Say it ain’t so, Nicholas

Say it ain’t so, Nicholas May 20, 2005

For reasons that I’ll detail in a subsequent post, I’m a considerable fan of Nicholas of Cusa. I was unhappy to come across this from William Cavanaugh: “The origin of the modern concept of religion can be seen clearly in the thought of two fifteenth-century Christian Platonist thinkers, Nicholas of Cusa and Marsilio Ficino. For Cusa, religion is identified not with rites or bodily practices but with an essence that stands behind the practices. The body interfered with true religion. What was needed was ‘that man would have to walk according to his interior rather than his exterior nature.’ The ‘interior man’ was one of who relied on reason, not the senses: ‘all who use their reason have one religion and cult which is at the bottom of all the diversity of rites.’ This bottom, for Cusa, was still Christian; the common essence of religion was in reality faith in Christ. But it is a different Christianity, because his conception of religion interiorizes a ‘real’ core that is distinguished from ‘mere’ external actions (like the church’s worship). That is new.” Thus Cusa becomes part of Cavanaugh’s account of the rise of “religion,” and hence the rise of the “secular” that is distinguished from “religion.”

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