New Research on Nicholas of Cusa and the Cambridge Platonists

Two Sessions on Nicholas of Cusa and Protestant Thought at the Sixteenth Century Society Conference in New Orleans 16-19, 2014

Nicholas of Cusa and Protestant Thought (I)

Friday 8:30-10:00, Studio 6

Sponsor: Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR), McGill University
Organizer: Eric M. Parker, McGill University & Joshua Hollmann, Concordia College Chair: Torrance Kirby, McGill University

Nicholas of Cusa and Martin Luther on Christ and the Coincidence of Opposites Joshua Hollmann (Concordia College)

Lineages of Papal Reform: Nicholas of Cusa’s Reformatio generalis (1459) and Luther’s View of the Papacy during the Early Indulgence Controversy (1517-19)
Richard Serina (Concordia Seminary)

As the Blind Discern Color: Nicholas of Cusa and John Calvin on the Hiddenness of God
Kirk Essary (Florida State University)

Nicholas of Cusa in Protestant Thought (II)

Friday 10:30-12:00, Studio 6

Sponsor: Centre for Research on Religion (CREOR), McGill University
Organizer: Eric M. Parker, McGill University & Joshua Hollmann, Concordia College Chair: Torrance Kirby, McGill University

The Influence of Nicholas of Cusa in the Philosophical Theology of Thomas Jackson (1579-1640)
Peter James Bryson (McGill University)

‘Squaring the Circle’: Cusan Metaphysics and the Pansophic Vision of Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670)
Simon Burton (University of Warsaw)

‘Reason re-enthroned in her Majestick Seat’: Religion and Reason in Nicholas of Cusa and the Cambridge Platonists (ca. 1644-1688)
Eric Parker (McGill University)

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‘Cambridge Platonism Revisited’ at the AAR

On Monday 25th of November at 4.00 pm-6.30pm there was a session of the American Academy of Religion at Baltimore on ‘Cambridge Platonism Revisited’.

Speakers included:

Eric Parker (McGill)

The Chaldean Triad: Erôs, Alêtheia, Pistis, and the Relationship between Faith and Reason in the Works of Peter Sterry

Proclus posits Love (erôs), Truth (alêthia) and Faith (pistis), terms he discovers in the Chaldean Oracles, as the sympathetic (sympatheia) and uplifting powers (anagôgoi) that cause the union of the One and the “one in the soul.” For Proclus, rational faith should be differentiated from the irrational faith in Plato’s “divided line” analogy because it initiates one into union with the Good through an intuitive resting within the common notions (koinai ennoiai) of the intellect. The Cambridge Platonist, Peter Sterry uses the Chaldean Triad, translated as knowledge/understanding, faith, and love in his treatise on free will and in his sermons on Matthew. Sterry’s concept of the unity of the intellect and will in the soul is dependent on Proclus’s idea that “all things are in the soul.” This Unity is the Word who dwells naturally within the soul. For Sterry, however, a supernatural knowledge, faith, and love are necessary in order to reach perfect inward unity. In his sermons on Matthew, Sterry says that faith is the third link of the divine chain by which God draws up human souls to himself. Faith causes Truth to come into sympathetic harmony with truth in the soul. Faith is the human counterpart of divine Love within the Godhead, which ignites the flame of love in the hearts of believers. Though some have labeled Sterry’s opinion concerning the weakness of the post-lapsarian will as “Calvinistic” a more balanced perspective will not fail to mention the influence of Proclean Neoplatonism on Sterry’s concept of rational faith and its philosophical underpinnings.

Heather C. Ohaneson (Columbia)

Ralph Cudworth, Menasseh ben Israel, and the Readmission of Jews to England: The Political Circumstances of a Seventeenth-Century Theological-Philosophical Encounter

This paper concerns the intersection of philosophy, theology, and politics with respect to the question of the readmission of Jews to England in 1655-1656. By examining the theological interests and philosophical commitments of the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth–and, at the same time, by acknowledging the sources and range of his political access–it is possible to see the tensions underlying his recommendation of religious tolerance. Attention to several of the positions espoused by Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, whom Cudworth met in London on the occasion of the Whitehall Conference, will show a similarly complicated coincidence of political and theological views. As Cudworth sought to read Plato through the lens of Moses, and as Menasseh attempted to approach Kabbalah by way of Neoplatonism, we may look to make sense of Cudworth and Menasseh’s philosophies politically.

Alex Hampton (Cambridge)

Romantic Spinozism and Cambridge Platonism: Herder’s Cudworth-Inspired Revision of Spinoza

This paper explores the hidden role of Cudworth in shaping the Frühromantik reception of Spinoza through the intermediary of Herder. Herder was the most important source of Romantic Spinozism. His influential Gott Einige Gespräche über Spinoza’s System, ostensibly a defence of Spinoza, was in fact a revision of Spinoza along largely Cudworthian lines. After establishing the general relationship between Herder and Cudworth, this examination will outline three areas where Cudworth played a formative role for Herder. Finally, it will place Herder in the context of the Pantheism Controversy, which was so influential upon the Frühromantik.

Douglas Hedley (Cambridge) presided.

“Peter Sterry, fast sermons and Quakerism” at Mercurius Politicus (Blog)

 

Selection:

The five sermons by Sterry that the book includes are:

  • The Spirits Conviction of Sinne. Opened in a Sermon before the Honorable House of Commons [26 November 1645].
  • The Teachings of Christ In The Soule. Opened in a Sermon before the Right Honble House of Peers, in Covent-garden-Church [March 29, 1648].
  • The Clouds in which Christ Comes. Opened in a Sermon before the Honourable House of Commons [27 October 1647].
  • The Comings Forth of Christ In the Power of his Death. Opened in a Sermon Preached before the High Court of Parliament [1 November 1649]
  • England’s Deliverance From the Northern Presbytery, compared with its Deliverance from the Roman Papacy: or A Thanksgiving Sermon Preached [5 November 1651].

This is not every sermon Sterry published, but it is nearly all of them. And they are all significant sermons: placed together, they tell something of the story of the puritan victories of the 1640s and the growth in religious radicalism that the same decade saw.

The first three are fast sermons. These had become established as a Parliamentary tradition by the 1620s and were significant in the 1640s as a venue where preachers favoured by Presbyterian and Independent grandees could be used to fly religious and political kites to an audience of MPs or peers. They stopped in 1649, at least as regular sermons, but extraordinary fast sermons carried on after that date.

The 1645 sermon is the first one Sterry ever preached to Parliament. He was chaplain to Lord Brooke, who along with other disaffected peers like the Earl of Warwick and Lord Saye and Sele had played a significant role in leading Parliamentary opposition to Charles I during the early 1640s. Brooke was shot by a sniper while laying siege to Lichfield Castle in 1643. After that, Sterry became part of the Westminster Assembly of religious divines. The sermon is fairly conventionally puritan, in that it focuses on the role of the holy spirit in redeeming the chosen. But it’s sold by Henry Overton and Benjamin Allen, booksellers with more radical sympathies. Both were partners based in Cripplegate.

The Clouds in which Christ Comes is the first sign of Sterry moving in a more radical direction. It dabbles in the mysticism of Jakob Boehme, who was a German theologian who had various personal experiences of God. It was delivered at a critical time for the Parliamentary side: a coup by the Presbyterians had been seen off but the Independents were now having to deal with Leveller influences in the army. The Putney debates started the day after this sermon was delivered. As a result, the text is rather apocalyptic. The Teachings of Christ In The Soule was preached at a time when Parliament’s relationship with the Scots had broken down, and both were preparing for war. It also shows signs of being influenced by Boehme. Both texts were sold by Robert Dawlman, a specialist in theological literature with a shop in St Paul’s Yard.

The Comings Forth of Christ In the Power of his Death marked Cromwell’s victories at Drogheda and Wexford. By this stage Sterry was preacher to the Council of State, the executive body set up after the death of Charles I which included Cromwell and various of the Independent and New Model Army grandees as its members. It was much more overtly millenarian than Sterry’s previous sermons. England’s Deliverance From the Northern Presbytery marks the defeat of the Scots at Worcester, and argues that this is a greater deliverance for England than having rid itself of Catholics.

The fact that all of these texts were collected in one place indicates someone with a significant interest in Sterry and the radical, millenarian end of puritanism. . . .

For the full blog entry see here.