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Introducing Nicholas of Cusa: A Guide to a Renaissance Man.

Introducing Nicholas of Cusa: A Guide to a Renaissance Man. Edited by Christopher M. Bellitto, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Gerald Christianson. New York: Paulist, 2004. 496 pp. $29.95 cloth.

This introductory text, published by Paulist Press, fills a need for a collection of accessible essays about the thought of Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64). Because Nicholas lived and wrote during a pivotal point in history, and because of the unparalleled originality of his thought, he has been attracting increasing interest among philosophers, theologians, historians, students of canon law, and even mathematicians. This new curiosity has coincided with the six-hundredth anniversary of Nicholas of Cusa's birth (1401) and the worldwide celebrations and conferences that have accompanied it. This public notice has itself brought new inquiries about Cusanus, the Renaissance man.

The publication in recent years of a number of texts that range from collections of essays to reading guides to new translations has begun to locate Nicholas of Cusa both temporally and ideologically for new readers and scholars. Mentioning but a few of these would include: Clyde Lee Miller's Reading Cusanus: Metaphor and Dialectic in a Conjectural Universe (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press of America, 2002); Nicholas of Cusa and His Age: Essays Dedicated to the Memory of F. Edward Cranz, Thomas McTighe, and Charles Trinkhaus, ed. Thomas M. Izbicki and Christopher Bellitto (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2002); and Nicholas of Cusa: A Medieval Thinker for the Modern Age, ed. Kazuhiko Yamaki (Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2002). This is but a brief list. There are many more.

Among the wealth of recent publications, Introducing Nicholas of Cusa: A Guide to a Renaissance Man stands out for thoughtfully engaging the larger issues at stake, while at the same time fearlessly providing the background material that broadens the audience beyond specialists. The editors of this new text present Nicholas of Cusa as a Renaissance man preoccupied with "Renaissance" issues. His contributions to church and society explore his ideas about church reform as is masterfully presented by Brian A. Pavlac and Thomas M. Izbicki. These essays are well supported by Morimichi Watanabe's thoughts on Cusanus's political and legal ideas.

Part 3 of the book gathers a range of topics that enjoy contemporary popularity including Renaissance Humanism (by Pauline Moffat Watts), Mystical Theology (by H. Lawrence Bond), Preaching (by Lawrence F. Hundersmark), and Interreligious Dialogue (by James Biechler.) Part 4 collects Philosophy, Theology, and Science into one section. Each chapter owes its scholarly effectiveness to the previous work, both published and unpublished, by the individual authors. It would be difficult to find more qualified leaders in these fields that include the human mind (Clyde Lee Miller), the knowledge of God (Walter Andreas Euler), the sacraments (Peter Casarella), and mathematics and astronomy (Tamara Albertini).

Of course, all of the above themes have been analyzed to at least some degree by other texts, both recent and late. What sets this particular introductory collection apart, however, is its accessibility and its breadth. The book begins with "An Appreciation" of the significance of Nicholas of Cusa in the wide variety of fields befitting a "Renaissance Man," including metaphysics, theology, mathematics, and politics. This first essay is followed by Donald Duclow's biographical piece aimed at introducing the novice scholar to both significant events in Cusanus's life and to the corresponding dates and contexts of the many works of this prolific writer. The text is clearly appropriate for classroom use at the undergraduate level and would make an excellent resource book for graduate students and scholars.

One could have hoped for a more thorough examination of some of the unique theological contributions of Cusa that are recently receiving attention, such as his doctrine of theosis. However, such topics may be too specialized for the intended audience in this case. The information that is provided gives a good background for further exploration of some of Cusanus's more obscure doctrines.

This introductory text remains true to its goal and concludes with "A Guide to Research." Young scholars and those who are new to Nicholas of Cusa will find the bibliography of works in English as well as the short glossary of Cusan terms very helpful. The latter is particularly noteworthy since Cusanus had a unique vocabulary whose meaning is too often intuited among scholars rather than precisely defined. The former is useful for even seasoned scholars for whom keeping track of recent and varied publications on Nicholas of Cusa can become a discipline in itself. The complete information on Societies, Sites, and Museums dedicated to the study of Nicholas of Cusa will also be invaluable in orienting new scholars and facilitating communication among scholars.

Nancy Hudson

California University of Pennsylvania
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Author:Hudson, Nancy
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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