Nicholas of Cusa: His Idea of the Coincidence of Opposites and the Concept of Unity in Unification Thought

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 3, 1999-2000 - Pages 117-129

Nicholas of Cusa was a harbinger of a new era. His family name was Cryftz, which means ‘Krebs’ in contemporary German or ‘crab’ in English; but he was called after his native town Cues on the Moselle, where he was born in 1401. He attended school in Deventer in the Netherlands run by the Brethren of the Common Life, whose so-called modern way of piety (devotio moderna) influenced him deeply. He then studied law at Heidelberg, Padua, and Cologne, becoming an expert in canon law. Having practiced law for several years, he studied theology and became a priest. He attended the Council of Basel in 1432 in the name of his bishop. Originally a supporter of Conciliarism, he entered the service of Pope Eugenius IV in 1437 because he considered that only this Pope could guarantee the unity of the church at that time. He was sent as a papal envoy on missions to Constantinople and later to ecclesiastical diets in Germany. Made a cardinal in 1448, he engaged in reforming the monasteries in Germany and the Netherlands. When he was appointed Bishop of Brixen he became involved in a political conflict with Sigismund, Duke of Tyrol, who finally forced Nicholas to resign. Nicholas of Cusa died in 1464 in Umbria and was buried in Rome.

The rich library that he bequeathed to the hospital of his hometown, Cues, testifies to the scholarship of Nicholas of Cusa. He actively took part in the classical studies of his humanist contemporaries. Besides many sermons and a rich theological literature, he composed philosophical treatises, which reveal him as one of the most potent and inspiring thinkers of his time. His central issue, as discussed in his main work, De Docta Ignorantia (On Learned Ignorance), was the problem of the knowledge of God or of the Absolute Infinite.

Nicholas held that the Absolute Infinite cannot be conceived by finite thought. Hence, in theology, only negations can be assumed as true. Although positive theological statements are inevitable in order to think about God, they are inadequate. Paradoxically, one can reach the incomprehensible God only by knowing his incomprehensibility. This is the meaning of the term “learned ignorance.” In the end, both negative and positive theology must be dissolved into inexpressibility; God is ineffable beyond all affirmations and negations. This is the extreme climax of a philosophical theology where the infinite distance between God and the finite has come to a head. More exactly, human beings cannot touch God through knowledge at all, but at the very most only by our yearning for Him.

Nicholas of Cusa calls infinity “absolute,” as it must be understood in a full and unrestrained sense. Hence, the sphere of an independent and self-sufficient finite cannot exist beside it, otherwise infinity itself would actually be finite and restricted. “There cannot be an opposite to the ineffable Infinite,” says Nicholas. “It is also not the whole, to whom a part could be opposed, nor can it be a part… The Infinite is above all that.” (De Visione Dei, VIII[1]) Above all opposites, the Infinite—God—is beyond all multitude as well. Thus, Nicholas calls Him the “Absolute Unity and Oneness,” which is prior to all and includes all. In this sense, he speaks of God as the “coincidence of opposites.” Everything is enveloped in God and developed in the universe, though God must not become mingled with the finite reality in any way. “You, O God, are the antithesis of opposites, because you are infinite; and because you are infinite, you are infinity. In infinity, the antithesis of opposites is without antithesis… Infinity does not tolerate any otherness beside itself; for, as it is infinity, nothing is external to it. The Absolute Infinite includes all and encompasses all.” (De Visione Dei, VIII)

The term “coincidence of opposites” is the best known of all the phrases Nicholas of Cusa coined. Even people who have no idea of his philosophy are sometimes familiar with this term. But Nicholas not only played an important role as an actor in church policies and an inspiring natural scientist, as a theologian and philosopher in his own time; he was not only a great thinker at the boundary of the Middle Ages and modern times who overthrew scholasticism; he also greatly influenced the course of theology and philosophy for centuries to come. Being himself indebted in many respects to the traditions of ancient Platonism, especially to the school of the Neo-Platonist Proclus and to the teachings of the medieval German and Dutch mystic Master Eckhart, his own concept of the Infinite exercised a strong influence upon Giordano Bruno, upon Spinoza, and finally upon German classical idealism. Through the wide distribution of his ideas—chiefly through Giordano Bruno—he prepared the way, though unintentionally, for the Reformation.


1. Nicholas of Cusa and Paul Tillich

In our time, his traces can be found, for example, in the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and more importantly, Paul Tillich. Tillich engaged his mind with Nicholas from his Licentiate thesis up to his History of Christian Thought, though he never explicitly quoted him. However, Tillich admitted that this medieval thinker had greatly occupied his thought. He asserted that the method of the coincidentia oppositorum is essential to all metaphysics. The idea that the infinite is present at each point of the finite, according to Tillich, pervades modern times since Nicholas of Cusa. Moreover, the “coincidence of opposites” may be seen in analogy to Luther’s doctrine of justification. Tillich maintains that the concept of both thinkers totally differs from the usual opinion that God is in heaven and only acts in the world by means of his deeds. Both considered the relationship between God and the world as interpenetrating. The Divine is present in all that is natural and human. It is not a realm transcending life, but a dimension of life itself, claims Tillich.

Striking evidence of the influence of Nicholas of Cusa is found in Tillich’s essay Gläubiger Realismus (On Faithful Realism). In that essay, Tillich asserts that the ultimate mightiness of Being, the Ground of reality, exists in concrete situations and reveals the immeasurable depth and the eternal meaning of the present. But this can only be conceived paradoxically, that is by means of faith; for presence itself is neither conditional nor eternal. The more it is seen in the light of the unconditional, the more it shows itself as questionable and devoid of eternal meaning. Thus, the mightiness of reality will be both affirmed and negated if it becomes transparent to the ground of its mightiness, the ultimately Real.

Pointing out the philosophical background of his theology in 1960, Tillich explicitly confesses his indebtedness to Nicholas of Cusa, whom he called his “master.” He asserts that the unity of infinite and finite is the fundamental principle of his doctrine of religious experience. However, he realizes the danger that human beings may develop the false feeling of dwelling in the center of the Infinite itself. So the real nature of finite reason must also be emphasized, as Tillich asserts in his Systematic Theology. Learned ignorance not only accepts the finiteness of reason, but also is unable to comprehend its immeasurable ground. By acknowledging this condition, however, one will also perceive the Infinite, which is present in all finite being, though transcending it. The way in which the unfathomable ground is present in all being is the “coincidence of opposites.” Thus, the problem of the unity of the Infinite and the finite has kept both thinkers busy. Tillich’s theology of correlation would have been unthinkable without the influence of Nicholas of Cusa. To this day, Tillich represents the climax in the efficacious history of the thought which Nicholas of Cusa had initiated. I propose that the ideas of Nicholas of Cusa can also revitalize contemporary theology in many ways.


2. Nicholas of Cusa and Unification Thought

In the following I want to examine whether the concept of unity as formulated by Nicholas of Cusa may explain or even clarify Unification thought. I recall that the Divine Principle uses Asian models to illustrate the relationship between God, the world and human beings, namely the polarity of yang and yin—in Korean, of yang and eum—and the corresponding structure of sungsang and hyungsang. This way of making originally Christian doctrines indigenous and of implanting them into another cultural context prompts critics of Unification thought to judge it as syncretism. One might ask whether Nicholas of Cusa did the same when taking into service Neo-Platonic philosophy, though not in the same way. Many Westerners are doubtless fascinated by ideas from the Far East. However, it is very likely that their understanding of the Eastern mentality is inadequate, even though they may not at all be aware of the fact. Their lack of understanding is not simply caused by a lack of knowledge; one probably has to ‘breathe Asian air’ to completely understand the Asian mind and mentality. So it might be helpful for Westerners to delineate the Principle in a way that is more indebted to Western culture, as Dr. Young Oon Kim has done in her way. I want to propose that Nicholas of Cusa and his conceptions may be able to clarify the Principle and to reveal to Westerners a richness which might hitherto have been concealed.

Nicholas of Cusa and Sun Myung Moon have in common the passion for unity in many aspects of life. Their concern is far from being a mere theoretical enterprise. I would like to call to mind the fact that Nicholas conceived his idea of the “coincidence of opposites” when he sailed back from a mission in Constantinople. It was not just the majestic experience of the Mediterranean Sea that stimulated Nicholas to think of God as the Absolute Infinite embracing all things. He was also animated by his wish to unite humankind in a common belief. He painfully felt that humanity was divided, and passionately tried to find a common base for belief in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In this context, one of his later treatises must be studied, entitled Cribatio Alkorani (Examining the Koran), written between 1460 and 1461. Of course, Nicholas of Cusa was endeavoring to preserve or restore ecclesiastical unity, for example, the reconciliation of Conciliarism and papal supremacy. All this proves that the idea of the coincidence of opposites did not arise merely from scholarly reasoning, but from practical affairs. In a similar way, Sun Myung Moon is concerned with the unity of religions, with the unity of the sciences, of science and religion, of economy and religion, and the unity of all mankind in peace.


3. Significance of Numbers

There is another striking similarity between Nicholas of Cusa and Moon which perhaps appears odd to a modern Western mind: both have a decided liking for the symbolism of numbers.

According to the Divine Principle, the numbers two, three and four are of particular importance. There is a polarity within God: the relationship between His sungsang, which represents His mind, and His hyungsang, which means His external attributes and the origin of substance and form of all created beings. Man, who is created in the image of God, and all things, which resemble God symbolically, are in a similar polar position, in a reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving. Within this “give and take action” all beings are in reciprocal subject–object positions. The origin of both subject and object and their resulting union set up four beings, with each taking a subject relationship to the other three. Thus, the three objects standard is formed. When God as the origin of all, the divided subject and object, and their union accomplish their three objects standard, they build a four-position foundation. This foundation finally involves six different give and take relationships. I quote Outline of the Principle, Level 4:

The four position foundation is also the basis of the frequent use of the numbers three, four, seven, and twelve in the Bible and the dispensation for restoration… The four-position foundation must be established through the three-stage process of origin-division-union action. Since the realization of the four-position foundation is through a three-stage process, there are also three stages in the growing period… and “three” is the number that represents completion. From a structural point of view, the four-position foundation consists of four elements. This is the basis for the number ‘four’ symbolizing the structure required for the realization of God’s ideal.

Since the four-position foundation consists of four different elements and is realized through a three-stage process, it is also the basis for the frequent symbolic use of the numbers “seven” and “twelve.” “Twelve” is also the number of different directions of movement, in the give and take relationships between the four entities in the four-position foundation. The numbers ‘seven’ and ‘twelve’ represent perfection or completion of the four-position foundation.[2]

The bias of Nicholas of Cusa to the world of numbers was not only due to his studies of biblical symbolism. He was deeply interested in mathematics and attached great value and certainty to mathematical knowledge. Having intensively contemplated the issue of infinity, he is considered to be an important primogenitor of infinitesimal calculus.

Let us take a look at his thought on the meaning of numbers. A number, according to Nicholas, is the peculiar image of the unity of man’s mind. Numbers are the first product of human reason. Man has called them into being as God did with His creations. Through numbers, it becomes evident that the human mind has the power to virtually create. Without numbers, our spirit is unable to conceive of anything. No composition could be known; yet all finite things are compositions. Their parts must be countable.

Some numbers of a series, according to Nicholas, have by nature a specific symbolical meaning. If we add to the number “one” one unit after the other, we could proceed to infinity. However, after reaching the number “four,” we come to a certain completion, to a particular end of development. 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 add up to 10. With “ten,” the natural power of the first unity is unfolded. With a similar procedure we reach the next unity of this kind: 10 + 20 + 30 + 40 adding up to 100, and again 100 + 200 + 300 + 400 adding up to 1,000.

Among all numbers, the number 1 has a particular significance. It is not only the first unity in a long chain, but the basis of all. All other numbers issue from 1. But the number 1 itself is not the basis of a square or a cube; 1 × 1 is still 1, nothing else. If we consider the relationship between these numbers, we see that the number 10 is, as demonstrated above, derived from 1. 10 is the square root of 100 and the cube root of 1,000. In each operation, we sum up four numbers. There are, however, only three essential operations. The rest is repetition. (Cf. De Coniecturis I n. 3, 10-11.)


4. Unity, Polarity, and Trinity

By means of the symbolic content of numbers, which Nicholas had so derived, he demonstrated four metaphysical levels. The first is the highest and simplest spirit, God. The second level is the realm of intelligence. This metaphysical unity corresponds to number 2, which does not contain a mathematical root but is the square root of the number 4. By further involution Nicholas locates the soul and, finally, corporeal being. It would be going too far here to report the corresponding calculations, which, of course, may be puzzling, and I am afraid that the reader might become bored. To put it briefly: by means of arithmetical potentiating Nicholas demonstrates the way of development from the unique “one” to an increasing multitude. Multitude means a lack of oneness and a loss of power. Again by arithmetical consideration, Nicholas demonstrates that the process of development, on reaching its utmost completion, is by its inner nature bound back to the original “one.”

In order to discern the different unities, Nicholas introduces the term “otherness” (alteritas). What does this term mean? The highest unity is only one. To all other unities the otherness increasingly accumulates. The outcome of otherness is multitude, diversity, divisibility and transitoriness. Again, Nicholas demonstrates this in a mathematical way. A descent from the highest form of unity proceeds by adding otherness to oneness. This process results in ever more divisibility and separation into opposites in all created entities. Nevertheless, there is no being without any unity. Unity brings about the coincidence of opposites in each being. It is because of unity that beauty requires diversity. It is not that multiplicity and variety cause beauty; rather, beauty is the coincidence of the diverse entities in harmony. This coincidence, however, occurs at differing levels. In accordance with the measure of otherness, there is a series of levels or a hierarchy of coincidences in created entities.

Among all numbers with symbolic meaning, two of them have a particular significance: the numbers 1 and 3. One is indivisible; it contains no root; it is the basis of all other numbers; and is the fundamental unity in all. And, as we have seen, there are only three operations to bring every process of unfolding to a certain completion (i.e. the processes from 1 to 10, from 10 to 100, and from 100 to 1,000). According to Nicholas, both the numbers 1 and 3 are the most important tools to explain the world and to disclose the relationship between God and creation. His most significant categories are unity and trinity.

At first glance, it seems that Exposition of the Divine Principle essentially differs from this system of symbolic numbers. It looks like Nicholas of Cusa and Sun Myung Moon, in this respect, have nothing in common. Divine Principle presumes polarity to be the structure of all. Polarity presupposes duality and, consequently, otherness. Polarity is even in God Himself, namely between the Original sungsang, which represents the mind of God and embraces emotional and intellectual forces as well, and the Original hyungsang, which means God’s external attributes and is the origin of the substance and form of all creatures. They are related to one another as subject and object because they are involved in a give-and-take-action. The subject–object relationship is founded in God Himself and is all-pervasive. Hence, otherness seems to be a reality even within God. According to Divine Principle, there is undoubtedly a grading in creation. The reason for this is that man was created in the image of God, while all other things resemble God symbolically and thus are only symbolic substantial objects of God. But the grading is not apparently conditioned by the increase of otherness in creation. To sharpen the issue: Divine Principle marks out a fundamental polarity, while Nicholas of Cusa passionately maintained primordial oneness. Both positions seem to contradict each other.

There is one more problem: Nicholas tries to combine the absolute oneness of God with a Trinitarian conception. (We shall later see whether he succeeds without self-contradiction.) A Trinitarian perspective, as understood by mainstream Christianity, however, does not appear to be acceptable to Unification thought. Indeed, Young Oon Kim, in her Unification Theology, points out that “the myth of the incarnate God” cannot be found in the New Testament and, thus, creedal Trinitarianism appears to be inadequate. She ends up by stating: “Let us therefore conclude with a distinctively Unificationist teaching.”[3] With Unificationists she believes in a triune God above us, with us and in us. Moreover, she concedes a Trinitarian way in the history of salvation: “Because Divine Principle is especially concerned with the restoration of the divine sovereignty over creation, we stress the Trinitarian way by which the kingdom of heaven will be established upon earth… Restoration, then, can take place when a triadic relationship of love and respect is established between a new Adam and Eve based upon their God-centeredness.”[4]

In my opinion, one has to emphasize that in Unification Thought a triad can also be seen prior to restoration “within” God Himself. There is not alone a polarity. As the Outline of the Principle, Level 4 puts it, it should be stressed, “God’s Original Sung Sang and Original Hyung Sang do not exist as independent entities, but in harmonious reciprocal relationship with one another.”[5] We must accordingly assume a third datum: a “reciprocal relationship,” i.e. a movement between. Polarity in its dynamic force actually does not mean duality, but more exactly, a triad. We can also perceive a triad among created entities: subject and object and a third: the give-and-take action between, which reflects the “Universal Prime Force” and is sustained by it.

Following this line of thought, we come very close to the Trinitarian conception of Nicholas of Cusa. Following St. Augustine, he distinguishes between unitas, aequalitas and conexio, unity–equality–connection. He traces a triad structure everywhere in creation that, in his opinion, hints at the Holy Trinity. And he is concerned to demonstrate the Trinity in a dynamic way: he emphasizes that “Unity generates the equality of unity, and the connection comes forth from unity and the equality of unity.” (De Docta Ignorantia, I, 16) Unity is always equality in relation to itself. And unity and equality are interrelated. In this way, Nicholas tries to conceive of unity and Trinity being closely connected, moreover as identical.

In restatements, he also speaks of “undividedness, differentiation and connection”: “Where distinction is indistinctness, there trinity is unity, and vice versa: where indistinctness is distinction, there unity is trinity.” (Sermon IV, h XVI) Thus, unity and Trinity are the same in certain regards. The connection between both is love, as Nicholas explains elsewhere (De Visione Dei, XVII). Or to put it in the words of Divine Principle: the connection is giving and receiving. So Nicholas also expressively exposes the triad of the loving, lovable and their connection, amans, amabilis et nexus. In this context, he sometimes speaks of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as he also does in his sermons. But it might be astonishing to realize that Nicholas of Cusa, a cardinal in the Roman Church, is very reserved toward the Trinitarian language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when he remarks that those who use these names are less close to the Trinity than those who "call the Trinity unity, equality and nexus." (Directio Speculantis Seu de non Aliud, 13)


5. Seeking the Face and Heart of God

Following this train of thought, you might suspect that Nicholas of Cusa was nothing but an extreme rationalist. On the contrary he was a fervent mystic. I mentioned above that he was deeply influenced by the so-called devotio moderna of the Brethren of Deventer. And he remained a man of emotional piety for his whole life. If his language appears to be very abstract, the reason for this is that he was always anxious to attach finite attributes to the Infinite. However, God must be infinite, if He is the object of the deepest yearning of our heart, which is restless as long as it has not reached its goal of infinite bliss. Nicholas is almost obsessed to prevent this truth from becoming obscured. This is why his language seems to be so abstract and without emotional fervor.

But we should note that in Nicholas’s frequent use of analogies, he does not limit himself to those of mathematical nature. Often he illustrates his thoughts with images of daily life. He always takes the particular character of his audience into account, and thus was a popular preacher and a favorite even among rural uneducated persons. When the monks of the monastery of Tegernsee, for whom Nicholas was a very close friend, asked him for a treatise on the knowledge of God, he sent them an essay entitled De Visione Dei (On God’s View), that was to become one of his most famous dissertations. The genitive case of the title must be understood in a subjective sense and an objective as well. ‘God’s view’ means how God looks upon us and also how we look upon Him.

To illustrate his thoughts, Nicholas added to his essay the painting “The All-Seeing Eye” by Roger van Weiden. He invited the monks to regard the painting from different positions. When they change their point of view, they get the impression that God is still casting His gaze upon them. When they move, God’s eye accompanies them. Furthermore, a spectator gets the impression that God is looking at him and him alone. In the accompanying text, Nicholas praises God for His eternal gaze:

Your seeing, my Lord, is loving; and as You do not take your eyes off me, You do not avert Your love, because Your love is always with me and is nothing else than You Yourself loving me. That is why You are always with me, my Lord; You do not leave me. You keep and preserve me from all sides, because You care for me with utmost attention. Your Being, O Lord, does not leave my being. As far as You are with me, thus far I exist. And as Your seeing is Your Being, I am because You look upon me. If You avert Your eyes from me, I would not survive at all. But I know that Your look is the utmost goodness, which cannot but communicate itself to all who are capable. Therefore, You cannot leave me as long as I am capable of receiving You. It is up to me to make myself ever more capable for You. But I know that this capability, which is the presupposition of union, is nothing but similitude. Incapability results from dissimilitude. When I have made myself similar to Your goodness in all possible ways, I shall conceive the truth in accordance with the degree of this similitude. (I, 6).

This is the language of praise and prayer. After an introduction, Nicholas uses this language exclusively throughout this book. When addressing God by words, he dares to be very concrete. If we attentively consider the quotation, we shall note that, according to Nicholas, the movement of God’s eyes is not only caused by our imagination: He in fact looks upon me; and His gaze really follows me. At the same time, His view is nothing but calm. Since His view is identical with His love, the movement of His eyes is not external but essential to God, as is love. By His look we came to be. And we only exist as long as God looks upon us. Our sight of him is also made possible by His look; and it evokes our love for Him. Thus, there is a mutual relationship between God’s loving and merciful gaze and our view of Him and our love.

But Nicholas asserts that abstract reasoning can never result in seeing God: “Whoever strives to see Your face is as far away from it as his concept. For each concept of a face is less than Your face, and all beauty that can be imagined is less than the beauty of Your face.” (I, 6) Furthermore, there cannot be a direct view of God anyhow in our present life. We can compare this situation with the light of the sun. It can be seen as it reflects, for example in the stars and the colors. But if you try to look into the face of the sun directly, your eye may darken. “The deeper it recognizes the darkness, the more surely it reaches the invisible light in the darkness. By this and no other way, O Lord, is it possible to arrive at the unreachable light, the beauty, and shine of Your face.” (I, 6)

But how is it possible that so many persons try to see God, and God sees them all and each of them? A preacher, Nicholas of Cusa states, can be seen by numerous people, but he cannot see them all individually. For God, it is quite different: in Him, such interrelations as to see and to be seen, to hear and to be heard, to touch and to be touched, to savor and to be savored, are one. The future and the past coincide in the present. In this way, Nicholas introduces the monks to the mystery of the coincidence of opposites. He guides them to the insurmountable “wall of paradise” which is “guarded by an angel,” where coincidence takes place and where God dwells.

According to Nicholas, it is logically necessary to assume such coincidence. For the infinite God tolerates neither any otherness nor contrary. Otherwise His infinity would only be a privative infinity, which means an infinity that is only factually without confines and, therefore, may not yet have reached its bounds and, thus, might have otherness outside itself; it does not positively exclude any limits. God’s infinity includes all. All that is finite and opposite is the development (explicatio) of what God has enveloped in Himself. Nevertheless, God is not simply the coincidence of opposites, as a pantheistic interpretation may suggest. The absolute unity of God is truly “beyond the wall of coincidence,” as Nicholas sometimes puts it. But he hesitates somewhat to put it this way. Probably, he is anxious that God might be misunderstood as the contrary of the coincidence of opposites. In this case, the coincidence would mean otherness in God, which Nicholas consistently rejects. So he mostly speaks just of the coincidence of opposites. Yet God’s unity is the primordial unity that precedes the coincidence of opposites. This primordial unity is, however, not conceived as being separated from the world and lying within itself, but is conceived of as a unity that unifies all.

The last essay of Nicholas of Cusa, De Apice Theoriae (On the Summit of Vision), written one year before his death, reports a dialogue with Peter von Erkelenz. He asked therein if there is a particular name for the reality “beyond the wall of coincidence.” The term ability-itself (posse ipsum) had now become decisive for Nicholas. In contrast to the concept of infinity, the relatedness of ability-itself to the created world can be better shown. Ability-itself not only means the ability to do this or that, but the ability behind those abilities. Its character is dynamic. This force “behind the wall” empowers the abilities to love, to think, to want and to plan, etc. “Ability without further attributes” describes the ground of all abilities. Nicholas of Cusa ends his essay by stating: “This is the bliss that alone satisfies the highest longing of the spirit.”

Is there anything in Unification Thought that may correspond to “ability-itself” as conceived by Nicholas of Cusa? I think that the position and function of the term is represented by “God’s Heart” in Unification Thought. Heart is the inner kernel of God’s nature. It is not only beyond the Original Hyungsang, God’s external attributes, which include the Universal Prime Energy and matter, but also the Original Sungsang, which embraces emotion, intellect and will and as well law and concepts. “The most essential of God’s internal characteristics is heart,” as Outline puts it.[6] In a footnote, the Outline of the Principle explains:

Heart (shimjung in Korean) is the essence of God’s personality—the essence of His sung-sang. Heart is the most vital part of His nature, such that all other attributes in Him are what they are and act solely because of this attribute. Heart is the impulse to love and to be united in love with the objects of its love. For this reason, heart is said to be the source of love, and at the same time is the chief motive behind love. God’s heart has within itself its own purpose; so it is through God’s love, through His heart, that the Principle (logos) is expressed and the creation comes into being and achieves fulfillment.[7]

Regrettably, this text of Divine Principle gives only a footnote remark on the issue of the Heart of God. I think that it is greatly desirable to contemplate God’s Heart more intensively, if only to refute a certain critique of Unification theology. Some critics maintain that there is a rupture within the Unification doctrine of creation. This doctrine is said to be on the one hand fundamentally monistic. Creation is but the edge of God himself. They usually refer to such statements in Divine Principle as, “Before creating the universe, God existed as the internal masculine subject, and He created the universe as his external feminine object;” and, “We have learned so far that each and every creation is God’s substantial object, which is the manifested form of the invisible essentialities of God.”[8] They assert, on the other hand, that there is a break between an impersonal Asian creation principle and the biblical personal Creator, one that cannot be bridged. I think that the best way to confront this accusation is to delineate the nature of Heart, which, as I understand it, transcends the Original Sungsang and the consequent process of origin-division-union action. It is the personal source of all.

In the second, 1987 edition of her Unification Theology, Young Oon Kim added a chapter on the Heart of God. This chapter is certainly a fine piece. But Kim only centers on God’s feeling and asserts that all theological deliberation must start with this. She does not feel at ease with the traditional attribute of God’s omnipotence. She obviously associates this term with apathy or impassibility. Therefore, she pleads for the conception of a God who is concerned and shares the feeling of our loneliness and intense grief, and who can be hurt by afflictions.

Kim certainly knows that the biblical term ‘heart’ (lev in Hebrew) means the core of a person and embraces all inner forces such as emotion, intelligence and will as well. In contrast to Dr. Kim, the short footnote mentioned above refers to the Heart of God in this broader context: “Heart is the most vital part of His nature, such that all other attributes in Him are what they are and act solely because of this attribute.” All other attributes whatsoever are conditioned and sustained by this force. The expression “the most vital part of His nature” comes very close to the “ability-itself” of Nicholas of Cusa, which imparts the power of existence, life and love to creation. Nicholas also avoids the use of the term “omnipotence” and even the concept “potency.” He deliberately chooses the verb form instead of the substantive, posse instead of potentia. Nicholas not only aims to name the maximum power to do something and all, but also to name the ability to be affected and even to suffer. “For with God nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

But how can absolute and infinite ability be affected by finite creatures? Ability-itself suffers and sees all in the ground and source of all abilities, that is, in itself. In other words: If God endures all in Himself, where all is enveloped, and if there is no otherness in God, because it would contradict His infinity, as mentioned above, then God senses and suffers all sufferings within Himself, who is the Non-other (non-aliud). Grief and pain, then, are not only feelings of other beings, but also the emotions of the one who is called the Non-other. Though ability-itself transcends all concrete abilities, it is not separated from them; on the contrary it is within them. Thus, God in His inner core comes as close to His creatures, to their power and weakness, as is thinkable. Nicholas thus pushes the possibility of human thinking so far that it must end up as and turn into adoration.

In my opinion, no Christian theologian comes as close to the Unification doctrine of God and creation as does Nicholas of Cusa. So I would recommend that theologians and philosophers of the Unification Church read and study the work of this scholar, perhaps starting with De Visione Dei, the essay I personally like the most. It is, especially, advisable to turn to Nicholas of Cusa, who was a harbinger of a new era in the history of Christian theology and philosophy. Considering that critics of Unification Thought have objected that this religion is but a syncretism between Asian and Protestant thinking and, therefore, a heretical Christian sect, it would seem advisable to demonstrate links to one of the greatest philosophers and theologians in the tradition of mainstream Christianity. Furthermore, he may stimulate Unification philosophers in so far as he was greatly interested in the natural sciences and in mathematics; and Unificationists are themselves concerned with the unity of religion and science.



[1] All translations by the author.

[2] Outline of the Principle, Level 4 (New York: HSA-UWC, 1980), pp. 21-22.

[3] Young Oon Kim, Unification Theology (New York: HSA-UWC, 1980), p. 205.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Outline of the Principle, Level 4, p. 11.

[6] Ibid., p. 13.

[7] Loc. cit.

[8] Divine Principle (New York: HSA-UWC, 1973), p. 25.