Nicholas of Cusa on Faith & Holy Communion

There are many statements in Nicholas of Cusa’s sermons that emphasize the importance of faith in those who receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This is likely due to his early education among the Brethren of the Common Life, but it also relates to his peculiar brand of Platonism.

Therefore, this faith is best signified by means of the visible form of bodily food, which expels weakness and furnishes strength—as do, basically, the wheaten bread and the wine. Hence, take cognizance of the fact that in the power of the bread and the wine—[a power] that expels the weakness of the flesh’s ravenous hunger and that brings strength, or renews strength, (things which happen with respect to the outer man)—faith sees the power of the Word working similar things in the inner man. And that which nature ministers to the outer man by means of visible food, faith by means of invisible Food (which is the Word of God) obtains in the inner man (which is invisible),  (Sermon CLXXXIII).

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“God is an Infinite Sphere”: A (Very) Brief History

I saw a tweet a few days back that was a quotation from the English Puritan, George Swinnock’s The Blessed and Boundless God, in which Swinnock notes, “God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” This quotation, Swinnock admits, comes from an unknown “heathen” author. Though Swinnock does not name the source or the book, he is most likely quotting from the Liber XXIV Philosophorum, that is, The Book of the Twenty-Four Philosophers. The second principle head of this work states: DEVS EST SPHAERA INFINITA CVIVS CENTRVM EST VBIQUE, CIRCVMFERENTIA NVSQVAM, which translates, “God is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere.”

The metaphor of God as a sphere was bequeathed to English theologians of the 17th century both by the Liber XXIV Philosophorum itself and by Medieval authors who quoted from it. Nicholas of Cusa was one Late Medieval author who made use of this phrase. In his De Docta Ignorantia I.23, Cusa argues that the metaphor of an infinite sphere is appropriate to describe the existence of God (Sicut sphaera infinita est penitus in actu et simplicissima, ita maximum est penitus in actu simplicissime).  English theologians, like Cusa, found this metaphor to be quite useful. Joseph Hall, for example, states in a sermon, “O God, thou art an intelligible sphere, whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere but in thyself.” Another Puritan, Peter Sterry, states, “God is that Sacred Circle of All-Being, of Infinitness, of Eternity, whose Center is everywhere, in the smallest Point of Things; whose Circumference is no where bounded” (The Appearance of God to man… London, 1710, p. 300).

There is no record or evidence of the Liber XXIV Philosophorum before the Medieval period. Swinnock, like his European predecessors would have thought that the book was composed by the famed Hermes Tristmegistus. Modern historians reject that claim, yet they are divided over the exact lineage of the book. Some argue that it was composed in Antiquity from various quotations taken from Aristotle, Plotinus, Proclus and others. Kurt Flasch, however, argues that there is little evidence for this composition in the text itself. No matter the date of composition, the author of the book was clearly influenced by Aristotle and later Neoplatonic authors. From the Liber XXIV Philosophorum, then, comes the idea of God as an infinite sphere, an idea that would fascinate Late Medieval authors as well as Puritans and also those early modern authors who would seek to wed theology to mathematics.

17th Century List of Readings on the Use of Reason in Matters of Faith

Voetius It is a rare occasion to find a list of recommended readings in a 17th century author. Usually, authors of this period were silent about their sources. In published disputations, however, one often finds references and even lists such as these. Below I have translated one such list from the Dutch Reformed theologian Gisbertus Voetius. I trust you will find his references to be quite interesting, especially (to me at least) Raymund of Sabunde and Nicholas of Cusa. The following excerpt is taken from the disputation, “De ratione humana in rebus fidei” in which Voetius discusses the proper use of reason in matters of faith. Enjoy!

Gisbertus Voetius, Selectarum disputationum theologicarum

I add that [reason is used in matters of faith] for directly opposing false Theology, consequently and indirectly defending the one truth, that is, by removing impediments and prejudices, and so for strengthening the way of truth. Such a defense of the Faith appears in [the following authors of antiquity]:

1. Athenagoras

2. Justin Martyr

3. Clement of Alexandria

4. Origen

5. Tertullian

6. Arnobius

7. Lactantius

8. Augustine

9. Theodoret

10. Cyril of Alexandria, and others.

Also, writers of the Middle Ages [include]

1. Thomas [Summa] contra gentes, and the rest of the Scholastics, if they are chosen discriminatively and judiciously;

2. Also, Savanorola in his Book on the Triumph of the Cross

3. Raymund of Sabunde in [his] Natural Theology

4. Cardinal [Nicholas] of Cusa

5. Dionysius the Carthusian

6. And others [who argue] against the Muhamedans

And finally, more recent [authors]:

1. Juan Louis Vives

2. Augustino Steucho

3. Pierre Charron

4. Scholastic investigations and commentators on Lombard and Thomas