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On his blog, No Comment, Scott Horton tells us that Senator Obama's recent eloquent response to an Evangelical inquisition by Francis Graham, son of Billy, brings forward Cusanus's response, 555 years ago this May, to the devastating invasion and occupation of his holy city, Constantinople, in the religious war that occupies us today.
Humankind can achieve one true religion with diverse rituals (una religio in rituum diversitate), Cusanus writes.
What Cusanus therefore proposes is tolerance. However, it is not the insulting sort of tolerance, which proposes official indifference. Rather it is a tolerance that has its roots in a philosophical commitment to the search for truth and a recognition that human frailties and imperfections will always lead to mistakes. “For it is a condition of the earthly human estate to mistake for truth that which is merely long-adhered-to custom, indeed, even to mistake this for a part of nature,” Cusanus writes (habet autem hoc humana terrena condicio quod longa consuetudo, quæ in naturam transisse accipitur, pro veritate defenditur.)
But how to reconcile faiths so disparate? For Muslims, polygamy is an accepted practice; for Christians, it is a crime. Christians embrace the notion of a trinity, which Jews and Muslims deride as a vestige of a primitive polytheistic past. For Muslims, paradise is unfolded as a place for carnal pleasures with dark-skinned maidens granted to soldiers who have died in battle, a prospect he says would be unappealing to the sober Christian who aspires to leave behind the life of the flesh. Cusanus gives the answer through the Apostle Paul: man achieves salvation on the basis of faith, not works; these faiths are united in the tradition of Abraham, and their common grounding provides a basis to surmount their differences. The just spirit will achieve eternal life (anima justi hæreditabit vitam æternam). He also adopts an anthropological perspective with regards to customs and rites. They are instituted for important purposes, perhaps, but their ultimate spiritual significance can well be doubted, and their importance can become outlived. Thus a diversity of rites presents no obstacle to the recognition of a common fundamentally shared religion, particularly among the Abrahamic faiths.
Surely, however, the author, a prince of the Roman Catholic church and arguably the greatest theologian it produced in his era, does not distance himself from the sacraments and their importance, and advocates Jesus Christ as a personal intermediator and savior. But with equal clarity, he has answered Rev. Graham’s question to Barack Obama, and the answer he gives is identical to the one that Obama gave Graham (”Jesus is the only way for me. I’m not in a position to judge other people.”)
O sister my Sister!
O brother my Brother!
O mother my Mother!
There is no absolute Other, only relatively Beloved
So I asked (via e-mail) Prof. Horton if Cusanus was indeed the source.
A Renaissance Painter's View Out the Big Window
You'll have to visit No Comment for the actual Cusanus quote. Notice the shift in focus expressed by the placement of the figures . It's a Renaissance image corresponding to our new self-portrait, our tilted heliosphere, that I posted last month.
Scott Horton writes:
At the core of the values of the early Renaissance was the notion of the human individual and the cosmos; these ideas are generally tied to the great humanists of the Quattrocento such as Petrarch or Pico della Mirandola. But Ernst Cassirer and Erwin Panofsky saw the same concepts expressed in the paintings of Jan van Eyck and his contemporary, the theologian and philosopher Nicholas of Kues or Cusanus, and both specifically cite the masterpiece The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin as a prime example. In Die Kunst der Künste (1999), Anita Albus has provided a detailed development of the Cassirer-Panofsky thesis, drawing on this passage from Cusanus and carefully reviewing the construction of the van Eyck masterpiece. “The wounding recognition that the earth was not the center of the universe was compensated for by the enhanced status of the individual,” Albus writes in her discussion of van Eyck, quoting Cusanus. “The equivalence of every point of view corresponds to the continuum of space.” The American art historian Clifton Olds has made similar arguments.