Series: German mysticism and legal theory
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