Saturday, November 15, 2014


Giovanni Pico della Mirandola  (1463-1494)
and Renaissance Philosophy

Paul Richard Blum

[Presented at Istituto Italiano di Cultura, New York, 11 November 2014]


 
A presentation on Giovanni Pico della Mirandola should have at least nine hundred chapters – but I will reduce it to four or five.[1]

1. Pico contributed to the discovery of the human being as the center of the world.

Let me start with a quotation about philosophy:
“Philosophy is man's knowledge of himself. … Man, if he acquires a true knowledge of himself, viz. of his own spirituality and corporeality, comprises the knowledge of everything ....”[2]
If I had let you guess the author, you certainly would have come up with Pico or some other Renaissance thinker. For it makes philosophizing a feature of humanity that expands on everything there is. However, it is from Isaac Israeli in the early Middle Ages. Closer to   that matches our expectations of medieval pessimism is this famous saying of Pope Innocent III:
“Indeed man is shaped like an upside down tree. His hair forms the roots; his head and neck the trunk; the breast and stomach the stock; the arms and legs the branches. Man is a plant tossed to and fro by the wind and, like straw, dried out by the sun.”[3]
It was the humanist Giannozzo Manetti who opposed this view by saying:
“…the fruits proper to man are not those shameful and incidental kinds of filthiness … mentioned above; rather our human fruits are to be deemed the many operations of intelligence and will.”
To the humanists, man is man in action. And Pico will elaborate on that and drive it to near exhaustion. In order to show that, I simply quote one of his most famous statements in his Oration on the Dignity of Man:
“[God] … took man, … set him in the middle of the world, and said to him: ‘We have given you, Adam, no fixed seat or form of your own, no talent peculiar to you alone. … Once defined, the nature of all other beings is constrained within the laws We have prescribed for them. But you, constrained by no limits, may determine your nature for yourself, according to your own free will ... We have set you at the centre of the world so that from there you may … easily gaze upon whatever it contains. … you may, as the free and extraordinary shaper of yourself, fashion yourself in whatever form you prefer. It will be in your power to degenerate into the lower forms of life, which are brutish. Alternatively, you shall have the power … to be reborn into the higher orders, those that are divine.’ …”[4]
Here we see the specific humanist take on humanity: after the medieval thinkers and theologians had realized that the essence of human beings and of being human consists in reflecting upon oneself and thus experience life as misery, the humanists say: to be miserable does not exclude thinking about it, and human awareness of filthiness is the mother of invention. Now in a giant leap, Pico concludes that the status of being human utterly depends on the spiritual powers of the individual. He clothes it in this speech of God to Adam saying that humans have no predetermined position in the hierarchy of things. A human being can ascend to the level angels or degrade to the baseness of beasts, depending on how one uses one’s mind.
The progress from the image of man as an uprooted tree to that of the individual intellect as the center of the world was life-changing. Giordano Bruno, about 100 years later, would extend it to the theory of the cosmos, claiming that the center  of the world is, wherever one happens to stand. And yet, when Descartes would say, another 50 years after that, the “I think” is the only thing that is certain, he is still banking on Pico’s discovery: Man is man in action, and the world is the place where man is at the center.

2. Pico was probably the first encyclopedist, that is, he believed it is impossible to know too much, and all there is to know is worth knowing.

The quotation from the Oration on the Dignity of Man is the most popular. But in this speech that apparently elevated the appreciation of humanity there followed a second part, in which Pico calls for a universal system of knowledge that includes all disciplines and traditions. Since no place in the chain of being is assigned to him, man is a Divine afterthought after the completion of the universe, a being meant to oversee, and thus to appreciate, the perfection of God’s masterwork; and that requires appropriate skills. Therefore he called upon the world of learning to embrace all intellectual achievements of the ancients and of his contemporaries. Truth is contained in all sciences, and it is the call for humanity to find and unfold it. Pico’s syncretism is condensed in the formula: “I am not sworn into the words of any one.”
I should now mention that this famous Oration was intended as the opening speech of a mammoth disputation to be held in 1487 in Rome.[5] Pico invited the entire world of learning and even promised to pay the expenses for those who attended. For this disputation Pico had prepared no less than nine hundred theses, which he promised to be able to defend.
Within parentheses, it should be stated that such publication of theses for public discussion was academic practice and as an event nothing out of the ordinary. We might also remember the famous 95 theses that Martin Luther nailed at the church gate in Wittenberg, merely 30 years later in 1517. Again, he did not intend to start a religious war, but just posted his program inviting everyone to challenge his ideas.
Still, the number 900 sounds somewhat exaggerated. Even more, Pico said, he could easily have expanded the number by elaborating even more on details. Those 900 theses are grouped by schools of thought, including scholasticism, Platonism, Cabala, and many others. The message is this: human thought is one for all and it evolves and diversifies indefinitely. If man is at the center of the world, the world is worth knowing as far as possible.
Pico was in agreement with the Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa who discovered the coincidence of contraries in the power of the human mind.[6] Nicholas died one year after Pico was born. Indeed, Pico planned to pay a visit to the Cardinal’s legendary library in Germany. But more importantly, Pico’s project of an all-encompassing debate triggered the projects of producing an encyclopedia of all that can be known. Most of these projects were pursued in the 17th and 18th centuries and came to a completion with the Encyclopedia Britannica and present day’s Wikipedia.

3. As a syncretist (that is one who combines virtually all schools of thinking), Pico was against dogmatism, including that of the Renaissance Platonists.

To pay every branch of learning its due comes with a price: Does it mean that everyone has his or her own mind and everyone is right? In a way yes, but also no. First of all, not to be sworn into any one’s school is the necessary condition for intellectual curiosity. On the flip side, it means that understanding a school of knowledge does not entail endorsing it. Therefore, Pico was able to present theses of some scholastics that he did not endorse; and to ‘defend’ them in the great disputation would have meant explaining their validity without endorsing them.
Most importantly, intellectual curiosity – to be a polymath or an intellectual omnivore, as Anthony Grafton had it – is the opposite of dogmatism. Pico wanted to know all dogmas of the world without being dogmatic. And here was his enemy: the meanwhile popular Platonism of the Renaissance.
Frequently, Giovanni Pico was associated with Marsilio Ficino[7] as one of the Florentine Platonists. But the story is more complicated.
In 1438-39 a council was held in Florence, sponsored by the Medici trust, that was to reconcile the Byzantine and the Roman Christian Churches. For some obscure reason, a neo-pagan scholar, who called himself Plethon, so as to sound like “Platon”, was part of the Greek delegation.[8] And during his stay in Florence he published a book in which he attacked the Western Christians for being Aristotelians. He advocated a return to Platonism. Of course Platonism had dominated Christian thought from St. Paul on; but lately, thanks to the rediscovery of Aristotle, theology was basically Aristotelian. Plethon now blamed Aristotelianism to be heretic and – shrewdly – suggested returning to Platonism, which in his own agenda, was paramount to ancient wisdom. This idea was picked up by the banker and ruler of Florence, Cosimo de’Medici, who appointed Ficino to translate works by Plato and the Neo-Platonists from Greek into Latin. Ficino also commented on all those works, among others on Plato’s Symposium.[9] In doing so, Ficino denounced Aristotelian scholasticism as un-Christian and created his own system that should reconcile dogmatics with ancient wisdom.
This Renaissance Platonism vexed the young friend Pico. He got interested in Plato while he stayed with Ficino in Florence, but he saw in Plato only the advocate of the reconciliation of all philosophies rather than a dogmatic system. For Pico, the major danger, in very few words, is this:
First: every interpretation of Christian thought in terms of pagan Greek philosophy runs the risk of making Christian revelation superfluous.
Second: Ficino aligned Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas with the notion of God; and this interpretation disturbs the balance between rational philosophy and revelation. One important example is the notion of God as the one that transcends every being. Ficino elevated God to a level that detached God from His Creation. Against this theory Pico protested fiercely in his De ente et uno.[10] He did the same in a comment on a love poem written by a friend in the footsteps of Ficino’s Commentary on Plato’s Symposion.[11] On the same occasion he criticized the Byzantine scholar Plethon for his misinterpretation of Greek mythology.  

4. On his search for unity of knowledge, Pico explored new methods of interpreting the Bible.

One anecdote from his life needs to be told. Pico as a man of action worked simultaneously on his 900 Theses and the introduction, the Oration on the Dignity of Man, and on this commentary on the love poem. On his way to Rome in early May 1486, he found time and energy to kidnap Margherita, the wife of Giuliano Mariotto dei Medici. However, after a fight and his humiliating arrest that ensued, he seems to have had a conversion and concentrated all his vigor on studies of Hebrew, the Qur’an, and other reading. While preparing his great event in Rome, he met for further briefings with his teacher of Averroist Aristotelianism, Elia del Medigo. From their exchange of letters we learn that Pico paid Elia with a horse, but also infected him with scabies. More importantly, Elia was one of the sources for Pico to learn about Cabala.[12]
Here is, how Elia del Medigo explained this system of Jewish mysticism:
“[The cabalists] believe that in this world there are beings of a lower degree than the degree of the glorious God, who is called the Infinite, and these flow – that is: they are not made nor produced – from Him, who is named the Infinite. … The order in which the produced beings are produced and maintained within the order is this, namely by the [ten] Sephiroth, i.e. numberings. Thus they call these 'flowed from the Infinite'. … According to [the cabalists], the order we find in the world is that of the Sephiroth.”[13]
We should notice that Elia does not endorse this theory, being an Aristotelian. But Pico kept learning and had texts of Jewish mysticism translated for him.
Now, following his idea that as a human being one is invited, if not urged and obliged, to get to know as much of the world as possible, and in doing so to elevate oneself above the realm of the beasts, Pico understood, as Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida in the 20th century did, that being human means interpreting the world, reading the world like a book. We all know that famous adage of Galileo Galilei that the book of the world is written in the language of mathematics. On hearing that we see Einstein writing formulas on the blackboard. This notion, that the world can be read in the language of numbers, was actually an old idea. In Greece it was formulated by Pythagoras. And among the Jews of the Middle Ages it was expressed in their reading of the Holy Writ. As in other languages, in Hebrew every letter represents also a numerical value. Therefore it offered itself to wise people that God’s creation is achieved through that flow, mentioned by Elia del Medigo, that proceeds in 10 Sephirot and from there structures the world according to occult numbers. Now, as for the Christians, so even more for the Jews, the Bible is the primary text that helps reading the book of the world. Consequently, Jewish sages started discovering numerical hidden messages in the word of God.
This was what interested the young scholar. For Pico, Cabala gives access to the secret of divine creation through the alphabet. The letters of the Bible are nothing but a numerical reconfiguration of God's word and work. This he elaborated in his commentary on Genesis, by the title Heptaplus - Sevenfold.[14]
His method of interpretation of the Creation story in the Bible is as follows. First Pico establishes these two assumptions:
(1) Moses must have spoken adequately and in a learned manner, even though he addressed an uneducated audience;
 (2) Moses cannot have said anything "alien to the nature of things" since the Holy Spirit speaks through him.
Therefore, the nature of things as created by God must necessarily be the very message of the story of Genesis.  For all those whom we now term literalists: it is not so that the Bible is a source of a scientific interpretation of the world; rather, the other way round: for Pico, the world is the expression of God’s power and plans; therefore the structure of the world is necessary for an understanding of the Word of God. Both have the language and their hidden meaning in common.
As an example we may see Pico’s cabalistic interpretation of the first word of the Bible, “In the beginning” (in Hebrew bresit or bereshit): After describing a series of dissections and re-compositions of its letters, Pico discloses the meaning that was implied in this single word:
“The Father, in the Son and through the Son, the beginning and end or rest, created the head, the fire, and the foundation of the great man with a good pact.”
If that sounds mysterious – it is. The point is that by way of numerical relations, the name of Jesus is implied in the very beginning of the world.

5. Pico reconciled the humanist, theological, and philosophical trends of Renaissance philosophy.

In searching for new methods of interpreting texts, and specifically the Bible, Pico continued the efforts of humanists like Giovanni Boccaccio and Giannozzo Manetti; and he bestowed on the history of ideas what can be called Christian Cabala; a reconciliation of Jewish and Christian piety. That attempt at reconciliation did not remain uncontested: Giordano Bruno ridiculed it,[15] others mixed it up with magic and astrology; eventually, a version of it appeared in Baruch Spinoza in the 17th century, who then was accused of atheism.
But reconciliation was Pico’s long term project. By his family estate, he had the title Prince of Concordia, and he planned to write a book on the concord of Plato and Aristotle from a higher point of view. His aim was syncretism, as we heard, that is, the freedom to apply various methods depending on the matter at hand. Therefore he defended the scholastic style of argumentation after having studied not only with Ficino but also in Paris, the most important scholastic university.[16]
This came handy in his most ambitious project, that great disputation in Rome. The great event was cancelled, because censors had found 13 out of the 900 propositions to be suspicious of heresy. Pico defended himself with a long Apology, in which he argued like a scholastic theologian. However he points out that there are various schools, and he refers to the history of theology, which is a typical humanist move. Another humanist argument Pico applied was to say that all dogmas are expressed in language, and language is always open for interpretation – even the words of God, as we saw.
In conclusion we may observe that Pico absorbed all trends of humanism and philosophy. Some people think that humanism has nothing to do with philosophy and that in the Renaissance philosophy took shape only with Ficino’s new Platonism. Pico, who was 30 years younger than Ficino but died 5 years earlier, Pico proves to the contrary: Renaissance philosophy was as much indebted to Aristotle as to Plato and all their medieval Christian interpretations; and the new turn was made possible through the humanist emphasis on the central perspective of man on the world and the role of language in it. Pico achieved much less, personally, than his ambition pursued, but he handed over to the following generations the insight that knowledge is hard to come by but worth having.



[1] Only references to primary sources are given. For Pico’s biography and philosophy see, among others,  Dougherty, M. V., ed. Pico Della Mirandola: New Essays. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008., 2008. Stéphane Toussaint, “Giovanni Pico” in Paul Richard Blum, ed., Philosophers of the Renaissance, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2010, 69-81.
[2] Isaac Israeli (ca. 832-ca. 932), Book of definitions, in: Alexander Altmann and S. M. Stern, Isaac Israeli a Neoplatonic Philosopher of the Early Tenth Century: His Works Translated with Comments and an Outline of His Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, p. 27.
[3] Bernard Murchland (ed.). Two Views of Man: Pope Innocent III [1161-1216] On the Misery of Man. Giannozzo Manetti [1396-1459] On the Dignity of Man. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co, 1966.
[4] Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. Oration on the Dignity of Man: A New Translation and Commentary. Ed. Francesco Borghesi, Michael Papio, and Massimo Riva. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
[5] Farmer, S. A. Syncretism in the West: Pico’s 900 Theses (1486); Conclusiones Nongentae; English & Latin., Tempe, Ariz.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1998.
[6] Nicholas of Cusa [1401-1464]. On Learned Ignorance: A Translation and an Appraisal of De Docta Ignorantia, trans. Jasper Hopkins, Minneapolis: A.J. Benning Press, 1981, http://jasper-hopkins.info/DI-I-12-2000.pdf.
[7] Marsilio Ficino [1433-1499]. Platonic Theology, ed. James Hankins, trans. Michael J.B. Allen et al., I Tatti Renaissance Library 2, 4, 7, 13, 17, 23, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001-2006.
[8] C. M. Woodhouse. George Gemistos Plethon [c. 1355 – 1452/1454]: The Last of the Hellenes Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.
[9] Ficino, Marsilio. Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love. Translated by Sears R. Jayne. Dallas, Tex.: Spring Publications, 1985.
[10] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Of Being and Unity; (De Ente et Uno), trans. Victor M. Hamm. Milwaukee, Marquette University Press, 1943.
[11] Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. Commentary on a Canzone of Benivieni. Translated by Sears R. Jayne. New York: P. Lang, 1984.
[12] On Cabala [Kabbalah] see Busi, Giulio, and Ebgi, Raphael. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola: mito, magia, qabbalah. Torino: Einaudi, 2014.
[13] Elia's [1458-ca. 1493] letter to Pico in: Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. De hominis dignitate; De ente et uno; e scritti vari. Edited by Eugenio Garin. Edizione nazionale dei classici del pensiero italiano. Firenze: Vallecchi, 1942, pp. 68-71.
[14] Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. Heptaplus: Or, Discourse on the Seven Days of Creation. Translated by Jessie Brewer McGaw. New York: Philosophical Library, 1977.
[15] Bruno, Giordano. The Cabala of Pegasus. Translated by Sidney L. Sondergard and Madison U. Sowell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
[16] Breen, Quirinus. “Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola on the Conflict of Philosophy and Rhetoric.” Journal of the History of Ideas 13, no. 3 (June 1, 1952): 384–412. doi:10.2307/2707604. Barbaro, Ermolao, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Filosofia o eloquenza? Edited by Francesco Bausi. Sileni 2. Napoli: Liguori, 1998.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Lorenzo Valla und Nicolaus Cusanus
Paul Richard Blum

[Vortrag auf dem Kongreß Die römischen Jahre des Nikolaus von Kues
Jubiläumssymposion des Wissenschaftlichen Beirats der Cusanus-Gesellschaft in Kooperation mit dem Päpstlichen Institut Santa Maria dell‘Anima aus Anlass des 550. Todestages von Nikolaus von Kues in Rom
Mittwoch, 22. bis Sonntag, 26. Oktober 2014
Pontificio Istituto Teutonico di S. Maria dell’Anima, Via della Pace, 20 · I-00186 Roma]

Auf einer Tagung, die den ‘römischen Jahren’ im Wirken des Nikolaus von Kues gewidmet ist, kann man mit Fug und Recht einen Vergleich mit Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457) erwarten, der nicht nur ein Zeitgenosse war, sondern auch die letzten Jahre am Päpstlichen Hof verbracht hat, und zwar wahrscheinlich dank einer Intervention des Kusaners,  vor allem aber, der mit Cusanus ein scharfsinniges Interesse an der Reform der Kirche und des Denkens sowie der Sprache teilte. Diese drei Themen, Kirche, Sprache und spekulatives Denken sollen dann auch die Themen meines Vortrags sein.

Die Kritik der Konstantinischen Schenkung.

Zum Thema Kirche beschränke ich mit auf die Kritik der Konstantinischen Schenkung.
Vallas Nachweis, daß die sogenannte Konstantinische Schenkung, auf der die weltliche Herrschaft des Papsttums beruhte, eine Fälschung ist, kann man im Rahmen seines philologischen Denkens sehen; da sie aber auch die Interessen des Königs von Neapel förderte, betonte Valla, daß er nicht gegen den Papst sondern um der Wahrheit und der Religion willen das schriftlich festgestellt habe, was bisher niemand als er allein gewußt habe; zugleich schämt er sich nicht zu sagen, er schreibe um des Ruhmes willen.  Mit dieser Bemerkung zeigt Valla sich stolz als der Typ des Humanisten, in der Nachfolge Petrarcas, der das Individuum vor allem dann schätzt, wenn dieses die eigene Person ist. Sodann erläutert Valla, die Wahrheit zu verteidigen hat mindestens denselben Rang wie der Kampf für das Vaterland, geht es doch darum, das Himmlische Vaterland zu erwerben.  In diesem Falle geht es um die Aufdeckung der Fälschung und deshalb auch um den Schutz der Kirche, die durch den Besitz des Kirchenstaates Schaden genommen hat.
Da Valla in dieser kirchenpolitischen Frage wie auch sonst eine sowohl theologische als auch eine personale Argumentation verfolgt, könnte man seine Schrift für rein polemisch halten. Aber eine Interpretation, die das Polemische mit dem Sachlichen verknüpft, kann die Sache auch in der Polemik, und nicht neben ihr erkennen. Vallas Argumente betreffen die Unmöglichkeit, daß Kaiser Konstantin sich des Kirchenstaats hätte entäußern wollen, und daß Papst Sylvester ein solches Geschenk (wenn es denn eines war) hätte annehmen können – der eine aus Staats- der andere aus Kirchenräson –, sodann folgen die philologischen und sprachhistorischen Fehler des Textes.  Paradoxer Weise führen die beiden Unmöglichkeiten – die machtpolitische und die spirituelle – dazu, daß die Reichspolitik Konstantins gegen die spirituelle Aufgabe des Papstes ausgespielt wird, und somit trennt er Politik und Spiritualität, um letztere für seine Kirche und die Macht für seinen politischen Herrscher zu retten. Erkennbar ist das ex negativo an einer Replik des Augustinus Steuchus, der rund hundert Jahre später betont, staatliches Dekret und religiöses Bekenntnis seien in der Konstantinischen Schenkung ein und dieselbe Sache.  Auf längere Sicht ist das wohl kein Nebenprodukt sondern vielleicht Teil einer geistlichen Agenda Vallas, denn in seiner Schrift über die Willensfreiheit vertritt der Humanist ebenfalls eine scharfe Trennung zwischen theologischer Argumentation und praktischem Leben: Das Göttliche steht nicht zur Verfügung, und deshalb muß das Handeln von Gottvertrauen getragen sein, ohne durch eigenes Handeln auch nur die Gewißheit der Freiheit zu haben, geschweige denn die der Gnade Gottes. Daß dies präreformatorische Töne sind, ist offenkundig. Und insofern liegt Vallas Rede gegen die Konstantinische Schenkung auf einer Linie mit der Rom-Kritik Luthers.
Vorgetragen ist Vallas Argumentation als Rede an die Öffentlichkeit, nicht als Traktat für Spezialisten. Kirchenpolitik und Frömmigkeit sind für den Humanisten eine Sache der Persönlichkeit und der Gesellschaft zugleich.  Valla verstärkt damit den humanistischen anthropozentrischen Blick auf Sachfragen in Richtung auf eine Betonung des Individuums als letzte Instanz zur Bewertung von Grundsatzfragen: was man selbst weiß, ist mitteilenswert und muß - wenn es der Wahrheit entspricht - langfristig allen zugute kommen.
Vergleichen wir damit die Kritik an der Konstantinischen Schenkung in Cusanus’ Concordantia Catholica (III 2). Cusanus argumentiert als Jurist.  Was Cusanus sofort mit Valla vergleichbar macht, ist die genaue Quellenforschung, wie das in der humanistischen Rechtswissenschaft zum Handwerk gehört, denn er postuliert erstens historischen Vergleich, zweitens  Kritik gegenüber Zuschreibungen und drittens die Berücksichtigung des Geistes einer Zeit.  Er vergleicht erstens Dokumente, Dekrete und historische Zusammenhänge, und das besagt für ihn, daß schon der faktische Zweifel an der Echtheit eben die Schenkung infragestellt.  Wir können das als vorangezogene Skepsis gegenüber dem Historismus verstehen: Wahr ist nicht alles, was behauptet wird; aber alle Fakten erhalten ihren Wahrheitswert nur dadurch, daß sie erzählt werden. Klugheit empfiehlt daher zweitens , sich nur auf sichere und anerkannte Schriften zu verlassen, denen ein Maß an Richtigkeit unterstellt werden kann. Drittens bezeichnet er, obwohl es sich um eine juristische Frage handelt, diese Frage der Glaubwürdigkeit mit dem humanistischen Wort "elegantius".  "Eleganz" bedeutet für die Humanisten die Angemessenheit von Rede und Sachverhalt, die in ihrer Stimmigkeit überzeugt. Stimmigkeit wiederum ist immer auch eine Frage des Publikums und der kulturellen Situation.  Und der große Lehrer dieses Themas war der Zeitgenosse Lorenzo Valla, der der "Elegantia" ein ganzes Buch gewidmet hat,  etwa zu der Zeit, als Cusanus in Basel war. Ob Cusanus das Verständnis von Eleganz aus Valla bezog, weiß ich nicht. Tatsache ist, daß auch in späteren Jahren Cusanus philologische und historische Argumente verwendete, als er für das Bistum Brixen die Besitzverhältnisse sichten und sichern mußte. Er tat das durch methodische, wissenschaftliche Archivarbeit, bei der es ihm wiederum gelang, eine Fälschung zu entlarven.
Für eine mögliche Vergleichung des Cusanus mit Valla kommt es gewiß darauf an, ob denn der Kirchenmann mit dem Kirchenkritiker auch in der Sprachkompetenz vergleichbar war. Es muß sofort festgestellt werden, daß Cusanus sein Latein nicht an klassischen Vorbildern orientierte, wie Valla das propagierte. Aber er ist sich dessen sehr bewußt und verbalisiert es. Ausgerechnet im Vorwort zur Concordantia catholica bringt Cusanus seine Entschuldigung vor, klassischen Stil zugunsten der Sache aufzugeben:  Aber wir sollten das nicht negativ sondern als Verstärkung lesen, denn es ist selbst ein klassischer Topos, der später von Giovanni Pico  und anderen verwendet wird: die Sache verlangt eine grobe, eine fachliche, eine schmucklose Sprache. Es ist ein Topos, der Bewußtsein vom Sprachstil voraussetzt. Und um keinen Zweifel aufkommen zu lassen, daß er den Humanismus sehr wohl kennt, preist der Deutsche die Italiener für ihre Bemühungen um guten Stil und das Studium der Klassiker und entschuldigt die Deutschen dafür, daß sie nur mit Mühe anständiges Latein reden (und das ist möglicherweise ein Echo einer boshaften Bemerkung des Humanisten Poggio Bracciolini).  Aber sofort reklamiert er einen viel gewichtigeren humanistischen Anspruch, nämlich sich nicht auf irgendwelche Redaktionen und Zusammenfassungen zu verlassen, sondern die Originale und nichts als die Originaldokumente sprechen zu lassen. 




Reden wir also noch mehr über Sprache

Lorenzo Valla analysiert bekanntlich menschliches Sprechen im Hinblick auf mögliche metaphysische Implikationen. In dem, was wir heute das semantische Dreieck nennen (Wort, Bedeutung, Sachverhalt), nennt er die Bezeichnung eine Qualität, wobei die Wörter als Zeichen für die Sache stehen. Während das Ohr den Klang hört, nimmt die Seele die Bedeutung auf, indem beide Wörter wahrnehmen.  Daraus folgt überraschenderweise, daß so wie Holz "Holz" heißt, so haben unkörperliche Dinge auch Namen, also Wissenschaft heißt "Wissenschaft", und ganz allgemein ein Ding heißt "Ding".  Wenn aber 'Ding' nichts als Ding bezeichnet, dann ist das "Ding" die Vokabel für das Wort, das alle Dinge als Dinge bezeichnet: "res est vox sive vocabulum, omnium vocabulorum sginificationes suas complectens."  Genauer, 'Ding' ist das Wort für die Leistung von Wörtern, Sachen zu bezeichnen. Insofern übersteigt 'Ding' noch die Signifikationsleistung des Wortes 'Zeichen'. Wenn dieses Wort aber alle Dinge bezeichnet, dann auch Gott als ein Ding unter vielen anderen. In scholastischer Terminologie: res ist das einzige Transzendentale. Hier macht Valla einen Unterschied zwischen der Funktionsweise und dem Gehalt: Wörter wie spiritus, substantia, essentia – und erst recht res –  übersteigen nämlich das Wort Deus, insofern sie ein weiteres Bedeutungsspektrum haben. In Gott haben wir also den Sonderfall, daß das Wort ein einzelnes Ding bezeichnet, das inhaltlich alle Dinge transzendiert. Grundsätzlich gilt, daß Wörter Dinge bezeichnen können, die wiederum an und für sich universal sind. "Gott" ist dann das Wort, das ein Universales bezeichnet nicht aufgrund einer semantischen Hierarchie, sondern weil es das Ding ist, das alle anderen Dinge transzendiert.  Gott ist damit nicht transzendental sondern wirklich transzendent. Die Universalität von 'Ding' liegt also in seiner Bezeichnungsfunktion, während die semantische Kraft der menschlichen Sprache auch auf Dinge verweisen kann, die an sich universal sind. Daraus folgt die Mahnung zur Vorsicht, semantische Universalität nicht mit inhaltlicher Universalität zu verwechseln. 'Gott' ist einerseits kein Abstraktes, andererseits verweist das Wort nicht auf Dinge, sondern auf Gott.  Darauf kommt es nämlich Valla an, die terminologischen Irrtümer des scholastischen Aristotelismus rückgängig zu machen und die Leser zum wahren Theologisieren zu bringen.  Was den Gottesbegriff im Einzelnen angeht, so argumentiert er, daß Sätze wie "Gott ist ein vollkommenes ewiges Lebewesen (zoon)," unsinnig sind, weil Lebewesen als körperlich definiert sind.

Es ist unübersehbar, daß Vallas Sprachkritik in eine kritische philosophische Theologie überführt, und das hat er mit Cusanus gemeinsam. Aertsen (561) verweist auf eine Notiz zu Plotin: unum perfectivum et salvativum; das wirklich transzendentale ist Vervollkommnung und Heil von allem. Wahrscheinlich ist es am plausibelsten, die Vergleichbarkeit an Cusanus’ Bezeichnungstheorie im Compendium zu zeigen. Auf den ersten Eindruck hin könnte man meinen, Cusanus’ Theorie sei eine gewöhnliche Abstraktionslehre, etwa wenn er sagt, es müßten „die Dinge, die durch sich selbst nicht in die Erkenntnis eines anderen eingehen können, in diese durch ihre Bezeichnungen eingehen.“ (IV 8) In demselben Sinne könnte man, wenn man wollte, auch die These verstehen, daß die „natürlichen Zeichen (...) die Erkenntnisbilder (species) der bezeichneten Einzeldinge“ sind (V 14). Tatsächlich aber ist es klar, wie auch in anderen Texten des Cusanus, daß er die aristotelisch-scholastischen Erwartungen terminologisch bedient und dann durchbricht. Das wird z.B. im Kapitel IV, n. 10, klar wo es heißt, daß „nur der Mensch nach dem Zeichen sucht, das von jeder materiellen Konnotation losgelöst und rein formal ist und die reine Form des Dings, die ihm das Sein gibt, repräsentiert.“ Wenn Cusanus dann noch hinzufügt, daß ein Zeichen in dieser Verwendungsweise in dem Maße von den Sinnesobjekten entfernt ist, in dem es den Intellektdingen am allernächsten ist (ebd.), dann gibt er zu erkennen, daß er in neuplatonischen Kategorien der Emanation und der Hierarchie denkt oder wiederum diese Art von Erwartungen bedient.
Aber wir können die Zeichentheorie, statt auf neuplatonisches Emanationsdenken, auch auf Vallas Semiotik beziehen. Denn diese Formel, daß es Zeichen geben soll, die an sich immateriell sind und daher in der Lage sind, das zu vertreten, das dem seienden das Sein gibt, diese Formel würde Valla für das Wort Gott haben gelten lassen: es ist immateriell, nicht weil es aristotelisch ‚allgemein’ ist, sondern weil der Begriff für das Seingeben schlechthin ist.
Wiederum aristotelisch beschreibt Cusanus das quantitative Verstehen von Sinnesdingen: Es ist das Zeichen ‚Quantität’, welches ein quantitativ bestimmtes Objekt quantitativ erkennbar macht und zwar so, daß das Objekt in seiner Quantität nicht erkennbar wäre, wenn es den Begriff der Quantität nicht gäbe; dann aber wird nicht das Objekt selbst erkannt, sondern seine quantitative Bestimmung leuchtet nur mittels des Quantitäts-Zeichens ein. Also erkennt man und erkennt nicht. Hier ist Aristoteles wieder hilfreich: Die sinnliche Erkenntnis eines quantitativen Sinnesdings ist eine Erkenntnis per accidens.
Mit Blick auf Valla sehen wir schon, daß auch Cusanus sich dafür einsetzt, der sprachlichen Verfaßtheit der Erkenntnis keinen naiven und automatischen ontologischen Status zuzuweisen. Das wird radikal klar, wenn er sagt, daß Maulwürfe kein Sehvermögen brauchen, und sie als Beispiel dafür nimmt, daß „alle Lebewesen genau so viele species aus den Sinnesobjekten ableiten, wie sie zur Selbsterhaltung benötigen.“ (VI 16) In diesem Sinne gelangt Cusanus zu einer rein sprachtheoretischen Epistemologie: „Es ist das sinnliche Wort, das sich selbst und alles Sinnliche herstellt.“ (VII 19) Von dort treibt Cusanus das Argument weiter und behauptet, daß es der Geist ist, der das Wort formt, und zwar um sich selbst manifest zu machen, und in diesem Sinne stellt sich das Wort nicht nur als Repräsentanten des Dinges dar sondern auch als Zeichen für den Geist. (VII 20) Hierauf folgt dann der berühmte Kartographen-Vergleich. Diesen brauchen wir an dieser Stelle nicht (0der noch nicht) zu interpretieren, denn was klar wird ist, daß Cusanus mit Valla die sprachliche Verfaßtheit der Wirklichkeit hervorhebt, was enorme Folgen für die Metaphysik und die Auffassung von Realität hat.  In demselben semiotischen Sinne koennen wir dann auch die Bestimmung des aliud in De non aliud lesen: aliud verweist auf ein aliquid, das eines philosophisch-theologischen non-aliud als nicht-semiotische Transzendenz bedarf.
Sehen wir uns zum Vergleich Vallas Bezeichnungstheorie an. Die Unterscheidung Substanz/Akzidens schafft er de facto ab, indem er behauptet, daß die Kategorien nicht wirklich kontingent sind, da ja, in seinem Beispiel, Wärme nicht vom Feuer abwesend sein kann und somit zum „Wesen“ des Feuers gehört (Retractatio I 13, p. 112f.). Bekanntlich reduziert Valla daher die Kategorien auf Qualität und Aktion. Dementsprechend reduziert sich auch das Zeichengeben auf Konvention, indem „die Menschen, wenn sie etwas erkennen die Laute anpaßten und in diesem Sinne ‚Zeichen’ nannten.“ Schriftzeichen sind in diesem Sinne „Zeichen von Zeichen“ (I 13, p. 123) Hieraus folgt die bereits erwähnte Diskussion um die res. Das Sein und das Bezeichnen einer Sache ist dasselbe. Oder: Ontologie ist ein Überziehen der sprachlichen Bezeichnung.
In diesem Lichte können wir nun auch den bekannten Vergleich mit dem Löffelschnitzer in Idiota de mente lesen – vielleicht nicht korrekt, aber im Sinne der Vergleichbarkeit. Valla hatte ja versucht, uns die Verwunderung zu nehmen, daß, z.B., Holz ‚Holz’ heißt.  Er hatte betont, daß es sich um eine menschliche, arbiträre Zuschreibung handelt (ex institutione).  Zunächst scheint der Idiota die aristotelische Formenlehre anzuwenden: das Artefakt existiert als Form zunächst im Sinn des Herstellers; also der Löffel kommt zustande, indem die Form des Löffels auf des Holz übertragen wird. Aber, da wir bei Cusanus immer ganz genau lesen dürfen, können wir den Satz: „Coclear extra mentis nostrae ideam       aliud non habet exemplar“  – anstatt ihn aristotelisch abzunicken, wie eben angedeutet – auch so lesen: das einzige Paradigma des Löffels ist die Idee im Geiste des Schnitzers, denn eine andere Idee außerhalb davon gibt es nicht. Das ist eine starke Behauptung, die nach Transzendentalphilosophie klingt. Zudem behauptet der Idiota weiterhin, daß die „Löffelheit“ in dem Holzlöffel wie in einem Abbild aufstrahlt.  Das kann man so verstehen, daß die sichtbare Wirklichkeit nichts anderes ist als die Visualisierung des Gedankens, und der erfaßt sie nicht sondern stellt sie her. Während Cusanus betont, daß in der Tat der Name willkürlich (ad beneplacitum) gegeben wird, stellt er zugleich fest, daß dann aber Form und Name vereint sind und nicht etwa zweierlei wären.  Die traditionelle Lehre, wonach nichts im Verstand ist, das nicht zuvor in den Sinnen war, wird zwar zitiert, aber gegen den Strich der Empiristen: Es ist der Verstand, eine Bewegung des Verstandes, wodurch die Dinge geordnet und unterschieden werden.  Und wenn wir gerade beim transzendentalen Idealismus angekommen zu sein glauben, fügt der Idiota hinzu: Da – wie eingangs betont – die Idee der Sache nicht außerhalb des Verstandes zu finden ist, verfällt der Mensch aufs Ausdenken von Vermutungen und Meinungen.
Das ist ganz parallel zu Vallas Kritik der Transzendentalien: Insofern 'Ding' die universellste Bezeichnungsleistung erbringt, ist es auch das einzige Transzendentale, und es ist geeignet das Seiende zu entthronen. Denn ens sagt nichts anderes als: "ea res quae est". Sein grammatisches Argument ist, daß im Griechischen das Wort "on" ein deklinierbares Partizip ist, dem Aristoteles unsachgemäß den Artikel "to" vorangestellt hat, so daß es wie ein Nomen aussieht. Die Bedeutung der Sache "Seiend" erhellt nur aus dem Verb.  Mit anderen Worten, in der peripatetischen Philosophie ist das Wort "Seiend" hypostasiert worden: "Das hat Aristoteles noch dadurch verschlimmert, daß er 'to on ê on', 'ens prout ens' sagte, als ob das was ist nicht sein könnte. Das zweite ens ist nämlich ein Partizip."  Daraus folgt, daß das Bezeichnen eine Leistung des Aufzeigens ist, aber nicht des Zeigen eines ontologischen Sachverhaltes sondern nur der Bezeichnungsleistung, und die liegt in der Sprache der Sprechenden.
Aus Vallas Sprachkritik folgt eine Kritik der Metaphysik und der philosophischen Theologie, die wir mit Cusanus vergleichen können. Vallas Unterscheidung zwischen der Allgemeinheit der Bezeichnung und der Universalität der Sache führt ihn dazu, die Arbor Porphyriana abzulehnen, weil die Verallgemeinerung von Begriffen keine Steigerung der Allgemeinheit der Sache abgebildet, was sich für ihn in der Unsinnigkeit von Termini wie species specialissima  und genus generalissimum zeigt: Genus und Spezies sind prinzipielle Bezeichnungen oder Argumentations-Topoi, aber keine steigerungsfähigen Sachverhalte, was sich schon mittels analoger Begriffsbildungen als abwegig zeigen läßt wie forma formalis  oder corpus corporale: "Was in der Grundform unsinnig ist, wird im Superlativ völlig absurd."  Daher fordert er, daß die erste Unterscheidung nicht negativ sein darf (corpus / non-corpus) sondern positiv sein muß: nämlich corpus vs. spiritus sive anima.  An der Spitze des Baums stehen dementsprechend weder Substanz noch Seiendes sondern res, das Ding, das wie gesagt das einzige Transzendentale ist, aufgrund seiner Allgemeinheit. Daraus folgt dann, daß das geistige ‚Ding’ in creans und creatum unterschieden werden kann.  Weder Gott noch die Schöpfung sind negativ definiert, wie das die meisten philosophischen Theologien tun würden. Denn Gott ist nicht nur apophatisch als der Nicht-Träger aller virtuellen Attribute verstanden, wie das in der negativen Theologie gelehrt wird, noch ist die Welt der Abfall von Gott, das ungöttliche Zeug, von dem man sich wundern muß, daß der Allmächtige davon weiß und sich damit befaßt, wie es dem neuplatonischen Denkmuster entspricht. Vielmehr ist Gott der Referent der Bezeichnungsleistung ‚geisthaft’, und dieser Referent kann wiederum nach seiner Leistung als aktiv oder auch passiv denotiert werden. Damit ist keine theologische Festlegung erbracht, sondern nur aufgezeigt, wie die Sprache des Menschen redet.
Grundvoraussetzung dieser Behauptungen ist die Annahme, daß species und genus semantisch sich wie Teil und Ganzes verhalten.  Die ‚unteren’ Zweige des Baums bezeichnen daher nicht species sondern Teile von res. Das führt zu folgender überraschenden Konsequenz: Der Mensch, als beseelter Körper ist nicht etwa eine species, sondern ein Bastard aus Körper und Geist. Die Alternative wär, daß Geist oder Seele keine Substanz ist, sondern nur eine Funktion des Körpers, so daß getrost auch gesagt werden kann, daß Bäume und Pflanzen Seelen haben. Das ist, wie Valla feststellt und wir im Blick auf die gegenwärtige sogenannte Philosophie des Geistes bestätigen können, immer wieder versucht worden. Aber wenn wir daran festhalten wollen, daß sowohl die Seele eine Substanz ist und daß der Mensch aus beiden besteht, dann ist der Mensch eine Anomalie. Und das ist gut so. Es ist wie eine Mischung aus schwarzen und weißen Schafen.  Den Menschen als semiotische Anomalie zu verstehen, hat eine weitere Konsequenz: Wenn etwas, das wahr ist als semiotisch undeutlich und insofern positiv bezeichnet werden kann, dann gilt das a fortiori auch für Christus, der wiederum nicht in das Distributionsschema Mensch/Gott paßt: „Itaque id per se distribuemus in humanum et non humanum. Christum excipio ab animali, qui non est homo tantum, sed etiam Deus est.“
Es sei noch einmal betont, daß es Valla nicht um eine Ontologie, nicht einmal um eine sprachtheoretisch untermauerte Metaphysik geht, sondern darum zu zeigen, daß es die Sprache ist, die Seinshierarchien aufbaut und kraft dieser Leistung auch erschüttert. Mit Valla wissen wir nichts über die Doppelnatur des Menschen und schon gar nichts über die Inkarnation. Aber wir wissen, daß wir sprachlich Ontologien aufbauen, die sich der außersprachlichen Kontrolle, und das heißt überhaupt der Verifikation entziehen. Und hierin geht er mit Cusanus konform. Hätten Vallas und Cusanus’ Lehrer die Arbor Porphyrii als bloßes semiotisches Spiel gelehrt, so wie Sokrates im Sophistes die Dichotomien einführt, um sich darüber lustig zu machen (d.h. die Dichotomien die beim Schema von Genus und Differenz im Hintergrund stehen, und die dann im 16. Jahrhundert Petrus Ramus wieder einführt) – also hätten die mittelalterlichen Rezipienten des Porphyrius den Baum nicht für Erkenntnis sondern für ein Instrument gehalten, hätten Valla und Cusanus damit kein Problem gehabt. Da der Baum aber immer als die objektive Partition des Seienden und als ontologische Hierarchie von oben nach unten verstanden wurde, mußten beide zeigen, worin die Erkenntnisleistung von genus und species wirklich liegt.
In Kapitel III von De coniecturis II befaßt Cusanus sich mit dem Problem der Differenz im Gedankenbereich dessen, was die Arbor Porphyriana abgesteckt hatte. Anstatt davon zu sprechen, was denn ein genus und was eine species sei, legt der Autor den Akzent auf die Differenz als Differenz. Das Allgemeine, also das, was im je höheren genus erfaßt würde, taucht hier als concordantia auf, und die höheren Zweige auf dem Baum sind jetzt die major concordantia des einen sinnlichen Objekts mit einem anderen.  Die scholastische species specialissima, als das, was einmal das Individuum war, verwandelt sich dadurch in „allerspezifischste Differenz“, nämlich in äußerste Unterschiedenheit des einen vom anderen. Das wär scholastisch durchaus akzeptabel als Eigenheit des Individuums am Fuße des Baumes. Dementsprechend wird das genus generalissimum zur „allgemeinsten Konkordanz“ der Dinge.
Omne igitur sensibile cum omni sensibili quandam habet universalissimam concordantiam et specialissimam differentiam.
Denn traditionell kann ja alles und jedes unter das genus subsumiert werden. In diesem Sinne ist alles geeint und vereint. Allerdings nicht unter einem Baum mit metaphysischer Spitze und sinnlichen Wurzeln, sondern im Begriffsschema von Konkordanz und Differenz. Die Individualität des Einzelnen ist in diesem Schema die „allerspezifischste Einsheit“ (unio specialissima). Das klingt irgendwie philosophisch vertraut, zumal die Universalität von allem als die Einheit bezeichnet wird, die in einer „universalen Natur besteht, die allen gemeinsam ist“. Trotzdem sollten wir ontologisch recht frustriert sein, denn so heißt es weiter: „alles sinnlich wahrnehmbare, d.h. dieses etwas, das einzeln existiert, insofern es mit allem und jedem übereinstimmt, ist von allem und nichts verschieden.“  Hier wie überall bedient Cusanus traditionelle Terminologie, um ihre metaphysischen Ansprüche auszuhebeln. Denn was aus der Konkordanz und Differenz von allem und jedem herauskommt, ist, daß weder das Einzelne noch das Allgemeine wirklich und genau erkannt wird. Es wird irgendwie semantisch abgeschätzt. Und das ist dann dasselbe Ergebnis, das Valla erreichte, als er nicht das Seiende sondern das Ding zum Transzendentale erklärte.  Universaler Gegenstand der Erkenntnis ist der mehr oder weniger allgemeine Bezugspunkt des Bezeichnens.
Im Hintergrund steht die grundsätzliche Lehre, die beide Philosophen gemeinsam haben, daß das wirklich Transzendente, also das, was die ontologische Absicherung aller Transzendentalien wäre beziehungsweise leisten würde, dem menschlichen Denken nicht zur Verfügung steht. Gott ist der, der allen Dingen das Sein gibt, aber sobald der Mensch versucht davon zu sprechen, macht er Gott zu einem Ding. Verdinglichung ist dann das beste, was der menschliche Geist dank der Sprache leisten kann.

“Nicholas of Cusa in Early Protestant English Editions”

Paul Richard Blum, Loyola University Maryland

DRAFT

[Read at The Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the American Cusanus Society and the International Seminar on Pre-Reformation Theology  in Gettysburg, PA, October 10, 2014]


When in my book on philosophy of religion in the Renaissance I quoted Cusanus’ De visione Dei in the early English translation published by Giles Randall, a reviewer found this somewhat idiosyncratic. And when I used Petrus Bungus and his Numerorum Mysteria as a lead to interpret Cusanus’ philosophical theology, another reviewer, this time for the publisher, found that as inappropriate as interpreting Descartes from the point of view of Spinoza. Now I find Spinoza’s insight into Cartesianism quite enlightening and at times more appropriate than some present-day ruminations. My point was that Bungus is closer to the intended audience of Cusanus and that his using him reveals both the interest of the late 16th century and facets of Cusanus’ thought that might have been overshadowed by modern readings. And indeed, the most interesting fact that came out was, that Cusanus the author of the sermons was much more appreciated than the Cusanus of the Learned ignorance and the De conjecturis, for instance. In the case of De visione my motive was that I was actually not satisfied with the modern English translations. And since I have no barrier reading 17th century philosophical texts, not being an native speaker of modern English, I found the Randall translation very useful to make my case.

This now, is also my motive to return to this translation as a contribution to Cusanus’ reception in the Reformation movements. My question is this: what do we learn of Nicholas of Cusa when we take a closer look at how an English divine interprets him, and, vice versa, what do we learn about religion in the mid 17th century when we see how Cusanus was understood?

Stephan Meier-Oeser has diligently traced the presence of Nicholas of Cusa from the 15th through the 18th centuries. He used the coincidentia oppositorum as a touch stone that indicated knowledge and understanding of this form of thought. It is obvious, and inevitable, that Cusanus was received and appropriated within the Renaissance culture. Therefore the most powerful strains were Neoplatonism and mysticism that went along with the reception of the mystical theology of Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita. That was the case with a set of theses in Giovanni Pico’s 900 conclusions, as well as with the theology of Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, who also discussed the competence of mathematics in speculative thought.[1] What is important for our discussion today is, that a Reformer like Martin Luther had use for the coincidence as a form of thought only by way of misunderstanding, because as an anti-scholastic and a biblical literalist, he had no use for the coincidence of opposites in Christology, and specifically the Eucharist was for him not a coexistence of the divine and the corporeal but simply a linguistic abuse: the unity of the substances is nothing but a synecdoche, that is: reference to an outer appearance that factually and spiritually means the inner substance.[2] Cusanus could only survive in enthusiastic circles of the Reformation movements,[3] that is, in those movements that departed from the various attempts at creating orthodoxy and carried over the Neoplatonic and spiritualist impulses from the Renaissance. However, to the extent that those movements were more or less epistemologically pragmatic or skeptical about experience and fideistic about revelation, they continually disturbed the philosophico-theological equilibrium, which to establish had been Cusanus’ goal from the beginning. In the following I will concentrate on Giles Randall in whom we can observe an honorable struggle with the dialectical thought of Cusanus.

In 1646, Giles Randall published Cusanus’ De visione Dei.[4] Instead of narrating his life and work I suggest to evaluate the importance of this publication of a Cusanus text in 17th-century England by way of taking a close look at the textual properties of Randall’s translation. Some remarks that clarify the context will come in due time.

Compared with 20th century translations it appears to be a reliable translation, that is to say, Randall makes an effort to show his readers that he is faithful to “the learned Dr. Cusanus.” First of all, it is quite a literal translation, and I suspect that Randall’s readers would have had the impression to be confronted with a foreign text that originally was written in Latin.

This becomes obvious when he translates technical terms with pairs. It was common practice in early modern England to render one Latin word with an English variant of the same word in combination with another word that is closer to spoken language, usually coupled with the word “or”. A very obvious case is in the title of chapter 18, where Randall adds to “trine” (for trinus) “or three in one.”[5] But it also happens that Randall explores the multiple meaning of a Cusanian expression by offering two words for one. So in the “Introduction”, he translates visus as “eye” but occasionally also as “eye or sight”:

… he will finde that the eye of the Picture goes continually along with him …

… ask him if the eye or sight of the Picture go along with him …[6]

The translator thus captures the transition from a painted eye to an eye that is watching the beholder. In chapter 4, we even find a clause translated in hybrid form: Et non est videre tuum nisi … turns into

And thy seeing is or in thee to see is nothing else but …[7]

The reader will appreciate the hint that, in God, the power of vision and the activity of seeing are interchangeable. Chapter 5 has two occurrences of two-for-one: principium is rendered here and elsewhere as “principall or beginning”, and ratio as “reason or formality”.[8] The next chapter offers In omnibus faciebus videtur facies facierum velate et in aenigmate as “In all faces is the face of all faces seene but under a veile or covering, and in a dark shadow.”[9] A few lines later velate is rendered as “under a veile or Coverture”.[10] In the same context, Randall enforces revelate by adding “revealedly, and manifestly” thus emphasizing the subjective strife for seeing the sun to the effect that trying to grasp light as such inevitably leads to transcending[11] light, and seeing undoes seeing.

Chapter 7 offers the example of qualifying the mode of an action. In a tree, Cusanus said, we see the seed id had been, “but virtually or in power”. Here it seems that the translator does not trust the reader to be familiar with the technical term of modality, but at the same time he prepares Cusanus’ transiting from virtualiter to virtus: Randall seems to be certain that his audience would not gather the implication that something virtual is actually powerful and a potential must depend upon a “wonderful virtue”.

Perhaps a theological uncertainty drove Randall when he translated esse in paradiso et gloria sempiterna: instead of just saying “glory” he added between curly braces: “joy”  thus translating gloria as “glory or joy” – perhaps here he intended to prepare the reader for the next key term in the paragraph, namely, felicity.[12]

Let us now take a look at some concepts that are crucial to Cusanus’ line of argument. First exemplar: Chapter 6, n. 18, says:

igitur deprehendo vultum tuum, domine, antecedere omnem faciem formabilem et esse exemplar ac veritatem omnium facierum

Randall has:

So therefore I comprehend that thy face O Lord goes before every face formable and is the exemplary truth of all faces.

This time the translator contracts two words, exemplar/veritas, into one expression. But for the most part exemplar is represented as “exemplar or patterne”, as in chapter 6, section 20:

Quis hoc unicum exemplar verissimum et adaequatissimum omnium facierum ita omnium quod et singulorum et ita perfectissime cuiuslibet quasi nullius alterius concipere posset?

… who would conceive this only exemplar or patterne of all faces most true and most adequate to be so …[13]

However, when Cusanus outdoes himself in Platonizing the concepts Randall takes recourse to inventiveness:

Quando autem similiter in cunctis speciebus me ad formam formarum converto, in omnibus tu mihi ut idea et exemplar occurris. Et quia tu es absolutum exemplar et simplicissimum, non es compositus ex pluribus exemplaribus, sed es unum exemplar simplicissimum infinitum, ita quod omnium et singulorum, quae formari possunt, es verissimum et adaequatissimum exemplar.

And when likewise in all other species and kindes I turne my selfe to the forme of forms, in all these dost thou occurre or present thy selfe, as the Idea or Samplar. And because thou art an absolute or most sample-samplar or patterne, thou art not compounded of many Samplars, but art one most sample and absolute samplar, so that of all and every thing that can be formed, thou art the most true and adequat samplar.[14]

We notice that the translator correctly understands the Latin idea et exemplar to be a hendiadys; therefore he translates et as “or”. This also means that Randall uses the word “samplar” not – as became the usage in later times – as ‘specimen’ but, rather, according to 16th-century custom as ‘original’ of a reproduction,[15] i.e., as ‘idea’ in the Platonic sense. Accordingly, he uses the word “sample” as an adjective in the sense of ‘ideal’. To my knowledge this is a unique usage of “sample”, at least the Oxford English Dictionary does not record this word as an adjective. In this way he escalates Cusanus’ “absolute and most simple exemplar” into the “absolute and most ideal idea”. This quotation contains also another two-for-one translation, namely, “thou occurre or present thy selfe” for occurris. In other cases, such as a few lines earlier, Randall uses “meet” as a transitive verb for the same Latin word occurrere.[16]  He seems to attach importance to the perspective that it is God who is active in the encounter.

A second group of words has to do with finiteness and boundaries. In chapter 13, God is addressed as “the end of thy selfe”, whereby “end” stands for finis.[17]  On the following page, however, the translation again employs twin words to reproduce Cusanus’ paradoxes:

Tu, domine, quia es finis omnia finiens, ideo es finis, cuius non est finis, et sic finis sine fine seu infinitus, quod aufugit omnem rationem; implicat enim contradictionem.

... thou o Lord because thou art the bound that boundest all things, therefore art thou the end or bound whereof there is no end or bound, and so the bound without bound, or infinite bound which passeth all reason, for it foulds a Contradiction.[18]

In this case, the translation makes clear that finis has two meanings, end and limit, and keeps them both in the forefront; and by adding “bound” to “infinite” he makes the inherent paradox of the infinite as such palpable. In the same chapter Cusanus uses also the word terminus as probably interchangeable with finis, as is suggested by his twin expression terminatur seu finitur [n. 53]. However, the chapter opens with the paradox of naming: any name of God is not God. And Cusanus states:

Terminus enim omnis modi significandi nominum est murus, ultra quem te video.

A name is a wall that separates the thing named from the person who is trying to capture the essence. Both English translations available to me, those by Lawrence Bond and by Jasper Hopkins, translate terminus as “limit”, and the Dupré translation in German says “Grenze”. Randall translates as follows:

… every terme of the manner of signification of name is a Wall, beyond which I see thee.[19]

Randall refers omnis to terminus and has the genitive function as a qualifier of terminus, so that he is correct in saying: every term that works as a name is a wall … Thus he understands Cusanus to make a semiotic observation, namely, that concepts are limitations insofar as they have the function of names, and hence also all possible names of God demarcate the wall behind which God is hidden or may be seen.

As an interesting detail concerning Cusanus’ peculiar terminology I may mention the translator’s way to cope with the Cusanian posse esse, as it occurs in chapter 15. First the English text uses the abstract concepts “possibility and being”; then it sports the Latin words in parenthesis followed by the translation as “may be”: “If therefore the (posse esse) may be, of the matter should coincide with the Act …”; after that Randall feels comfortable with his new coinage and says, a few lines down: “God, in which I see all may be in act …”[20]  

To conclude my observations on the merits of the translation it should be observed that Randall departs from the punctuation of the Latin texts by connecting or separating clauses in a different way. Maybe he had a manuscript version that differed from those that were at the basis of the Basel edition and the critical editions we read today. This feature may not be important, and yet we may see in it the effort of the translator to make the text fluent and compelling.

In sum, it appears that the translator is very well familiar with Cusanus’ peculiar Latin and the intention of his discourse and he makes an effort to translate the peculiarity into the English of his time in a way that the newness of the thoughts and language becomes more and more familiar.

Having observed that we may turn to the “Epistle to the Reader” by Randall. It opens with a clear dualistic tone that pervades this introduction. The knowledge of God is what is most sought after but “with more industry and less success”, and in this failure “lyeth all loss and misery”. Therefore the distinction between “true knowledge” and “darke ignorance”, “life and death, good and evil, God and the Devill” hinges upon “that one thing necessary”.[21] It should be mentioned right away that devil or Satan are not mentioned in De visione Dei.[22] Reference to Luke 10:42 where Jesus hinted at the unum necessarium that tells Maria apart from Martha features occasionally in Cusanus, especially in his De principio, which he wrote a few years prior to De visione. It is surprising that we have three interpretations of the “one thing necessary”: In the Gospel Jesus elevates contemplation over action. Cusanus quotes Christ in support of the metaphysical and epistemological priority of the One over the many and, although on the whole he is establishing his Christology, at this point he elaborates Neoplatonic henology. His English editor, however, refers the “one thing necessary” to the knowledge of God thus declaring it to be the “corner stone” of “wisdoms house”. With this reading of the Bible Randall introduces Cusanus’ text as an exercise in this strife for knowledge.

This knowledge is now classified according to epistemological gradations: atheists, ignorants (which we would call agnostics), deceived, and true believers. The method of grading the epistemic status of belief or unbelief is quite original. Especially the term ‘atheist’ is usually employed only for polemical purposes and has no factual reality that matches the allegation. Winfried Schröder has convincingly argued that in the Middle Ages and in Early Modernity there is no author who actually and positively denied the existence of God. Even more, ‘atheist’ is a battle cry against the opponent in various ideological and religious fights, and still does not entail imputing that the other squarely denies the existence of God but only that the opponent is mistaken in its concept.[23] Also a brief look at the matches of the search for the term ‘atheist’ in Early English Books Online convinces that the term is most frequently coupled with ‘Epicureans’ , Papists, and other morally depraved enemies. Therefore Randall’s observations are of high interest as he describes the four possible epistemic grades:[24]

Atheists: “owne no God”; an atheist “hath not so much as a conceit of God” and “errs in denying a God”; his “darknesse” is positive.

The second group consists of “profest knowne ignorant, who acknowledge implicitly a God but him to them an unknown God”; this group “conceives a God but ignorantly without substance or so much as Image who or what”; that is, they are “not knowing a God”; their darkness is “negative”.

The third group consists of “ignorant knowers” in as much as they are “setting up some thing for God that is no God” and “conceive a God not in substance but image”; here darkness is “privative”.

Only the fourth  category “is the state of knowledge;” those “know the only God truly,” for this group “not conceives, but knows, not God in Image but essence, and substance, not any thing for God but the true and substantiall God.” And in this state there is light.

Accordingly, among the three ways of ignoring God, the third is the worst, “as it is Satanized and was transformed into an Angel of Light, it being Religious, Sublimate, Idolatry.” This final observation repeats the dualistic approach in ascribing the failure to know God to Idolatry operated by the devil.

Since Cusanus’ exhortation builds upon the image, both literally and metaphorically, it is surprising that Randall warns against human imagery in discoursing of and seeking God. On the other hand his epistemological dissecting of false belief appears to create a bulwark against enthusiasm and at the same time against rational or philosophical theology. Indeed, Randall continues criticizing those who out of hubris “abstract” God to the effect that God is also “abstract … from all things.” In one breath Randall asserts that God is “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28 and Rom. 1:19) and denounces the abstract concept of God as “fancies and imaginations”.[25] With an air of a rational theologian Randall builds up a horizon of expectation that caters to the dualistic world view and yet makes Cusanus’ mysticism intelligible.

Referring to the coincidence of opposites he now declares that “the knowledge of God consisteth in opposites and contradictories to the wisdome of the flesh” (Rom. 8:6)[26] Those contraries are said to be identical with the dualism between truth and its shadow and between substance and sense object.[27] While using Cusanian terminology Randall does not identify the contraries as enfolded in God and unfolded in the world, rather, he appears to relapse into the old fashioned battle of spirit and flesh, ideas and shadows.

We notice that Randall has similar problems conveying the thought of coincidence as Luther had: the real thing is spiritual, isn’t it?

But right after that, the Introduction hastens to reassert the presence of God in His creation by quoting St. Paul’s letters to the Hebrews and to Timothy in order to distinguish the “dead Image” (Hebr. 10:1) from the “fulgur or brightnesse of his glory, and character of his person [Hebr. 1:3], for God is manifest in the flesh [1 Tim. 3:16]”.[28]

As soon as one might have thought Randall is taking a pantheistic turn he changes method and argues again epistemologically or, at least, with reference to an old epistemological adage: “noting is in the understanding, but what is in the sence, first”, which then achieves a Neoplatonic outlook, because the sentence continues with the conditional: “as nothing in the sence is available till it live in the light of the understanding within and at home; so there is no true living knowledge of God within us, till he be in us formed in the face of Iesus Christ.”[29] And with this rhetorical gesture that embraces the intellectual and the Christological aspects of the debate Randall is ready to introduce Dr. Cusanus. The remaining three pages are fully devoted to paraphrasing Cusanus’ discourse on contraction and the coincidence of finite and infinite etc., which then converges with the presence of Christ in the reader, since god “clothes himselfe with flesh, reason, sence, and the forme and nature of a servant who is yet above all”.[30]

If this were the only source that discloses the mind set of 17th-century readers of Cusanus, we would be enabled to state that

-       there was obviously some familiarity with Neoplatonic theory of mind

-       there were likewise residues of a quasi Manichean dualism of God and Satan

-       one could count on a vague familiarity with Aristotelian parlance of substance, senses, experience, etc.

-       and there was a clear apprehension of the mediating role of Christ (‘crucial’ would be misleading, here) for a mystical approach to the divine

-       on the level of philosophical and theological literacy, this translation and its introduction struggle to convey a discourse that was thought out in Latin to a monolingual English audience.

Looking at the text from the opposite perspective, if this were the only source for us to know of Nicholas of Cusa,

-       we would get to know him as a companion in the battle between the wisdom of the flesh and divine wisdom;

-       we would be prompted to investigate things from the perspective of semiotics;

-       we would be exited that the notions of boundary and connectivity may serve to understand the presence of God in our world;

-       and in the end we would acquire a sensitivity for the paradoxical (if not dialectical) interaction between epistemology and reality, a sensitivity that might well discourage us from taking John Locke all to seriously and prepare us to read David Hume a century later.



The title of Cusanus’ text holds some clues as to the intention of the editor. “Ophthalmos aplous” seems to show a Protestant agenda, since reference to the Bible is typical of Reformation piety. In this case it is a quotation from Matthew 6:22 (the Sermon in the Mount) and Luke 11:34, where the eye is mentioned that gives light to the body: “… when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light” (King James Version). Many translations render aplous or Latin simplex as ‘healthy’, ‘sound’, and similar. This reading is justified because Jesus continues by contrasting this eye to the evil eye that put the body into darkness. Now one might be induced to think  that the ‘single eye’ may be understood as God’s watch on humans that is ubiquitous. But the frontispiece of the Book shows a gentleman watching the entire creation in a globe. Therefore, the editor will have taken the aphorism to mean the eye of the beholder. Giles Randall published in 1648 an English translation of the Theologia Germanica,[31] an anonymous text that was made public by Martin Luther, was translated into Latin by Sebastian Castellio, and from there translated into English. Here we have a reference to the eye that is at the same time Christological and anthropological: Christ has two eyes, the right that contemplates eternity, the left that observes creation. Accordingly, the Franckfurter exhorts the Christian reader that in humans these two eyes “cannot do their work together”, therefore the left, the earthly eye should “carry itself as if it were dead”; however, at the same time, “it is necessary that the right eye be employed in contemplation” for the sake of the left eye so that this can perform its duties “and be employed in outward things”.[32] Cusanus’ text, then, focuses on the one right eye of contemplation.[33]

In 1650, a translation of the Idiota dialogues was published, but it has no declared editor or translator. According to Stephan Meier-Oeser the translation was made by John Everard,[34] who is also potentially the translator of the De visione. The English appears at the same time less close to the text and less elegant than that of the De visione Dei. I am not able to prove this claim, but I may observe that the Latin exemplar is rendered as “Sampler”, occasionally with ‘e’ and occasionally capital ‘s’.[35] That may well be a choice made by the printer, but it is obviously a difference. In order to shed light into that question I would have to look at a few Cambridge manuscripts that contain works by Everard and Randall.

The Theologia Germanica and the two English Cusanus translations featured in Ann Conway’s library,[36] which is to say, they probably fit her Neoplatonic interests.

Randall also translated a work by the Capuchin friar Benoît de Canfield (1562-1611), a convert, in the world William Fitch. What Randall published was the not yet translated Third part of Benoit’s work La regle de la perfection under the title A Bright Starre.[37] The work is obviously a compilation of mystical wisdom from Bonaventure and Flemish mystics.[38] In that sense it is germane in a broad sense to Cusanus’ mystical texts. However, the short “Epistle to the Reader” by Randall does not contain one single motive that we saw in his introduction to the Vision of God.

I need to mention yet another work without much insight: Allegedly, Randall is the author of an independent work of mysticism, Divinity and Philosophy Dissected … by a Mad Man (1644).[39] And again, I must say that there is a general commonality with spiritual literature of the time. This texts is much based on the dualism of body and soul, the world of man and the world of the spirit; it also gives some interesting remarks concerning the reading of scripture. But it has no sufficient similarity with Cusanus or Randall’s preface to the text to warrant a detailed interpretation that would shed light on the reception of Cusanus in Protestant England.



To conclude: we may see Nicholas of Cusa as one important thinker within an intellectual movement that went from early humanism, the numerous attempts at reform of Churches and spirituality, and equally to numerous innovations in philosophy. His fortune in mid 17th-century England is testimony for the extent to which he was compatible with certain strains and had been appropriated for certain intellectual agendas. His presence sheds light on early modern England as tormented with the tension between piety and rationality and between conviction and linguistic expression. Thus we appreciate Cusanus’ contribution to raise the complexity of the debate in modern thought.


[1] Stephan Meier-Oeser, Die Präsenz des Vergessenen: Zur Rezeption der Philosophie des Nicolaus Cusanus vom 15. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, Buchreihe der Cusanus-Gesellschaft 10 (Münster: Aschendorff, 1989), 33 f. and 36–52.
[2] Ibid., 87.
[3] Ibid., 96.
[4] On Randall see Nigel Smith, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion, 1640-1660 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 136–143. Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Beacon Paperback 81 (Boston, Beacon Press, 1959), 253–263, http://archive.org/stream/spiritualreforme24934gut/24934.txt. According to Jones, Randall was suspect of Anabaptism. The translation of De visione is perhaps the work of John Everard (ibid. 243 and 260f.), a preacher and translator of, among others, a work by Sebastian Franck (ibid. 242). Cf. Cambridge University Library, A Catalogue of the Manuscripts Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge. Edited for the Syndics of the University Press, vol. 1 (Cambridge University Press, 1856), D xii 68, p. 505, http://archive.org/details/catalogueofmanus01cambuoft. Cf. Don Bryant, “On This Day, 13 February 1626, Giles Randall, Preacher of the Divine Life in the Soul, Takes His B.A. | From My Heart, Out Of My Mind,” accessed September 27, 2014, http://donbryant.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/on-this-day-13-february-1626-giles-randall-preacher-of-the-divine-life-in-the-soul-takes-his-b-a/. According to this entry, 13th February 1626 is the only ascertained date of Randall’s life. According to Meier-Oeser Everard is the translator: Meier-Oeser, Die Präsenz des Vergessenen, 405 (without sources). Relying on the title of the book, I assume that Randall was the translator.  – Giles Randall does not feature in Leslie Stephen, Dictionary of National Biography (New York Macmillan, 1885), http://archive.org/details/dictionaryofnati47stepuoft. nor in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (http://www.oxforddnb.com/index.jsp).
[5] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos Aplous or the Single Eye, Entituled the Vision of God Wherein Is Infolded the Mistery of Divine Presence, so to Be in One Place Finitely in Apperance, as yet in Every Place No Lesse Present, and Whilst Hee Is Here, Hee Is Universally Every Where Infinitely Himselfe. Penned by That Learned Dr. Cusanus, and Published for the Good of the Saints. By Giles Randall., trans. Giles Randall, Thomason Tracts / 168:E.1212[1] (London : Printed for John Streater, at the signe of the Bible in Budge-Row, 1646., 1646), 115.
[6] Ibid., fol. A12r.
[7] Ibid., 13. Italics are mine.
[8] Ibid., 15. De vision n. 21.
[9] Ibid., 26.
[10] Ibid., 27.
[11] The terms are transilire and “transcend”. Ibid.
[12] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos ch. 21, p. 138 [n. 92].
[13] Ibid., 25. Occasionally he also uses the word “samplar", for instance p. 94.
[14] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos chapter 9, p. 47 [n. 34]. Italics are mine.
[15] I am relying on the Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “sampler”: http://www.oed.com.ezp.lndlibrary.org/view/Entry/170417?rskey=O9w4IW&result=1#eid, accessed September 24, 2014.
[16] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos, 47.
[17] Ibid., 75. The previous sentence [n. 53] speculates quomodo finis sit finis sine fine. Tu, deus, es tui ipsius finis …
[18] Ibid., 76 [n. 53].
[19] Ibid., 72 [n. 51]. Hopkins has: “the limit of every mode of signification that belongs to names is the wall …” p. 703; Bond, p. 258,  has: “the wall … is the limit of every mode of signification by names.”
[20] Ibid., 91, 92 [n. 61 and 62].
[21] Ibid., fol. A3r–v.
[22] If I am not mistaken, Satan is mentioned in sermons, in the Cribratio Alcorani, and in the Concordantia Catholica.
[23] Winfried Schröder, Ursprünge des Atheismus Untersuchungen zur Metaphysik- und Religionskritik des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Quaestiones; 11; (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 2012),  69ff.
[24] This and the following: Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos, fol. A44–A5v.
[25] Ibid., A6v–A7r.
[26]For the wisdom of the flesh is death: but the wisdom of the Spirit is life and peace.” 1599 Geneva Bible. The King James Version has: “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
[27] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos, A7v–A8r.
[28] KJV: “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person”.
[29] Nicholas of Cusa, Ophthalmos, A8v–A9r.
[30] Ibid., A10r–v.
[31] Franckfurter, Theologia Germanica. Or, Mysticall Divinitie : A Little Golden Manuall Briefly Discovering the Mysteries, Sublimity, Perfection and Simplicity of Christianity, in Belief and Practise. Written above 250 Years since in High Dutch, & for Its Worth Translated into Latine, and Printed at Antwarp, 1558. Whereto Is Added Definitions Theologicall and Philosophicall. Also a Treatise of the Soul, and Other Additions Not before Printed., trans. Giles Randall (London : Printed for John Sweeting, at the Angell in Popes head Alley, 1648., 1648). According to Como, 54 with note 42, the translation was made probably by Roger Brearley: David R. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil-War England (Stanford University Press, 2004). Randall has been characterized as an "antinomian extremist", and the Theologia Germanica as the "most notorious primer of mystical, perfectionis piety" (Ibid., 5.). However, since I am not familiar with the many groups of religious dissent in early modern England, I need to leave those judgments to specialists. But I hope I can add some content to the understanding of Randall's production. According to http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD/GBR/0012/MS Add.26, there exists a manuscript of this translation Ms Add.26; whereas in Ms Dd.12.68 is John Everard’s translation of the Theologia Germanica.
[32] Franckfurter, Theologia Germanica. Or, Mysticall Divinitie, chapter 7, 13.
[33] Randall’s preface “To the Reader” (fol. A2r-A4r) speaks in vague terms of the difficulty publishing this work in English, he interprets the word “German” of the title as meaning virtues of an eagle and asks for hospitality towards the German stranger.
[34] Meier-Oeser, Die Präsenz des Vergessenen, 403.
[35] Nicholas of Cusa, The Idiot in Four Books. The First and Second of Wisdome. The Third of the Minde. The Fourth of Statick Experiments, or Experiments of the Ballance. By the Famous and Learned C. Cusanus. (London : Printed for William Leake, and are to be sold at the signe of the Crowne in Fleet-street, betweene the two Temple gates, 1650., 1650), for instance 21 [n. 18] and 24 [n. 23].
[36] Sarah Hutton, Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 63 and 93.
[37] Benoît de Canfield, A Bright Starre, Leading To, & Centering In, Christ Our Perfection. Or a Manuell, Entituled by the Authour Thereof, the Third Part of the Rule of Perfection Wherein Such Profound Mysteries Are Revealed, Such Mysterious Imperfections Discovered, with Their Perfect Cures Prescribed, as Have Not Been by Any before Published in the English Tongue: Faithfully Translated for the Common Good., trans. Giles Randall (London: printed by M.S. and are to be sold by Henry Overton in Popes-Head Alley, 1646).
[38] Elfrieda Dubois, Book review of “La Règle de Perfection. The Rule of Perfection,” History of European Ideas 6, no. 3 (January 1985): 372–73, doi:10.1016/0191-6599(85)90056-7. Smith, Perfection Proclaimed, 136–143, maintains there are strong influences of Nicholas, however, I do not see them.
[39] Mad man [Giles Randall], Divinity and Philosophy Dissected, and Set Forth, by a Mad Man. The First Booke, Divided into Three Chapters. Chap. I. The Description of the World in Mans Heart: With the Articles of the Christian Faith. Chap. II. A Description of One Spirit Acting in All, Which Some Affirme Is God. Chap. III. A Description of the Scripture according to the History and Mystery Thereof., Thomason Tracts / 9:E.53[15] (Amsterdam: [s.n.], 1644). Cf. Joseph Ellis Duncan, Milton’s Earthly Paradise: A Historical Study of Eden (U of Minnesota Press, 1972), 262.