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Nicholas of Cusa

1401-1464. German philosopher and cardinal. A native of Kues, he studied at Heidelberg and Padua, and became a doctor of canon law of Cologne in 1423. After lecturing at Cologne he became dean of St. Florin's, Coblenz (1431). At the Council of Basle* he wrote De concordantia catholica, which supported the superiority of the council over the pope. Annoyed with the proceedings of the council and its unconcern for Greek union, he supported Eugenius IV's move to Ferrara. In 1437-38 he was sent to Constantinople in the interests of reunion, and later served the papal cause in Germany (diets of Mainz, 1441; Frankfurt, 1442; Nuremberg, 1444) until settlement between pope and emperor came in the Concordat of Vienna (1448), by which time Nicholas V had made him cardinal.

Created bishop of Brixen (1450), he was appointed papal legate to Germany to preach the Jubilee indulgence, reform religious and diocesan clergy, and hold synods. He visited Vienna, Magdeburg, Haarlem, and Trier. Taking up his post in 1452, he worked hard at preaching, synods, and visitations until opposition from Duke Sigmund of Austria forced him to flee in 1457. He took refuge at Buchenstein in the Dolomites, where he wrote De beryllo, an essay on human knowledge; he resigned in 1458. Pius II appointed him vicar-general in 1459. With his father and sister he built a hospital in Kues which still exists and contains his library. He spent his final years as camerarius of the Sacred College in Rome. Having read the Fathers and contemplated mathematical, philosophical, and theological matters, he wrote De docta ignorantia (1440); De Coniecturis (1442); and four dialogues, Idiota (1450). The fall of Constantinople inspired his De pace fidei. More than 300 sermons and other writings remain. His non-Scholastic work was inspired by Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, Bonaventure, and Eckhart. Contributing to mathematics and astronomy, and responsible for the first geographical map of central Europe, he was also a legal historian, questioning the Donation of Constantine* and the Pseudo-Isidorian decrees.

H. Bett, Nicholas of Cusa (1932); M. de Gandillac, Nikolaus von Cues (1953); E. Meuthen, Die letzten Jahre des Nikolaus von Kues (1958); P.E. Sigmund, Nicholas of Cusa and Medieval Political Thought (1963).