Dialogue on the Hidden God – Nicholas of Cusa – Pt 2

Read Part One.

Where we last left off, the Pagan had asked how the Christian would explain our ability to distinguish between a human being and a stone. The Christian was explaining to the Pagan how we really don’t know the essence of something even though we may claim to. The best example of this is to try to answer the question “What is a stone?” Our intellect cannot exhaust the essence of a stone (if there is an essence at all). But again, how is it that we know something is a stone and not a human being and vice versa?

Christian. …That you know that a human is not a stone does not result from a knowledge by which you know a human and a stone and their difference, but it results from accident, from a difference in the ways of operating and their shapes, to which you discern them, you impose different names.

In short, our ability to differentiate between a stone and a human comes from our senses, not from our absolute comprehension of the essences of the human and the stone. Accident, by the way, is not a word that means something that happens unintentionally (like a car accident). Accident refers to the “incidental property of a thing.” We can say that something is a stone based on the way it looks, acts, feels, and sounds. We are observing the stone’s accidents. After we observe the accidents of a human and a stone, we can tell that they are not the same thing. We then apply words that will keep them differentiated.

The Christian is emphatic about the need to admit ignorance of the truth.. This is not an ignorance born out of laziness or stubbornness, nor an unwillingness to submit oneself to the truth. This is an ignorance that is for the sake of preserving the truth, acknowledging its power and glory. One does not grasp the truth. One does not have the truth. One is brought to their knees because of the profundity of the truth. The Christian’s position is essentially summed up in the adage: “The more you learn, the more you learn that you don’t know.” The Christian adds, “one will easily discover that what one thinks one knows can be known even more truly.” Truth is infinitely deep and the finite intellect can never reach the bottom.

To illustrate this, the Christian tells the Pagan that when we look at an object, there is always the possibility of seeing that object more perfectly. If we don’t have 20/20 vision, then it’s obvious that someone who does have it will be able to see that thing better. What’s more is that when we look at an object, we typically see only parts of it or we see it from one perspective. To truly see an object would be to see it in all of its parts at once from all possible perspectives. Imagine being able to look at a basketball from every possible angle at once.

So it is with the truth. Our vision of the truth is limited to our finite perspective and there is always room for a better viewing of the truth. It would be right, then, to admit that we have not grasped the truth and that the truth is unknowable because of our limitations. This does not mean that there is no absolute truth. Rather, it means that the absolute cannot be comprehended absolutely by our limited intellects, experiences, beliefs, dogmas, and actions.

Here is where it seems as if the Christian creates a paradox. The truth can only be known in truth. Truth does not exist outside of truth. Thus, one must participate in the truth so as to discover truth. The Christian asks, “Would not a blind man be judged out of his mind who thought he knew the differences between colors, when we has ignorant of color?” So how is it that we can know the truth without knowing it? But wait, isn’t the whole point to know the truth in the first place? And isn’t the Christian saying that we don’t actually know the truth? It seems contradictory. Yes, it is a paradox. The Pagan realizes this confusion and asks a similar question: “But if nothing can be known, who among human beings, therefore, is knowing?” The Christian replies that the one who knows the truth is the one who knows that they do not know the truth. The one who knows, knows that they are ignorant. To be in the truth, to participate in it, is to acknowledge that one does not know. Then one is in the truth.

And if it were not for this ignorance, contemplation of the truth would be impossible, the Christian suggests: “One reveres truth who knows that without it one can attain nothing, whether being or living or understanding.”

The subject of the dialogue now turns to God. The Pagan asks the Christian whether or not the Christian worships because of the truth. “Yes,” the Christian replies. But there is a difference between the worship of the Pagan and the worship of the Christian. The Christian critiques the Pagan’s worship by saying that the Pagan thinks he knows God when he really doesn’t. The Christian, on the other hand, states that his God “is ineffable truth.” The Christian’s God is absolute truth, “unmixed, eternal, and ineffable truth itself.” The Pagan, all the more inquisitive (and likely confused, as am I), asks the Christian to tell him more about the God he worships.

Pagan. I ask you, Brother, to lead me so I can understand you about your God. Tell me what you know about the God you worship.

Here is where the Christian’s epistemology comes into play.

Christian. I know that everything I know is not God and that everything I conceive is not like God, but rather God surpasses all these.

Part three will follow, explaining what the Christian means.


One thought on “Dialogue on the Hidden God – Nicholas of Cusa – Pt 2

  1. Pingback: Dialoge on the Hidden God – Nicholas of Cusa – Pt 3 | Until I have passed by.

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