De Gandillac’s Cusanus: Order of Justice and Nexus of Love

As Nicolaus Cusanus’ thought de­veloped from the ground-​breaking Docta Ignorantia one can de­tect that move­ment that each thinker must make as they pass to the limit, and pass right through. In the fol­lowing se­lec­tion, Maurice de Gandillac shows us how Cusanus (here de Cusa) car­ries out his deep med­it­a­tion on the syn­thesis of justice and love in life; a syn­thesis which is it­self living, a life. Cusanus already seems to have un­der­stood that the modern ques­tion an­nounced in Descartes’ Third Meditation – what God-​given per­fec­tions latent in me have I yet to actualise? – might not be an­swer­able by ref­er­ence to the self; rather by ref­er­ence to the over­coming of the self – that the per­fec­tions in ques­tion are a matter not of a dif­ferent quantum, but of a qual­it­ative change and sub­la­tion in the human.

In con­sid­ering these ques­tions of life and human per­fec­tion, Cusanus be­comes a site for the en­counter between Hegel and Deleuze, and this is no wonder, for as the reader may well be aware, it was De Gandillac who stood as Deleuze’s doc­toral tutor. In Zones of Immanence (1985) Deleuze writes:

What a shame that [de Gandillac’s] greatest book, La philo­sophie de Nicolas de Cues, is now so hard to find, not having been re­printed. In its pages we watch a group of con­cepts being born, both lo­gical and on­to­lo­gical, that will char­ac­terise “modern” philo­sophy through Leibniz and the German Romantics. One such concept is the no­tion of Possest, which ex­presses the im­manent iden­tity of act and power. And this flir­ta­tion with im­man­ence, this com­pet­i­tion of between im­man­ence and tran­scend­ence, already tra­verses the work of Eckhart, as well as the work of the Rhine mystics…

So when we read the fol­lowing beau­tiful ex­plic­a­tion of Cusanus’ thought on the need for a living uni­fic­a­tion of the order of justice and the loving nexus, we cannot but help but find the seeds of a cer­tain kind of Deleuzian thought.

As usual the trans­la­tion is free. The se­lec­tion is drawn from the “hard to find” La philo­sophie de Nicolas de Cues which was tracked down to a Dekenat in Limburg(!). 

When Descartes, in a com­pletely dif­ferent philo­soph­ical con­text, dis­covered in the thought of Man the in­dubit­able mark of di­vine Action, he wondered whether the idea of the Infinite cor­res­ponded to a sort of vir­tu­ality, whether the in­def­inite per­fecting of the human spe­cies – the pro­gressive dia­lectic of the Spirit across fu­ture civil­isa­tions – jus­ti­fied the pres­ence in us of a “seal” that is in­com­pat­ible with a cur­rent stunted-​ness. If Cardinal de Cusa had had the same scruples with re­spect to the his­tor­ical ap­pear­ance of the Man-​God, he would have per­haps ascribed to the Cartesian re­sponse, which rests on the very ne­ces­sity of an Act which would be wholly other than a Power [Puissance1], of a Being which would be ir­re­du­cible to a be­coming, with much greater read­i­ness than his double doc­trine of the Limit and the Possest would en­title him – more than Descartes – to the use of Scholastic ter­min­o­logy. But his ac­tual re­sponse would be drawn from the per­sonal char­acter of sin and redemption.

The de­mand of the living Christ con­cerns each person vi­tally. The monads are ab­so­lute sin­gu­lar­ities which are only im­per­fectly ex­pressed in signs and acts. In order to at­tain the real ground, the quid­dity of each among them, one re­quires nothing less than the in­finite di­vine thought. That is why, moreover, in­di­viduals only take on their true value through a con­cord which ex­ceeds them. Every col­lective im­per­ative which neg­lects sin­gular vo­ca­tions is pure op­pres­sion; con­versely, there is no vo­ca­tion what­so­ever which is real­is­able without a com­munal in­cor­por­a­tion. This how­ever is in­suf­fi­cient if one re­mains on the plane of the in­def­inite and the con­tracted. De Cusa’s theory of the Incarnation thus presents the double char­acter of a so­ci­olo­gical pos­it­ivism and a mys­ter­ious struc­tur­alism which re­sponds to the de­mands of nature it­self. At the centre of these two move­ments, the very no­tion of the ir­re­place­able person alone gives both the en­tirety of their sense.

As the light has need of colour in order to mani­fest it­self in the in­def­inite variety of col­oured sur­faces, like­wise, we know, the totally “un­con­tract­able” Unity ab­so­lu­tis­sime re­quires, in order to spread it­self to the monads spe­cialis­simes, not a cosmic in­ter­ven­tion which would be a sort of de­riv­ative God, but rather that uni­versal in­ter­pen­et­ra­tion which is ex­pressed upon the plane of know­ledge by the in­ex­haust­ible play of in­tel­li­gible re­la­tions. Each man, like­wise, is in a sense the en­tirety of Humanity per­ceived under a unique “point of view”, and, through it, the en­tire cre­ated world. It is for this sin­gular man to be­come con­scious of his role, for him firstly to will his own faith­ful­ness to the de­mands of being itself.

ad­verte hu­man­it­atem tuam uni­versum esse tuum am­bire,
teque di­vin­it­atem in ejus con­trac­tione participare

But this con­scious­ness is im­possible, as is the will to ac­com­plish it, without a com­munal in­cor­por­a­tion where there will be real­ised the syn­thesis of justice and charity.

It is a com­pletely es­sen­tial idea that de Cusa did not in­vent, but for which he knew how to find striking for­mu­la­tions. It per­mits him to ex­ceed the clas­sical quarrel between the in­di­vidual and the so­cial, to give all its value to the Gospel par­able of the vine and the branches [John 15.1 – 17]. That the mys­tery of per­sonal vo­ca­tion resides in the sin­gular re­la­tion of the person to the in­finite which is within; that each “sep­arate” in­di­vidual has need of an in­ternal renais­sance, of a “dei­fic­a­tion” or a “fi­li­ation” which jus­ti­fies the Pascalian an­guish and the “drop of blood” spilled for “each” sinner; that the human drama be com­pletely other than the ra­tional de­mands of an eth­ical uni­ver­sality or a con­tra­dic­tion which is al­ways over­come by a formal dia­lectic – de Cusa did not doubt it for an in­stant. But without availing him­self of the lan­guage of Comte, he already knew that the isol­ated man is no less an ab­stract fic­tion than hu­manity, un­der­stood as “genus” or “spe­cies”. The di­vine life it­self, as soon as we manage to think it, ap­pears as a re­la­tion of Person to Person. It is there­fore pre­cisely not a monad which, even as far as it bears in it­self the Trinitarian power of the Transcendent, par­ti­cip­ates in the double pro­cess of Levelling and Connexion, nor con­scious­ness which, at the three stages of sen­sa­tion, reason, and in­tel­lec­tion, which will dis­cover the pre­mon­i­tion of a Justice and a Love.

The or­ganic unity of the body, con­ceived in the manner of the Stoa in a very op­tim­istic fashion, already pre­fig­ures this har­mo­nious com­mu­nion where nothing is sac­ri­ficed for nothing, but where everything con­spires in the in­terest of all. In sen­sa­tion we easily dis­cover a phys­ical need of order, an ad­apt­a­tion of the living body to its en­vir­on­ment, an erot­i­cism through which the in­di­vidual com­mu­nic­ates the in­ten­tions of the spe­cies while uniting with other in­di­viduals through the most in­timate link. With reason we at­tain a greater spir­itu­al­isa­tion by the same ef­fort, at­tain per­ceptive syn­thesis, gen­er­al­isa­tion, the equan­imity of the an­cient Sage, the ideal of solid­arity of the modern cit­izen. It will be ne­ces­sary how­ever that, by co­in­cid­entia op­pos­itorum, the in­tel­lect ex­ceeds even this plane and leads us to the para­doxes of the Third term, there where alone the ordo iustitia mixes with the con­nexio amorosa, where the re­wards of the de­serving are at the same time the pardon of faults, where the person flour­ishes in the forgetting.

Yet this Aufhebung is only pos­sible through the in­finite love of man for God which mixes with the very love of God for man. But this double love, which is ex­pressed in the pre­cepts and coun­sels of the Gospels, is only a Life through the very per­sonage of Christ in­carn­ated and the through the mys­tical Body which pro­longs its pres­ence in the in­def­inite dur­a­tion of the ages.

It is very im­portant there­fore that the di­vine gift be not in­terior il­lu­min­a­tion, not in­vis­ible re­newal of souls, but an event which in­ter­venes in a tra­di­tion, which is per­petu­ated in in­sti­tu­tions. As with bio­lo­gical life, spir­itual life is the work of a com­munity and Christ is present in hearts only be­cause he is at one and the same time the common source of lives and the sin­gular model of each among them.

The daily nour­ish­ment that Sunday Prayer de­mands – this is not only an in­tel­lec­tual doc­trine; it is di­vine Wisdom be­come co-​substantial with the saved soul. While other foods are lost in us to nourish us, this food alone raises us to him and unites us in him, like the parts of a com­plete or­ganism. To sep­arate from the all, it is to be con­demned and perish just as if the finger de­cided to cut it­self from the hand. This in­cor­por­a­tion sup­poses a so­cial en­gage­ment; it is ex­pressed vis­ibly in a church mem­ber­ship. And if the sin to be pardoned is that of each of us, sal­va­tion is only ap­pro­priate for the col­lectivity of sin­ners in solid­arity, to the ex­tent that they mu­tu­ally re­cog­nise them­selves as brothers in sin and as brothers in hope.

Tomorrow’s se­lec­tion: Jakob Böhme: the tragedy of freedom and the curse of the law

Show 1 foot­note

  1. Descartes’ text uses po­tentia

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