Thomas Izbicki

title.none: Hopkins, Complete Philospohical and Theological Treatises of Nicholas of Cusa (Thomas Izbicki)

identifier.other: baj9928.0209.037 02.09.37

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Thomas Izbicki, Johns Hopkins University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Nicholas of Cusa. Hopkins, Jasper, trans. Complete Philospohical and Theological Treatises of Nicholas of Cusa, Vols. 1 and 2. Minneapolis: Banning Press, 2001. Pp. xiv, 1442. $15 per Vol. 0-938060-49-x, 0-938060-50-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.09.37

Nicholas of Cusa. Hopkins, Jasper, trans. Complete Philospohical and Theological Treatises of Nicholas of Cusa, Vols. 1 and 2. Minneapolis: Banning Press, 2001. Pp. xiv, 1442. $15 per Vol. 0-938060-49-x, 0-938060-50-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Thomas Izbicki
Johns Hopkins University

With this publication, Jasper Hopkins provides us with a complete set of his translation of Nicholas of Cusa's speculative works in two volumes, accompanied by one work of Johannes Wenck criticizing Cusanus' De docta ignorantia. Hopkins wisely describes these as "philosophical and theological treatises." There is no neat boundary between these fields of inquiry in Cusanus' works. The German cardinal and polymath Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) wrote in his own unique idiom, discussing God, the knowledge of God and related topics. Hopkins has devoted more than a quarter century to rendering these treatises and dialogues into exacting English versions with extensive notes. They have appeared in other volumes from the Arthur J. Banning Press, listed here by their dates of first publication with all other editions noted:

A concise introduction to the philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1978. Second edition, 1980. Third edition, 1986.

Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance: a Translation and an Appraisal of De docta ignorantia. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1981. Second ed., 1985.

Nicholas of Cusa's Metaphysic of Contraction. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1983.

Nicholas of Cusa on God as Not-Other: a Translation and an Appraisal of De li non aliud. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1979. Second edition, 1983. Third edition, 1987.

Nicholas of Cusa's Debate with John Wenck: a Translation and an Appraisal of De ignota litteratura and Apologia doctae ignorantiae. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1981. Second edition, 1984. Third edition, 1988.

Nicholas of Cusa's Dialectical Mysticism: Text, Translation, and Interpretive study of De visione dei. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1985. Second edition, 1988.

Nicholas of Cusa's De pace fidei and Cribratio Alkorani. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1990. Second edition, 1994.

A Miscellany on Nicholas of Cusa. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1994.

Nicholas of Cusa on Wisdom and Knowledge. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1996.

Nicholas of Cusa : Metaphysical Speculations. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1998.

Nicholas of Cusa: Metaphysical Speculations, Volume Two. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 2000.

The texts reproduced in this new two-volume set are based on the most recent editions of these translations with further corrections made in places. These translations appear here without their original introductions but with their notes intact.

In place of the original introductions Hopkins provides a brief Preface, followed by his article on Cusanus first written for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (10 vols., New York, 1998). The Preface describes these volumes as "for classroom use" (p. Iii). It also makes brief mention of works lying outside Hopkins' project. Also noted are the chronological order adopted for these volumes and the appearance of these works on the world Wide Web ( The entire corpus is dedicated to Dr. Hemut Gestrich, Chairman of the Cusanus-Gesellschaft.

The article on Cusanus is the one problematic portion of the entire corpus. As befits an encyclopedia article, it is brief and touches only on the highlights of the subject's life and thought. This very brevity causes omissions. In the Biography section, Cusanus' diplomatic missions to the Empire during the dispute between Pope Eugenius IV and the Council of Basel vanishes along with his later legation to "the Germanies." Philosophical and theological themes receive concise and useful treatment, but the section on Ecclesiology lacks mention of Cusanus' later ideas on the Church as related to Learned Ignorance and the hypostatic union of divine and human nature in Christ. This brief sketch, consequently, will need to be fleshed out by the teacher to enable students to understand Cusanus more adequately.

The individual translations are exactingly done. Added text is indicated with square brackets, and difficult readings sometimes have the Latin provided with the same type of brackets. Extensive annotation has been done, including identification of passages from the Bible and other important works. Cross references to other writings of Cusanus are provided in these notes, and further clarifications are made. (Hopkins does not hesitate even to correct Johannes Wenck's reading of Cusanus' Latin [p. 454 n. 136]). Perhaps the most useful observation not lost along with the original introductions is Hopkins' reading of the diagram of the ball game in De ludo globi as involving nine circles (the number of choirs of angels) surrounding a tenth circle representing Christ (pp. 1261-1262 n. 128). Thus the symbolic value of casting a ball that is not entirely round (representing human limitations?) toward that center is more richly revealed with Hopkins' correction of received images which show only a total of nine circles for the playing of this "bowling-game."

This exacting style of translation takes its toll in accessibility to the less experienced and dedicated reader. An example, taken from the translation of De Deo abscondito, will suffice:

Christian: The differences are many. But one [of them] -- indeed the most important one -- [consists] in the following: we worship absolute, unintermingled, eternal, and ineffable Truth itself, whereas you worship truth not as it is absolutely in itself but as it is in its works. [You worship] not absolute Oneness but oneness-in-number and oneness-in-multiplicity. Thereby you err, since Truth, which is God, is incommunicable to anything else [p. 302].

The same passage reads as follows in the translation by H. Lawrence Bond:

There are many differences. But one and the greatest of them is that we worship the absolute, unmixed, eternal, and ineffable truth itself, but you do not worship truth as it is absolute in itself but as it is present in its works, not absolute unity but unity in number and plurality. And in this you err, for the truth, which is God, is incommunicable to another. [1]

It is useful to compare both to the Latin text:

Christianus: Multae sunt. Sed in hoc una et maxima, quia nos veritatem ipsam absolutam, impermixtam, aeternam ineffabilemque colligimus, vos vero non ipsam, uti est absoluta in se, sed uti est in operibus suis, colitis, non unitatem absolutam, sed unitatem in numero et multitudine, errantes, quoniam incommunicabilis est veritas quae deus est alteri. [2]

Hopkins' translation gives a flavor of the Latin, but it adds additional wording -- like "oneness-in- number and oneness-in-multiplicity." Bond gives a smoother English text, but the substitution of "plurality" for "multitude" is unnecessary. Each version has its merits, but the teacher might prefer the more approachable text by Bond for beginning students.

Where, then, do we fit Hopkins' texts into the classroom? I believe they represent a next step, moving the student away from acceptable English prose to a more challenging text. Cusanus is not an easy read in Latin, even for the translators of his texts. No student should become convinced that these works will be easy to interpret just because some can be reviewed quickly in our vernacular. Moreover, Bond has translated only a few of Cusanus' many texts. Hopkins presents us with an entire corpus, one which even the experienced student of Nicholas' works can read with profit. In particular, he gives us the only published Latin-to-English version of De coniecturis, a work that -- along with De docta ignorantia -- must be read in order to understand Nicholas of Cusa's unique philosophical-theological corpus aright.

[1] Nicholas of Cusa: Selected Spiritual Writings, tr. H. Lawrence Bond (New York: Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1997), 211.

[2] Nicolai de Cusa opera omnia, vol. 4 pt. 1: Opuscula I: De Deo abscondito, De Quarendo Deum, De filiatione Dei, De dato patris luminum, Coniectura de ultimis diebus, De Genesi (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1959), 6, par. 7.