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From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe, by Alexander Koyré, [1957], at

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I. The Sky and the Heavens

Nicholas of Cusa & Marcellus Palingenius

The conception of the infinity of the universe, like everything else or nearly everything else, originates, of course, with the Greeks; and it is certain that the speculations of the Greek thinkers about the infinity of space and the multiplicity of worlds have played an important part in the history we shall be dealing with.4 It seems to me, however, impossible to reduce the history of the infinitization of the universe to the rediscovery of the world-view of the Greek atomists which became better known through the newly discovered Lucretius5 or the newly translated Diogenes Laertius.6 We must not forget that the infinitist conceptions of the Greek atomists were rejected by the main trend, or trends, of Greek philosophical and scientific thought—the Epicurean tradition was not a scientific one7—and that for this very reason, though never forgotten, they could not be accepted by the mediaevals.

We must not forget, moreover, that "influence" is not a simple, but on the contrary, a very complex, bilateral relation. We are not influenced by everything we read or learn. In one sense, and perhaps the deepest, we ourselves

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determine the influences we are submitting to; our intellectual ancestors are by no means given to, but are freely chosen by, us. At least to a large extent.

How could we explain otherwise that, in spite of their great popularity, neither Diogenes nor even Lucretius had, for more than a century, any influence on the fifteenth century's cosmological thinking? The first man to take Lucretian cosmology seriously was Giordano Bruno. Nicholas of Cusa—it is true that it is not certain whether at the time when he wrote his Learned Ignorance (1440) he knew the De rerum natura—does not seem to have paid much attention to it. Yet it was Nicholas of Cusa, the last great philosopher of the dying Middle Ages, who first rejected the mediaeval cosmos-conception and to whom, as often as not, is ascribed the merit, or the crime, of having asserted the infinity of the universe.

It is indeed in such a way that he was interpreted by Giordano Bruno, by Kepler and, last but not least, by Descartes, who in a well-known letter to his friend Chanut (Chanut reports some reflections of Christina of Sweden, who doubted whether, in the indefinitely extended universe of Descartes, man could still occupy the central position that, according to the teaching of religion, was given to him by God in the creation of the world) tells the latter that after all "the Cardinal of Cusa and several other Divines have supposed the world to be infinite, without ever being reproached by the Church; on the contrary, it is believed that to make His works appear very great is to honor God."8 The Cartesian interpretation of the teaching of Nicholas of Cusa is rather plausible as, indeed, Nicholas of Cusa denies the finitude of the world and its enclosure by the walls of the heavenly spheres. But he

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FIGURE 1<br> <i>Typical pre-Copernican diagram of the universe</i>
Click to enlarge

Typical pre-Copernican diagram of the universe

(from the 1539 edition of Peter Apian's Cosmographia)

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does not assert its positive infinity; as a matter of fact he avoids as carefully and as consistently as Descartes himself the attribution to the universe of the qualification "infinite," which he reserves for God, and for God alone. His universe is not infinite (infinitum) but "interminate" (interminatum), which means not only that it is boundless and is not terminated by an outside shell, but also that it is not "terminated" in its constituents, that is, that it utterly lacks precision and strict determination. It never reaches the "limit"; it is, in the full sense of the word, indetermined. It cannot, therefore, be the object of total and precise knowledge, but only that of a partial and conjectural one.9 It is the recognition of this necessarily partial—and relative—character of our knowledge, of the impossibility of building a univocal and objective representation of the universe, that constitutes—in one of its aspects—the docta ignorantia, the learned ignorance, advocated by Nicholas of Cusa as a means of transcending the limitations of our rational thought.

The world-conception of Nicholas of Cusa is not based upon a criticism of contemporary astronomical or cosmological theories, and does not lead, at least in his own thinking, to a revolution in science. Nicholas of Cusa, though it has often been so claimed, is not a forerunner of Nicholas Copernicus. And yet his conception is extremely interesting and, in some of its bold assertions—or negations—it goes far beyond anything that Copernicus ever dared to think of.10

The universe of Nicholas of Cusa is an expression or a development (explicatio), though, of course, necessarily imperfect and inadequate, of God—imperfect and inadequate because it displays in the realm of multiplicity and

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separation what in God is present in an indissoluble and intimate unity (complicatio), a unity which embraces not only the different, but even the opposite, qualities or determinations of being. In its turn, every singular thing in the universe represents it—the universe—and thus also God, in its own particular manner; each in a manner different from that of all others, by "contracting" (contractio) the wealth of the universe in accordance with its own unique individuality.

The metaphysical and epistemological conceptions of Nicholas of Cuss, his idea of the coincidence of the opposites in the absolute which transcends them, as well as the correlative concept of learned ignorance as the intellectual act that grasps this relationship which transcends discursive, rational thought, follow and develop the pattern of the mathematical paradoxes involved in the infinitization of certain relations valid for finite objects. Thus, for instance, nothing is more opposed in geometry than "straightness" and "curvilinearity"; and yet in the infinitely great circle the circumference coincides with the tangent, and in the infinitely small one, with the diameter. In both cases, moreover, the center loses its unique, determinate position; it coincides with the circumference; it is nowhere, or everywhere. But "great" and "small" are themselves a pair of opposed concepts that are valid and meaningful only in the realm of finite quantity, the realm of relative being, where there are no "great" or "small" objects, but only "greater" and "smaller" ones, and where, therefore, there is no "greatest," as well as no "smallest." Compared with the infinite there is nothing that is greater or smaller than anything else. The absolute, infinite maximum does not, any more

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than the absolute, infinite minimum, belong to the series of the great and small. They are outside it, and therefore, as Nicholas of Cusa boldly concludes, they coincide.

Another example can be provided by kinematics. No two things, indeed, are more opposed than motion and rest. A body in motion is never in the same place; a body at rest is never outside it. And yet a body moving with infinite velocity along a circular path will always be in the place of its departure, and at the same time will always be elsewhere, a good proof that motion is a relative concept embracing the oppositions of "speedy" and "slow." Thus it follows that, just as in the sphere of purely geometrical quantity, there is no minimum and no maximum of motion, no slowest and no quickest, and that the absolute maximum of velocity (infinite speed) as well as its absolute minimum (infinite slowness or rest) are both outside it, and, as we have seen, coincide.

Nicholas of Cusa is well aware of the originality of his thought and even more so of the rather paradoxical and strange character of the conclusion to which he is led by learned ignorance.11

It is possible [he states] that those who will read things previously unheard of, and now established by Learned Ignorance, will be astonished.

Nicholas of Cusa cannot help it: it has, indeed, been established by learned ignorance12

. . . that the universe is triune; and that there is nothing that is not a unity of potentiality, actuality and connecting motion; that no one of these can subsist absolutely without the other; and that all these are in all [things] in different degrees, so different that in the universe no two [things]

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can be completely equal to each other in everything. Accordingly, if we consider the diverse motions of the [celestial] orbs, [we find that] it is impossible for the machine of the world to have any fixed and motionless center; be it this sensible earth, or the air, or fire or anything else. For there can be found no absolute minimum in motion, that is, no fixed center, because the minimum must necessarily coincide with the maximum]

[paragraph continues] Thus the centrum of the world coincides with the circumference and, as we shall see, it is not a physical, but a metaphysical "centrum," which does not belong to the world. This "centrum," which is the same as the "circumference," that is, beginning and end, foundation and limit, the "place" that "contains" it, is nothing other than the Absolute Being or God.

Indeed, pursues Nicholas of Cusa, curiously reversing a famous Aristotelian argument in favour of the limitation of the world:13

The world has no circumference, because if it had a center and a circumference, and thus had a beginning and end in itself, the world would be limited in respect to something else, and outside the world there would be something other, and space, things that are wholly lacking in truth. Since, therefore, it is impossible to enclose the world between a corporeal centrum and a circumference, it is [impossible for] our reason to have a full understanding of the world, as it implies the comprehension of God who is the center and the circumference of it.


. . . though the world is not infinite, yet it cannot be conceived as finite, since it has no limits between which it is confined. The earth, therefore, which cannot be the center,

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cannot be lacking in all motion; but it is necessary that it move in such a way that it could be moved infinitely less. Just as the earth is not the center of the world, so the sphere of the fixed stars is not its circumference, though if we compare the earth to the sky, the earth appears to be nearer to the center, and the sky to the circumference. The earth therefore is not the center, neither of the eighth nor of [any] other sphere, nor does the rising of the six signs [of the Zodiac] above the horizon imply that the earth is in the center of the eighth sphere. For even if it were somewhat distant from the center and outside the axis, which traverses the poles, so that in one part it would be elevated towards one pole, and in the other [part] depressed towards the other, nevertheless it is clear that, being at such a great distance from the poles and the horizon being just as vast, men would see only half of the sphere [and therefore believe themselves to be in its center].

Furthermore the very center of the world is no more inside the earth than outside it; for neither this earth, nor any other sphere, has a center; indeed, the center is a point equidistant from the circumference; but it is not possible that there be a true sphere or circumference such that a truer, and more precise one, could not be possible; a precise equidistance of divers [objects] cannot be found outside of God, for He alone is the infinite equality. Thus it is the blessed God who is the center of the world; He is the center of the earth and of all the spheres, and of all [the things] that are in the world, as He is at the same time the infinite circumference of all. Furthermore, there are in the sky no immovable, fixed poles, though the sky of the fixed stars appears by its motion to describe circles graduated in magnitude, lesser than the colures or than the equinoctials and also circles of an intermediate [magnitude]; yet, as a matter of fact, all the parts of the sky must move, though unequally

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in comparison with the circles described by the motion of the fixed stars. Thus, as certain stars appear to describe the maximal circle, so certain [others], the minimal, but there is no star that does not describe any. Therefore, as there is no fixed pole in the sphere, it is obvious that neither can there be found an exact mean, that is, a point equidistant from the poles. There is therefore no star in the eighth sphere which by [its] revolution would describe a maximal circle, because it would have to be equidistant from the poles which do not exist, and accordingly [the star] that would describe the minimal circle does not exist either. Thus the poles of the spheres coincide with the center and there is no other center than the pole, that is, the blessed God Himself.

The exact meaning of the conception developed by Nicholas of Cusa is not quite clear; the texts that I have quoted could be—and have been—interpreted in many different ways which I will not examine here. As for myself, I believe that we can understand it as expressing, and as stressing, the lack of precision and stability in the created world. Thus, there are no stars exactly on the poles, or on the equator of the celestial sphere. There is no fixed constant axis; the eighth, as well as all the other spheres, perform their revolutions around axes that continuously shift their positions. Moreover, these spheres are by no means exact, mathematical ("true") spheres, but only something which we should today call "spheroids"; accordingly, they have no center, in the precise meaning of this term. It follows therefore that neither the earth, nor anything else, can be placed in this center, which does not exist, and that thus nothing in this world can be completely and absolutely at rest.

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I do not believe we can go further than that and attribute to Nicholas of Cusa a purely relativistic conception of space, such as, for instance, Giordano Bruno imputes to him. Such a conception implies the denial of the very existence of celestial orbs and spheres, which we cannot ascribe to Nicholas of Cusa.

Yet, in spite of this retention of the spheres, there is a good deal of relativism in Nicholas of Cusa's world-view. Thus he continues:15

But we cannot discover motion unless it be by comparison with something fixed, that is [by referring it to] the poles or the centers and assuming them in our measurements of the motions [as being at rest]; it follows therefrom that we are always using conjectures, and err in the results [of our measurements]. And [if] we are surprised when we do not find the stars in the places where they should be according to the ancients, [it is] because we believe [wrongly] that they were right in their conceptions concerning the centers and poles as well as in their measurements.

It seems, then, that for Nicholas of Cusa the lack of agreement between the observations of the ancients and those of the moderns has to be explained by a change in the position of the axis (and poles), and, perhaps, by a shift in that of the stars themselves.

From all this, that is, from the fact that nothing in the world can be at rest, Nicholas of Cusa concludes:

. . . it is obvious that the earth moves. And because from the motion of the comets, of the air and of fire, we know by experience that the elements move, and [that] the moon [moves] less from the Orient to the Occident than Mercury or Venus, or the sun, and so on, it follows that the earth

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[paragraph continues] [considered as an element] moves less than all the others; yet [considered] as a star, it does not describe around the center or the pole a minimal circle, nor does the eighth sphere, or any other, describe the maximal, as has already been proved.

You have now to consider attentively what follows: just as the stars move around the conjectural poles of the eighth sphere, so also do the earth, the moon and the planets move in various ways and at [different] distances around a pole, which pole we have to conjecture as being [in the place] where you are accustomed to put the center. It follows therefrom that though the earth is, so to speak, the star which is nearer the central pole [than the others] it still moves, and yet does not describe in [its] motion the minimum circle, as has been shown supra. Moreover, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor any sphere—though to us it seems otherwise—can in [its] motion describe a true circle, because they do not move around a fixed base. Nowhere is there a true circle such that a truer one would not be possible, nor is [anything] ever at one time [exactly] as at another, neither does it move in a precisely equal [manner], nor does it describe an equally perfect circle, though we are not aware of it.

It is rather difficult to say precisely what kind of motion is ascribed to the earth by Nicholas of Cusa. In any case, it does not seem to be any of those that Copernicus was to attribute to it: it is neither the daily rotation around its axis, nor the annual revolution around the sun, but a kind of loose orbital gyration around a vaguely determined and constantly shifting center. This motion is of the same nature as that of all other celestial bodies, the sphere of the fixed stars included, though the slowest of

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them all, that of the sphere of the fixed stars being the quickest.

As for Nicholas of Cusa's assertions (quite unavoidable from his epistemological premises) that there is nowhere a precise circular orb or a precisely uniform motion, they must be interpreted as implying immediately (though he does not say it explicitly, it is clearly enough suggested by the context) that not only the factual content, but the very ideal of Greek and mediaeval astronomy, that is, the reduction of celestial motions to a system of interlocking uniform circular ones which would "save" the phenomena by revealing the permanent stability of the real behind the seeming irregularity of the apparent, is fallacious and must be abandoned.

Yet Nicholas of Cusa goes even further and, drawing the (penultimate) conclusion from the relativity of the perception of space (direction) and motion, he asserts that as the world-image of a given observer is determined by the place he occupies in the universe; and as none of these places can claim an absolutely privileged value (for instance, that of being the center of the universe), we have to admit the possible existence of different, equivalent world-images, the relative—in the full sense of the word—character of each of them, and the utter impossibility of forming an objectively valid representation of the universe.16

Consequently, if you want to have a better understanding of the motion of the universe, you must put together the center and the poles, with the aid of your imagination as far as you can; for if somebody were on the earth, under the arctic pole, and somebody else on the arctic pole, then just as to the man on the earth the pole will appear to be

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in the zenith, to the man on the pole it is the center that would appear to be in the zenith. And as the antipodes have, like ourselves, the sky above them, so to those who are in the poles (in both), the earth will appear to be in the zenith, and wherever the observer be he will believe himself to be in the center. Combine thus these diverse imaginations, making the center into the zenith and vice versa, and then, with the intellect, which alone can practise learned ignorance, you will see that the world and its motion cannot be represented by a figure, because it will appear almost as a wheel within a wheel, and a sphere within a sphere, having nowhere, as we have seen, either a center or a circumference.

The ancients [continues Nicholas of Cusa17] did not arrive at the things that we have brought forth, because they were deficient in learned ignorance. But for us it is clear that this earth really moves, though it does not appear to us to do so, because we do not apprehend motion except by a certain comparison with something fixed. Thus if a man in a boat, in the middle of a stream, did not know that the water was flowing and did not see the bank, how would he apprehend that the boat was moving?18 Accordingly, as it will always seem to the observer, whether he be on the earth, or on the sun or on another star, that he is in the quasi-motionless center and that all the other [things] are in motion, he will certainly determine the poles [of this motion] in relation to himself; and these poles will be different for the observer on the sun and for the one on the earth, and still different for those on the moon and Mars, and so on for the rest. Thus, the fabric of the world (machina mundi) will quasi have its center everywhere and its circumference nowhere, because the circumference and the center are God; Who is everywhere and nowhere.

It must be added that this earth is not spherical, as

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some have said, though it tends towards sphericity; indeed, the shape of the world is contrasted in its parts, as well as its motion; but when the infinite line is considered as contracted in such a way that, as contracted, it could not be more perfect or more spacious, then it is circular, and the corresponding corporeal figure [is the] spherical one. For all motion of the parts is towards the perfection of the whole; thus heavy bodies [move] towards the earth, and light ones [move] upward, earth towards earth, water towards water, fire towards fire; accordingly, the motion of the whole tends as far as it can towards the circular, and all shapes towards the spherical one, as we see in the parts of animals, in trees, and in the sky. But one motion is more circular and more perfect than another, and it is the same with shapes.

We cannot but admire the boldness and depth of Nicholas of Cusa's cosmological conceptions which culminate in the astonishing transference to the universe of the pseudo-Hermetic characterization of God: "a sphere of which the center is everywhere, and the circumference nowhere."19 But we must recognize also that, without going far beyond him, it is impossible to link them with astronomical science or to base upon them a "reformation of astronomy." This is probably why his conceptions were so utterly disregarded by his contemporaries, and even by his successors for more than a hundred years. No one, not even Lefèvre d’Etaples who edited his works, seems to have paid much attention to them,20 and it was only after Copernicus—who knew the works of Nicholas of Cusa, at least his treatise on the quadrature of the circle, but does not seem to have been influenced by him21—and even after Giordano Bruno, who drew his chief inspiration from him, that Nicholas of Cusa achieved fame as a forerunner

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of Copernicus, and even of Kepler, and could be quoted by Descartes as an advocate of the infinity of the world.

It is rather tempting to follow the example of these illustrious admirers of Nicholas of Cusa, and to read into him all kinds of anticipations of later discoveries, such, for instance, as the flattened form of the earth, the elliptic trajectories of the planets, the absolute relativity of space, the rotation of the heavenly bodies upon their axes.

Yet we must resist this temptation. As a matter of fact, Nicholas of Cusa does not assert anything of the kind. He does believe in the existence and also in the motion of heavenly spheres, that of the fixed stars being the quickest of all, as well as in the existence of a central region of the universe around which it moves as a whole, conferring this motion on all its parts. He does not assign a rotary motion to the planets, not even to this our earth. He does not assert the perfect uniformity of space. Moreover, in deep opposition to the fundamental inspiration of the founders of modern science and of the modern world-view, who, rightly or wrongly, tried to assert the panarchy of mathematics, he denies the very possibility of the mathematical treatment of nature.

We must now turn our attention to another aspect of the cosmology of Nicholas of Cusa, historically perhaps the most important: his rejection of the hierarchical structure of the universe, and, quite particularly, his denial—together with its central position—of the uniquely low and despicable position assigned to the earth by traditional cosmology. Alas, here too, his deep metaphysical intuition is marred by scientific conceptions that were not in advance of but rather behind his time, such as, for instance,

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the attribution to the moon, and even to the earth, of a light of their own.22

The shape of the earth is noble and spherical, and its motion is circular, though it could be more perfect. And since in the world there is no maximum in perfections, motions and figures (as is evident from what has already been said) it is not true that this earth is the vilest and lowest [of the bodies of the world], for though it seems to be more central in relation to the world, it is also, for the same reason, nearer to the pole. Neither is this earth a proportional, or aliquot part of the world, for as the world has neither maximum, nor minimum, neither has it a moiety, nor aliquot parts, any more than a man or an animal [has them]; for the hand is not an aliquot part of the man, though its weight seems to have a proportion to the body, just as it does to the dimension and the figure. Nor is the dark colour [of the earth] an argument for its baseness, because to an observer on the sun, it [the sun] would not appear as brilliant as it does to us; indeed, the body of the sun must have a certain more central part, a quasi earth, and a certain circumferential quasi-fiery lucidity, and in the middle a quasi-watery cloud and clear air, just as this earth has its elements.23 Thus someone outside the region of fire would see [the earth as] a brilliant star, just as to us, who are outside the region of the sun, the sun appears very luminous.

Having thus destroyed the very basis of the opposition of the "dark" earth and the "luminous" sun by establishing the similarity of their fundamental structure, Nicholas proclaims victoriously:24

The earth is a noble star, which has a light and a heat and an influence of its own, different from those of all other

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stars; every [star] indeed differs from every other in light, nature and influence; and thus every star communicates its light and influence to [every] other; not intentionally, for stars move and glitter only in order to exist in a more perfect manner: the participation arises as a consequence; just as light shines by its own nature, not in order that I may see it.

Indeed, in the infinitely rich and infinitely diversified and organically linked-together universe of Nicholas of Cusa, there is no center of perfection in respect to which the rest of the universe would play a subservient part; on the contrary, it is by being themselves, and asserting their own natures, that the various components of the universe contribute to the perfection of the whole. Thus the earth in its way is just as perfect as the sun, or the fixed stars. Accordingly, Nicholas of Cusa continues:25

It must not be said either that, because the earth is smaller than the sun, and receives an influence from it, it is also more vile; for the whole region of the earth, which extends to the circumference of the fire, is large. And though the earth is smaller than the sun, as is known to us from its shadow and the eclipses, still we do not know whether the region of the sun is greater or smaller than the region of the earth; however, they cannot be precisely equal, as no star can be equal to another. Nor is the earth the smallest star, for it is larger than the moon, as we are taught by the experience of the eclipses, and even, as some people say, larger than Mercury, and possibly than some other stars. Thus the argument from the dimension to the vileness is not conclusive.

Nor can it be argued that the earth is less perfect than the sun and the planets because it receives an influence

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from them: it is, as a matter of fact, quite possible that it influences them in its turn:26

It is clear therefore that it is not possible for human knowledge to determine whether the region of the earth is in a degree of greater perfection or baseness in relation to the regions of the other stars, of the sun, the moon and the rest.

Some of the arguments in favour of the relative perfection of the earth are rather curious. Thus, being convinced that the world is not only unlimited but also everywhere populated, Nicholas of Cusa tells us that no conclusion as to the imperfection of the earth can be drawn from the alleged imperfection of its inhabitants, a conclusion that nobody, as far as I know, ever made, at least not in his time. Be that as it may, in any case Nicholas of Cusa asserts that,27

. . . it cannot be said that this place of the world [is less perfect because it is] the dwelling-place of men, and animals, and vegetables that are less perfect than the inhabitants of the region of the sun and of the other stars. For although God is the center and the circumference of all the stellar regions, and although in every region inhabitants of diverse nobility of nature proceed from Him, in order that such vast regions of the skies and of the stars should not remain void, and that not only this earth be inhabited by lesser beings, still it does not seem that, according to the order of nature, there could be a more noble or more perfect nature than the intellectual nature which dwells here on this earth as in its region, even if there are in the other stars inhabitants belonging to another genus: man indeed does not desire another nature, but only the perfection of his own.

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But, of course, we have to admit that in the same genus there may be several different species which embody the same common nature in a more, or less, perfect way. Thus it seems to Nicholas of Cusa rather reasonable to conjecture that the inhabitants of the sun and the moon are placed higher on the scale of perfection than ourselves: they are more intellectual, more spiritual than we, less material, less burdened by flesh.

And, finally, the great argument from change and corruptibility to baseness is declared by Nicholas of Cusa as having no more value than the rest. For28 "since there is one universal world, and since all the particular stars influence each other in a certain proportion," there is no reason to suppose that change and decay occur only here, on the earth, and not everywhere in the universe. Nay, we have every reason to suppose—though of course we cannot know it—that it is everywhere the same, the more so as this corruption, which is presented to us as the particular feature of terrestrial being, is by no mean a real destruction, that is, total and absolute loss of existence. It is, indeed, loss of that particular form of existence.: But fundamentally it is not so much outright disappearance as dissolution, or resolution, of a being into its constitutive elements and their reunification into something else, a process that may take place—and probably does take place—in the whole universe just because the ontological structure of the world is, fundamentally, everywhere the same. Indeed it expresses everywhere in the same temporal, that is, mutable and changing, manner the immutable and eternal perfection of the Creator.

As we see, a new spirit, the spirit of the Renaissance breathes in the work of Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa. His

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world is no longer the medieval cosmos. But it is not yet, by any means, the infinite universe of the moderns.


The honor of having asserted the infinity of the universe has also been claimed by modern historians for a sixteenth century writer, Marcellus Stellatus Palingenius,29 author of a widely read and very popular book, Zodiacus vitae, which was published in Venice, in Latin, in 1534 (and translated into English in 1560); but, in my opinion, with even less reason than in the case of Nicholas of Cusa.

Palingenius, who is deeply influenced by the Neoplatonic revival of the fifteenth century and who therefore rejects the absolute authority of Aristotle, though, at other times, he quotes him with approval, may have had some knowledge of Nicholas of Cusa's world-view and have been encouraged by his example in denying the finitude of creation. Yet it is not certain, since, with the exception of the rather energetic assertion of the impossibility of imposing a limit on God's creative action, we do not find in his teaching any reference to the particular tenets of the cosmology of Nicholas of Cusa.

Thus, for instance, when in discussing the general structure of the universe he tells us30

But some have thought that every starre a worlde we may call,
The earth they count a darkened starre, whereas the least of all.

it is obvious that it is not Nicholas of Cusa, but the ancient Greek cosmologists that he has in mind. It is to be noted, moreover, that Palingenius does not share their views. His own are quite different. He does not make the earth

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a star. On the contrary he maintains consistently the opposition between the terrestrial and the celestial regions; and it is. just the imperfection of the former that leads him to the denial of its being the only populated place in the world.


                            . . . we see
The Seas and earth with sundry sorts, of creatures full to bee.
Shall then the heavens cleare be thought, as void and empty made
O rather void and empty mindes, that thus yourselves persuade.

It is clear that we cannot share the errors of these "empty mindes." It is clear, too, that32

. . . creatures doth the skies containe, and every Starre beside
Be heavenly townes and seates of Saints, where Kings and Commons bide
Not shapes and shadows vain of things (as we have present here)
But perfect Kings and people eke, all things are perfect there.

Yet Palingenius does not assert the infinity of the world. It is true that, applying consistently the principle to which Professor Lovejoy has given the name of principle of plenitude,33 he denies the finitude of God's creation, and says:34

A sorte there are that do suppose, the end of everything
Above the heavens to consist, and farther not to spring.
So that beyond them nothing is: and that above the skies p. 26
The Nature never powre to clime, but there amazed lies.
Which unto me appeareth false: and reason does me teach,
For if the ende of all be there, where skies no farther reach
Why hath not God created more? Because he had not skill
How more to make, his cunning staied and broken of his will?
Or for because he had not power? but truth both these denies,
For power of God hath never end, nor bounds his knowledge ties.
But in the State Diuine of God and Glorious maiestie
We must believe is nothing vaine since Godliest is the same:
This God what so ever he could doe assuredly did frame,
Least that his vertue were in vaine, and never should be hid.
But since he could make endlesse things, it never must be thought he did.

Nevertheless he maintains the finitude of the material world, enclosed and encompassed by the eight heavenly spheres:35

But learned Aristotle sayth there can no body bee,
But that it must of bondes consist: to this I do agree,
Because above the skies no kinde of body do we place,
But light most pure, of bodye voide, such light as doth deface
And farre excell our shining Sunne, such light as comprehend
Our eyes cannot, and endlesse light that God doth from him send.
Wherein together with their King the Sprites that are more hie
Doe dwell, the meaner sorte beneath the skies doe alwaies lie.
Therefore the reigne and position of the world consists in three, p. 27
Celestiall, Subcelestiall which with limits compast bee:
The Rest no boundes may comprehend which bright aboue the Skye
Doth shine with light most wonderfull. But here some will replye
That without body is no light, and so by this deny
That light can never there be found Above the Heavens by.

But Palingenius does not accept this theory which makes light dependent on matter and thus material itself. In any case, even if it were so for natural, physical light, it is certain that it .is not the case for God's supernatural one. Above the starry heavens there are no bodies. But light and immaterial being can well be—and are—present in the supernatural, boundless supracelestial region.

Thus it is God's heaven, not God's world, that Palingenius asserts to be infinite.

Next: II. The New Astronomy and the New Metaphysics