cusa describes the infinite perfectibility of the
mind, which creates motions bringing order into the world, and in this way
finds out its own laws of cognition.
I said, this method of thinking, "from above," from the "coincidentia
oppositorium," is a universal methodological concept, applicable to all
aspects of life. The most far-reaching discussion of this idea we find in
"De visione dei" ("On the Vision of God"), a book
written for the monks of Tegernsee, who were his close friends. It is
probably the most intimate of all of Cusa's writings [see Figure 7]. Plato
had made the argument that, in order to be truly free and philosophize, you
have to be among friends, because if you are together with people who are
not your friends, you cannot speak freely, you have self-protection and
guard yourself, and that blocks the ability of the mind to really come to
the truth. So Nicolaus wrote this book "De visione dei" for his
friends, the monks, and it clearly represents his innermost thoughts. Just
because it was so intimate and loving, this book was already in the
Fifteenth century one of the most read of his writings—it reminds me very
much of the spiritual exercises of the Pope, described by the Vietnamese
bishop Nguyen Van Thuan. It is about the question, how to train the mind to
think from the level of the highest truth. In this case, he uses the notion
that God, the "opposite of opposites," is "behind the
wall" of the coincidentia oppositorum; that you have to elevate your
mind to that divine level, to be able to tackle all problems from the
highest level descending.
"De visione dei," one must see another of his books, De pace fidei
(On the Peace of Faith), written in the same year, 1453. Here you can see,
that "coincidence thinking" is not some esoteric, far-away or
mystical (in the modern sense) way of dreaming, but has the most dramatic
political implications. For, on May 29, 1453, Sultan Mohamed II, who was
known as "the Conquerer," had his most spectacular success: the
takeover of Constantinople.
West saw the fall of Constantinople as a total threat. Even the humanist
Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini wrote to Pope Nicolaus V, saying his hand
trembled while writing these words, and he could not speak for the pain:
"What a misery for Christendom! The fountain of the Muses has dried
out. This was the second death of Homer and Plato." Reactions to the
reports of what happened in Constantinople were those of terror.
me begin with a quote from the Cusa scholar Erich Meuthen, where he reports
how descriptions of the fall of Constantinople were received in the West:
of all: Horror about the carnage. The West's image of the Turk was painted
as a shrill mixture of blood-thirst, bestial cruelty, and perversion. The
reports from Constantinople corresponded to what was considered to be
certain anyway, yes, it could be aggravated: Blood was flooding the
ground, as if it had rained, like water in the streets, blood was flowing.
Children had been killed before the eyes of their parents, noble men
slaughtered like animals, priest mutilated, monks tortured to death, holy
virgins raped, mothers and daughters dishonoured. It is reported that
Mohamed the Conquerer forced the Emperor's daughter in his bed on the
night of his victory. He wishes to convert her to his belief. She stands
firm. Now, he drags her to the Hagia Sophia, toward a statue of the
Madonna, which is used as a chopping block for executions. He shows her,
how Christians are being beheaded here, rips her clothes off, and orders
the girl to be beheaded on top of the Madonna, and sends her head to
of man and God in one. Churches are vandalized, altars profaned,
reliquaries dispersed to the winds, the Holy of the Holies
happened in the Fifteenth century, but it is happening today in the Middle
East and many other places, in Africa, in the Balkans. And just now, just to
help you to celebrate the birthday of Nicolaus, the Pope went on this truly
historic mission to the Middle East, and two days ago he made a statement,
and he said, Look, I ask for forgiveness for the crimes and the cruelties
committed by the crusaders in the Thirteenth century. Which I think is a
truly noble gesture, that he is almost on a personal mission to counter what
is being done by Bush and Sharon, to bring peace to the Middle East, to make
an effort to overcome this terrible danger of war, of which he is absolutely
aware. Today, he's going to a mosque, which houses the tomb of John the
Baptist. It's the first time that a pope has ever gone to a mosque. So, you
know, this is not theoretical, academic stuff from many centuries away; this
has the highest political significance if we want to find peace.
modern historians refute these horror stories, and say that Mohamed II did
not intend to destroy the city. On the contrary, they say that he
reconstructed public buildings, and that he brought groups of Muslims,
Christians, and Jews into the city for resettlement, and sponsored the arts
and the sciences. That may be historically true; I only mention this
quotation, to show you that these horror stories were the image the West had
at the time of what had happened.
is all the more amazing, to see the elevated, lofty view which Nicolaus
presents in De pace fidei, about the peace of belief, of faith, knowing it
was written under the impression of the terrible reports I mention above.
begins De pace fidei with the following words:
of the atrocities which have recently been perpetrated by the Turkish king
in Constantinople and have now been divulged, has so inflamed a man, who
once saw that region, with zeal for God, that amongst many sighs he asked
the Creator of all things if in His kindness he might moderate the
persecution, which raged more than usual on account of diverse religious
rites. Then it occured that after several days—indeed on account of
lengthy, continuous meditation—a vision was manifested to the zealous
man, from which he concluded that it would be possible, through the
experience of a few wise men who are well acquainted with all the diverse
practices which are observed in religions across the world, to find a
unique and propitious concordance, and through this to constitute a
perpetual peace in religion upon the appropriate and true course."
then has representatives of seventeen religions and countries participate in
a dialogue with the "divine Word," asking for help, because, they
say, "this rivalry is on account of You, whom alone all venerate in all
that they seem to adore."
these representatives of seventeen religions and countries go to God and
say, Look, we are only killing each other because of you, because we all
think that we do your work. Please help us to overcome this terrible
in the beginning of the dialogue Nicolaus presents a no-illusions view about
the oligarchical power structures of his time. One should consider, he says,
that most human beings are forced to spend their lives in misery and great
strain. On top of this, they live in slavish dependency upon their rulers.
Therefore, almost none of them has the leisure to make use of his freedom of
will, and arrive at consciousness of himself. Worries about the physical
condition and services they have to perform distract them too much.
Therefore, they do not get to search for the hidden God. But, if a union of
wise men, coming from all the different religions, were to come together, it
would be easy to find a solution.
approach Nicolaus then develops, really reflects the "vision from
above." He says, that religious warfare is due to some hitherto
undiscovered flaws in the self-understanding of the religions. One mistake
had been not to differentiate between the prophet, and God himself;
secondly, they had mixed up traditions to which they were accustomed, with
basically, the differences exist merely in rites, and not in what is
this is a truly mind-boggling approach, because, who could possibly argue,
that the prophets were on the same level as God? So, if you say that the
differences are only because of the different circumstances of the different
prophets, who are not identical to God, and that the different traditions
are not the same thing as the Truth, it is obviously easy to find a
the oldest of the participating philosophers, a Greek, asks: But, how should
we bring the manifold of religions to one unity, since our people have
defended their religion with blood, and they hardly will be willing to
accept a new, unified religion?
divine Word answers: You should not introduce a new religion. But, you
should yourselves comprehend, and then show to the peoples, that the true
religion is presupposed before all other religions. The unity is before the
the divine Word is talking to the wise men as philosophers, they can all
agree, that there is only one wisdom. He does not talk to them as
representatives of different religions, and therefore he can reach them on
the level of reason, on a different level.
peace-bringing new unity of religion is not—Nicolaus is very emphatic on
this—some synthetic new belief, but what reason tells all who become
conscious of its premises. Thus, the Greek philosopher reacts excitedly
about the "spiritual rationalis," which is capable of "capax
artitium mirabilium"—the ability of the mind to participate in the
most beautiful creations of art—and what follows is a hymn on the
perfectability of the human spirit. If this spirit is oriented to wisdom,
then man gets closer and closer to it. We never reach absolute wisdom, but
we approximate it more and more. It tastes, as well, like a sweetness, more
and more like eternal nourishment.
unity is guaranteed, when the orientation of the mind toward wisdom and
truth is recognized as primary and basic. Then, the participation mediates
between the One and the Many. Sometimes, it is only the experience of a
great catastrophe, as was the perception of the fall of Constantinople in
the West, and as is the threatening perspective of a generalized war in the
Middle East today, which shocks people into seriously thinking of an
alternative. If there is then an appeal to an alternative, and wise men and
women to take the initiative, the catastrophe may be avoided.
De docta ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance), he speaks of the "spiritus
universorum," the spirit of universality, which is efficient in every
aspect of creation. Religions or nations, or peoples, are elements of
differentiation, but "the totality [the universe], as the most perfect
of the order according to its nature, is presupposed to everything, so that
everything can be in everything." This is Cusa's famous formulation,
"Quodlibet in Quolibet."
the political order, this means, that the multitude of peoples can be
integrated without a violation of their specific identity, because the
totality of the order is already given before.
insight into the relation between the One and the Many in Cusa's notion, is
that every human being is a microcosm—Dr. Alim talked yesterday about D.C.
General as a microcosm, which is absolutely true—which means, that he has
not just a place in the universe, the macrocosm, but he contains the entire
cosmos in himself in a complicative way.
person is therefore the whole universe in the small.
any "peace-order" can not be based on some secondary
consideration, but it can only exist, if each microcosm has the chance to
develop its fullest potential, which it can only do, if all microcosms
develop in a maximum way. This has tremendous implications for the relations
among human beings, among nations, and among peoples. A peace-order of
sovereign nations can only exist, if each one is allowed to develop in the
best possible way, which means that the common good is taken care of in the
optimal way, so that all of the citizens can prosper and their talents
flourish. Only if each microcosm understands that it is in its best
self-interest, for all other microcosms to develop in the best way, only if
each nation and each people desire the best development for all others, can
concordance exist in the macrocosm, in the world as a whole.
is why "peace negotiations" which focus only on matters of
conflict at the level of the understanding—so-called "political
solutions"—which Cusa would call the Aristotelian way of running back
and forth (one could say, he's almost talking about an Aristotelian shuttle
diplomacy), do not work. One has to start with "coincidence
thinking," the agreement of minds concerning the final goal of mankind
as a whole, which is self-perfection, ennoblement, and increase in the
general population potential, as the condition for the continued existence
for generations to come (naturally, the construction of the Eurasian
Land-Bridge today, as a cornerstone for a global reconstruction, is an
expression of such a final goal of mankind as a whole)—these philosophical
questions must be there at the beginning, as a pre-condition for a
functioning peace-order in the world. And this is why the ideas of Nicolaus
are the most modern ideas I can think of, among all previous thinkers.
is needed for this today, to heal the wounds of all the tortured people in
Africa, in the Balkans, in the Middle East and other areas in the world, is
that the focus be on the "spiritus universorum"; but also on a
limitless cultural optimism, as expressed, for example, in Nicolaus's sermon
for Epiphany Day, which he delivered in 1454 in Brixen, and which has been
called, correctly, a hymn to civilization, which praises the free and
mechanical arts and sciences, as the great gift to mankind, which must be
shared by all, so that the development of no one is unnecessarily delayed.
At the end of the experiment of the Layman with the scale, he even says that
every new discovery must be given over to an international pool, to which
every people should have access, so that no one's development is
was convinced, that this was the only human way of thinking, and I fully
agree with him. In 1459, he wrote, that the human soul is substantially
superior to all otherness. It can eliminate all otherness, because it has
the non-other image of everything. If the soul thinks in this way, it is in
"intertemporal tempus," he says, in timeless time. This is what
LaRouche calls the "simultaneity of eternity"!
the idea of a community of sovereign nations, based on the common good of
all, and based on the international law of peoples, has become a life and
death issue for the entire human civilization. Can we not, for our own
sakes, and as the most beautiful birthday present we could give to Nicolaus
of Cusa for his 600th birthday, develop the same power of intellect, the
same existential commitment and passion to great ideas? If I look around in
this room, I see representatives from all corners of the world. Let us be
joyful about the multitude of cultural differentiation and beauty, because
we are One, before we are Many.
The idea of mysticism during Cusa's time, did not mean what it means today;
it merely meant a complete devotion to the truth.