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Learned IgnoranceIntellectual Humility among Jews, Christians and Muslims$
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James L. Heft, Reuven Firestone, and Omid Safi

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199769308

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199769308.001.0001

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Learned Ignorance and Faithful Interpretation of the Qur’an in Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464)

Learned Ignorance and Faithful Interpretation of the Qur’an in Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464)

(p.34) 2 Learned Ignorance and Faithful Interpretation of the Qur’an in Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464)
Learned Ignorance

Pim Valkenberg

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the meaning of “learned ignorance” as understood by the unusual fifteenth-century scholar and Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Nicholas of Cusa. Building on the writings of ancient authors and Thomas Aquinas, it explains the meaning of Nicholas' statement that we do not know how God is, but only how God is not. Nicholas wrote not only at a time when the Latin Church was especially interested in re-establishing a better relationship with the Greek Church, but also when it feared the advance of Muslim armies along its eastern borders. With regard to Islam, Nicholas studied the Qurʾan to which he applied a pia interpretatio, that is, a faithful interpretation of Islam's sacred book—an interpretation that he believed would help Christians purify incorrect thinking about the Trinity and the Incarnation. Nicholas emphasized that not-knowing actually resulted in a valuable kind of knowing: “the more we are instructed in this ignorance, the closer we approach the truth”.

Keywords:   learned ignorance, Nicholas of Cusa, Thomas Aquinas, God, Islam, Qurʾan

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