Nicholas of Cusa's

Ubi est qui natus est rex Iudaeorum?

(Where is he that is born king of the Jews? (1456))

Translated by Clyde Lee Miller, SUNY Stonybrook Dept. of Philosophy

1. Beyond the points which I have written in other sermons about this feast when I was preaching on this day in various places, I would now like to add an interpretation of its theme.

The wise men had no doubts that the king of the Jews was born, but they made inquiries where he might be. That nation had the king of kings "who dwells in heaven" in place of a king and he ruled the same Jewish people through Moses and the prophets. And then he who spoke to the people through the prophets said, "Here I am," and "he was seen upon the earth and conversed [with men]," just as he had predicted that he would come. And so the magi were sure from the star that one who was to come was born and without hesitation asked where he might be.

2. Some who treat of religious sects say that these could have been foreseen from the important and rare conjunctions of the planets, especially of Saturn and Jupiter. Among the sects they call the Christian group which deals with occult wisdom that of Mercury. For it is possible that the conjunction signifying a sect take place in the house or constellation of the nature of some planet. In accord with this sects arise so that one is the sect of Saturn, another of Venus. For they say the sect of the Jews belong to Saturn, of the Arabs to Venus and of the Christians to Mercury, etc. The magi could have foreseen from the direction of the great conjunction that the king and leader of a sect was born and in what region, but still not exactly in what town or in what house. Thus Messahalla [in fact, Albumasar] writes that the elders had observed that in the first appearance of Virgo a virgin would appear nursing a son whom the nations would adore. And according to them these astrologers would come to see him on earth with their own eyes. Earlier they had seen his constellation in the east from where they came.

3. Yet we should nott bother with these conjectures, but notice that the magi were led by a visible sign which went before them in the form of a star. In that sign they were made certain that he was born. From him [comes] all wisdom. He should be sought, recognized, and adored by all the wise men of this world.

4. The words of our theme which must now be expounded, can first be understood "dispositively" in accord with Meister Eckhart's Commentary on John, so that it may be said that the King of the Jews, who is born, is "where" or "place" in the absolute sense, just as if the wise had said: "The king who is born is God who is the place of all things." For thus all the wise saw that God is place. For all things are at rest in their place and outside that place all are restless because they are not where they seek to be. Just as Solomon saw that all rivers return "to the place from which they go out," so all things return to the place from which they have gone out.

All things, however, insofar as they are, are from essence. Just so, white things exist from whiteness, good things from goodness and true things from truth. So the essence from which all things which exist have proceededis the place which all things seek. For from the fact that all things are restless outside their proper place and from the fact that all seek and return to their proper place and that everything is protected and secured and at rest in its proper place, it follows that God is not unfittingly said to be place, not only in the way in which the meaning of the word is understood but beyond the mode of our feeble concept. In this way, in the Apocalypse John says the Word of God has said: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." But "end," "rest," and "good" are the same.

In many places the psalmist acknowledges that God is the place of the soul, as does Augustine throughout the discourse of his Confessions, and others, too.

But because God exists from whom all things receive their being--because he calls to himself the things which are not so they may be, because however it is being to which all things are called in order to be and outside of being they are restless, for the things which are not do desire only to be where they are at rest--therefore being, the source of everything which exists, is the goal, place and rest of all things, just as we see how all the things which are made by art or nature thereupon come to rest in being.

5. Attend to the fact that the place of time is eternity or the now or the present, and the place of movement is rest, and the place of number is oneness, and so on. For what does being in time mean except the present? For time flows and its flow is only from being to being. This being is the present or the now, as is said, because of time alone do we posses the now, nor are there many nows, but only one. For the now does not pass into the past nor can now be said of the future. The now, therefore, from which and to which all time flows is the essence or being of time. We name it today or eternity or now because it always stands without moving. Therefore the now of eternity is eternity itself or being itself, in which is the being of time. God is eternal who is his eternity. For the origin and goal of being itself, likewise also the place of time, we call eternity.

6. I believe that when we look at movement we find nothing in movement but rest. For every moving thing is moved from rest to rest just as time from now to now, nor are there many resting points around which motion takes place, just as there are not many nows. Rest is therefore the stable essence of motion. And so everything that is moved is moved from being at rest to being at rest. However, this stable and eternal being of motion is rest, which is God. For the one who pays attention to the coincidence of source and goal, and to the fact that in the absolute limit the terminus from which and the terminus to which coincide sees the truth of this matter.

7. Matters stand thus regarding number. For number progresses from one to one, and is the being of number is not found to be anything except number; nor are many things one, but one is one. Oneness, therefore, which is also entity or essence, is one. It is the source and goal and place of all beings or of every countable number. Therefore, God, as he is the essence of countable beings, is said to be entity or oneness or one God, who is his own oneness.

8. Thus reasoning is the movement of the rational spirit from truth to truth. There is but one truth and God is called truth because [God is] rest or the place of reason's rational processes or intellectual discourses.

Conceptualize similarly other matters and you will discover in the variety of terms nothing but the same God, the place and rest of everything, who is the source which coincides with the goal of all creatures. In this way of speaking, however, one must always take care not to believe the terms are exact when we are speaking of the unspeakable.

9. Now Paul said that we exist and move in God, for we are wayfarers. But a "wayfarer" is named and is a wayfarer from "way." Therefore a wayfarer who walks or moves on an unlimited way, if asked where he is, is said to be "on the way." If some one asks where he moves, the answer is "on the way." If someone asks from where he moves, one says "from the way." If someone asks where he is heading, one says "from the way to the way." And in that way the unlimited way is called the place of the wayfarer and is God.

Hence the way, outside of which no wayfarer can be found is the Being without beginning or end from whom the wayfarer exists and possesses all that makes him a wayfarer. But the fact that a wayfarer begins to be a wayfarer on the way adds nothing to the unlimited way and causes no change in the perpetual and unchangeable way.

10. Therefore notice how the word of God calls himself the way. You can understand this because a really living intellect is a wayfarer on the way or in the Word of life. From that way he exists and is called a wayfarer and on it he moves. For if to move is to live; the way of movement is life. Thus it is the living way of the living wayfarer. A living wayfarer possesses from the living way that which makes him a living wayfarer and the living way is his place and he moves along it and from it, through it, to it. Therefore, the son of God rightly calls himself the way and the life.

11. Now notice that this way which is also life is also truth. For the living wayfarer is a rational spirit, which takes living delight in its own movement; for it knows where it is tending. For it knows that it is on the way of life. But this way is truth. For truth is the most delightful and undying food of its life. For the living wayfarer is himself fed by him from whom he has being.

Therefore the living way which is also truth is the word of God which is also God and is the light of men on the way of those walking. For the one who walks needs no other light lest he walk in darkness as someone who knows not where he is going. But the way which is life and truth is also the light which illuminates, and that light is alive, because it is the light of life making itself manifest.

12. Now everyone has one entrance into this world, but not all men live equally. For even though men are born naked like the other animals, still they are clothed by men's art of weaving so they may live in a better state. They use cooked foods and shelter and horses and many such things which art has added to nature for better living. We possess these arts as a great service and gift or favor from their inventors.

And so when many live wretchedly and in sadness and in prisons and suffer much, but others lead lives of abundance joyfully and nobly, we rightly infer that a human being can with some favor or art attain more of a peaceful and joyful life than nature grants. Even though many have discovered the various arts of living better by their own talent or with divine illumination, as those who discovered the mechanical arts and the arts of sowing and planting and doing business. And others have gone further, as those who wrote the rules of political life and of economic activity, and those who discovered the ethical life of habituating oneself through mores and customs even to the point of taking delight in a virtuous life and thus of governing oneself in peace. Nonetheless all these arts do not serve the spirit, but hand on conjectures how in this world a virtuous life worthy of praise can be led with peace and calm.

13. Thereupon religion based on divine authority and revelation is added to these arts which prepare a human being for obeying God through fear of him and love of him and one's neighbor in the hope of attaining the friendship of God who is the giver of life so that we may attain a long and peaceful life in this world and a joyful and divine life in the world to come. Nonetheless, among all the ways of religion which fall too short of true life, a way to eternal life has been revealed to us through Jesus, the Son of God. He handed over to us what the heavenly life is which the sons of God possess, and revealed that we can reach divine sonship and how to do so.

For just as the art of living well in this world has been handed over in different ways by different men of genius and the art obtained from the clearer reasoning is more perfect, so also religion which looks toward future life and order the present to the future has been handed down in different ways by prophets who foresaw a future from a distance. Because no one sees the future life except in a conjecture, so he alone who came into our nature from God, that is, from the heavenly life that is our future, could perfectly hand over religion or the way to that life. This is our Jesus who came from heaven so that we might have life and might live more abundantly through him than through nature, the one who "began to do and teach" how this might be accomplished and said, "He who follows me walks not in darkness, but shall have the light of life." He was thus the way of attaining grace who was also the way of nature.

14. Therefore Jesus is the place where every movement of nature and grace finds rest. The word of Christ or his teaching and his command or the paradigm of his movement is the way to vision or the taking hold of eternal life which is the life of God who alone is immortal. It is a more abundant life than the life of a created nature. Therefore, no one can reach on his own the way of grace which leads to the Father, but must proceed to that way through the gate.

Christ, however, says that he is the gate which is also the way. A Christian, that is, one who is faithful with a faith acting through love, has gone in through the entry and is on the way. The entry is faith, the way is love. So the faith formed of Christ is equally entry and way. Therefore, the Word of God the Father calls creatures from non-being to being and finally to the sort of being which lives with intellectual life because it understands that it exists. However, the word made flesh calls this intellectual being through grace to fellowship with him so that he might taste in the paternal font the sweetness of his own divine life which is shared with the sons of God.

15. We may understand the words "Where is he who is born" in another way, as a question [quaesivitae], that the wise men so sought the boy king in order to adore him as God and to see him as man. So we may ask first: Where is he, namely God become man, where according to his divinity? And knowing first of all that God is the one whose "greatness has no end" and that therefore, as Solomon says at 2 Kings 8, "the heavens of heavens cannot contain him," he is not to be located in any place.

16 However, since we wish to track down where he is, we may note first, according to Meister Eckhart, that we can see better where he is not. We may say that he is not in anything "that includes defect, deformity, evil, privation or negation." For since these words take away and deny that anything exists, even though they also posit that something exists besides what they take away or deny. They posit that God is himself that full being of whose fullness all things that are receive so they may be. For God is being itself, from whom no being can be apart, just as nothing white can be apart from or lacking in whiteness.

"And so God is not some part of the whole" but "prior to and above the whole." For the being of a part of the whole lacks the other parts. Therefore, "no negation or privation" fits God, "but proper to him and to him alone is the negation of negation, which is the marrow and apex of the purest affirmation, according to the line in Ex 3: "I am who am," but neither can he deny himself, according to 2 Tim. However, he would deny that he himself exists, if something were lacking to him or he were lacking to something. Therefore God is in everything and in nothing. For he is in each insofar as it is a being, but in nothing insofar as it is this being.

17. I think this is nothing else than that God is, as it were, the form of forms, the absolute form or essence, which gives being to forms. Thus Moses calls him the one who formed heaven and earth. For God is not heaven or earth or anything of this sort. For the heaven has its proper form which gives it heavenly being and this form has being from the form of forms. Thus God who forms everything is the essence giving being to all forms which give being to this or that. But God is not able to be the form of heaven, which is constituted by the differences of heaven from what is not heaven. Therefore, this being is not present to the form thus constituted through differences and did not constitute it. But no being is lacking to the absolute essence which is God.

There God is the being of every being, just as the being of oneness is the being of every number. But as oneness is neither two nor three, so God is neither heaven nor earth. Oneness is the source and term of two. For two finds its term in oneness and if oneness is taken away, two ceases to be. So God is the beginning and end of all things, namely the end which has no end, that is, the infinite end.

18. If therefore God does not exist except in being, then says M. Eckhart he is not in time or in division or in the continuum or quantity or in anything which has more or less or in what is distinct or in any created thing insofar as it is this or that or in anything proper to something, even though he is in all things insofar as they are beings, just as whiteness is in all (white) things insofar as they are white and whiteness is not in them insofar as they are temporal or quantified or distinct or this or that, namely sticks, stones and so on. For God is "he who is" and "being" is his name and he is that being which everything desires.

19. I also think there is no difference between saying that all things which are, insofar as they are, exist in the being which is God and saying that God who is being itself is in all things which exist insofar as they exist. For how could they be were being itself not in them? But the being, which is in all things that exist, is in each thing that is without being restricted to this or that, so that all things which are, are that which they are through it. For if being itself were in the sky in a contracted way, namely in the sky as sky, it would not be in the earth. And how could the earth exist without being? Thus it is in everything and in nothing: in all things insofar as they exist and in nothing contractedly, insofar as they are this.

The sky, however, is this and not that because it is not absolute being itself but contracted and limited. For if it were uncontracted and unlimited, infinite, it would no more be this than that, but would enfold the being of everything equally as the power of being all things which exist or can exist. God is everywhere and nowhere, as Augustine said, of Truth in De vera religione. He is everywhere, namely, in every place, but in a localized or contracted way. But while he is in every place, he remains utterly free of every place because he exists in every place in a non-localized way.

20. For he is in the being of a place since the being of the place is in him and he is not in the place although he is not apart from the being of the place, just as, so to speak, the being of the hand exists in the being of all the fingers. For all the fingers take up their being from the fullness of the hand's being and unless the being of the fingers were in the being of the hand, they would not exist. For a finger separated from the being of the hand is not a finger. The hand is not a finger but the being of the finger has being from the being of the hand. Therefore, the being of a hand is not in a finger as finger or in the thumb as thumb or in the index finger as index finger. For if the being of a hand were in the thumb as thumb, the index finger would not exist from the being of the hand. For the being of the hand would not enfold the being of all the fingers if it were contracted to the thumb. And so in order that the being of the hand can provide being to all the fingers, it is not limited to any one of them. This example of the being of the hand could help you were you to go beyond it to the being of the universe and from that to the cause of its being, just as if you moved from the being of the hand to its cause, namely the intellect, you would see that it is the source and goal of the hand.

21. You could help yourself in many ways using this likeness as regards the common question, which asks: "Where was God before or prior to creating heaven and earth?" The question has a false assumption, namely that "where" or place existed when it did not and that time existed before it did. For since time and place do not exist before creation or before heaven and earth, the question has a false assumption.

Therefore, if one were to answer the question "Where was God before he created heaven and earth?" by saying that he did not exist, it would mean that if he had existed, he would have existed in time, for "he did exist" refers to some time which did not yet exist. "He did not exist" would hardly be an absurd response. For it is similar to asking: "Where was eternity when time did not exist?" It is a silly question because it implies the contradiction that eternity is not eternity since it is temporal. For if eternity had been somewhere, it would have been in place and time, which do not comprise the immense and eternal and which did not exist before heaven and earth.

22. Thus to the question: "What did God do before the creation of the world?" (a question Augustine treats in Book 11 of the Confessions as well as the question "Why did God not create before creating the world?") one can respond that the question has a false assumption, namely that there was a "before" when the world did not exist. For without time "before" does not exist, since before and after are differences of time. And because there was no "before," he therefore did not create before he created.

If one says: "Did not God exist before the world?" One answers, "If 'before' is a difference of time, the question implies a contradiction." So too the question, "Why did God not create time before?" presupposes a real contradiction, namely that time existed and did not exist. Thus if someone were to ask: "Where was God before the world?" this has a false assumption, namely that being exists outside being and that outside of God there exists an uncreated place.

23. Even if someone were to say, "Did the world exist, then, from eternity?" one could respond in one way, that God and world exist in the same now of eternity. For the world did not begin in some other now of eternity but in the same one in which God is. For that now is without beginning and end and is God.

One also can say that because God is eternity itself, as from eternity time exists, so also the temporal world exists and always was from eternity, that is from God. And it always was, that is, for all time. Indeed,it was never true to say that it was not. For in all the time when it could be said that the world did not exist, then it did exist, and the "did exist" is from eternity, but it is not eternity, because it is time. It is false imagining that some period intervenes between the now of eternity from which time flows and time itself. For to have a time-period without time implies a contradiction. Between eternal being and temporal being no time-period falls or intervenes. This is the same as saying: nothing mediates between the being of God and the being of the world. If you consider it thoroughly, the question whether the world existed from eternity implies a contradiction, for it presupposes that what is temporal and originated can be atemporal and without an origin.

24. You might say: The temporal world is not eternal, even though it issues from the eternal. How then is it said by the wise that it always existed? One may answer: Because "always" is understood as "for all time." You say: Therefore time always was. I answer: Yes. For this is to say nothing else than that time existed for all time or time was always time.

You might say: If the world always existed, why is it said that it is not yet seven thousand years since it began? One may answer that "always" is not eternal nor without quantity, because it is not without time and its measure is said to be taken by so many revolutions of the sun.

You might say: I imagine that more years existed. I say that imagination does not get beyond quantity nor can a quantity be given than which a greater could not be imagined. But just as imagination errs when the vault of heaven is imagined as extension, namely thus, that one sitting over the vault could extend his arm, in the same way I call it false imagining when someone imagines that the universe could be larger. For one thinks that there could be some intermediate [greatness] between the greatness of God to which there is no limit and the limited greatness of the world, and that is false.

In the same way I say it is false imagining by which you imagine that time existed before "always" and that before time there existed motion which cannot exist except in time. Therefore the prophet who spoke of a determinate amount of time from the past made clear to us that the picture of time exceeding quantity is mistaken.

25 You may ask: Was God able to create the world earlier? I say your question implies a contradiction just as the others you have proposed, namely that before creation a creature could exist. Therefore, just as any quantity you wish does not exhaust unlimited magnitude, so neither does time exhaust eternity. Therefore, God's infinite and eternal power which can do what he wants is not correctly conceived when such a question is formulated. For the question presupposes that an omnipotent being cannot do all that he wishes and that God is not God. Hence the prophet answered the question correctly: "As he wished, so has he done" and in prayer we acknowledge that his will be done in heaven and on earth. Therefore you may respond thus: Had he wished it, he could have done it.

Thus, if one continuously asks, "Why did he not earlier will to create?" you will say that the question implies a contradiction. For it presupposes that free will is not free. Therefore, there is no other answer except this: The will of God is free and his liberty is the response, the reason why..

See on these questions Book XI of Augustine's Confessions. They should be set aside because they are not constructive.

26. Returning, then, let us say: Where is God or where does He dwell? For in this question, to be and to dwell coincide in God. Or rather God is said to dwell in the highest places, Sir 24:7: "I dwell in the highest places." He dwells in heaven, as the psalmist says: "To you who dwell in heaven have I lifted up my eyes" (Ps 122.1); and in the midst, Ex 25.8: "He dwells in the midst of them." He dwells in the mist or darkness, Ex 20:21: "Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." He dwells in the holy places, according to the psalmist (Ps 21:4): "But you dwell in the holy place, the praise of Israel." "He inhabits light inaccessible" (1 Tim 6.16).

"Where is he who is born king of the Jews?" Let us speak now of its moral sense. From what has been said we may draw an answer. For graced being imitates natural being to which it is added and which it further adorns, just as art imitates nature as much as it can. First, God does not exist in time. Therefore, those who embrace temporal and passing things, as though the God whom all things desire were in them, are deceived. Thus also things divided in themselves and those inhering in them which are restricted to continuous or corporeal quantity or to an image which does not escape the limits of quantity--all of which admit of more or less--do not possess God who is infinite and absolute/unrestricted compared to these things. But all who desire to reach God must seek him "in the heights or highest places, in heaven, in the midst, in what is secret, namely in darkness and mist." And they must become holy and separated from earth and earthly affection, holy and a son of Israel--one who dwells in the light by rejecting the works of darkness.

28. Tuscanello speaks to this point in a sermon for this feast whose theme is what we mentioned earlier, namely, that each bodily creature, since it is finite, has a place in which it is kept safe, as a plant in earth, a rose on a thorn-bush, fish in water, birds in air. But a spiritual creature does not exist in place because it is neither restricted nor kept safe by a place--understand this refers to bodily location. Even if there were not a corporeal universe, a spiritual creature could still exist. Eternal beings, such as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, do not exist in place but limit and embrace all places because, just as a thing in place is kept safe by the place, so place is kept safe by God.

29. But God is said to be in place on account of some of the effects which he brings about there. Thus he is in the world for the training of pilgrims, in hell for the punishment of the damned, in heaven for the joy of the blessed, and in the soul for the consolation of his friends. Hence he is said to be in the world. What is originated cannot exist without its source. The branch does not bring forth fruit without the root. A bodily member has no movement without the power of the heart. The bright heavenly bodies do not give light without the sun. In this way no creature can act without God. "Without me," says God's Son, "you can do nothing" (Jn 15.5). And John says: "Without him was made nothing" (Jn 1.3). In this way, then, to give efficacy to the actions of creatures, is he said to be in the world. "He was in the world and the world was made by him" (Jn 1.10).

30. He is in hell for the punishment of the damned, but one who acts from divine power is not afflicted by the fire. For it is the instrument of his justice as judge and there is no aptitude for suffering from that fire in anyone unless he is guilty, just as the servants of a judge have power only over malefactors. So the fire of hell only acts against sin; and the punishment corresponds to the guilt. In guilt there are three fires: the passion of sin to which corresponds the fire, the stench of sin to which the brimstone corresponds, and the disorder to which corresponds the storm of punishment. The psalmist speaks of these three (Ps 10.7): "Fire and brimstone and storms of winds, etc."

31. In heaven there is always the joy of the blessed, and unless they saw God through his essence, they would not possess the glory of blessedness. So all their happiness consists in vision. St. Peter says that the angels desire to look upon Him (1 Pt 1.12), and of this joy Christ says: "And your joy no man shall take from you" (Jn 16.22).

32. Likewise God is in the soul for the solace of his friends. For even though friends stand together in a kind of equality, the Son of God, who was exalted in his majesty, still emptied and humbled himself and became lowly in his humanity (Phil 2.6-7). Wherefore he says, "I will not now call you servants but friends" (Jn 15.15). But friends associate in mutuality. Thus the Son of God associates with us both by dwelling in the flesh and by bringing peace of mind. And his "conversation has no bitterness" "nor tediousness, but joy and gladness" (Wis 8.16).

commentary and other papers by Dr. Miller