Nicola Cusano, also known as Niccolò Cusano or Niccolò da Cusa, was a cardinal, theologian, philosopher, humanist, jurist, mathematician and German astronomer.
Born in Kues in 1401, today Bernkastel-Kues, in Germany near Trier, on the river Moselle, with the name of Nikolaus Krebs or Nikolaus Kryffs from a rich family of boatmen, wine merchants and shipowners, son of Johann Kryffs Schiffer and Catherina Roemer , the latter of Jewish origins; he had two sisters, Clara and Margherita, and a brother, Johann. In 1413, at Deventer he studied under the protection of the Manderscheid accounts at the Brothers of the Common Life; he attended the faculty of letters of the University of Heidelberg in 1416, completed his studies in Padua where he graduated in law in 1423, he perfected himself in Cologne studying Albertus Magnus, Plato and Raimondo Lullo and became a doctor in philosophy. He also undertook studies on Islamic culture and on Averroes thanks to Ugo Benzi, the famous Sienese Greek. In Padua he received the academic title of Doctor Decretorum from the professor Gasparino Barzizza, he was professor of Berthold von Henneberg (future archbishop of Mainz) and he became aware of the legal doctrine of Bartolomeo Zabarella. He became friends with the humanists Vittorino da Feltre and Francesco Filelfo, the mathematicians Prosdocimo de Beldemandis and Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, with cardinal Domenico Capranica and with Enea Silvio Piccolomini, future Pope Pius II. In 1427 he became the secretary of Otto von Ziegenhain, archbishop of Trier. He went to Paris in 1428 with Eimerico da Campo to study and translate the works of Cicero, Tacitus and Plautus. In Constance and in Louvain he was also a professor in theology and canon law, and with his friend Niccolò Niccoli he searched Latin and Greek codices in German monasteries. In 1429 he moved to Rome for a while: he heard a preaching of Bernardino da Siena, met Pope Martin V, met Francesco di Paola, who was negatively impressed by the pomp of the city and rebuked Cusano, to whom he pointed out that Jesus had not had clothes so sumptuous; he also became secretary of cardinal Giordano Orsini and of the bishop of Pavia Francesco Piccolpasso; he was also a pupil of Giuliano Cesarini, who later became cardinal and president of the Council of Basel together with Louis Aleman, to whom Cusano later dedicated his most important work, De Docta Ignorantia.
In 1433 he was invited by Pope Eugenius IV, through the intercession of Ambrogio Traversari, to the Council of Basel, in which he played a fundamental role; for the occasion he wrote the De concordantia catholica: in this paper he supported the necessity of the unity of the Catholic Church and the concordance of all the Christian faiths. In the same year, he made a strong friendship with Alfonso di Braganza, in fact when he returned to Portugal, Cusano accompanied him and was named his confessor. He was sent in 1434 as tied to the Diet Council of Ratisbon together with Johannes Nider, where he worked for the union of the Hussites with the Church of Bohemia. In the same year, during the Council, he attacked Nils Ragvaldsson because he claimed that the Swedish monarch, Eric of Pomerania, was the successor of the gothic kings, and that the Swedish delegation should therefore be given more consideration. In the years 1433-1435, Francesco Sforza was in command of the Milanese army against the State of the Church, but when he took Ancona, he changed position, obtaining the title of vicar of the city directly from Pope Eugene IV, even if the cardinals Cusano and Ludovico Scarampi Mezzarota, together with other ecclesiastics, opposed his investiture.
The first period of his life ended on May 17, 1437 when Eugene IV, on the advice of Cardinal Branda Castiglioni, sent him as Legate to Constantinople together with the bishops Antão Martins de Chaves of Porto, Cristoforo Garatoni di Crotone, Pierre de Versailles of Digne and to Cardinal Francesco Condulmer, with the intention of weaving talks in view of a reunification of the Churches of the East and the West. The legation was crowned by a huge success, so that Cusano returned accompanied by Emperor John VIII of Byzantium, by the patriarch of Constantinople Joseph II, by cardinals Isidore of Kiev and Basilio Bessarione and by the philosopher Giorgio Gemisto Pletone and landed on February 8, 1438 to Venice. Together they went to Ferrara, where Eugene IV had moved the seat of the council.
The conciliarists who remained in Basel tried, supported by the universities, to deploy the Church against the Pope, proclaiming declined Eugene IV and electing an antipope in his place, the Duke of Savoy Amadeus VIII under the name of Felix V: it had come to the small schism of the West. . Moreover, on March 17, 1438, the electors, electing Albert II of Habsburg, had declared, with the consent of the emperor, their neutrality between Eugene IV and the Council of Basel. So Eugenio IV, to get their support, fielded the best men, among which Niccolò Albergati, Tommaso Parentucelli, Juan de Carvajal and Cusano, who, for his efforts, was called by Pope Pius II 'Hercules Eugeniorum' . From Ferrara Cusano went to the Nuremberg Diet, during which he clashed with Thomas de Courcelle, pseudocardinal created by the antipope Felice V.
Under pressure from Cosimo il Vecchio, in 1439 the council was transferred to Florence. The progenitor of the Medici presided over the reunification (ephemeral) between the Latin church, represented by Pope Eugene IV, and the Byzantine one, represented by the Emperor John VIII Palaeologus and the patriarch Joseph. The reunification should have taken place on the dogmatic and disciplinary level, but differences on the liturgical level should have been maintained. Cusano also participated in the siege of Foligno in 1439 (where he commanded papal troops with cardinal and condottiere Giovanni Maria Vitelleschi and Ranuccio Farnese the Elder), at the Diet of Mainz in 1441 (during which he expelled Ludovico di Teck, patriarch of Aquileia , because he was in favor of the theses of the conciliarists) to the Diet of Frankfurt 1442 (during which he opposed the theses of the Council exhibited by the pseudo-Cardinal Niccolò Tedeschi) and the Diet of Aschaffenburg in 1447 together with Enea Silvio Piccolomini, during which the German princes recognized the authority of Pope Eugenius IV and discouraged the antipope Felice V.
Cusano supported the attempt, proposed by Eugene IV, to hold a crusade in 1444 against the Muslims, led by Giorgio Castriota Scanderbeg, supported by the king of Naples Alfonso V of Aragon. In De Pace Fidei (On Peace of Faith), he imagines a summit meeting in heaven of representatives of all nations and religions. In this treaty they severely attacked Jan Hus and all of Bohemia. The Basel conference agreed that there can not be a "religio in varietate rituum", that is, one faith that manifests itself in different rites. The dialogue box, moreover, presupposes the greater precision of Christianity compared to other religions.
When Eugene IV died, Cusano was appointed chamberlain, so he was foreclosed by the papacy, and became Pope Nicholas V, his longtime friend. Pope Nicholas V in 1448 appointed him cardinal of the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, a cardinal title that he kept until 1464. In 1450 he was sent together with Enea Silvio Piccolomini (at the time bishop of Trieste) as ambassador by emperor Federico III d ' Habsburg to negotiate their marriage with Princess Eleonora d'Aviz. In 1452, on a visit to the ghetto of Frankfurt, he ordered that all Jewish males wear yellow rings on the sleeves of their jackets, and all the Jews should wear a blue veil; however this law was observed only for a short time. In the same year, on December 12, he assisted in the Basilica of Saint Sophia in the symbolic union of the Eastern Church with the Church of the West in the presence of Constantine XI Palaeologus.
He also participated in the Vienna Concordat, where he regulated the ecclesiastical affairs of the kingdom and the relations between the patricians and the Roman Curia together with Frederick III of Habsburg. While staying in Lübeck he also met Adolfo VIII of Schaumburg; Cusano hosted him several times in Italy.
On December 3, 1458 he founded the Cusanusstift (Hospital of St. Nicholas), a gothic-style charity hospital, for 33 people (in memory of the years of Christ), including 6 nobles, 6 priests and 21 common people. In the Cusanusstift there is still a famous winery in the Tyrol and one of the richest European libraries, the Library of the Hospital of St. Nicholas in Bernkastel-Kues, where all the works of Cardinal Cusano and other 1841 manuscripts are kept (including 132 incunabula, 153 titles of the sixteenth century, 323 of the seventeenth, 550 of the eighteenth and 683 of the nineteenth), divided into topics (308 titles of pastoral, homiletic and catechetical theology, 226 of ascetic and mystical literature, 128 scholarships and biblical exegesis, including 33 of the New Testament, 118 of ecclesiastical law, 68 of liturgies and breviaries of the Holy Mass, 64 of dogmatic literature, 31 of patristics, including 20 editions of texts of the Fathers of the Church, 12 of scholasticism, 21 of councils and synods, in detail of the Council of Trent, 13 of biographies and hagiographies, 244 of history, 91 of literature, including the ancient classics in 41 editions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the rest belonging to fiction, literature and grammar; oria dell'Arte; 30 of philosophy of education and psychology; 57 of science, geography and cosmology; 55 reference works and language dictionaries). The cloister and the chapel of the monastery (where the cardinal's heart is kept) are the culminating points of the Hospital of St. Nicholas, patron saint of the sailors and of the Cusano family.
l 23 March 1450 Cusano was elected Bishop-Prince of Bressanone by Niccolò V; Sigismund of Austria then proclaimed himself Duke of Bressanone and had a still existing castle built by his descendants built outside the town. Cusano fought bitterly against the duke Sigismondo, who tried to eliminate from his lands the figure of the Bishop-Count, who was in possession of the Valle Isarco, Val Pusteria and Engadina. Meanwhile Sigismondo had appointed Prince-Bishop of Bressanone Leonhard Wismair, but on March 25, 1450 came from Rome the news of Cusano's appointment so there was an agreement in Salzburg and the Duke recognized the office in Cusano, under pressure from the Pope. however, Cusano entered into conflict with the nobles of Tyrol, loyal to Sigismondo, led by Count Georg Künigl and fomented by a spiritual guide, such Verena von Stuben, abbess of the Benedictine convent of Castel Badia near Brunico, who was excommunicated by Cusano, after his army defeated the nobles in a battle at Marebbe, April 5, 1458. On 14 July 1457, however, Cusano was forced to withdraw from Bressanone after several attempts to ambush, several death threats and attempts at poisoning and took refuge at the castle of Andraz until 1458, when he clashed with Gregor Heimburg, who was supported by the Duke Sigismund. He therefore suffered the imprisonment in 1460 by Sigismondo, who, for this reason, was excommunicated by Pope Pius II; Cusano managed to escape the castle of Brunico, where he was besieged by Sigismondo with 4,000 infantrymen and 1000 knights, and was free only after he had signed a surrender treaty against his will; on April 27, 1460 he went riding in the Valle d'Ampezzo and then escaped to the State of the Church, stopping in Orvieto.
Cusano went to Valladolid in 1453 and headed the council summoned for the witchcraft trial against Álvaro de Luna, who was found guilty, sentenced to death and executed on 2 June 1453. In 1454 he was sent by Niccolò V to Ludwig von Erlichshausen , Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, and at Casimiro IV of Poland, a supporter of Prussian rebels in the thirteen-year war, to open peace talks and direct the armies against the Turks. In 1459, Pius II, who went to the Mantua Conference, appointed him Pontifical Legate and Vicar General in temporalibus of Rome, where he was a member of the Curia and together with the bishop Domenico Domenichi elaborated a plan for reforming the Church, which however remained inactuated. his bitterness saying "I do not like anything, everything that is pushed to the curia, is in ruins, no one does his duty.I am at the consistory to talk about reform, I feel ridiculous". In this period he wrote De Cribratione Alchorani, a conscious benign interpretation of passages from the Koran, preceded the letter of Pius II to the Sultan Mohammed II and constituted a cultural assumption. He participated in the negotiations to end the Hundred Years War between France and England and the Wiener Neustadt agreements that would allow him to return to Bressanone. In 1461 he fell seriously ill with gout but was treated by a famous doctor of the time, Pierleone Leoni. In 1464 he was commissioned together with Berardo Eroli to judge the Bohemian question concerning the heresy of King George of Bohemia, and his expertise in this field also made use of private individuals. While together with Niccolò Forteguerri he devoted himself to the preparation of a crusade called by Pope Pius II against the Turks who had invaded Constantinople in 1453, he died in 1464 in Todi three days before the death of Pope Pius II and shortly before the capitulation of Sigismund Austria. Currently Cardinal Cusano is buried in the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome in a marble tomb created by Andrea Bregno, but his heart was brought to Bernkastel-Kues, in Rhineland, his birthplace.