Leeds International Medieval Congress 5-9 July 2021

The following sessions will be sponsored by the Cusanus Society of UK and Ireland at the upcoming International Medieval Congress Leeds 2021. Our four sessions will all be held Friday 9 July.
The Congress will be held online this year. View information

Sponsor:          Cusanus Society of UK and Ireland
Organizer:       Simon J. G. Burton, University of Edinburgh
Presider:          William P. Hyland, University of St Andrews

Panel title and abstract:

Nicholas of Cusa, I: Nicholas of Cusa between Platonism and Aristotelianism

This session will approach the question of the ongoing influence that the availability of new texts, whether in the Aristotelian or Platonic tradition, had on the philosophical thought of Cusanus. It will view the way that Cusanus digested newly available texts, and how they led him to take up new metaphysical positions. Close study of his works reveals that Cusanus’ metaphysical ideas would evolve, and a close examination of the marginalia of certain manuscripts sheds light on this process as it happened.


A) The Platonic Turn: The Role of Platonism in Cusanus’s De Principio

Luca Burzelli, Independent Scholar

There is no need to underline that the availability of Plato’s Parmenides, translated into Latin by Trebizond, must have represented a turning point for Cusanus in 1459. The question of divine being and its communication (even verbal, according to the biblical image Tu quis es?) stands from the very first lines of the treatise De principio. Nevertheless, one cannot but detect an increasing attention for the problem of the One and its priority to Being. The purpose of this talk is to explore the relation between these first two hypostases according to the last paragraphs of De principio and to verify if the conclusion (§ 39) is coherent with Cusanus’ previous and following works.

B) Cusanus, Reader of Aristotle’s Metaphysics: The Marginalia of the Codex Cusanus 184 (Bernkastel-Kues, St Nikolaus-Hospital)

Salvatore Carannante, University of Pisa

Among the manuscripts from Cusanus’ library and preserved in the Cusanusstift, a special place is occupied by the Codex Cusanus 184, namely an exemplar of the Aristotelis Metaphysica translata a Bessarione. The margins of this manuscripts are in fact filled with notes, comments and glossae, by Cusanus’ own hand, which show a very careful reading of the text. Focusing on these marginalia, this paper aims to outline the complex relation the Cardinal established with the aristotelian Metaphysica, in order to highlight, more in general, how and with theoretical consequences he read and assimilated one of the fundamental texts of the Western philosophical tradition.

C) Nicholas of Cusa on God as Causa sui

Félix Resch, Faculté Notre-Dame, Collège des Bernardins, Paris

In accordance with Augustine’s De Trinitate, most mediaeval thinkers, including Aquinas, reject the concept of causa sui as self-contradictory. In one of his early sermons, even Nicholas of Cusa dismisses the idea of self-causation. However, some of his later works (De aequalitate, De ludo globi, Sermo CCXVI) attest that this concept reappears within his metaphysics of the divine intellect. This important shift in Cusa’s philosophy, which has never adequately been questioned, still needs to be explained. In my paper, I will try to show why Cusa, unlike Aquinas and Augustine, has finally been driven to consider the Trinitarian God as a causa sui.

Sponsor:          Cusanus Society of UK and Ireland
Organizer:       Simon J. G. Burton, University of Edinburgh
Presider:          Luca Burzelli, Independent Scholar

Panel title and abstract:

Nicholas of Cusa II: Cusanus and the Mendicants

This session will contribute to the ongoing process of understanding the role that late medieval thinkers from the various mendicant traditions (in this case Dominican and Franciscan) influenced both the philosophical underpinnings of Cusanus’ speculative theological thought and practical aspects of his presentation of Christian devotion and moral responsibility. In doing so it will offer a new context of mendicant theology and spirituality for evaluating Cusanus’ pioneering role as a late medieval philosopher and theologian.


A) Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa on Determinatio

Antonio Dall’Igna, Dipartimento di Filosofia e Scienze dell’Educazione, Università degli Studi di Torino

The thought of Meister Eckhart displays a radical and corrosive criticism of the determinatio, i.e. the essential element of the spatio-temporal texture. In order to reach the divine condition, human being has to bring into accomplishment the detachment, which entails an operational and conscious conversio from the images of mind and from the will to possess to the apex mentis and the divine love. Even though Nicholas of Cusa is influenced by Eckhart’s theory of detachment, as far as the determinatio is concerned, his thought displays a strong theophanic position: natural and rational beings are considered as divine lights. Both thinkers show a similar mystical approach but a slightly different consideration of the determinatio. Nevertheless, determinatio plays an unavoidable role in the divine and detached man. He has abandoned the fallacy of determinatio, but the divine quantum shines forth in his own determinatio: according to Eckhart and Cusanus, the human form, which cannot be eliminated in the mystical inner deed, is the determinatio which permits the manifestation of the divinity.

B) Re-Evaluating the Franciscan Roots of Nicholas of Cusa’s Coincidence of Opposites

Simon J. G. Burton, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

In his Bonaventure and the Coincidence of Opposites Cousins identified an important connection between the Seraphic Doctor and the fifteenth-century Cardinal.  More recently, Meier-Oeser has argued, based on a strong textual foundation, that Cusa’s merging of Duns Scotus’ formal distinction with Lullist conceptualities paved the way for his own breakthrough to the coincidence of opposites.   Drawing on evidence from the early sermons as well as annotations from the Cusanus’ MS in Bernkastel-Kues this paper argues for a wider connection between Cusa’s emerging methodology and the Franciscan understanding of God and creation.  It especially examines Franciscan Trinitarian theology as a locus for reflecting on the relation between identity and distinction within God – an important precondition for the coincidence of opposites.  Finally, this paper presents evidence that Cusanus continued to draw on Scotus’ formal distinction to inform his Trinitarian metaphysics of being, even as he distanced himself from Scotist “formalisers” who he felt threatened the simplicity of the divine being.  In this way it shows Cusa to have been both participant in and critic of the Franciscan turn in late medieval theology.

C) Cusanus’s Use of Bonaventure in His Sermons

William P. Hyland, School of Divinity, University of St Andrews

The influence of Franciscan thought, including Bonaventure, on Cusanus, continues to be a rich vein of exploration among scholars, both in the realm of philosophy and speculative theology. This paper will attempt to explore the varied use of Bonaventure in the large body of sermons by Cusanus. It will seek to demonstrate the multivalent influence of the Seraphic Doctor, in his various genres, on the way Cusanus over his long and varied career sought to present Christian doctrine and inculcate Christian praxis.

Sponsor:          Cusanus Society of UK and Ireland
Organizer:       Simon J. G. Burton, University of Edinburgh
Presider:          Christopher M. Bellitto, Kean University

Panel title and abstract:

Nicholas of Cusa III: Cusanus and Reformation and Early Modern Theology

This session explores the influence of Cusanus on Reformation and early modern theology. It examines aspects of both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations and is wide-ranging in its coverage of doctrine, art, mysticism and debates over epistemology and reason. It considers Cusanus’ impact on Reformation and Counter-Reformation alike. It also reveals him as a seminal figure whose influence can be detected in important and foundational philosophical, theological and aesthetic debates of the Late Middle Ages and early modernity.


A) “Dolores Inferni in Anima Sustinuisse”: Christ’s Descent into Hell in the Thought of Calvin, Lefèvre, Pico, and Cusa

Preston Hill, University of St Andrews

In this paper I explore Calvin’s theology of the descent into hell as the Lefèvrian reception of a Cusanisn theme. Although Calvin spends five times more space in the Institutes addressing the descensus than any other clause of the Apostle’s Creed this topic is only passingly treated in existing literature on Calvin, yielding a misunderstanding of its significance for his theology. It is not coincidental that Lefèvre, who famously articulated the same interpretation as Calvin prior to him based on an influential sermon from Cusa, is also underappreciated in Calvin scholarship as a voice pertinent to Calvin’s theological development. Coming to grips with the descensus in Cusa’s sermon (and the relevant claims of Pico’s Apology) and consequently in Lefèvre’s Psalter can shed significant light on the place of Christ’s descent into hell in Calvin’s theology and can demonstrate that Calvin’s interpretation on this topic was far from novel.

B) The Purposes of Visual Art in Nicholas of Cusa and John of the Cross

Emma Mavin, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

In De Visione Dei, Nicholas of Cusa uses art as a tool within a mystical path which ultimately discards both image and vision. This theme of apophatic art is also present in the work of John of the Cross (1542 – 1591), whose cautious yet affirmative stance on visual art represents a development of debates over the use of images within mystical theology. This paper aims to illustrate the convergence and divergence of views of art in Nicholas of Cusa and John of the Cross, demonstrating the ways in which mystical theologians continued to engage with the themes of Cusanus’ work in the early modern period.

C) Faith and reason at the dawn of modernity: Nicholas of Cusa and Gisbertus Voetius

Matthew C. Baines, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh

The renowned Dutch Puritan theologian and pastor Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) commended Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) as an example of the proper use of reason in matters of faith. This paper will show that Voetius followed Cusa in closely uniting philosophy and theology in Neoplatonic fashion. In doing so, Voetius distinguished his approach from the Aristotelian model, which tended to separate philosophy and theology, and which Voetius believed resulted in atheism in scepticism, most famously exemplified in his arch-opponent Rene Descartes (1596–1650). Thus, this paper will show that Cusa in particular and Renaissance philosophy in general had a more profound effect on early modern thought than has been hitherto recognised.

Co-sponsors:   Cusanus Society of UK and Ireland, American Cusanus Society
Organizer:       Christopher M. Bellitto, Kean University
Presider:          Louise Nelstrop, University of Cambridge

Panel title and abstract:                                               

Nicholas of Cusa IV: Ecclesiology, church reform, and interreligious dialogue          

This panel explores the relationship among ecclesiology, church reform, and interreligious dialogue primarily, but not exclusively, through the lens of Nicholas of Cusa. Sources mined include sermons and treatises with a particular concern with reexamining accepted conventional wisdom about Cusanus’ relationship with the Reformation, papacy, and Islam. The papers marry institutional concerns with spiritual issues by also exploring the lived experience of pastors, bishops, and Christians and Muslims engaged in sometimes-tenuous dialogue.


A) Reforming the cura animarum: The Good Shepherd Metaphor in Late-Medieval Sermons

Richard J. Serina, Jr., Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

Over 100 recorded sermons of the late-fourteenth and fifteenth centuries address the pericope of the Good Shepherd (pastor bonus) from John 10, and many were preached to secular and regular clergy by noted reformers such as Jean Gerson, Nicholas of Cusa, Vincent Ferrer, Denys the Carthusian, Bernardino of Siena, and Jan Hus, among others. This study will address pertinent sermons and their use of the Good Shepherd metaphor in reforming the clergy, and in particular how they view the care of souls in pastoral reform—over against Reformation scholarship that argues the contrary.

B) Cusanus on Correcting Popes

Christopher M. Bellitto, Kean University

Although Nicholas of Cusa is said to have moved from conciliarist to papalist—a portrait this paper will nuance—he was not an uncritical supporter of papal authority. Cusanus believed the pope’s authority was grounded in the faith and office of Peter and not personally in Peter’s successor, who could therefore fairly be corrected. This position meant that bishops, too, participated in the magisterium and could safeguard it from a pope’s actions, especially when gathered in a general council. Cusanus was ambivalent in his position, however, noting that episcopal authority follows from papal authority even as it shares the same source.

C) Ecclesiology and Reform in Nicholas of Cusa’s Encounter with Islam

Joshua Hollmann, Concordia College New York

Nicholas of Cusa’s seminal experience at the Council of Basel and his association with Juan de Segovia and Heymeric de Campo commenced his career long theological consideration of Islam. Ecclesiology and reform form the basis of Cusanus’s encounter with Islam and exegesis of the Qur’an. This study considers the context and content of Cusanus’s ecclesiology and reform in relation to Islam through examining Cusanus’s sources on Islam at Basel and beyond, as well as his writings on Islam, and contends that the Cribratio Alkorani is a new Tome of Leo and the culmination of Cusanus’s engagement with Islam.

Nicolas of Cusa looking upwards, with hands raised in front of him in supplication