Nicholas of Cusa's Coincidentia Oppositorum


    The English term "coincidence of opposites" is derived from the Latin term

coincidentia oppositorum, the fullest exploration of which is attributed to

Nicholas of Cusa, also called Nicolas Cusanus, whose 1450 Of Learned Ignorance

(De Docta Ignorantia), sets forth a theological and geometrical justification

for the concept.  Like the Romantics in the eighteenth and nineteenth

centuries, Cusanus in the fifteenth century felt discontent with the logical

exclusions imposed upon him.  Reacting against a theology that limited the

power of God and the power of man, Cusanus set forth a counter theory. 

Similarly, reacting against a neo-classicism that limited the power of man,

many Romantics accepted or assumed a theory similar to that of Cusanus. In

response to the limits set by the rational compromises that guided the

Enlightenment, Romantic writers sought a way to surpass exclusions by bringing

together forces that neo-classical thought kept separate.  Paradoxically, but

appropriately, neo-classical writers also used the coincidence of opposites as

a way of maintaining the status quo.  But while Pope, the example of neo-

classicism in this study, poses a mysterious coincidence of opposites that

keeps man and God separate, Blake, and to a lesser extent the other Romantics,

pose a coincidence of opposites that radically joins God and man.

    Cusanus does not receive much attention from historians of philosophy;

part of the reason can be found in the destructive nature of his theory, which

denies a major aspect of the tradition of reason in philosophy.  According to

Pauline Moffitt Watts, Cusanus's doctrine of learned ignorance


    begins at that very point at which the usual modes of philosophizing

    collapse; the root of "learned ignorance" is the fact that absolute truth

    is beyond man's grasp.  For this reason, Cusanus's new mode of speculation

    "undoubtedly vanquishes all modes of ratiocination of all philosophers." 



Ernst Cassirer puts the issue most succinctly: to reconcile opposites would

dissolve philosophy itself.  <2> 

    Because we in the twentieth century are so accustomed to an empiricist

perspective, the very basis of the coincidence of opposites can easily elude

us.  The difficulty of acknowledging the concept even when the writer

emphasizes it finds an unexpected example in Northrop Frye's posthumously

published work The Double Vision.  <3>  Even though Frye, probably the best

interpreter of Blake, takes his title from a poem by Blake, he interprets

Blake's double vision in a way that gives a priority which Blake does not give

and which the concept of the coincidence of opposites does not give.  The

phrase "double vision," occurs in a poem in a letter to Blake's patron Thomas



    For double the vision my eyes do see,

    And a double vision is always with me:

    With my inward eye 'tis an old man grey;

    With my outward a thistle across my way.



The poem goes on to see a living human in every object.  In his explanation of

this passage Frye comments, "the conscious subject is not really perceiving

until it recognizes itself as part of what it perceives."  This comment seems

valid enough; it emphasizes the unity of subject and object, which is

fundamental to the double vision which sees the coincidence of opposites. 

However, Frye goes on, "First, there is the world of the thistle, the world of

nature presented directly to us." <4>  A more careful reading of the quatrain

reveals that Blake "first" describes the vision of his "inward eye," which

perceives an old man grey, before he describes the vision of his "outward"

eye.  In a poem that emphasizes the constancy of his "double vision," Blake

aids us in seeing with that double vision by first mentioning the half of his

vision that is not ordinary sight, not what we would ordinarily, naturally

expect to perceive first.  Never, he claims, does he see with the single

vision (later labeled in the poem "Newton's sleep,") that most of us would see

and that Frye wants to put before us. 

    In Blake's double vision there is no such thing as "the world of nature

presented directly to us"; such a vision is single vision, which is always

already based on an ideology--in Blake's day, and in ours, usually an ideology

of empiricism.  Blake insists on always maintaining a double vision, in which

a man and a thistle are seen at the same time and to the same extent.  To help

us to overcome the limits of single vision, Blake first describes the man seen

by the inward eye.  Despite that word order, however, and despite Blake's

insistence on permanent double vision, Frye begins by interpreting the poem in

terms of single vision.  Such single vision seems most "natural" to us; Blake,

and to a lesser extent the other writers considered in this book, fight to

free us from that natural bondage.  Blake's reversal of the ordinary way of

seeing, an ordinary way of seeing that Frye himself falls into, implies a

coincidence of opposites by its very defiance of common vision.  Instead of

interpreting this passage with the priority given by Blake, Frye interprets it

with the priority given by ordinary vision, the very kind of vision that Blake

is replacing (or reversing or extending) in his poem.  Thus the simplest form

of the coincidence of opposites, a basic reversal in priority between

empirical vision and imaginative vision, becomes impossible to see with

ordinary vision.  Held prisoner by common sense, Frye over-rides even the most

obvious implication of Blake's insistent message and surprising word order to

impose the tyranny of single vision over the liberation of double vision. 

These comments are not meant to denigrate Frye but to illuminate how elusive

the coincidence of opposites can be even to the most perceptive observer.  Our

habitual, limited ways of seeing make Blake either impenetrable or easily


    With a similar singleness of vision, Leo Damrosch, one of Blake's finest

interpreters, insists that proponents of the coincidence of opposites must

accept things as they are.  After explaining similarities between Blake and

Cusanus, he implicitly consigns the coincidence of opposites to the

conservative side: 


     In the end Blake cannot truly reconcile contraries because, like the

     Puritans whose moral intensity he shares, he can only solve the problem

     of alienation by exclusion or casting out: sheep and goats.  A true

     acceptance of opposites demands a skeptical temperament and a commitment

     finally to things as they are.   <5>


But how are things?  Damrosch falls into a trap similar to the one that

Northrop Frye falls into in The Double Vision: both Frye's "world of nature

directly presented to us" and Damrosch's "things as they are" imply an

empirical, common sensical seeing with the eye instead of an imaginative,

Blakean seeing through the eye. "I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye

any more than I would Question a Window concering a Sight I look thro it & not

with it." <6>  Damrosch further loads his implicit dismissal of Blakean vision

with the phrase, "true acceptance."  What would be a "false" acceptance of the

coincidence of opposites?  According to Damrosch, Blake's "false" coincidence

of opposites asserts unity by excluding recalcitrant elements.  Instead, as I

shall demonstrate in my chapters on Pope and Blake, it is Pope who excludes by

accepting that there are things that we do not know, things that are known

only by God.  Blake, on the other hand, by insisting that man, like God, can

know all, produces a "true" coincidence of opposites, one that does not accept

the ideology of "things as they are." 

    Furthermore we probably should not look for Blake to "reconcile"

contraries.  When he defines the Prolific and the Devourer in The Marriage of

Heaven and Hell, he insists:


      These two classes of men are always upon earth, & they should be

    enemies; whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence.

      Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the two.

      Note.  Jesus Christ did not wish to unite but to seperate [sic] them, as

    in the Parable of sheep and goats! & he says I came not to send Peace but

    a Sword.  <7>


    "'To believe in a God,' says Wittgenstein simply, 'means to see that the

facts of the world are not the end of the matter.'" <8>  Nor are they, in

Blake's vision, even the beginning of the matter.  I do not mean to belittle

Frye or Damrosch; I adduce these examples to show how easy, how tempting,

indeed how "natural" it is for us to fall into reading even Blake in

conventional terms, even when he is explicitly, directly urging a larger

vision upon us.

    Both Pope and Blake insist on an identity between the universal and the

particular, but they insist in very different ways.  Pope, more like Cusanus,

uses the coincidence of opposites to justify mystery, to build a negative

theology.  Blake, extending Cusanus's implications, uses the coincidence of

opposites to blast mystery, to build a constructive theology.  My chapters on

Pope and Blake will explore some of the details of this difference.  Even

though Pope uses the coincidence of opposites in a very conservative,

mystifying way and Blake uses it in a very revolutionary, opening way, both of

them include many strong elements of the opposite view.  For example, Pope

insists on the strength of the ruling passion, even though it apparently works

against reason; Blake insists that the traditional God of Sinai inspired

Jerusalem, even though most of the time he excoriates that God of mystery.

    As so often in philosophical issues, the lines of argument in the

coincidence of opposites can be traced back to Aristotle and Plato, or more

precisely to the traditions promulgated by the followers of Aristotle and

Plato.  In general the position that opposites can coincide derives from

Plato and his followers, especially Proclus the neo-Platonist, who especially

admired Plato's dialogue Parmenides.  (Cusanus himself commissioned a

translation of this dialogue.)  According to Ernst Cassirer, Cusanus more

than any other thinker carried on the line of Plato: "Cusanus . . . was

perhaps the first Western thinker to attain an independent insight into the

fundamental and essential sources of Platonic doctrine." <9>

    The followers of Plato adhered to the law of unity: the Many is finally,

ideally the One.  This idealistic monism traditionally has been seen as less

practical than Aristotle's more worldly viewpoint.  Raymond Klibansky quotes

the translator Georgius quoting Pope Nicholas V:


    Aristotle's political theory was more suitable to this life, while that of

    Plato was more appropriate to the state of innocence, had man not sinned

    and fallen.   <10>


Coleridge makes a similar distinction between Plato and Aristotle:


    Plato's words are preparatory exercises for the mind.  He leads you to see

    that propositions involving in themselves a contradiction in terms are

    nevertheless true; and which, therefore, must belong to a higher logic--

    that of ideas.  They are self-contradictory only in the Aristotelian

    logic, which is the instrument of the understanding.  <11> 



A common sense viewpoint, one at home in the real world, refuses its opposite,

an idealistic viewpoint, one at home in some other, better, imagined world. 

Coleridge, like Blake, sees through ordinary common sense to reverse that

natural viewpoint.

    The position that opposites can not coincide derives from Aristotle and

his followers, who asserted the Law of Contradiction, also known as the Law

of Non-Contradiction.  Certain pairs of statements necessarily contradict each

other and therefore can not both be true at the same time.  This axiom is the

most fundamental axiom of reasonable discourse, its sine qua non.  Thus when

Cusanus, and Pope, and Coleridge, and Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelly,

and Blake attack or even simply question the Law of Non-Contradiction, they

are questioning not only Aristotle, but the very foundation of reason at its

most necessary and self-evident base.  As Aristotle asserts the axiom:


    the most certain principle of all is that about which one cannot be

    mistaken; for such a principle must be both the most familiar (for it is

    about the unfamiliar that errors are always made), and not based on

    hypothesis.  For the principle which the student of any form of Being must

    grasp is no hypothesis; and that which a man must know if he knows

    anything, he must bring with him to his task.  Clearly, then, it is a

    principle of this kind that is the most certain of all principles.  Let us

    next state what this principle is.  "It is impossible for the same

    attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the

    same relation"; and we must add any further qualifications that may be

    necessary to meet logical objections.  This is the most certain of all

    principles, since it possesses the required definition; for it is

    impossible for anyone to suppose that the same thing is and is not, as

    some think Heraclitus says--for what a man says does not necessarily

    represent what he believes.  And if it is impossible for contrary

    attributes to belong at the same time to the same subject (the usual

    qualifications must be added to this premiss also), and an opinion which

    contradicts another is contrary to it, then clearly it is impossible for

    the same man to suppose at the same time that the same thing is and is

    not; for the man who made this error would entertain two contrary opinions

    at the same time.  Hence all men who are demonstrating anything refer back

    to this as an ultimate belief; for it is by nature the starting-point of

    all the other axioms as well.  <12>                          


Among the many good explanations of Aristotle's idea is one by John Ferguson:


    Aristotle takes as the most certain of all principles the law of

    contradiction: 'the same attribute cannot at the same time and in the

    same respect both belong and not belong to the same subject' (1005b19). 

    He feels so strongly on the importance of establishing this that he

    offers a series of proofs of its validity: for example, if all

    contradictory statements are true of the same subject at the same time,

    then all things will be one; the blunt fact is that all men do make some

    unqualified judgments, and Aristotle is content to stick to the common

    sense of that.  . . . Aristotle denies that one opinion is as good as

    another, or that there is truth in appearances. . . .  Those who deny the

    law of contradiction need to be convinced that there is an unchanging

    reality, something which is prior to sensation. . . .  the alternative is

    a thoroughgoing relativism, which Aristotle regards as absurd. 

    (1011b23).  <13> 


We begin, then, in Aristotle's Law of Non-Contradiction, from a bedrock of

common sense, without which the entire universe of human epistemology would

supposedly collapse.  As Aristotle's ideas were extrapolated and discussed

through the centuries, and as the science of logic developed, hundreds of

elaborate and intricate schemes, replete with diagrams and the special

language of the cognoscenti, found their place in the ongoing discussion. 

Here is a typical example of a twentieth-century textbook exegesis:


    Standard-form categorical propositions having the same subject and

    predicate terms may differ from each other in quality [affirmative or

    negative] or in quantity [all, some, no] or in both.  This kind of

    differing was given the technical name 'opposition' by older logicians,

    and certain important truth relations were correlated with the various

    kinds of opposition.  Two propositions are contradictories if one is the

    denial or negation of the other, that is, if they cannot both be true and

    they cannot both be false.  It is clear that two standard-form

    categorical propositions having the same subject and predicate terms but

    differing from each other both in quantity and in quality are

    contradictories. . . .  The traditional or Aristotelian account of

    categorical propositions held that universal propositions [[1]A[1] and [1]E[1]] having

    the same subject and predicate terms but differing in quality were

    contraries. . . . Schematically we may say that the contradictory of "All

    S is P" is "Some S is not P," and the contradictory of "No S is P" is

    "Some S is P"; [1]A[1] and [1]O[1] are contradictories, as are [1]E[1] and [1]I[1].



Whether contraries or contradictories (we shall meet with some similar, but

more crucial distinctions later in Coleridge and Blake), the principle of Non-

Contradiction stands: logically, when contraries or contradictories exist, one

side completely, irrevocably, logically, common sensically excludes the other. 

They cannot both be true. 

   So powerful did Aristotle's Law of Non-Contradiction become in medieval

Christianity that it limited even the power of God: he could not do anything

that would violate that law.  The general philosophical problem of whether God

could contain logical contradictions sometimes found expression in one

particular question: can God foresee the future?  If he can, then man does not

have free will.  It is not possible for God to foresee something and for it

not to happen.  According to the Law of Non-Contradiction, we cannot have it

both ways at the same time.  Likewise, it would be impossible for God to

foresee that something will not happen and for that thing to happen.  Thus

God's foreknowledge and man's free will come into philosophical conflict, as a

subsection of the problem of non-contradiction even within the omnipotence of


    Cusanus's coincidence of opposites provides a way out of that dilemma. One

of his answers expands the concept of possibility:


    human nature embraces both those who are and those who neither are nor

    will be, though they could have been.  Consequently, if even what never

    shall be should come to pass, nothing would be added to divine Providence,

    for it equally comprises actual events and those which, though possible,

    do not take place.  <15>


Thus Cusanus's coincidence of opposites includes not only what happens or what

might happen; it includes both what will happen and what will not happen.  We

can have it both ways.  In fact, we must have it both ways.  In God's power,

the old Aristotelian Law of Non-Contradiction becomes replaced by the

coincidence of opposites.  The law of limited possibilities is transcended, as

is the law that two things cannot happen at the same time if they are

logically inconsistent.  For in the timeless mind of God, which contains all

of past, present, and future, all possibilities and all non-possibilities must

exist, including the improbable and the supposedly impossible. 

    Cusanus further develops his refutation of God's limitations that would be

imposed by the Law of Non-Contradiction:


    God's infinite Providence . . . embraces what shall happen and what,

    though possible, shall not happen; and, in much the same way as a genus

    contains different species, it includes things contrary to one another. .

    . . What God has foreseen He necessarily has foreseen, for His Providence

    is necessary and unchangeable; yet He was also able to foresee the

    opposite. . . . Though tomorrow, e.g., I can choose between reading and

    not reading, my choice, whichever it be, is known to Providence, for

    contraries are among its objects.  Therefore, whatever I shall have

    chosen to do will be done in accordance with divine Providence. 



This kind of double talk clearly does not please the rational philosopher.  J.

B. Hawkins, in his introduction to Germain Heron's translation of De Docta

Ignorantia, gently mocks:


    There are not many who are likely to take all this very seriously as an

    adumbration of ultimate mystery.  Some will be irresistibly reminded of

    Lewis Carroll, and others may despise what seems to be no more than

    conjuring with words.   <17>


Certainly Cusanus is conjuring with words, but as a clever conjuror he

produces a magic that joyfully exploits the potential of language to reveal

and even embody the philosophical abstractions that fall short of explaining


    Cusanus's coincidence of opposites frees man from the tyranny of the

senses, the tyranny of common sense, the tyranny of logic.  By freeing God

from lower logic, Cusanus also frees man into a closer apprehension of his



    the coincidentia oppositorum represents more than Cusanus's critique of

    scholastic logic and natural philosophy.  Through it, Cusanus also

    transcends the late scholastic notion of the potentia absoluta of God;

    namely that God, through his absolute power, could do or make anything

    provided it did not violate the law of contradiction.  For Cusanus, the

    law of contradiction itself qualifies God's freedom and omnipotence.



    Thus Cusanus does, as will Blake, use the coincidence of opposites as a

way of freeing God from human constraints.  Blake, by combining human and

divine, will also free man from such a limited view of the divine humanity. 

Both Blake and Cusanus see God as more free than tradition allows:


    in conceiving of God as the coincidentia oppositorum, Cusanus went beyond

    all of the scholastics, and established more radical guarantees for the

    absolute freedom and transcendence of the divine.  <19>


Blake then goes further to establish yet more radical guarantees for the

absolute freedom and transcendence and immanence of the divine humanity.

    Ernst Cassirer, in very Coleridgean language, puts Cusanus firmly into the

history of philosophy when he insists on the central role that Cusanus played

in the Renaissance:


    Any study that seeks to view the philosophy of the Renaissance as a

    systematic unity must take as its point of departure the doctrines of

    Nicholas Cusanus.  Of all the philosophical movements and efforts of the


    Quattrocento, only his doctrines fulfil Hegel's demand; only they

    represent a 'simple focal point' in which the most diverse rays are

    gathered.  Cusanus is the only thinker of the period to look at all of the

    fundamental problems of his time from the point of view of one principle

    through which he masters them all. . . .  [That principle] includes the

    totality of the spiritual and physical cosmos.  <20>


As we shall see later, Coleridge insisted on a similar unified system.

    Cusanus's purpose in his coincidentia oppositorum could be said to be to

justify the ways of God to man, that is, to re-write man's perspective into

God's perspective.  From man's perspective, from the perspective of

Aristotelian logic, man and therefore God are both limited.  But from God's

perspective, according to Cusanus and the coincidence of opposites, God is not

limited.  The important thing for Cusanus is not the coincidence of opposites

per se, but rather the infinity of God.  The coincidence of opposites is a

tool for realizing, or at least accepting, that infinity.  Similarly, Blake

will use the coincidence of opposites as a tool for realizing the infinity and

unity of God and man.  Although Cusanus keeps an infinite distance between man

and God, Blake will bridge that distance.

    The path taken by Cusanus to reach his new concept of the freedom of God

in the coincidentia oppositorum begins with two opposing, complementary

principles: the principle of expansion and the principle of limitation.  The

principle of expansion states that man, like all created things, wants to find

his fullest possible self-expression:


    We see that God has implanted in all things a natural desire to exist

    with the fullest measure of existence that is compatible with their

    particular nature.   <21>


    In his exploration of the concept of the Great Chain of Being, A. O.

Lovejoy calls this principle the principle of plenitude. <22>  At the same

time, in the opposite direction, this striving toward fullness is limited by

the particular position of the creature.  In man's case, his inquiry must

begin with and is limited to what he knows.  These two opposing forces act as

centripetal and centrifugal forces, at once thrusting man out as far as he can

go to his potential and at the same time limiting him within his orbit. 

    Cusanus thinks that man must begin with what he knows from his limited

perspective.  Beyond what he knows, he can only analogize: "every inquiry is

comparative and uses the method of analogy." <23>   As we shall see, this

latter principle of limitation is the keystone to Alexander Pope's whole

theory of man's knowledge of the universe.  Here in Cusanus, the two opposing

tendencies work equally.  Cusanus's principle of limitation is based on a

concept of infinity as beyond human understanding and therefore beyond all

analogizing: "the infinite as infinite is unknown, since it is away and above

all comparison." <24>  Even the greatest possible expansion, the fulfillment

of man's capacities, no matter how close it might theoretically come, can not,

by its finite nature, achieve or comprehend the infinite.  Man's limitation

must finally over-rule his potential for expansion.

    As we shall see later, Blake denies this inaccessibility of the infinite

to man.  In particular in the tractates he insists that man could not desire

infinity if he did not perceive it:


    More! More! is the cry of a mistaken soul, less than All cannot satisfy

    Man. . . . The desire of Man being Infinite the possession is Infinite &

    himself Infinite.  <25>


Therefore perception must exist beyond the senses, and by implication beyond

the ordinary limitations as posed by Cusanus and Pope.

    Part of man's limitation resides in language, which embodies the problem

of specificity.  Just as we must, according to Cusanus, rise above our

physical human restrictions, so we must transcend language, which in its

abstractions allows us to formulate the Law of Non-Contradiction.  But in

Blake's poetry, language is used not only as a trap in the Law of Non-

Contradiction, but also as a means of escape.  Cusanus sees language as an

absolute limit to the potential of man's understanding of God.  Language must

therefore be transcended, risen above.  Blake's insight is that this kind of

transcendence can be blended with an absolute immanence.  Thus language, while

remaining limited by the real world, at the same time is the means of

transfiguration into the visionary world.  Cusanus wants to deny the potential

of language.  He values "rising above the literal sense of the words . . .

leaving aside what is sensible in them in order to arrive unimpeded at what is

purely intelligible." <26>  Cusanus's method thus sounds like traditional

Platonism: "the more we abstract from sensible conditions, the more certain

and solid our knowledge is." <27>  Cusanus's method leaves behind the

empirical as a standard.  He is not searching for something material.  He is

rather searching for something beyond the material.  To man's understanding

such a goal is nothing because it is not accessible to the senses: "an

understanding of God is not so much an approach towards something as towards

nothing."  <28>

    This negative theology, this insistence by Cusanus on wordlessness, of

believing in a realm beyond articulation even if we can never experience it

directly, is one of the main streams of his neo-Platonism.  The tradition of

Parmenides always leads to this wordlessness:


    In analogy with this movement of the Soul towards the One, Parmenides

    removes at the end of the discussion, not only all affirmation, but also

    all negation and, indeed, all speech, indicating that all discourse about

    the One leads to a point where language fails. . . .  The last step is to

    purge the Soul from all dialectic activity.  Thus, by negation, Parmenides

    removes negation itself.  And silence ends the discourse of the One.  <29>


Of course such silence would remove all language, all writing, all literature. 

That which Cusanus and Pope claim to be beyond the realm of language, the

coincidence of opposites, Shelley and Blake will manifest in language.

    Cusanus's denial of language is based on his search for a deeper truth, an

essence.  He believes that there is a bedrock truth, a Platonic Christian God,

whose fundamental nature is by definition unavailable to human understanding:

"the quiddity of things, which is ontological truth, is unattainable in its

entirety." <30>  Even though the method of attempting ignorant understanding

of the existence, essence, and ways of God must proceed from the known in

hopes of acknowledging the unknown, ultimately such a goal can never be

reached: "infiniti ad finitum proportionem non esse." <31>

    Man's limited understanding can never grasp the totality because of its

very nature: "what man observes in nature is absolute incommensurability . . . 

Man's reason operates only within the realm of inequalities and

contradictions." <32>  According to Cusanus, there is no proportion between

the infinite and finite because any proportion needs similar qualities. <33> 

Man's limited abilities mean that he can not by reason or understanding alone

reach the ultimate truth: "understanding . . . is fundamentally unable by any

rational process to reconcile contradictories." <34>

    In fact Cusanus even uses man's reason to link man to the natural level,

the level that he shares with the rest of the material, lower creation. 

Instead of reason being the highest quality of man, it is rather analogous to

the instinct of animals:  "Reason, Cusanus says . . . where he quotes Jerome

quoting Philo, is a capacity that man shares with animals.  Man uses logic in

much the same way that a hunting dog instinctively uses tracks in searching

for his prey." <35>  This idea is very similar to Blake's: reason is not the

highest capacity of man, and certainly is not capable of leading him to God. 

It is rather part of his natural self, just like his body.

    From the earthly perspective the totality of God can never be achieved. 

Like the infinite regression of so many logical systems we can approach, but

never attain:


    our intellect, which is not the truth, never grasps the truth with such

    precision that it could not be comprehended with infinitely greater

    precision.  The relationship of our intellect to the truth is like that of

    a polygon to a circle; the resemblance to the circle grows with the

    multiplication of the angles of the polygon; but apart from its being

    reduced to identity with the circle, no multiplication, even if it were

    infinite, of its angles will make the polygon equal the circle.  <36>


    Despite this use of geometrical analogy to disqualify man's understanding

from reaching God's, Cusanus will develop this analogy of the relationship of

polygon to circle into his primary visual image for the coincidence of

opposites as he imagines the infinite polygon becoming the infinite circle, or

the infinite triangle becoming the infinite line.  The geometry which is here

used to analogize the impossibility of our ability to reach infinity is used

in other places to take us as close to that realm as possible.  The reach is

still logically, humanly impossible, and the mathematics still shows the

infinite distance between human and divine, which can not be bridged by merely

logical, human means, but only by the coincidence of opposites.

    Cusanus bases his combination of theology and geometry on certain axioms,

perhaps the most fundamental of which is his assumption about infinity:


    It is impossible to have more than one infinite. . . .  the infinite

    triangle, though it is the perfect model of all triangles, is not composed

    of a plurality of lines, is not in any sense a compound, but is more

    perfectly indivisible; and since it is the perfect model triangle, it must

    have three lines; therefore, the one infinite line is itself three lines

    and these three lines are one perfectly indivisible line.  <37>


These assumptions and conclusions about the infinite lead inevitably to a

coincidence of largest and smallest:


    since each part of the infinite is infinite, then one foot of the infinite

    line is as equally the whole infinite line as two feet are. <38>


We are coming very close to seeing Blake's world in a grain of sand.

    Cusanus's geometry begins with the principle of non-contradiction in the

finite world; different geometrical figures must remain different:


    elementary figures [circle, triangle, sphere] etc., which are the only

    ones educible from the potency of the simple line, cannot be reduced to

    one another in the finite.   <39>


In the infinite realm, however, these figures can coincide:


    The infinite circle has infinite diameter and circumference. . . . the

    centre, diameter and circumference are one and the same. . . . the centre

    is the circumference.  <40>


Thus, through the logic of geometry raised to the power of infinity, Cusanus

arrives at the traditional mystical formula that the center and circumference

come together.  For, in the finite realm, the polygon can never become a

circle, no matter how near to 180 degrees its angles become; in the finite

realm, a triangle can never can become a straight line, no matter how long its

sides become; in the finite realm, a circle can never become a straight line,

no matter how long its diameter becomes.  But in the infinite realm, the

infinite polygon does coincide with the infinite circle, the infinite triangle

does coincide with the infinite straight line, and the infinite circle does

coincide with the infinite straight line.  By picturing the largest possible

polygon stretched out beyond the possible into infinity, we can, by analogy to

our finite world, begin to comprehend the infinite world.  With a bit more

imaginative difficulty, we can similarly begin to comprehend the expansion of

the infinite circle into a straight line.  We can stretch it out beyond our

comprehension to acknowledge infinity by analogy to what we can comprehend.

    Our human comprehension, although capable of imagining analogies to the

infinite, can never grasp the infinite.  Thus, by analogy to what we know, we

can describe or accept or tolerate what we don't know, what we can never know. 

Pope will take an approach similar to Cusanus's: we must remain content with

partial knowledge, even while we understand as much as we can through the

reasoning power of analogy.  We can attain only learned ignorance.  Blake,

however, will insist that a coming together of finite and infinite, similar to

that of Cusanus, guarantees total knowledge to the human, who participates

fully in the divine.  Both Cusanus and Pope want to start from what we know

and then proceed logically up to the limits of our knowledge, accepting but

never attaining totality.  Blake, however, will make the leap, based not on

logic but on miracles. 

    According to Cusanus and Pope, in the other realm, beyond our knowledge,

the ordinary laws of non-contradiction do not apply.  Even the distinction

between the largest and the smallest must fail to operate in the infinite mind

of God:


    the absolute maximum is one and it is all; all things are in it because it

    is the maximum.  Moreover, it is in all things for this reason that the

    minimum at once coincides with it, since there is nothing that can be

    placed in opposition to it.  <41>


Insofar as the finite limits of man cannot reach the infinite and insofar as

the Maximum must coincide with the Minimum because of the very nature of

infinity, a possibility of joining the two incommensurate realms occurs.  The

maximum possibility of the infinite is the very joining of infinite and

finite.  As in Blake, the only possible earthly existence of such a principle

of maximum/minimum is in the divine made human, or spirit made flesh: 


    the one maximum in which the universe finds especially and most completely

    its actual and ultimate subsistence. . . . this maximum bears the ever

    blessed name of Jesus.   <42>


Dorothea Singer, while writing primarily about Giordano Bruno, links infinity,

the coincidence of opposites, and Jesus all together because each of the three

implies the other two:


    In both writers [Bruno and Cusanus], closely associated with belief in the

    infinity of the universe was the doctrine of the Coincidence of

    Contraries.  The subject-object relationship similarly was envisaged by

    both writers as a process of admixture culminating in identity. . . .

    Cusanus gave the doctrine a new slant and a new emphasis. . . .   Cusanus

    saw Salvation as the Line of Unification between Contraries.  <43>


Salvation through Jesus, for Cusanus, and for Blake, is the way to unify the

contraries of infinite and finite:


    The universe is completely dependent upon God but remains in an essential

    antithesis to him as the limited to the infinite, the relative to the

    absolute.  How is this antithesis to be overcome? . . .  The perfect mode

    of unity would be a being which was both creator and creature and in which

    the relative, without ceasing to be relative, would be one with the

    absolute, maximum contractum and maximum absolutum at the same time

    (III,2). . . .  Nicholas embraces the thesis of the Scotist school of

    theologians that the perfection of creation calls in some sense for the

    Incarnation.  <44>


Like Blake, Cusanus finds the solution to the logical problem in the person of



    As in Cusanus' theology of Jesus as the universal Form, Blake asserts an

    immanent God who is nonetheless divine.  'All deities reside in the human

    breast' is a formulation intended to emphasize the divine element in man

    rather than to demote God to a metaphor of individual human imaginations;

    it is in God that the individual is freed from isolation and solipsism. 



    Cusanus' inquiry logically leads to negative theology, in which

affirmations serve no purpose.  Since affirmations can state only human

knowledge, divine knowledge must be stated in negative terms.  "Since a term

that is particular, that marks a distinction and that suggests its opposite,

can only apply to God in the way we have described, affirmations, as Denis

says, are unsuitable." <46> 

    Cusanus's theory thus fits into the Jewish tradition of allowing no graven

images of God because any image is an affirmation, which necessarily distorts

the truth:


    The pagans of old ridiculed the Jews for adoring a God unique and infinite

    whom they did not know, whilst they themselves were adoring Him in his

    manifestations, adoring Him, in other words, wherever they beheld His

    divine works.   <47>


Such glorification of the physical can fall into a kind of materialism, which

would never allow a coincidence of opposites.  Consistent throughout the

tradition of the coincidence of opposites, from Plato through Cusanus to

Blake, is an insistent stand against letting materialism determine the limits

of human or divine.  "Negative Theology . . .  is so indispensable to

affirmative theology that without it God would be adored, not as the Infinite

but rather as a creature, which is idolatry." <48>  This necessity of

believing in abstraction will be followed by Pope but vehemently rejected by

Blake.  Pope and Cusanus take a turn that Blake does not take into Negative

Theology.  For Cusanus, a denial of materialism, a denial of the Law of Non-

Contradiction can not be an affirmation.  As we shall see, for Blake it can.

    "All affirmations, therefore, that are made of God in theology are

anthropomorphic, including even those most holy Names . . . used by the

Hebrews and the Chaldeans."  <49>  To Cusanus, anthropomorphizing of God

limits Him.  Just as Cusanus would not allow God to be limited by any

restrictions on his knowledge of the future and the allowing of free will, so

he will not allow the limits of God reduced to man.  But anthropomorphism to

Blake is not something to avoid; on the contrary it is the very nature of the

Human Form Divine; the divine implies, even requires the human, and vice


    Apparently none of the elements of Cusanus's philosophy is original. 

Cusanus's originality is in putting them all together.  Such a judgement is

very appropriate for the philosophy of the coincidence of opposites, since it

shows how disparate elements can be fitted together to form a new whole:


    The general plan of the book is not very original; it follows the

    customary Neoplatonic scheme of the outflow of things from God and their

    return to him which had been represented in the earlier middle ages, for

    example, by the De Divisione Naturae of John Scotus Erigena.  The notion

    of the reconciliation of contraries in God, the coincidence of opposites,

    is fairly evidently derived from Eckhart.  The theory of enlightened

    ignorance, the docta ignorantia itself, is only a new expression and

    extension of the theologia negativa which was familiar enough to all

    mediaeval thinkers, especially as found in the writings of the Pseudo-


      Nicholas does not tell us what precisely he regarded as his special

    inspiration, but we might well suppose that it was the way in which these

    elements fitted together, for it is in this respect that he is really

    original.  <50>  


    Perhaps not coincidentally the idea in its completeness seems to have

come to him while he was engaged in his ambassadorial duties of reconciling

opposing factions.  Although Cusanus's life as such is not essential to

understanding the coincidence of opposites, he did develop the same theme in

theory and in practice.  In his work as papal ambassador, he often tried to

solve problems of papal schism. <51>

    Hopkins points out many other lines of thought from which Cusanus may have

been working, as he claims that Cusanus's work in De Docta Ignorantia was a

synthesis in the debate between Ockhamism and Thomism, nominalism and realism:


    In it can be found the influence of Eckhart, of the Hermetic tradition, of

    Pseudo-Dionysius, and of Boethian mathematics, together with a newly

    devised cosmological framework and a newly conceived theology of

    redemption.  <52>


Cusanus himself most often acknowledges the influence of Dionysius the

Areopagite, whose "disjunctive" and "copulative" theology he praises and



    Cusanus indicates in De Docta Ignorantia that he has derived his

    conception of God as the coincidentia oppositorum from the negative

    theology of thinkers such as Dionysius the Areopagite.  He refers

    specifically to the Mystical Theology, On Divine Names and letter to

    Gaius.  Cusanus has then substituted a Platonic-Dionysian metaphysical

    dialectic based on the opposition between the finite and the infinite for

    the scholastics' dialectics of logic and discursive reasoning. <53>


    Jasper Hopkins, who has translated and commented on Cusanus's major works,

often seems to want to tame Cusanus, to reduce the coincidence of opposites by

offering a logical critique of it:


    a number of Nicholas's statements appear, prima facie, to be

    unintelligible.  The most noteworthy--and, ironically, the best known--is

    his assertion that God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose

    circumference is nowhere.  This statement, . . . is not original with

    Nicholas but derives from Pseudo-Hermes Trismegistus's 'Book of the

    Twenty-four Philosophers,' a compilation of the late twelfth or the early

    thirteenth century.  Nicholas, however, seems to have borrowed this

    formula from Meister Eckhart, who uses it in no less than six places. 

    Yet, Eckhart's statement--already bizarre in its attempt to express the

    doctrine of divine omnipresence--becomes all the more bizarre in the mouth

    of Nicolas, who comes to declare that even the machina mundi has its

    center everywhere and its circumference nowhere.  Not only is it unclear

    what sense it would make to apply this rubric to the mechanism of the

    world, but the reason offered in support of so applying the rubric appears

    unintelligible: vis., that God is the world's center and circumference--

    God, who is present everywhere and nowhere.  But the sense in which God,

    an immaterial being, could be the world's center and circumference is

    never successfully elucidated.  <54>


This kind of literal-minded interpretation makes Cusanus sound even beyond

nonsense.  When Cusanus adopts the beautiful traditional geometrical formula

of the mystics that God is a sphere whose center is everywhere, he is of

course emphasizing a point that Blake will emphasize in different language:

the relationship between God and human beings is such that God exists in each

and every point equally.  Traditional theologies see God either as distant or

as all-encompassing in the nature of a circumference.  Thus God is large and

unfathomable.  In the coincidence of opposites God exists in every minute

particular; His center is not only out there somewhere but is also always in

here, a maximum in the minimum.  Blake will similarly bring together divine

and human and develop Cusanus's implications.

    More satisfactory than Hopkins's attempts to argue away the contradictions

in Cusanus is the concept of a copulative theology (as mentioned above in

Cusanus's homage to Dionysius).  Copulation suggests the joining of two

different dimensions, which come together, not through compromise, but through

intercourse, interpenetration.

    Another way to define copulative theology comes from plant imagery, like

that of Coleridge's organicism:


    The human mind . . . is a divine seed that comprehends in its simple

    essence the totality of everything knowable; but in order for this seed to

    blossom and to bear fruit, it must be planted in the soil of the sensible

    world.  The basic character of that 'copulative theology' sought by

    Cusanus lies in this reconciliation of mind and nature, of intellect and

    sense. <55>


    For Dionysius the Areopagite, 'deification' . . . takes place according to

    the hierarchical principle, i.e., in a completely determined series of

    steps . . .  for Cusanus it is a single act, one in which man puts himself

    into an immediate relationship to God.  <56>


Here Cusanus's divergence from the tradition that he is following again

anticipates Blake, who also dismisses a step-by-step, logical process as the

way to enlightenment.  In his tractates, Blake parodies the style of logic to

use logic to refute this very idea:


        II Man by his reasoning power. can only compare & judge of what he has

    already perciev'd.

        III From a perception of only 3 senses or 3 elements none could deduce

    a fourth or fifth.

        IV None could have other than natural or organic thoughts if he had

    none but organic perceptions                               

    I Mans perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception.  he

    percieves more than sense (tho' ever so acute) can discover.


        Application.    He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God.  He

    who sees the Ratio only sees himself only.


        Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is. <57>


Blake thus develops a notion of God like that of Cusanus, but brings it to a

higher level.  Blake's man is not limited by the five senses and the rational

mind.  Blake's man is capable of leaping to insight directly because he

perceives more than limited senses can perceive.

    The best twentieth-century explanation I have yet seen of the kind of

process that Cusanus, and even more so Blake, are trying to accomplish occurs

in Philosophy of the Literary Symbolic, by Hazard Adams.  Basing most of his

literary theory on Blake (although Adams insists on maintaining a secular

approach instead of Blake's religious one) he defines a coincidence of

opposites that captures precisely the kind of inclusiveness that I am trying

to elucidate.  In offering to replace the viewpoint of deconstruction that all

language is duplicitous, Adams asserts:


    I choose to see another side--secular creative expression--and claim that

    from poetry's point of view the poem makes a language, which creates and

    contains its signified and allows it to emanate into the world to be

    devoured; though I shall recognize that from the opposing point of view,

    which I shall call 'antimyth,' it copies or signifies only and cannot

    contain or radically form.  And I shall hold that both views are necessary

    fictions--Blakean contraries.  . . . both myth and antimyth are, as I

    apply the terms to Blake, modes of imaginative construction that result in

    what may be called fictions. . . . Because both are modes of activity and

    not themselves copies of anything, the question of which has truth or

    correspondence to reality is not a possible question; indeed, the question

    is merely a reflection of a category, to borrow Kant's term, of the

    antimythic mode, and is meaningful only within its terms. <58>


    Thus Adams gives us redefinitions of the coincidence of opposites and,

incidentally, answers Hopkins's misunderstandings or reductions of Cusanus. 

Instead of trying to assert absolute Truth, Blake (or at least Adams's theory

derived from Blake) lives in creativity and dialogue instead of in tyrannical

Truth.  The relation between fallen vision and Visionary Vision is a dynamic

one, even though only the latter, not the former, can be aware of that



    without myth, antimyth starves.  In this sense, myth potentially contains

    antimyth (as the seed does the plant): antimyth can never contain myth,

    though it is engaged in a constant effort to devour it. <59>


Most of all, Adams gives us a way to view language that allows its

limitations, but at the same time recognizes its redemptive power:


    The stubbornness of the structure is two-fold: From the 'allegoric' point

    of view, language has the capacity to resist the stasis reason desires and

    stubbornly frustrates those who--like Urizen, Satan, and the 'priesthood'-

    -would choose to abstract a single form of worship from it (try to reduce

    it to a system pointing outward only to that one form--the clock world of

    deism or the ideal world of Platonism).  This capacity to resist is its

    mythical, Los-like structure.  On the other hand, language resists stasis

    only as a result of the struggle that Los has with its equally dangerous

    (from the poet's point of view) but necessary antimythical susceptibility

    to externalization and hardening.  Its stubbornness, then, can point

    either way. <60>


    Cusanus, in his anticipations of Romantic theory, comes very close to

Blake's and Coleridge's definitions of the creative imagination.  Pauline

Watts explains that, while discussing God's creation of man in his own image

Cusanus finds


    the transcending principle for which he has been looking and establishes

    the grounds for a positive theology and anthropology. . . . Man, Cusanus

    asserts, creates the conjectural world in a likeness of the manner in

    which God has created the 'real' world.  Metaphor is no longer however the

    obfuscated and obfuscating product of man's disjunction from God and the

    universe.  Metaphor now is the tool that man uses to create his

    conjectural world, the proof of his Godlike nature.  This formulation is

    an affirmative anthropomorphic principle which counteracts the impersonal

    disjunctive metaphysic that dominated . . . De Docta Ignorantia because it

    stresses the essentially creative and active nature of both God and man. 

    God has created the universe not out of necessity but freely. 

    Correspondingly, man, the image of God, is the creator of his conjectural

    and metaphorical universe.  Man is no longer a stranger in a universe that

    he can never know directly.  The fact that he is the image of God and the

    creator and ruler of his own universe is the source of his cosmic status

    and dignity. <61>


Thus the coincidence of opposites leads to a creative definition of human


    Much of what Cusanus helps us understand about Blake is also helped by

Carl Jung's formulations of religious consciousness.  In his Answer to Job

Jung, like Cassirer, uncovers the centrality of the coincidence of opposites

to medieval thought: 


    the study of medieval natural philosophy--of the greatest importance to

    psychology--made me try to find an answer to the question: what image of

    God did these old philosophers have?  Or rather: how should the symbols

    which supplement their image of God be understood?  All this pointed to a

    complexio oppositorum and thus recalled again the story of Job to my mind:

    Job who expected help from God against God.  This most peculiar fact

    presupposes a similar conception of the opposites in God.  <62>


This concept of God against God helps to answer the earlier bafflement of

Hopkins about how humanity can be both divine and not divine.  Just as God is

by necessity a coincidence of opposites, so is man in his divine humanity, for

and against the self.


    This is perhaps the greatest thing about Job, that, faced with this

    difficulty [a God who does not care for moral opinion] he does not doubt

    the unity of God. He clearly sees that God is at odds with himself--so

    totally at odds that he, Job, is quite certain of finding in God a helper

    and an 'advocate' against God.  As certain as he is of the evil in Yahweh,

    he is equally certain of the good.  In a human being who renders us evil

    we cannot expect at the same time to find a helper.  But Yahweh is not a

    human being: he is both a persecutor and a helper in one, and the one

    aspect is as real as the other.  Yahweh is not split but is an antinomy--a

    totality of inner opposites--and this is the indispensable condition for

    his tremendous dynamism, his omniscience and omnipotence. <63>


   This double nature of God is essential for understanding Cusanus and later

Shelley and Blake.  There is a doubleness at the very heart of existence, in

the person of God and the very ontology of humankind.  For that reason, as for

example in Jerusalem plate 43, one cannot separate out the bad and assign it

unmistakably against the good.  The good and the bad must always be united, in

an apparently impossible conjunction, a disjunctive copulation of



    The paradoxical nature of God . . . tears [man] asunder into opposites and

    delivers him over to a seemingly insoluble conflict. . . .  The doctor

    therefore advises his patient to wait and see. . . . As experience shows,

    symbols of a reconciling and unitive nature do in fact turn up in dreams,

    the most frequent being the motif of the child-hero and the squaring of

    the circle, signifying the union of opposites.  Those who have no access

    to these specifically medical experiences can derive practical instruction

    from fairy tales, and particularly from alchemy.  The real subject of

    Hermetic philosophy is the coniunctio oppositorum.  <64>


In Jung's psychology, dreams are the main form of communication from the

unconscious realm, where opposites can coincide, to the conscious realm:


    all unconscious nature longs for the light of consciousness while

    frantically struggling against it at the same time. The conscious

    realization of what is hidden and kept secret certainly confronts us with

    an insoluble conflict; at least this is how it appears to the conscious

    mind.  But the symbols that rise up out of the unconscious in dreams show

    it rather as a confrontation of opposites, and the images of the goal

    represent their successful reconciliation.  <65>


Similarly, in the poetry of the writers studied here, images arise from the

realm of the coincidentia oppositorum into the realm of language, where poetry

links the two realms together.  For Cusanus and for Blake, the ultimate such

link requires a God-man:


    Eschatology means in effect that Christ is God and man at the same time

    and that he therefore suffers a divine as well as a human fate.  The two

    natures interpenetrate so thoroughly that any attempt to separate them

    mutilates both.  <66> 


Blake's human form divine.




Notes to Chapter 1: Nicholas of Cusa


1.  Pauline Moffitt Watts, Nicolaus Cusanus: A Fifteenth-Century Vision of Man

(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1982), p. 43.


2. Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy,

Trans. Mario Domandi (NY: Harper, 1963), p. 17.


3. The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion.  Univ. of Toronto

Press, 1991.


4. Frye, Double, p. 23.


5. Leopold Damrosch, Symbol and Truth in Blake's Myth (Princeton UP, 1980), p.



6. "A Vision of the Last Judgment," E566. 


7. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plates 16-17, E40.  8. Notebooks 1914-16,

p. 74e; qtd. in Thomas McFarland. Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition

(Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), p. 55. 


9. Cassirer, p. 15.


10. Raymond Klibansky, "Plato's Parmenides in the Middle Ages and the

Renaissance: A Chapter in the History of Platonic Studies," Medieval and

Renaissance Studies 1 (1943), p. 300.


11. Table Talk, 30 Apr 1830; qtd. in Kathleen M. Wheeler, Sources, Processes

and Methods in Coleridge's Biographia Literaria (Cambridge: Cambridge UP,

1980), p. 49.


12. Metaphysics, trans. Hugh Tredennick (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1936), pp.

162-63; 1005b13-34.


13. John Ferguson, Aristotle (NY: Twayne), pp. 113-14.


14. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic.  7th ed. (NY: Macmillan, 1986), pp.



15. Nicolas Cusanus, Of Learned Ignorance, trans. Germain Heron (New Haven:

Yale UP, 1954), p. 49.


16. Cusanus, p. 50.


17. J.B. Hawkins, "Introduction," in Cusanus, p. xix.


18. Watts, p. 46.


19. Watts, p. 227.


20. Cassirer, p. 7.



21. Cusanus, Of Learned Ignorance, p. 7.


22. Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, 12th ed., (Cambridge: Harvard

UP, 1936), p. 52 and passim. 


23. Cusanus, p. 7.


24. Cusanus, p. 8.


25. E3.


26. Cusanus, p. 10.


27. Cusanus, p. 25. 


28. Cusanus, p. 39.


29. Klibansky, p. 288.


30. Cusanus, p. 12.


31. "There exists no proportion between the finite and the infinite"; De Docta

Ignorantia [Of Learned Ignorance], qtd. in Carlo Riccati, "Processio" et

"Explicatio": La doctrine de la creation chez Jean Scot et Nicolas de Cues

(Naples: Biblipolis, 1983), p. 27.     


32. Watts, p. 44.


33. Dana Bliss Birkby, Salting the Tail of the Infinite: Mathematics in the

Epistemology of Nicholas of Cusa, unpublished thesis (Harvard, 1982), p. 14. 


34. Cusanus, p. 13.


35. Watts, p. 44.


36. Cusanus, p. 11.


37. Cusanus, p. 31.


38. Cusanus, p. 36 


39. Cusanus, p. 45.


40. Cusanus, p. 47.


41. Cusanus, p. 9.


42. Cusanus, p. 10.


43. Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought (NY: Henry

Schuman, 1950), p. 80.


44. Hawkins, p. xxv.


45. Damrosch, p. 247.


46. Cusanus, p. 55.


47. Cusanus, p. 58.


48.  Cusanus, p. 59.


49. Cusanus, p. 56.


50. Hawkins, p. xiv.


51. Birkby, p. 5.


52. Jasper Hopkins, Nicholas of Cusa on Learned Ignorance: A Translation and

an Appraisal of De Docta Ignorantia (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press,

1981), p. 1.


53.  Watts, p. 48.  In a letter, Cusa explains his debt to Dionysius the

Areopagite, often called Pseudo-Dionysius:


    Denys, presque partout, a transmis la theologie sous forme disjonctive ...

    il saute par-dessus la disjonction jusqu'a la copulation et coincidence,

    c'est-a-dire jusqu'a une union parfaitement simple, qui n'est point

    laterale mais va directement au-dessus de toute ablation et de toute

    position, la ou l'ablation coincide avec la position, et la negation avec

    l'affirmation; et telle est la plus secrete theologie, a laquelle aucun

    des philosophes n'est parvenu ni ne peut parvenir s'il se tient au

    principe commun de toute philosophie, selon lequel deux contradictoires ne

    coincident point.  C'est pourquoi il est necessaire que celui qui

    theologise sur le mode mystique, au-dessus de toute raison et de toute

    intelligence, allant jusqu'a s'abandonner lui-meme, penetre dans la

    tenebre; et il decouvrira comment ce que la raison juge impossible,

    savoir: qu'une chose tout ensemble soit et ne soit pas, est la necessite

    meme, disons plus: si n'apparaissait pareille tenebre et densite

    d'impossibilite, la supreme necessite n'existerait point, laquelle n'est

    pas en contradiction avec cette impossibilite, car l'impossibilite est la

    veritable necessite meme.  (Nicolas de Cues, Lettres aux moines de

    Tegernsee sur la docte ignorante [Paris: O.E.I.L., 1985], p.27.)


    [my translation]  Dionysius, almost everywhere, conveyed a disjunctive

    theology. . . . he leaps through the disjunction to copulation and

    coincidence, that is to say, to a perfectly simple union, which is not at

    all indirect but goes directly above all absence and all presence, to

    where absence coincides with presence, and negation with affirmation. 

    Such is the most secret theology, to which none of the philosophers has

    arrived nor could arrive if he maintains the accepted principle of all

    philosophy, according to which two contradictories do not coincide at all.

    That is why it is necessary that anyone who does theology in the mystical

    mode, above all reason and all intelligence, going so far as to abandon

    himself, must pentrate into the shadows; and he will discover how to know

    that what reason judges impossible--that a thing can be and not be at the

    same time--is necessity itself.  Let us say more: if such shadowy and

    thick impossibility do not appear, then the supreme necessity does not

    exist at all, which is not in contradiction with that impossibility,

    because the impossibility is the true necessity itself.


    Thus Cusanus raises the coincidentia oppositorum to a test of theology

itself: if a piece of theology does not encounter irrational opposites, then

it has not attained its true height.   


54. Jasper Hopkins, A Concise Introduction to the Philosophy of Nicholas of

Cusa.  3rd ed. (Minneasplis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1986), p. 13.


55. Cassirer, p. 45.


56. Cassirer, p. 14.  


57. "There is No Natural Religion" [a], E2; and "There is No Natural Religion"

[b], E2-3.


58. Hazard Adams, Philosophy of the Literary Symbolic (Tallahassee: Univ.

Presses of Florida, 1983), pp. 27, 114.


59. Adams, Philosophy, p. 114.


60. Adams, Philosophy, p. 109.


61. Watts, pp. 229-30.


62. Carl Jung, Answer to Job, tans. R.F.C. Hull (1958; rpt. Princeton UP,

1973), p. x.


63. Jung, Answer, p. 7.


64. Jung, Answer, pp. 91-92.


65. Jung, Answer, p. 98.


66. Jung, Answer, p. 45.