Nicholas Cusa

Born: 1401 in Kues, Trier (now Germany)
Died: 11 Aug 1464 in Todi, Papal States (now Italy)

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Nicholas of Cusa was ordained in 1440 and was a cardinal in Brixon (now Bressanone) and in 1450 became bishop there.

He was interested in geometry and logic. He contributed to the study of infinity, studying the infinitely large and the infinitely small. He looked at the circle as the limit of regular polygons and used it in his religious teaching to show how one can approach truth but never reach it completely.

Cusa is best known as a philosopher who argued the incomplete nature of man's knowledge of the universe. He claimed that the search for truth was equal to the task of squaring the circle.

In 1444 he became interested in astronomy and purchased sixteen books on astronomy, a wooden celestial globe, a copper celestial globe and various astronomical instruments including an astrolabe.

His interest in astronomy certainly led him to certain theories which were true and others which may still prove to be true. For example he claimed that the Earth moved round the Sun. He also claimed that the stars were other suns and that space was infinite. He also believed that the stars had other worlds orbiting them which were inhabited. He got much right that perhaps this will also be found to be true one day!

Cusa published improvements to the Alfonsine Tables which gave a practical method to find the position of the Sun, Moon and planets using Ptolemaeus's model. These tables had originally been compiled in 1272 with the support of King Alfonso X of Castile.

Like many learned men of his time, Cusa also wrote on calendar reform.

References (8 books/articles)

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JOC/EFR December 1996