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A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa.

Hopkins, Jasper. Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1994. xii + 312 pp. $23.00--This book is Jasper Hopkins' eighth study of the thought of the fifteenth-century German philosopher Nicholas of Cusa. Through these publications he has established himself as an internationally respected translator, editor, and incisive critic on matter relating to disparate areas of Cusanus studies. Roughly following the pattern of the earlier works, Hopkins includes in this volume four critical analyses of scholarship, four English translations, and two extended book reviews.

Chapter 1, "John Wenck and Nicholas of Cusa's Twentieth-Century Counterparts," consists of a fictitious dialogue between the author and Thomas P. McTighe. McTighe is an able philosopher, whose numerous articles on Cusanus's metaphysics have judiciously assessed the claim that Nicholas's thought is a precursor to modern science. Because McTighe has at times alluded to ways in which Nicholas's theories undermine scholastic metaphysics, Hopkins has taken the liberty of identifying McTighe's interpretation with that of John Wenck, the fifteenth-century rector of the University of Heidelberg who wrote an ill-informed and highly polemical treatise against Cusanus. McTighe never defends Wenck in his articles nor are his investigations into Cusanus's place in the history of philosophy remotely identifiable with Wenck's diatribe, yet Hopkins insists upon labeling him a "Wenckian Interpreter." In spite of this bizarre and uncharitable pretense, Hopkins' Auseinandersetzung with McTighe delves into substantive questions, including: What does Cusanus mean when he refers to God as "the Essence of all things?" Hopkins argues that God must be interpreted as the ultimate cause of all finite essences, which does not preclude the existence of secondary causes of things. But McTighe, who refuses to lend credence to the Aristotelian-Thomistic terminology that pervades Nicholas's writings, contends that Cusanus admits but one true essence, unity itself, which in its indistinction embraces all determinateness and is therefore "not other" than anything else. Distinct finite essences in his view are only relative to one another for Cusanus; they cannot be said to be essential to each thing. Hopkins does no disservice by starkly contrasting his position with McTighe's. The question at hand is not a minor one, and the positions represented in the dialogue are not unique to these two scholars. It remains to be seen, however, whether the deliberately slippery language of this professionally trained lawyer will ultimately submit itself to epithets such as "Thomisticlike" (Hopkins) or "a metaphysics of internal relations" (McTighe).

The next three chapters form a triptych, centering on the role of "devout interpretation" in Nicholas of Cusa's hermeneutical approach to the Koran (chap. 2) and its difference from and relation to the methods of interpretation of Ricoldo of Montecroce, O.P. (chap. 3), and the Dominican Cardinal John of Torquemada (chap. 4). These chapters supplement Hopkins's translation, published by Banning Press in 1990, of Cusanus's A Scrutiny of the Koran (Cribratio Alkorani). Hopkins redresses the tendency in the scholarly literature to ignore the genuinely theological dimension of this treatise. He outlines the hermeneutical principles of "devout interpretation" as follows: (1) Nicholas only rejects as false in the Koran that which cannot be made compatible with the Christian Scriptures; (2) Nicholas always attempts to interpret the Koran as a self-consistent argument, and; (3) where outright conflicts exist (for example, the Muslim idea of paradise as a place of sensual delight), Nicholas ascribes the error to Muhammad's use of symbolism and desire to accommodate the uneducated. The Dominican Ricoldo (ca 1243-1320), whose own interpretation of the Koran has been vastly oversimplified by the historian Norman Daniel, never developed the method of devout interpretation and wrote a work less appreciative of the Islamic religion than Cusanus's. Torquemada (1388-1468) constructed a tightly organized apologetic based upon evidentes rationes, a procedure foreign to both Nicholas and Ricoldo.

The translations include four works not readily available in English in the past, which were written by Cusanus between 1444 and 1447: "On the Hidden God" (De Deo abscondito), "On Seeking God" (De quaerendo Deum), "On Being a Son of God" (se filiatione Dei), and the "Dialogue on the Genesis [of all things]" (De genes)). All of them fortify the symbolical theology and speculation on the unknown God that Nicholas began in his programmatic work of 1440, On Learned Ignorance. Of particular interest to philosophers are the dynamic, introspective "ascent" through the hierarchy of the faculties in De quaerendo Deum, the theory of participation in De filiatione, and the critiques of Platonism and Averroism in De genes).

The two book reviews will only be of interest to Cusanus scholars. Hopkins surveys the winter 1990 edition of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly on Nicholas of Cusa, edited by Louis Dupre, and Paul Sigmund's translation of The Catholic Concordance (New York: Cambridge Press, 1991). The former appears in German since it was originally intended for publication in the journal of the German Cusanus Society. The editor of that journal decided not to publish the review because he deemed the focus on the putative inaccuracies in the articles not to be in the spirit of the Cusanus-Gesellschaft (see ix). This shortcoming aside, Hopkins's criticisms are not without scholarly merit.

With this volume Jasper Hopkins has once again provoked, enlightened, and admirably augmented our understanding of Nicholas of Cusa's thought.
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Author:Casarella, Peter
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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