The Vision of God by Nicholas of Cusa 1453 (The Walls)
The Vision of God; with an intro by Evelyn Underhill, Translated by Emma Gurney Salter. By Nicholas, of Cusa, Cardinal, 1401-1464. (1453)
Chapter VII What is the Fruit of seeing Face to Face and how it is to be had p. 28-33
So sweet is the food wherewith Thou, Lord, dost now nourish my soul that it helpeth itself as best it may by all experiences of this world as well as by those most acceptable comparisons which Thou inspirest. For Thou art, Lord, that power or principle from which come all things, and Thy face is that power and principle from which all faces are what they are; and, this being so, I turn me to this nut-tree —a big, tall tree—and seek to perceive its principle. I see it with the eye of sense to be big and spreading, coloured, laden with branches, leaves, and nuts. Then I perceive with the eye of the mind that that tree existed in its seed, not as I now behold it, but potentially. I consider with care the marvelous might of that seed, wherein the entire tree, and all its nuts, and all the generative power of the nuts, and all trees, existed in the generative power of the nuts. And I perceive how that power can never be fully explicated in any time measured by the motion of the heavens, yet how that same power, though beyond explication, is still limited, because it availeth only in this particular species of nuts. Wherefore, albeit in the seed I perceive the tree, ’tis yet in a limited power only. Then, Lord, I consider how the generative power of all the divers species of trees is limited each to its own species, and in those same seeds I perceive the virtual trees.
If, therefore, I am fain to behold the Absolute Power of all such generative powers—which is the power, and likewise the principle, giving power to all seeds—I must needs pass beyond all generative power which can be known or imagined and enter into that ignorance wherein no vestige whatsoever remaineth of generative power or energy. Then in the darkness I find a Power most stupendous, not to be approached by any power imaginable, and this is the principle, which giveth being to all generative, and other power. This Power, being absolute, and exalted above all, giveth to every generative power that power wherein it enfoldeth the virtual tree, together with all things necessary to an actual tree and that inhere in the being of a tree; wherefore this principle and cause containeth in itself, as cause, alike enfolded and absolutely, whatsoever it giveth to its effect. Thus I perceive this Power to be the countenance or pattern of all tree countenances and of every tree; whence I behold in it that nut-tree, not as in its limited generative power, but as in the cause and creating energy of that generative power. Accordingly, I see that tree as a certain explication of generative power, and the seed as a certain explication of almighty Power. I further perceive that—just as in the seed the tree is not a tree but generative power, and the generative power is that wherefrom the tree is unfolded, so that naught is to be found in the tree which doth not proceed from the generative power—even so the generative power in its cause, which is the Power of powers, is not generative power but Absolute Power. And even so, my God, the tree is in Thee (Thou art Thyself my God), and in Thee is its own truth and exemplar. In like manner also, in Thee the seed of the tree is the truth and exemplar of its own self and of tree and seed. Thou, God, art Truth and Exemplar. That limited generative power is that of the natural species, which is limited to that species, and existeth therein as a limited principle. But Thou, my God, art Absolute Power and, by reason of this, the Nature of all natures.
O God, whither hast Thou led me that I may perceive Thine Absolute Face to be the natural face of all nature, to be the face which is the Absolute Being of all being, to be art, and the knowledge of all that may be known? He, then, who meriteth to behold Thy Face seeth all things openly, and naught remaineth hidden from him: he who hath Thee, Lord, knoweth all things and hath all things: he hath all things who seeth Thee. For none seeth Thee except he have Thee. None can attain unto Thee, since Thou art unapproachable: none, therefore, can possess himself of Thee except Thou give Thyself to him. How can I have Thee, Lord, who am not worthy to appear in Thy sight? How reacheth my prayer unto Thee since Thou art not to be approached by any means? How shall I entreat Thee? For what were more foolish than to entreat that Thou shouldest give Thyself to me when Thou art All in all? And how wilt Thou give Thyself to me if Thou do not with Thyself give me heaven and earth and all that in them are? Nay more, how wilt Thou give me Thyself if Thou hast not given me mine own self also?
When I thus rest in the silence of contemplation, Thou, Lord, makest reply within my heart, saying: Be thou thine and I too will be thine.—O Lord. Thou Sweetness most delectable, Thou hast left me free to be mine own self, if I desire. Hence, if I be not mine own self, Thou art not mine, for Thou dost make freewill needful, since Thou canst not be mine if I be not mine own. Since Thou hast thus left me free, Thou dost not constrain me, but Thou awaitest that I should choose to be mine own. This resteth, then, with me, and not with Thee, Lord, who dost not limit Thy supreme loving kindness, but dost pour it out most abundantly on all able to receive it. Thou, Lord, art Thyself Thy loving kindness. But how shall I be mine own unless Thou, Lord, shalt teach me? Thou teachest me that sense should obey reason and that reason should bear sway. I am, then, mine own when sense serveth reason: but reason hath not whence it may be guided save by Thee, Lord, who art the Word, and the Reason of reasons. Whence I now perceive that, if I hearken unto Thy Word, which ceaseth not to speak within me, and continually enlighteneth my reason, I shall be mine own, free, and not the slave of sin, and Thou wilt be mine, and wilt grant me to behold Thy face, and then I shall be whole. Blessed, then, be Thou in Thy gifts, O God, who alone art able to strengthen my soul, and to raise it up that it may hope to attain unto Thee and to enjoy Thee as its very own gift, and the infinite treasury of all things desirable.
The Vision of God by Nicholas of Cusa 1453
published by Giles Randall in 1646
How in God succession of time is focus without succession.
Oh my God, I have experience in thy goodness which art so far from despising me a miserable sinner, that thou on the other side dost sweetly feed me with certain desire or longing, for thou hast inspired into me a most welcome similitude, as touching the unity of the mental word or conception and the variety thereof in those things that appear successively. For the simple conception of a most perfect Clock leads me a more feeling and savory sight of thy conception and word, for the simple conception of a clock complicates or wraps up all temporal succession, and puts case that a Clock be a conception, then though we hear the sound of the 6th hour before the 7th, yet the 7th is not heard but when the communication, neither is 6th sooner in conception then the 7th or 8th. But in the simple conception of a Clock there is no hour before or after another, although the Clock never strikes but when the conception bids. And it may be truly said when the Clock strikes six because the conception of the Master will have it to and because a Clock in the conception of God is a conception it may a little appear succession in a Clock is without succession in a word or conception and how that most simple conception are folded up all motions and sounds and whatsoever we find in succession. And that whatsoever happens successively doth not by any means exceed the conception, but is an explication of the conception because the conception gives being to everything. And that therefore is sooner than it comes to pass because it was not sooner conceived than it might be. Suppose than a conception of a Clock to be Eternity, and then the motion in the Clock is to be succession. Therefore eternity doth both infold and unfold succession, for the conception of a Clock, which is Eternity, doth both complicate and explicate all things.
Blessed be thou therefore O Lord my God which feedest and nourishes me milk of similitudes until thou give me stronger meat. Lead me O Lord God by these pains to thee, for except thou lead me I shall faint by the way because of frailty of my corruptible nature and the foolish Vessel I bear about me. I return again in confidence of thy help O Lord to find thee beyond the wall of confidence, complication, and explication, and as I go in and out by this door of thy word and conception I find thee both complicating and explication; I go in and out, I go in from the Creatures to thee thou Creator, from the effect to the cause. I go out from the Creator to the creatures, from the cause to the effect, I go both in and out together when I see how going out is going in, and going in at the same instant going out. As he that numbereth doth at the same time both explicate and complicate, explicate the power of unity and complicate number into unities. For the creatures going out from thee is for thee to enter into the Creature and to explicate is to complicate. And when I see thee God in Paradise, encompassed there within the wall of the coincidence of contraries I see that thou dost neither complicate nor explicate disjunctively nor copulatively. For disjunction and communion are both alike the wall of confidence, beyond which thou art absolute and free from all that can be either said or thought.
That where the invisible is seene, the uncreated is created
Crown of my joy and happiness thou hast appeared unto me, sometimes as invisible from every creature because thou art a God secret and hidden, and infinite, and infinity is incomprehensible by any manner of comprehension. Then thou appeared to me as visible to all things for every thing is so far forth as thou seest it: and that could not bee in act; except it did see thee for vision gives being, because it is they Essence; So thou my God art visible, and invisible thou art, invisible as thou art, and thou art visible as the creature is, which so far forth is as it sees thee, by every thing that seeds, in every thing that may be seen, and in every act of seeing art thou seen, which art invisible and absolute, and free from all such things, and infinitely super-exalted; Therefore O Lord I must leap over the Wall of invisible vision where thou art found, and the Wall is all things, and nothing both together, and thou which meetest or appearest to us as thou thou were all things, and nothing at all both together, dwellest within that high Wall which no wit can by its own power ever be able to climb.
Sometimes thou appearest unto mee, so that I imagine thou seest all things in thy self, like a living Glass, in which all things shine, and because they seeing is thy knowing, then it comes into my mind that thou dost not see also things in thy self as in a living Glass, for then thy knowledge should arise from the things: Sometimes thou presentest thy self to me, that thou seest all things in thy self, as power or virtue, by looking upon it self, As the power or possibility of the seed of a Tree, if it should look into and behold it self, would in it self see the Tree in power; because the virtue of the seed is potentially the Tree, and then again, me thinks that thou dost not see they self, and all things in thy self, as power or possibility, for to see a Tree in the power of the virtue, differs from that vision by which the Tree is seen in act, and then I find how thy infinite virtue or power is beyond all specular and seminal virtue, and beyond the coincidence, radiation or reflection of the cause, and also the thing caused, and that the absolute virtue is absolute vision, which is perfection it self, above all manner of seeing: for all the manners which explain the perfection of seeing are without any manners, thy Vision which is thy Essence, O my God.
But suffer most merciful Lord that I thy wild Creature may yet speak unto thee; If thy seeing be thy creating, and thou seest nothing but they self, but thy self art the object of thy self, for thou art both the thing seeing and the things seen, and the act of seeing, how then dost thou create other things from thee, for thou seemest to create thy self as thou seest thy self. But thou comfortest me O life of my spirit, for although I meet with the wall of absurdity, which is of the Coincidence of creating and being created, as though it were impossible that creating and being created should coincide. For to admit this seems to be as if one should assume that a thing is before it is, for when it creates it is, and because it is created it is not, yet it hinders not. For thy creating is thy being, neither is it any other things as once to create, and to be created, than to communicate thy being unto all things, that thou mayest be all things in all things, and yet remain absolute from all things, for to call to being thing that are not, is to communicate, being to nothing, so to call is to create, to communicate is to be created. And beyond this Coincidence of creating and being created, art thou God absolute and innate neither creating nor in possibility of being created, although they are all that they are, because thou art.
O thou heights of riches, how incomprehensible art thou, as long as I conceive a Creator, creating, I am yet on this side of the wall of Paradise. So as long as I conceive a Creator in possibility of being created, I have not yet entered, but am in the wall, but when I see thee as absolute infinite, whereunto neither the name of a Creator creating nor a Creator in possibility of being created can agree, then I begin to see thee revealedly, and to enter into the Garden of delights, because thou art no such things as can be said or conceived but infinitely and absolutely super-exalted above all such things. Thou art not therefore only a Creator, but infinitely more than a Creator, though without thee nothing is done or can be done: To thee be praise and glory for ever and ever, Amen
That God is seen absolute infinite
Then, Lord God, thou help of them that sleekest thee, I see thee in the Garden of Paradise, and I know not what I see, for I see nothing visible, only this I know, that I know not what I see, nor ever can know it, name thee I cannot, because I know not what thou art. And if any man say thou art named by this or that name, in as much as he nameth thee, I know that it is not thy name, for every term of the manner of significations of name is a Wall beyond which I see thee.
And if any man express any conception by which thou may be conceived I know that conception is not the conception of thee, for every conception is terminated in the Wall of Paradise. And if any man express any similitude and say that according thereunto though art to be conceived I know likewise that similitude is not thine. So if any man disclose any understanding of thee, as though he would give a means to understand thee, this man is yet far from thee. For from all these art thou separated by a most high Wall. This Wall separates thee from all things that can be said or thought, for thou art absolute from all things from all things that can fall into any man’s conception. Therefore when I am highest of all lifted up, then I see thee infinitely. Therefore art thou inaccessible, incomprehensible, unnamable, unmulltipliable, and invisible, and so he that will ascent to thee must get up above every term and end and things finite. But how shall he come unto thee, the end whereat he aim, if he must ascent above the end, doth he not enter into that which is indeterminate and confused, and so in regard of the understanding, into ignorance and obscurity, which are intellectual confusion. The understanding must therefore become ignorant and be placed in the shadow if it would see thee. But O my God, what is this ignorance of the understanding, is it not a learned ignorance? Therefore cannot thou O God be approached unto as being infinite but by him whose understanding is in ignorance and namely such a one as knows himself to be ignorant of thee. How can the understanding conceive thee which art infinite? The understanding knows itself ignorant and that thou cannot be conceived, because thou art infinite. For to understand Infinity is to comprehend that which is incomprehensible.
The understanding knows itself ignorant of thee because it knows thou cannot be known unless that which is unknowable be known, and the invisible seen, or the inaccessible be approached unto. Thou my God art absolute Infinity, which I see to be an infinite end, but I cannot conceive how an end should be an end without an end. Thou O God art the end of thyself, because thou art whatsoever thou hast if thou hast an end thou art an end. Thou art therefore an infinite end because thou art the end of thyself, for thy end is thy essence, the essence of the end is not determined or limited in another end, but in it self, the end therefore which is the end or bound of itself is infinite. And every end which is not the end of it self is a finite end, thou O Lord because thou art the bound that bounds all things, therefore art thou the end or bound whereof there is no bound, and so the bound without bound, or, infinite bound which passes all reason, for it holds a Contradiction.
When therefore I affirm a boundless bound or an infinite end I admit darkness to be light, ignorance knowledge, and that which is impossible to be necessary or of necessity. And because we admit that there is a bound of that which is bounded, we must necessarily admit of an infinite or last end or bound without a bound. But we cannot but admit infinite being, therefore we cannot but admit the infinite. Consequently we admit the Coincidence of contraries above which is the infinite. And that Coincidence is the contradiction without a contradiction, as an end without an end.
And thou O Lord say unto me that as alterity in unity is without alterity, because it is unity, so contradiction in Infinity is without contradiction, because Infinity. Infinity is simplicity it self, but contradiction cannot be without alterity, yet alterity in simplicity is without alteration, because it is simplicity, for all things that are said are affirmed of absolute simplicity, coincide or are the same with it, because there to have, is to be, the opposition of opposites, is there opposition without opposition as the end or bound of things infinite is no end or bound without end or bound.
Thou therefor O God art the opposite of opposites, because thou art infinite, thou art infinite it self. In infinity is opposition of opposites without opposition.
O Lord my God, the strength of the weak, I see thee to be infinity it self, therefore to thee, there is nothing other or diverse or contrary, and adverse for he that is infinite does not suffer with himself any alterity, because, being infinity, there is no thing besides or without it, for absolute infinite includes and environs all things. Therefore if there were infinite and something besides it, it were not infinite nor anything else, for infinite cannot be either greater or less, therefore there is nothing besides or beyond it, for if infinity did not include within itself all being it were not infinite, then were there no end or bound nor alterity, nor diversity, where without alterity of bands and terms cannot be Infinite. Therefore being taken away there remains nothing, there is therefore infinity, and it complicates all things, as nothing can be besides it, and hereupon here is nothing other, or diverse unto it. Infinity therefore is so all things that it is none of them all.
To infinity therefore, there can no name agree, for every name may have a contrary, but to unnamable Infinity there can be nothing contrary, neither is Infinity the whole, whereunto is opposed a part, not can it be a part, nor can Infinity be great or little, not any thing which can be named, neither in heaven or in earth, above all these is Infinity. Infinity is to nothing either great or less or equal!
But while I consider Infinity neither to be greater nor less to any thing imaginable, I say it is the measure of all things being neither greater nor less. And so I conceive it the equality of being, such an equality is Infinity, yet is it not so equality, as inequality opposed unto it, but there equality is inequality, for inequality in infinity is without inequality because it is Infinity. Infinite equality is an end without an end; whereupon though it be neither greater nor less, it is it not equality, as contracted equality is understood, but it is infinite equality, which is not capable of more or less. And so it is not more equal to one than to another, but so equal to one that to all, and so to all that to none of all. For that which is infinity is not contractible, but remains absolute, if it were contractible by Infinity, it were not infinite. It is not therefore contractible to the equality of the finite although it be not equal to anything. For how should inequality agree with the infinite, whereunto agree neither more nor less.
Therefore that which is infinite is neither greater nor less, nor unequal to any thing imaginable, and yet it is not there equal to that which is infinite, because it is above every finite thing, to wit, by it self that which is infinite then is it utterly absolute and uncontactable.
How high art thou O Lord about all things and with all how humble, because in all things. If infinity were contractible to anything nominable, as a line, or a surface, or a species, or kind, it would draw to itself that whereunto it were contracted, and it implies that the infinity should be contractible, for it should not be contracted, but attracted. For if I say that the infinite is contracted to a line, as when I say an infinite line, then is the line attracted or drawn to that which is infinite. For a line ceases to be a line when it has no quantity or end, an infinite line is not a line but a line in infinite is infinite. And as nothing can be added to that which is infinite, to the infinite cannot be contracted unto anything to make it other than infinite, infinite goodness is but infinite, infinite quantity is not quantity but infinity, and so in all thing.
Thou art a great God of whose greatness there is no end, because infinite, thou art the beginning without beginning and the end without end, and so the beginning that the end, and so the end that the beginning, and neither beginning nor end, but above them even absolute, Infinity it self blessed for evermore.